River cruising holidays advice

Diana Syrett from our supplier Kerala Connections on what to expect from cruising the Kerala backwaters on a luxurious rice barge:

Life on the water

“Some people like to remain on board and relax/watch the world go by (and bird watch). Others like to get off and visit villages, see churches, go to markets etc. Markets are not all daily so it depends on the day of departure as to what customers can visit. Seeing a snake boat is often a highlight as is the home cooked food – many of our customers tell us that the food they had on the houseboat was the best food of their trip. Immersing yourself in the way of life for the villagers is perhaps what passengers enjoy the most. You can witness people sorting out their fishing nets, and washing their clothes, pots and pans as well as themselves in the backwaters. There are ferries taking people to work and children to school.”

When to go

“The best time to visit Kerala is during the UK winter, November to March, with January and February being the best months. Temperatures are fairly stable throughout the year but the rainfall changes dramatically. When the backwaters are high there are routes the boats can’t follow (especially the larger ones and those with upper decks) because there are low bridges.”
Jennifer Cox from our supplier Exodus explains how Yangtze River cruises work:

Chinese culture

“Because you’re on these quite large vessels with mainly Chinese passengers, it’s like being aboard a floating cultural exhibition centre. Combined with the shore excursions to places such as the Fengdu Ghost Town and White Emperor City it’s a fascinating introduction to the story behind the Yangtze, the Three Gorges and the dam.”

Best time to take a Yangtze cruise

“You can cruise the Yangtze at any time of year. Spring (March to May) is beautiful with verdant vegetation and flowers, and it’s not too rainy. Summer is fantastic for families – it’s hot but the boats are air-conditioned and there are fewer people aboard. In the autumn the scenery is again gorgeous, you can see oranges growing on the hillsides and then in December the water levels are low so it’s off season, but the trees are ablaze with fiery red, a very impressive sight. You should avoid Labour Day (around May 1st) and National Day (late September to mid October) as they get very crowded.”

Our top River cruising Holiday

China holiday and Yangtze river cruise

China holiday and Yangtze river cruise

A comprehensive China itinerary covering its length and breadth

From £3099 to £3579 20 days inc UK flights
Small group travel:
2020: 27 Mar, 3 Apr, 7 Apr, 17 Apr, 1 May, 19 May, 22 May, 10 Jul, 24 Jul, 7 Aug, 18 Aug, 21 Aug, 28 Aug, 1 Sep, 4 Sep, 11 Sep, 18 Sep, 22 Sep, 9 Oct, 16 Oct, 20 Oct, 23 Oct, 27 Oct
2021: 19 Mar, 26 Mar, 2 Apr, 6 Apr, 16 Apr, 23 Apr, 30 Apr, 7 May, 18 May, 21 May, 4 Jun, 9 Jul, 23 Jul, 6 Aug, 13 Aug, 17 Aug, 20 Aug, 24 Aug, 27 Aug, 31 Aug, 3 Sep, 7 Sep, 10 Sep, 14 Sep, 17 Sep, 8 Oct, 12 Oct, 15 Oct
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about River cruising or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Tips from our holiday reviews

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do – and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful river cruising holiday tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your holiday – and the space inside your backpack.
You only need to watch the huge cruisers pass you by to realise how lucky you are to be sailing with no engine, no other tourists and local sailors/guides.
– Dominic Kelly
“We particularly appreciated the houseboat in traditional style, unlike some of the more modern closed in boats with what we assume would be A/C and which were, as a result, not open to the surroundings. We didn't need A/C by day because of the style of the boat and the A/C at night was excellent. Our staff of 3 was excellent and non-intrusive and the food was spectacular.” – David Graham on a Kerala houseboat

“Every day was a new adventure. From the excellent food to the beautiful scenery and friendly helpful crew. Travel light, relax and enjoy. Take a good camera and binoculars. Our crew took us to various places where we could spend money but you get a real feel of local people when you have time to walk and talk to them which they are very keen to do. This was a thoroughly relaxing, enjoyable experience watching nature and dining on far too much food. Six days was a little too long but it enabled us to travel further to more beautiful places and travel along some of the smaller canals.” – Fran Griffin on a Kerala houseboat

“Accept the early starts they help you see things before it gets too hot.” – Caroline Hering on a Nile cruise

“Spectacular. Probably it is not for everyone. You need to want an authentic experience that will take you into a different world, out of your routine and comfort zone. It is well worth it.” – Jost Stollmann on a Nile felucca cruise
Our days on the houseboat were made even more memorable by our attempts at identifying the myriad of birds we saw.
– Fran Smart
“Bring some mosquito repellent and a sheet or sleeping bag liner. The blankets provided are warm but you'd want something between you and them. Be prepared for plans to change slightly as wind and currents are your masters. You only need to watch the huge cruisers pass you by to realise how lucky you are to be sailing with no engine, no other tourists and local sailors/guides. Food is fresh and bought at markets as you travel. The money is going straight to the staff.” – Dominic Kelly on a Nile felucca cruise

“Our room was spotless, the living accommodation at the front of the boat was comfortable and spacious, the food amazing (we were offered and enjoyed all manner of Keralan dishes) and plentiful, the staff genuinely friendly and helpful - Nothing seemed too much trouble to them, and we were so glad we had two nights on the boat. They even arranged to have a couple of bird books delivered to us before our trip with them began, so that our days on the houseboat were made even more memorable by our attempts at identifying the myriad of birds we saw. The air conditioning in our bedroom on the houseboat was only on during the night, when we really needed, and they gave us candles in the evening when it was dark, so that we wouldn't attract insects with electric light and need to have the mosquito nets down, and that worked well.“ – Fran Smart on a Kerala houseboat holiday

“Don't forget repellant, binoculars and a torch light. Take with you some clothes to give away, they can be left for community projects.” – Laura Palmucci on a Senegal & Gambia river cruise
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Clarence] [Diana Syrett Quotes: Lian Chang] [Jennifer Cox Quotes: Boris Kasimov] [Dominic Kelly Quote: Marc Ryckaert] [Fran Smart Quote: Koshy Koshy]
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