Rafting on the Polish-Slovak Border

Imagine a river meandering between age-old limestone rocks and green meadows. Now add a traditional, wooden raft and two raftsmen, wearing embroidered folk costumes and armed with wooden poles.

In Pieniny National Park, perched on the border between Poland and Slovakia, all of the above has been a reality since the mid-nineteenth century, when tourists were ferried to the Szczawnica spa by primitive rafts. Over the years, the rafting has become an experience in itself: on sunny days, the Dunajec River welcomes hundreds of tourists on its waters, guided by Highlander people—also called 'flisacy'—in small canoes tied together with rope.

The rafts exist of several canoes tied together with rope. Not without a reason: if one part hits rock bottom (literally), the raft can't break in its entirety. ©Maaike
Although the 18-km-long trip is not a white-water experience but more like a leisurely float, there's enough to keep you entertained. Perhaps you can try and spot a black stork, or look for hidden caves in the rock strata. Or you can simply sit back and enjoy the scenery – it's not everyday you raft along a natural border between two countries and see Polish signs on your left side, and Slovak ones on your left.

The first five kilometers of the trip ©Maaike
A traditional Highlander outfit ©Maaike
Pieniny National Park is characterised by green hills and meadows ©Maaike
Spa town Szczawnika, our final stop ©Maaike

The trip begins in the village of Sromowce Wyżne-Kąty (for directions, click here) and it takes between 2 and 2.5 hours to reach spa town Szczawnika, the final stop for most people. The best option is to plan your trip with a travel agency in the nearby city of Zakopane: I paid 90zł (±€21), which included transport, the tour, a guide and complimentary trips to a castle and a nearby monastery.

One more thing: despite the Dunajec river being a popular tourist destination, you'll primarily find Poles and Slovaks here, meaning that all signs, as well as the tour itself, are in Polish or Slovak. However, this aspect is probably what I liked most about the place: our guide proudly told a passer-by there were 'English people' on his boat. It only shows that Pieniny National Park is relatively unspoilt in terms of commercial tourism and that you'll have a true Polish/Slovak

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