Durmitor – Adventure in the Tara Canyon
The Tara river has a lot to offer in the way of thrill seeking activities. For our adventure, we chose, from the huge menu, to go rafting in the Tara Canyon, and also zip-lining. This way, we get to be both in and over this beautiful river, giving us a full 360 experience of this force of nature.
The Tara river cuts through Montenegro and Bosnia, turning into the Drina when it reaches a confluence with the Piva river. It is at once stunningly beautiful and uncontrollably dangerous. Being part of the Durmitor National Park, it is under the protection of UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The rapids along the portion of the river that crosses into Bosnia are world famous among rafting enthusiasts and professionals alike, and rafting excursions are available in various lengths, from 16 kilometres to 65 kilometres. The rapids can be very challenging, and at times dangerous, especially during the rainy season.
We booked our adventure with Grab, an “Etno-Selo” in Šćepan Polje, a town at the Montenegrin border with Bosnia. When we entered Grab, we immediately wished we had booked a couple of nights stay in this lovely place. It looked like a hippy-paradise you would see in the movies, with its charming log houses, wide green spaces, a restaurant on a veranda looking over the river and its own private beach.
Grab has a huge selection of sports on offer, but because of their location, they focus mostly on activities on the Tara. Rafting is probably their most popular activity, and they hire skippers from all over the world. The Tara river is that famous among the rafting community, and I thought it was a privilege that we were going to have our first rafting experience here.
We were suited up and brought to the start of the 16 km route we would take, covering 21 rapids over the course of three to four hours. The water was very cold, around 8 degrees, and I was slightly worried that it might be too cold for comfort. One lady requested a wet-suit with long sleeves, but I decided to tough it up and resisted asking for one too. I was glad I did, for by the time we got into the rafts, the sun was blasting above us and the water, cold as it was, was thoroughly refreshing.
We had a great skipper from Foča, who was funny and enthusiastic. Most importantly, we felt safe under his watch. I was quite anxious at first, afraid of falling into the water and hitting my head on some rocks. But when we got going, and after I got the hang of not falling out of the raft, the activity was actually easy. Another raft had a family with little children and a fluffy white pet dog in tow.
As we crossed a stretch of rapids, our skipper told us how, during the rainy season, these rapids join up and became one long torrential current. In rafting, the difficulty level of a series of rapids is rated from 0 to 6, and the very same rapids which we were crossing now at level 2-3, were a level 6 but a few months before. He told us there were days when rafting on the Tara was simply not advisable, even for the most experienced rafters.
Along the way, we made two stops. The first, to jump off some rocks into a deep point of the river – only two people from our raft had the guts to do it, and it wasn’t me – and the second, to visit a freezing waterfall hidden in the pine forest that grew on either side of the Tara. The legend says that one needs to stay 30 seconds under the waterfall to get a wish granted, and I stood under the waterfall long enough for two wishes. At this waterfall break, there was also a boy selling drinks stuffed into hollowed out logs under a gushing stream of mountain water. A makeshift fridge, what an ingenious idea. By then, I was sufficiently warmed up and very glad I didn’t ask for the long wetsuit.
When we got back to Grab, it was time for lunch, a traditional meal cooked under a bell, a culinary technique popular in the Balkans. The food was good and there was a lot of it. We had lunch with some new friends we met on our raft and laughed over the adventures of the day. It was an excellent experience and I would highly recommend anyone who wants to go rafting to book with Grab.
There are many zip-lines all throughout Montenegro. Near the Đurđevića Tara Bridge, otherwise known as the Tara Bridge, there are about four or five with more being installed. Here, we booked a go on the longest zip-line in Europe. It was not only the longest, but it also went over the deepest canyon in Europe. In the Balkans, it’s always a race to be the best of the best; there were zip-lines claiming to be the steepest and fastest, or the most exciting – any descriptive you can think of, there’s a zip-line somewhere in Montenegro that it will suit.
I enjoyed the experience. It’s not even half as terrifying as I thought it would be. Once you realise that the rope was not going to break and that you were not going to fall out of the harness, the ride became a very enjoyable, if rather short, scenic view of the canyon.
I probably wouldn’t do it again if I returned to Montenegro as it’s pretty expensive for a ride that’s a minute or so, but it’s definitely worth trying once.