Winning tip: Ometepe volcanoes, Nicaragua
Ometepe island, in Lake Nicaragua, must be one of the few places in the world where you can kayak between two volcanoes. After a fairly strenuous paddle across the lake (or a tow by motor boat if you’re feeling less energetic), you enter the calm estuary of the rio Istian, dissecting the unusual island’s narrow isthmus. Spend a peaceful couple of hours drifting through the swamp spotting caiman, turtles and howler monkeys, accompanied by birds including hawks, herons and jacanas. The most popular kayak tour operator in the area is Caballito’s Mar ($22.50pp), based in Mérida on the island.
Fowey harbour, Cornwall
The Cornish town of Fowey and its lush surroundings feel other-worldy. Set in a protected little estuary within close reach of dramatic Atlantic cliffs, it is irresistibly charming, even amid the summer crowds. Rent kayaks from the harbour (several operators) and paddle half a mile or so up to the idyllic Readymoney Cove, stopping for a swim from the diving platform and a clotted cream ice-cream from the cafe. Then cross the estuary, paddling past St Catherine’s Castle (built for Henry VIII), and peruse picturesque Polruan from the harbour, before heading north east into a leafy inlet of the river Fowey. Continue upstream to Bodinnick and return slowly to Fowey, stopping to admire the sailboats in the harbour, before a well-earned pasty from Quay Bakery.
Upper Lough Erne, Northern Ireland
For a trip which feels wild and exotic, but is close to home, you can’t get better than exploring this area of Lough Erne, which is home to countless inlets and islands. Farmers raise animals on the islands and you frequently paddle past little beaches with cows, sheep and pigs all standing together and gazing over the water at you. A good taster adventure is to book a night at the Watermill (from £44.50pp sharing, B&B) on the eastern shore, which is a fantastic rural restaurant with a bar and well-kept cottage rooms. Hire a canoe from Share Discovery Village (from £30 a day), explore the lough and pull up in the evening at the Watermill’s private jetty, returning the following morning.
Paddle to a remote pub in Scotland
Avoid a 28-mile yomp over several Munroes, and kayak for six miles or so across the open sea from Mallaig to the Old Forge pub at Knoydart on the west coast of Scotland. A very scenic paddle that is relatively sheltered after the first mile – arrive to a pint and fresh local seafood. Better still, you can camp on the beach and go mussel picking. And if you’re too tired to return, you can always catch the boat back.
Isles of Scilly
Kayaking around these superb islands is a brilliant way of exploring them. My family’s trip took in seals on the Eastern Isles including St Martin’s; St Helen’s in the north, with its remains of a quarantine hospital for plague-ridden sailors; Nounour, with its ancient burial sites; and the white sands of Pentle Bay, Tresco. Here, we lunched at the Ruin Beach Cafe, which has a beautiful view of St Martin’s; it is hard not to sit here for hours. We also explored Tresco’s heather moors then went to the New Inn for an ice-cream.
Our one day, 24km, descent down the Gorges de l’Ardèche was so memorable. If, like me, you are fazed by the idea of a full day on the water, then rest assured that the green, craggy, expansive landscape combined with the tranquil quiet of the nature reserve make up for the aching limbs! The river is grade II and the weirs add extra excitement. A 24km trip with ardeche-canoes-kayaks.com costs from €20 a person; shorter or longer trips are available.
Across France by canoe
“Quelle idée romantique” a Frenchman announced as we launched our hybrid canoe into the Somme estuary to start a six-week voyage by inland waters to the mouth of the mighty Rhone, arriving super-fit and jubilant 1,007km and over 500 locks later. Camping wild by tranquil locks or riverbanks, we only occasionally fell back on tuna and pasta when failing to find bar, restaurant or fresh supplies. We cadged tows through canal tunnels and through some of the many locks which forbid canoes, but otherwise remained stoutly independent. The high point was speeding down the Rhône before the Mistral beneath our homemade sail.
A great way to see Venice, from the busy grand canal to the quiet little canals. We booked with Venice Kayak (€90pp) and they guided us for 10km around the complex maze of canals telling us all the fascinating history and going where pedestrians can’t. The tour was well organised and beats a gondola!
Paddling amid the towering cliffs of southern Norway’s Nærøyfjord, is extraordinary. At sea-level, the surrounding walls of the fjord seem impossibly vast. The water reflects the tree-covered mountains, creating a deep, thick emerald colour. If anything, it’s the silence that makes it such an incredible place to kayak. It is so quiet and peaceful, after a few strokes your mind wanders easily. After a few kilometres, the calm is almost complete. We paddled along Nærøyfjord from Gundvangen to Undredal over a three-day period, wild camping and hiking in between our time in the kayaks. My tour was with Much Better Adventures which costs from £370 for two nights with all meals included (excluding flights).
So?a river, Slovenia
Cutting through the So?a valley from its source in Trenta in the Triglav national park, this beautiful river offers exciting kayaking and canoeing excursions for all abilities. Kayaking tours can be organised with local guides, such as Top Rafting (€22 hire; €50 guided trip in the quaint Slovene towns of Bovec and Kobarid. If you’re a competent paddler, you can rent your own boat to take on some of the rapids, graded 1-5 at different sections. Despite its beauty, be aware that the water is 11C, so be sure to rent a dry suit too (wet suits won’t do it). Gorgeous summer chalets are available to rent (from €25pp, extremeslovenia.com) right on the river’s edge where you can spot the famous So?a trout.
Cát Bà karst archipelago, Vietnam
Kayaking around the craggy island of Cát Bà is a fantastic way to unwind after the frenetic pace of Vietnam’s cities. Arrange hire from Cát Bà town the day before you plan to go. Spend the morning exploring the spectacular karst landscape of limestone pillars, gliding under rocky arches and swimming in the sparkling green sea. For lunch, head over to one of the colourful floating villages to cook your own fish, noodles and fresh herbs in a bubbling hot pot. End your day by gently paddling over to one of the gorgeous sandy coves.
Pelican Point, Namibia
Namibia, with its vast desert, doesn’t seem an obvious place to canoe on holiday. But it does have an Atlantic coastline and a morning sea kayak trip among the seals in the lagoon at Walvis Bay is a brilliant way to experience the pelagic wildlife both above and below the waterline. There will definitely be seals and pelicans and maybe dolphins and whales. Single and double kayaks are available from Eco Marine, whose owner and guide Jeanne Meintjes is happy to provide experience and stability in the back of a kayak for particularly nervous clients.
The area around Kas is scattered with ancient ruins, mainly Lycian. A few kilometres east lies the island of Kekova, with its submerged town, destroyed by an earthquake in the second century AD. A few years ago we hired sea kayaks and paddled out over the ruins. Calm crystal clear waters allow you to see city walls, steps and the foundations of former homes. We paddled back to the mainland via the nearby fishing village of Kaleköy, which can only be approached by water. Here there are further Lycian ruins to explore including a necropolis together with a castle left by the Knights of St John.