Before we left for Montenegro we’d been researching things to do and rafting in the Tara Canyon had come up several times.
Travelling to do Tara River rafting from Kotor was something we really wanted to do – Montenegro’s Tara Canyon is the world’s second-deepest canyon and it looked amazing, but we were staying in Kotor, which is about 3-hours’ drive from the Tara River and we thought travelling to Tara River rafting from Kotor might be too far for a day trip.
After we arrived in Montenegro the Tara River rafting was still on our minds and we decided we’d go for it – as we just knew we’d end up regretting leaving without doing it.
There are lots of different Tara River rafting ‘camps’, offering single day rafting trips or the option to stay in wooden cabins and make it an overnight stop.
We picked on ‘Tara Tour‘, purely on the basis of it having the most positive reviews on TripAdvisor at the time.
We were able to phone Tara Tour from Montenegro on our mobile phone and were passed straight to a guy who spoke good English. There was no real formal booking process, other than us telling him we were a family of five, he told us the price and he said he’d see us there the next day at 10.30am.
So we set our alarms early, ready to leave Kotor at 7am for the 3-hour drive to the north of the country, right on the border with Bosnia.
Driving in Montenegro is pretty arduous – there are no motorways and the roads and other drivers can be pretty challenging but the journey from Kotor to the Tara River rafting area was smooth and it was interesting getting away from the more developed coastal region out in to the ‘real’ Montenegro countryside.
As we approached the Tara Canyon region, the scenery became increasingly spectacular, particularly as we passed along the river itself – a beautiful bright blue river winding its way through a deep gorge.
Using Google Maps as our satnav, we were taken right to the car park of Camp Tara Tour, one of numerous rafting camps along the Tara river. Not particularly well signposted, but the Google Maps directions were very precise so finding it was no problem.
We were greeted by a young lad who spoke English and who directed us in to the main lodge – a canopied area with a kitchen and tables overlooking the glorious scenery of the canyon.
Here we were given a breakfast (not the kind you might be used to in England, consisting of bread, cheese and peppermint tea) and we sat and waited, enjoying the views while other guests arrived and all ate their breakfasts too.
We actually ended up waiting over an hour while other people turned up and had their breakfasts before we were directed towards the equipment shed to get our wetsuits, helmets and life jackets.
Back in Kotor, which is full of tourists and English speaking people all over the place, communication is easy as it’s all very geared towards English speakers.
Here though, in the middle of the Montenegrin wilderness, it was very different and, aside from the one young lad who first met us, none of the rest of the Tara Tour staff seemed to speak much, if any, English so we struggled a bit to work out what we were meant to do.
Still, it wasn’t a problem as we easily figured out how to kit ourselves out in the right gear.
The lack of English (or more accurately, our inability to speak Montenegrin!) did start to be a problem though as the staff started issuing instructions to the large crowd of guests, directing them towards vehicles and clearly giving them explanations about what to do and where to go, which we had no hope of following.
I couldn’t tell what we were and were not supposed to be taking with us. I wanted to bring the camera, or at the very least my iPhone, for photos, but from what we could tell, we were being told to leave our belongings at the camp.
I looked around and could see one person with a waterproof camera, another with a phone in a sealed plastic case – and no-one else bringing anything with them at all. We concluded (wrongly as it happened) that we couldn’t bring our camera or phones with us, so reluctantly left them all in the car.
This was extremely disappointing, as the idea of coming here to somewhere so awe inspiring, doing something so unusual and fun but not being able to photograph it, felt awful! As a result, all the photos on this page were either shared by others at the camp or are stock photos of the Tara Canyon rafting as we were unable to take any of our own.
In the end, as everyone started departing, we were left, the last ones standing in the field, as everyone else got into vans and jeeps and started disappearing off. Some frantic gesturing between us and a man who seemed to be in charge resulted in us climbing in to a 4×4 with another (Montenegrin) family and off we headed to the start of the rafting tour.
It was about a half-hour drive up-river in the jeep along narrow dirt roads, across the border in to Bosnia, along a road being heavily used by many other rafters (both private individuals and those travelling with other rafting camps).
