Canoeing and kayaking are two sports under the umbrella term of paddling. Not for the faint of heart, these beloved water sports are as invigorating and as challenging as you make them. Some of the world's most beautiful scenery can be viewed the bow of a boat, be it floating down a river or on the open sea. But don't limit your watery adventures to the conventional cruise ship. Canoeing and kayaking allow you to immerse yourself in your surroundings more than you can from an observation deck, and they provide many people with a great sense of gratification. If you are looking to explore the outdoors--a tranquil meander down a river, a thrilling race through rapids, or somewhere in between, then your best bet is to gear up for a canoeing or kayaking trip. Domestic and abroad, there are many destinations that are bound to take your breath away.
Here are some of the world's best places to paddle, regardless of whether you are a novice or an expert.
Zambezi River, Southern Africa
If you are looking for a canoe expedition that doubles as that African safari you've always been meaning to do, then the Zambezi River in Southern Africa is the destination for you. While we do not recommend you do it alone -- for hippos are not as friendly as they appear -- there are many options for guided trips along both the Upper and Lower Zambezi. The Upper Zambezi provides the adventurous with the opportunity to try their hand at mild rapids, and offers the occasional glimpse at the white rhino, an endangered species. The Lower Zambezi Valley is home to Mana Pools National Park, one of the best places in Africa for viewing game such as elephants and black rhinos. If you are up for a challenge, why not do both sections?
Dordogne River, France
For those who are looking for history, scenery, and relaxation, look no further than the Dordogne River in France. Flowing through the southwestern region of the country, this river is wide and slow moving, making it the perfect way to enjoy the countryside and save the adrenaline for another day. There are several affordable places to rent canoes and kayaks close to the river, as well as many campsites along the shore. Your float down the majestic river will take you past medieval castles and Gallo Roman ruins, straight through the heart of the countryside. Don't expect to have the river to yourself, as this is a popular tourist attraction. For more privacy, consider taking a trip in the spring or the autumn. Chances are that the weather will still be beautiful.
A great way to experience Thailand is from the water. Float around Phang Nga Bay exploring the "hongs," or limestone caves, from the comfort of a kayak or a sea canoe. The hongs are a system of collapsed caves that have become home to a diverse array of wildlife including monkeys and birds. Phang Nga Bay is a popular tourist destination, and kayaking tours are among the most popular activities in the region. To avoid the crowds, you may want to consider going to Ang Thong National Marine Park, an archipelago of over 40 islands around which you can paddle, fish, and snorkel to your heart's content. The kayak is the perfect vehicle for delving into the heart of the reserve.
Broken Group Islands, Vancouver, British Columbia
If a tropical trip does not tickle your fancy, perhaps the Broken Group Islands of Vancouver, British Columbia will. Not only are these islets and coves ideal for spotting the best of North American wildlife -- think bald eagles, grizzly bears, and orca whales -- they are also remarkably peaceful and undeveloped. Camp along the sandy shorelines, explore caves, and put your mind at ease. The islands are favorable for canoeing and kayaking because they are largely protected from the elements of the open ocean. Many choose to explore the islands with a guide, but it is also navigable alone. Expect to share the experience with a few scuba divers, some sailboats, and a handful of sea otters and porpoises.
Ha'apai Islands, Tonga
If you truly want to leave the world behind, then head to the South Pacific. You will find that sea kayaking around the Ha'apai Islands of Tonga will be the perfect getaway. Referred to as the "sea kayaker's dream," these islands are truly off the beaten path. Explore the coral reefs and secluded beaches while paddling through schools of colorful fish. If your timing is right, you may even cross paths with a humpback whale, which migrate here annually for mating and calving season. You will probably meet some Ha'apai islanders, who are known as the friendliest people in all of Tonga. Float past towering volcanoes and through secret lagoons to capture the island vibe.