7 of the world’s best kayaking destinations
Kayaker and ZOZI Guru Tao Berman knows where to make a big splash. Over the course of twenty-some years, the extreme athlete has traveled around the world in pursuit of white-water rapids and such high-altitude descents as an 83-foot waterfall in Vera Cruz, Mexico, and a 98-foot cascade in Canada's Banff National Park.
While free-falling for nearly a hundred feet in a little boat isn’t everyone’s kind of fun, exploring the world by kayak is a great way to truly get off the beaten path. From tropical gorges in Mexico to glacier-fed rivers in Norway—below are Berman’s top picks for places to get your paddle on.
Skagit River in the North Cascade mountains
From Washington's North Cascades to the Columbia River Gorge in the southern part of the state, this is the region that I grew up paddling on and it’s where I trained to become a professional kayaker. It will always be at the top of any list for me. The North Cascades has so much good white water. If you wanted to take a paddling road trip, you could hit up a lot of different Class V sections of river here. Near Seattle you have Robe Canyon and Tumwater Canyon, and the middle section of Icicle Creek. A little south of Olympia, you have Clear Fork Cowlitz, then the Upper Cispus, and the Ohanapecosh. Even farther south, the Little White Salmon River (one of the reasons I originally moved here for my training) and the Green Truss are great spots. The list just goes on and on.
Tropical river Chavon in the Dominican Republic
I’ve been down to the Dominican Republic three or four times to kayak. It's a really nice place to go during our winter, when you want a warm destination. It has good paddling, and there’s such a fun Caribbean culture. Plan to paddle in the central mountain region, the Cordillera Central. At more than 150 miles, the Rio Yaque del Norte starts in the mountains at 8,500 feet and is the longest river in the Dominican Republic. Two of its tributaries, Jimenoa and Baiguate, have frequent Class V runs.
Norway is also always at the top of the list, due to the simple fact that there are steep, clean white-water runs and the surrounding landscape is absolutely unbelievable. In the valleys, you’ll see glacier-fed rivers and waterfalls pouring off the canyon walls. On top of that, the amount of technically challenging rivers to paddle within close proximity is unparalleled. Seek out places like the Sjoa Valley and the Rauma River.
Agua Azul Waterfalls in Chiapas, Mexico
Mexico's great for a number of reasons: the culture, the water, and the location. Depending on where you live and how much time you have, you could drive there—which I've done before. While there's paddling all over the country, two places stand out for me: Veracruz and Chiapas. In the eastern state of Veracruz, the class IV Cascadas Micos section on the Rio Valles is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It’s a deep gorge with waterfalls spilling over travertine, surrounded by lush tropical jungle. Down at the Guatemalan border, in the southern state of Chiapas, paddle the Agua Azul. The water is an absolutely stunning color of blue, and there’s just waterfall after waterfall after waterfall.
The Drava river in the Austrian Alps
Other Notable Spots
I’ve had fantastic experiences paddling Argentina (great white water all over the country) and the Italian-Austrian border (the food is amazing in Italy), but the place high on my list to go back to is Colombia. Unlike my “Columbia,” it’s still a largely unexplored area when it comes to kayaking due to safety concerns and the ongoing civil conflict. But security has improved, and I’m curious to explore.