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Kayak tour in Latvia

Kayak tour in Latvia – best enjoyed slowly

Where is Latvia again…? Up… but not in Scandinavia. But not that far away either. Nice there? Probably – it’s right by the sea. There are also plenty of lakes, forests and rivers - great for the summer. But I don't have a real picture of the country...

Jakob spent a week on a family summer trip in Latvia on a kayak tour and the Baltic Sea. He reports on his trip for Good Travel and gives tips for the next kayak tour.

Latvia accommodation

Latvia – best enjoyed slowly

Latvia is sandwiched in the Baltic series of countries between Estonia and Lithuania and has a lot to show for it. For example, the country offers 500 kilometers of sandy coastline, vast moorland landscapes and green forests with uniquely located castles and palaces.

You can find natural beauty in the Gauja National Park. It is the oldest and, with an area of ​​almost 920 square kilometers, the largest national park in Latvia. It is home to all kinds of plant species and animals that are already extinct in other areas of Europe.

It is named after the 450 kilometer long Gauja River, which originates inland and flows into the Baltic Sea. The river flows through the national park, which starts from the town of Valmiera. This was also our departure point for the kayak tour.

River hiking in Latvia

I had a small one in advance from an internet search Kayak rental picked out and rented two kayaks for a five day tour. Agris, the manager of the small family business, offered to drive us from their campsite with kayaks to our starting point in Valmiera.

We asked Agris what he recommended for a multi-day kayaking adventure along the Gauja River:

Clothing for different weather conditions is always a good idea when traveling in Latvia. Some travelers want to have a water filtration device to be able to drink water from the river and avoid carrying heavy water tanks. Other than that, nothing too specific is required. A good mood is advisable, but if someone doesn't have it - the tour takes care of it 🙂

Start in Valmiera – alone in the river

During the car ride he told us exciting things about Latvia and the Gauja River. What is interesting is that there are no dams or hydro-electric stations on the almost 450 kilometer long river - the river offers an uninterrupted kayaking experience.

On the way we drove on Slow Food Market “Straupe” which invites you to culinary delights and craftsmanship every second Sunday. Further and further, following the Gauja River upwards.

Larger groups often only go on day tours. The most popular routes are around the towns of Cesis and Sigulda, along beautiful rock formations and caves.

Valmiera starts further upriver - at the start we were completely alone. Agris helped us pack and carry, gave us a water canister and dry bags and asked: “So, I can go now right? Enjoy your trip.”

Here we go.

Kayaking through Latvia

The paddling tour on the Gauja – it doesn’t have to be Canada

The forecast had called for rain, but we started the tour under bright blue skies.

We had everything with us to be self-sufficient. Tents, gas stoves and provisions as well as drinking water for a few days. These are the essentials for being independent during a kayak tour and using one of the many free campsites along the way.

Paddling on the Gauja River is wonderful. The current supports paddling and the winding direction of the river offers varied landscapes. Passing picturesque rock formations, you felt like you were in the canyon area - impressive kayaking experiences are not only found in Kananda.

From Valmiera, the Gauja meanders through sandy terrain, which means that small sand deposits repeatedly invite you to spontaneously swim. These were always welcome refreshments. In the middle of the current you often felt like you were in a natural swimming paradise.

Camping in Latvia
Bays for swimming while kayaking

And so the days flowed by, the sandy bay was followed by a rock formation, eagles flew over us, cranes became our companions, storm clouds passed by. We paddled around four to six hours a day and covered around twenty to twenty-five kilometers at an active pace with plenty of breaks. With our rain ponchos, the occasional showers didn't bother us, but rather brought some welcome cooling.

River hiking in a kayak
Rent a kayak in Latvia

Sleep and eat on the go

There are only a few opportunities to stock up on provisions along the way. Mostly in the larger cities like Sigulda or Cesis, which are further away from the river. In Malniera there is a restaurant right by the river where you can eat delicious pizza. But we had everything with us and were so flexible.

Traditionally, people ate simply and what could be cooked quickly. Porridge with fruit and nuts in the morning, and for late lunch you can choose pasta with pesto and a simple salad. Or a red lentil and rice combination for a change. Tip: Basmati rice and red lentils have approximately the same cooking time, which is why they can be cooked well in one pot.

On the way there were snacks and buttered sandwiches with the local bread Rupjmaize - a bread made from rye flour which is baked without any lighter flour. Simple but nourishing and also satisfying after long days of paddling.