We freaked out again about the language barrier when, as we approached the end of the drive, the Jeep stopped and the driver began giving us instructions in Montenegrin. Someone opened the rear door of the Jeep and the family in the back got out, along with Luke (our 12-year old who was also up at the back). The driver then drove off with the rest of us still in the car, leaving Luke looking back at us from the roadside!
Luckily he wasn’t anywhere near as panicked as we were and just strolled along the track with the other family, while our driver was unable to understand our frantic questioning about what on earth was going on!
It turned out he was actually just moving the car further along the road and in the end he pulled over, letting us all out, re-uniting us with Luke and then turning around and driving off back to the camp.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t for one minute suggest that the staff should be expected to speak a foreign language in their own country. We’d travelled for hours to the middle of the wilderness of a foreign country and to expect to find English speakers here would be as arrogant as a Montenegrin person travelling to London and expecting everyone there to speak Montenegrin!
But these rafting companies do all promote themselves in English, with English-language websites. Most of the reviews of Tara Tour rafting on TripAdvisor were all in English, so English-speaking visitors must be pretty common.
We felt that perhaps some provision could have been made for foreigners like us – at the very least some printed instructions or information on what to expect maybe, for those not lucky enough to get English-speaking fellow-rafters to do the translating like we had.
Our panic about our son being abandoned in the bear and wolf-infested Bosnian wilderness over, we headed down to the riverside where the rafters were all queuing up to get on to the river.
Two things struck us here – one was the incredible beauty of the place. The river an unbelievable turquoise colour against the clear blue skies. So completely crystal clear you could see all the way to the very bottom as if just looking through glass.
The other thing was the sheer number of other people all crowding in to one small spot where rafts can be carried down to the river. Hundreds of other people, all from different rafting camps – and no way for us to tell where on earth our group from Tara Tour were!
Again we’d been a bit left behind and couldn’t tell where we were meant to be or who we were supposed to be following. Eventually, amongst the chaos on the river bank, we saw some others with the same lifejackets on as us, so we latched on to them and followed them down the river bank, spotting a man with a Tara Tour cap on.
He was giving instructions in Montenegrin, which we couldn’t follow, but we stood close to him and then heard some of the others getting in to his boat speaking English, so we stuck as close to them as we could.
These other guests turned out to be a complete life-saver for us. They were Montenegrin but had two American children with them, so were speaking a mixture of both languages. As the Tara Tour raft helmsman gave instructions on how to operate the raft, they translated for us.
At this point we realised as well that we could happily have brought our camera and phones with us – as it now seemed everyone else had done so! Each raft has a waterproof bag for those things to be safely stored in.
Our worries about the language barrier soon disappeared as the raft was pushed away from the river bank and we began gradually floating away down river.
This place is nature at its absolute best. I’ve never seen such an amazing, stunningly beautiful river anywhere in my life and, with the clear blue sky, warm summer sun and the dramatic canyon either side of us, it felt like we were in some kind of paradise.
To think we were worrying about such small things as whether we should drive 3-hours to get here or not. Anyone sat in that raft, floating along that river would surely have agreed it’s worth travelling any distance at all to experience.
It can be all too easy to put practicalities and inconvenience in the way of doing things sometimes which, if you actually just get on and do them, lead to the kinds of experiences which make those small inconveniences seem totally insignificant.
That memory of floating down that bright, turquoise river in that incredible canyon will be with all of us, children included, until our dying days.
This whole day cost us about £200 in total – a pretty hefty extra on top of an already expensive holiday and it left us scratching around for our last remaining Euros by the end of the week. But the financial cost will be forgotten about, while the memory of this amazing place will live on for a lifetime – so it really was money extremely well spent.
Considering this cost included breakfast and a full cooked dinner, plus a full day rafting for five people, it was extremely good value for money.
After a few minutes drifting down the river, we pulled over towards a small beach at the river-side, where the helmsman (according to our translators) encouraged us to get out and swim. It was a flat, calm pool, which we all plunged in to, allowing the cold water to refresh us in the heat of the sun – and to get used to the feeling of being in the water in case we fell out on the rapids (an unlikely occurrence which didn’t happen to anyone).
