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In the spring, as soon as ice has drifted downriver and seasonal flooding begins, hundreds of boaters jump at the chance to catch some thrills: despite the risk of getting wet in the freezing water, they dash to the fastest rivers of Vidzeme, Kurzeme and Latgale, which at this time present a challenge even to the most seasoned boating enthusiasts. In these couple of weeks, the faster rivers and their rapid-filled stretches are teeming with intrepid water adventurers, while those who are not yet ready to join in on a boat with currents this fast observe the mad runs excitedly from the riverbanks.
Rough waters of the Amata
In the spring, as well as following the autumn rains, a tributary of the picturesque Gauja, the Amata, becomes the Mecca for water tourists in Latvia. It is not only one of the fastest, but also one of the most beautiful rivers in Latvia. Captivating landscapes, impressive sandstone outcroppings led by the famous Zvārte Rock, untouched wilderness – it is not for nothing that the river is part of the Gauja National Park.
A trip down the Amata usually begins at Melturi, where the Riga to Pskov highway crosses the river, while the end is located before the Cēsis–Līgatne road bridge, at the Amata water tourist camp. This 15-kilometre stretch can be covered in three hours, but you have to note that some stages have been designated as category 3 in terms of difficulty, which is why you need to be careful and remember that this exciting river can also be dangerous. This is especially true at Lustūzis, which is the spot where the Amata rams against a cliff at full force, producing deep notches.
The Abuls and the Ogre
Meanwhile in Vidzeme, experienced boaters can get a rush from a trip down the Rauna and its tributary, the Vaive (both rivers are located within the Gauja National Park, between Valmiera and Cēsis), as well as by conquering another rapid tributary of the Gauja: the Abuls. During the spring floods, this is also no route for beginners.
Also in Vidzeme, the Ogre is also fast and full of rapids: particularly upriver, where the famous Brāžas rapids can be found. The rapids extend for about eight kilometres, and the gradient of the river can reach as much as 27 metres per kilometre! The most popular stretch is between the Ērgļi power station and Ogrēni.
Spring-time boating in the Imula and the Amula
In springtime in Kurzeme, stimulation will be provided by two tributaries of the Abava: the Imula and the Amula, both located within the Abava ancient river valley nature park, not far from the pretty town of Sabile. These rivers are not passable in the summer, but in the spring they will bring true boating joy.
The Tartaks: Latgale’s fastest river
In Latgale, the Tartaks is the fastest-flowing river. This is possibly one of the wildest rivers in Latvia and will produce a whole gamut of sensations. For example, in the stretch emerging from Lake Cirišs, the Tartaks flows through a waterlogged forest, and one has the feeling of being in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest or a mangrove swamp of Indonesia. Then, the section that begins after Lake Pakalnis is really fast and the meandering, rapid-filled river is often clogged with driftwood.
Safe boating tips
To make sure that a boat trip down the rough Latvian rivers does not bring disappointment and health trouble, you should look into some precautions. First of all, remember: if you are not an experienced boater, it is probably better to avoid getting into a boat on rivers like this. At least not without a professional guide. You must take care of your own safety - wear a lifejacket and a helmet. Personal belongings and communications devices should be placed in hermetically sealed packaging, appropriate clothing should be chosen, a change of warm clothes and dry shoes should be brought to wear after the trip.
Before getting into a boat, it will not hurt to familiarise yourself with the stretch ahead in advance and get information about the obstacles that can be expected along the way. During the ride itself, it is worth remembering that, in fast-flowing rivers, stopping at cliffs, fallen trees, dams or embankments is prohibited, as the river current can pull the outer edge of the boat under, and the boat will capsize. If your boat has capsized or one of the boaters has fallen out of the boat, you must hold on to the boat or an obstacle until outside aid is provided: in the rapid sections of the river swimming towards the bank on your own is not advisable. It is also not allowed to row under low-hanging trees or hold on to them as the current can overturn the boat. When crossing rapids, the boat must face downriver at all times. And most importantly: you must be sober when climbing into a boat! Have a pleasant time on the water!