The first night we shared the campsite with a small group of friends who prepared dinner in a pot over a fire pit. You can also get the pots with you when you rent a kayak, so you can prepare your food over an open fire.

Fire pit by the river
Camping while paddling

We mostly used the free campsites for overnight parking. There are also paid campsites that offer kitchens and hot showers and some also have a mobile sauna. We treated ourselves to a hut when the rain really hit us (and I fell into the water with my sweater and jacket).

Everything along the river is well signposted, the campsites are in top condition and are located directly on the river. This makes camping twice as much fun. There was always an outhouse with toilet paper (you should always have an emergency roll with you), fireplaces, covered places to retreat and plenty of space for tents. The nights were lukewarm, the sun set late and greeted us again early in the morning.

in Gauja National Park, following the cranes…

Contrary to expectations, it wasn't just the weather that played a role throughout the tour - we were also alone for almost the entire tour. Occasionally we met groups or anglers, but what prevailed was the feeling of being able to enjoy nature all to ourselves, away from the man-made noise.

We asked Agris what Gauja National Park so special.

Firstly, the fact that the Gauja River flows continuously for almost 300 km. Secondly, its diversity: rather narrow at the beginning, very wide at the end, plains, valleys, cliffs, islands - almost all possible shapes can be found in a single river. And thirdly, I would say that the river keeps the man-made artifacts (except bridges) at bay, so paddlers can feel like they are in nature most of the time.

Our highlight was a loyal companion who joined us after refilling the water and followed us along the bank for almost seven kilometers, repeatedly jumping into the water to swim up to the kayak. At some point we got worried and called the campsite - but we were assured that this was completely normal and that the dog knew its way around within twenty kilometers.

Our companion

In addition to hairy fish, we were also accompanied by families of ducks, cranes, eagles and of course mosquitoes. In the early morning hours you can often see a moose or beaver crossing the river - but we never made it out that early!

The idyllic pace, the constant flow, the silence and nature stretching in all directions. My everyday life in the city was adjusted by this break and my soul was able to dangle between the kayak and the hammock.

Trip to Sigulda

On the fourth day we took a smaller stop and planned a trip to Sigulda, a town known for its castles and caves in the area. After setting up camp, we narrowly escaped a rain shower by taking refuge in the nearest restaurant. The Doma Cafe It was a lucky hit, there were delicious bowls and wraps, as well as Kambutscha from the bottle.

In town we explored the castle, stocked up on provisions and enjoyed ice cream cones in crazy flavors.

However, we didn't really warm up to the city, so we moved further into nature, into our kayak, further on the river.

When the rose-red glasses are taken off

Nature was really the highlight. A day trip to Riga towards the end of the trip was also nice, but it didn't come close to the idyllic nature experience on the Gauja River.

We were lucky with the weather and there were no crowds despite it being high season. Of course, not everything is rosy in Latvia's nature - the river also clearly shows the scarcity of water. In earlier summer months the Gauja was more extensively filled.

There are also similar conservation problems as in other countries: overfishing, overforestation and water pollution by industry. And yet this spot in Europe feels wilder, less crowded - with space for animals, plants and people.

End by the sea – the next kayak adventure in sight

There aren't many places in Europe where you can walk dozens of kilometers along the coast and hardly meet other people. Latvia is such a country.

The last two days we relaxed in the small beach town of Garciems, a thirty minute train ride from Riga. There we lived in a rustic wooden cottage near the beach. Next to a cafe and a small supermarket that sold local food.

Latvia by the sea
Wooden cottage by the sea

The wooden hut reminded me of my childhood in Poland with Grandma in the country. It smelled similarly old, the wood was peeling and the water was pumped directly from the earth.

Overall, the trip brought back childhood memories and awakened the dream of heading north with a close group of friends to unwind along the Gauja River, cook dinner around the campfire in the evenings, sing songs and play cards.

The dream has been planted, now we go back to Berlin, just follow the signs. When does your kayak adventure start?

Text: Jakob Wolski © Photos: Jakob Wolski

Jakob works as a freelance author and cooperation strategist for Good Travel. Moved by his studies in anthropology, Jakob is particularly interested in the social and cultural aspects of sustainable travel and would like to encourage destinations and companies to rethink sustainable tourism in the long term. When Jakob is not working for Good Travel, he is on theater stages or working on social interaction games.