More and more travellers are discovering the joys of kayaking. Sustainable, soulful, and stress-busting, it’s a great way to explore water bodies at your own pace. Check out our list before you plan that boat trip.
For the first-time kayaker, the idea of getting into a barely-there wisp of a boat on water might seem a bit daunting. But, in no time at all, we’re positive you’ll take to this activity like, well, a duck to water!
My own first kayaking experience was a rather comical one, where I was terrified to enter the rapidly rocking kayak even though it stood in just two feet of water! I had learned how to operate the paddle before getting onto the water. You get just one in a kayak, the two ends of which you dip into the water turn by turn, as opposed to oars in a boat, which can number one or two and usually rest on the sides of the boat. But paddling on dry land and doing it to propel yourself forward on water is rather different. Once you get the hang of it though, it’s a lot of fun. Not to mention, a great arm workout!
That day, I was on a kayak the aptly named (as I would find out later) Beaver River, in Blue Mountain, Ontario, Canada. The glorious weather, the wealth of nature around me, it all made for a heady cocktail that often made me forget to watch where I was going. So, I landed up getting stuck in quite a few beaver dams!
I had been instructed to use my paddle to push against these efficiently structures that are built from twigs and young logs in order to extricate myself and my kayak. It worked most of the time, but the instances it didn’t, I had to wait around for ages to spot someone coming down the sparsely populated river and wave my paddle at them, hoping they’d help me. Some merely waved back, some zoomed away in a hurry, thinking I was threatening them. One father and son duo almost fell off their own kayak while laughing at my predicament! But they did help me get unstuck, not only once, but twice.
The next few times I tried kayaking, in Krabi (Thailand) and at El Nido (The Philippines), I was much more adept at it. If I could pick it up, without even knowing how to swim, you can definitely do it.
Seven top reasons why you should try kayaking
- It’s eco-friendly. People power is SO much better than using fossil fuels!
- It’s independent. You don’t need to rely on someone else to take you around a place. You can not only set your own pace, but also enjoy the privacy of conversations (some introspection with yourself if you’re going solo or with your companion, if you’re two of you on the kayak!) and even the freedom to jump off and skinny dip in a lagoon or just chill and give your aching arms a break.
- It’s accessible: You can kayak on any body of water, be it a lake, river or in the sea. Wherever you are or wherever you’re going next, there’s probably a kayaking company providing you boats and safety gear on hire.
- It’s affordable. In most places, renting kayaks costs much less than a speed boat or yacht.
- It’s safe. Well, relatively. As long as you wear a life jacket and follow the instructions of the outfit you’re renting it from, you’ll be fine.
- It’s ‘gramworthy. Yes, kayaking is just right for GoPro videos and instareels. Shoot a short video as you drift along a gorgeous route, add a cool tune and a pithy quote, and you’re ready to post!
- It’s relaxing and healthy. Yes, here’s an adventure activity that can really help reduce stress and get the body active at the same time. Unless you’re busy posting it live on social media, of course. There’s no cure for that malaise!
Kayaking regularly? Get the gear!
If you’re looking at taking up kayaking seriously, here are some of the things you can stock up on…
- A kayak! Well, only if you’re fully committed. Else get onto an online kayaking forum or group and make connections within the kayaking world so you get the best boats and deals wherever you go.
- Suitable swimwear. Depending on where you want to kayak, get attire that protects you from intense heat or cold, biting mosquitos or lecherous locals. Waterproof sandals may be good, but the best warm water kayaking is done barefoot, in my experience. A hat, sunnies, and sunscreen are always a good idea too.
- A life-vest. Invest in a good one that fits you perfectly if you’re going to be on the water often. Spend like your life depends on it. Oh wait!
- Kayaking gloves. You’ll know you need these after you’ve spent a few hours wielding that paddle. The best way to protect your hands from sunburn and calluses.
- A waterproof pouch. Unless you are okay to leave your phone, camera, and IDs behind or get them wet! But keep it small.
- A waterproof GPS unit. This will be really useful when you’re exploring new horizons.
Go on, we know you can kayak it!
If you haven’t given it a shot, it’s about time you do. Here are some of the most scenic spots that you can explore slowly on a kayak…
Where to go: Krabi
What to expect: Lush forests and secluded lagoons, surrounded by tall, limestone karsts. With a guide, you can island-hop across several scenic spots such as Phi Phi, Hong, Railey and the coastal mangrove forests of Ao Thalane.