After this, we approached the first section of white water rapids. Obviously there are varying levels of what might be considered “rapids”. One of our new English-speaking friends on the boat told us how he’d rafted down a raging river in Yellowstone Park in America, tossed around by treacherous rapids that were pulling over trees and taking boulders off the nearby river banks. He said he’d felt lucky to be alive by the end of it!
The Tara River rapids were, thankfully, nothing like this! We were slightly nervous about taking the children, especially the younger two, on this tour but it turned out the conditions were absolutely perfect for family rafting.
The rapids sections were just the right level – fast enough to be fun and exciting for us first-time rafters and the children, but at no point did we feel we were in danger.
This was in July, apparently the month in which the river is at its lowest and calmest levels, so was perfect for taking children.
The whole way down the river, every time we hit some rapids, they were just at the exact right level to throw us around a bit, get us a bit wet, provide a bit of excitement but never to the point of being scary or dangerous. Absolutely perfect for an adventurous but sensible family experience.
I have no idea if this is the case at other times of year, so if you’re taking children rafting in Montenegro at any time outside of July or August, double check with the organisers first.
None of us had phones or watches on us so we had no concept at all of time, but after what must have been an hour and a half or so of rafting, we pulled up at a half-way stop where a makeshift bar has been built on the river bank next to a waterfall.
We were here with hundreds of other rafters (apparently at peak times there are 2,000 rafters on this stretch of river every day!) It was clearly very busy and all day long we were passed by, and rafting alongside, other boats – but this never detracted from the enjoyment of the experience.
Here we fell foul of the language problem again, as everyone got out of the boat and disappeared up the river bank (including our translators) leaving us with no clue where we were meant to go, what we were supposed to do here or how long we were staying.
It turned out to be about a half-hour stop, where we could buy drinks (something we couldn’t do as we’d bought nothing with us, including money!) and swim in the waterfall – something we also missed out on because we’d not understood our guide’s directions on how to get up to the waterfall and what was actually there.
Eventually everyone got back on the raft and we headed off back down river, alternating between serenely floating along calm sections and tackling the rapid sections (all of which tended to last no more than about 20 to 30 seconds each time).
The whole way down, the guide talked, telling the other rafters (who could understand) all about local history and anecdotes from the river, including colleagues being chased by bears and the flooded river washing away camps of rafters in the past (all helpfully translated for us by the others on the boat).
We didn’t mind that we couldn’t understand, we just enjoyed the mind-blowing scenery, the relaxing, peaceful floating through one of the world’s largest canyons on the most perfect summer day, punctuated every few minutes by the thrill of the rapid sections.
Without knowing the time, we have no idea how long we were on the river for. Our best guess is that it was about three and a half hours before we finally beached at a point where the river diverged in two different directions.
Another brief period of confusion ensued as everyone got out the boat, our English translators included, and disappeared off up a gravel track. These guys doing the translating for us had their own day out to enjoy between themselves and we couldn’t expect them to concentrate on translating everything especially for us, and we were left not really knowing what was going on or where we were headed.
We trudged up a steep gravel climb, expecting to find the Jeep waiting for us to take us back to the camp, only to find we were actually already back at the camp – a welcome sight as by this time we were starving hungry, thirsty and tired and very much looking forward to the dinner (which is provided as part of the cost).
We took off our wetsuits and slumped down in the sun, exhausted but delighted at such an amazing day, to be served up with a delicious freshly cooked dinner of soup, bread, veal, potatoes, vegetables and trout, with drinks thrown in for free too.
It was a perfect end to an amazing day. Yes, we had doubts about how things might have turned out without the help of the other guests who could speak English. We had some disappointment over not being able to take photos of such a brilliant experience and we felt, a couple of times, a little bit abandoned by the staff who were unable to cater for our lack of ability to speak their language.
But those doubts will be forgotten soon, while the memories of an amazing experience in the most incredible of places will last much longer.
A highly recommended experience and one which, now you’ve had the benefit of learning from our experience Tara River rafting from Kotor, should be all the more enjoyable for you!