Imagine: Glidingthrough the green waters,past secret beaches and under limestone arches, the silence only broken by the serene splish-splash of your paddle or the chitter of a troop of the adorable looking Spectacled Langur.
Where to go: The Golfo Dulce or ‘sweet gulf’, which is located in the Puntarenas province.
What to expect: A narrow estuary cutting through lush, tropical jungle.
Imagine: Swishing through thick, sun-dappled mangroves, here a flash of the Scarlet Macaw’s wings, therea school ofBottlenose Dolphinsplay alongside you.
Where to go: The Dalmatian Coast has many bewitching islands. Try the water around Sipan, one of the Elaphiti Islands.
What to expect: Dazzlingly clear water, pristine beaches, and hidden caves.
Imagine: Dipping in and out ofmany emerald grottos through the day, stopping at some of the historic villagesfor a seafood lunch under the ancient olive trees.
Where to go: Prince William Sound, Alaska
What to expect: In the centre of Chugach, America’s northernmost national forest, is one of the most unspoilt kayaking destinations. Fjord views and flourishing wildlife will keep you oohing and aahing. This country, was after all, where people first kayaked, initially to hunt and later as a leisure and sporting activity.
Imagine: Summering in the midst of glittering icebergsandincredibly beautifulglaciers, skimming through ice-blue water with a fair chance of spotting humpback whales and porpoises, black bears and eagles, and a lot more.
Kayak past the Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Southeast Alaska. Image: Shutterstock/Lembi.
Where to go: Anywhere!
What to expect: The Caribbean is a paradise for kayaking enthusiasts, and you’ll find something wonderful in almost any country here. But if you’ve done it all, from pulling up your kayak to a marvellously private beach to sunbathe to spotting schools of tropical fish from your clear-bottomed kayak, then you must head to the Grand Cayman (part of a British Overseas Territory) or Jamaica for the unique experience of night kayaking.
Imagine: The breeze wafting through your hair as you move silently across the black silk ribbon of the water ahead of you, when suddenly, everymove of your paddle brings forth almost-magical blue sparklesand your kayakleaves a wake of bioluminescent blue from the plankton in the sea!
Where to go: Lake Baikal in Siberia
What to expect: The 25 million-years-old lake is also known as the Coast of Brown Bears, so you’re likely to spot a few if you kayak close to the shore. Kayaking on the northwest coast of the lake is tough and recommended only for experienced kayakers with a guided tour, but if you’re a novice, head to Olkhon island, Buguldeyka or Listvyanka.
Imagine: Steering your kayak expertly through myriad melting ice floes, looking down into the depths of the world’s deepest lake, and getting the chance to see the planet’s only freshwater seals.
Where to go: Rufiji River
What to expect: This is the best way to get a very different perspective on teeming Tanzanian wildlife as well as the largest mangrove forest in the world!
Imagine: Giving the paddling a rest as you floatpastthe world’s largest elephant herd in the Selous Game Reserve or see the huge variety of wildlife along the banks of the river. Crocodiles and hippos, complimentary.
Where to go: From Kashmir to Kerala, paddling your own boat has been a traditional way of getting around from time immemorial across India. But for some of the most pacific waters, we recommend Kerala.
Be it Kochi city, the hills of Munnar, or the forests of Thekkady, kayaks have become quite the craze. But we think it’s the many backwaters — be it the popular Alwaye in the south or the lesser known Padanna in more northern Kasargod — that are best explored in a kayak.
What to expect: Palm-fringed canals and deep lagoons where nothing comes in your way except, perhaps, a mother duck teaching her brood to swim.
Imagine: The sheer plethora of greens easing your smartphone-induced eye strain even before you start to unwind as you guide the slow boat to serenity past swishing palms, cotton-clad fisher folk, thatched cottages and teakwood tharawads (traditional Kerala homesteads).
Where to go: Harstad, which is north of the Arctic circle.
What to expect: This is the land of the midnight sun, so if you head there this summer, you’ll experience the strangely exhilarating energy that comes upon everyone when it’s supposed to be night, but the sun is still up.
Imagine: Kayaking through the cold stillness of the archipelago, passing by long fjords, setting up camp on a pebble beach, with just the call of the seagulls and the sunlit night sky to keep you company. And in winter, there’s always the Aurora Borealis to add some bling to your kayaking.
Once you’re paddle perfect, you can even try kayaking through white water and advanced levels of rapids. But for now, you’ll find me enjoying the slow, sustainable, highly satisfying version of kayaking. I’m sure you will too.