Top 6 river cruises

Some people think that river cruises are a rather tame way to travel. We respectfully disagree. So far as we’re concerned, these are voyages of romance, adventure and discovery.
River cruises may be slow but they’re hardly short on action. From exploring ancient temples guarded by fearsome statues or buried deep in the jungle, to trekking through the rainforest by night, or keeping an eye out for wildlife such as hippos, crocodiles, chimpanzees and rare pink dolphins, our top six river cruises are your passport to adventure. But shore excursions are only half the fun. Whether you’re aboard a gorgeous old houseboat in Kerala, a modern vessel on the Yangtze, or a tiny, white-sailed felucca on the Nile, there is always one constant: the beguiling scenery as it drifts gently by.

1. The River Nile, Egypt

Travel between Luxor and Aswan in time-honoured fashion with a classic Nile river cruise. You might board a luxurious small ship, with a raised viewing deck and guided shore excursions led by trained Egyptologists, or put your faith in the wind with a sail-powered felucca, sleeping on deck each night beneath a canopy. There is no more tranquil way to see such legendary sites as Kom Ombo, Abu Simbel and the temples of Luxor.

When to go: October to May
Our top selling trip: Nile cruise holiday in Egypt

2. Yangtze River, China

Yangtze River cruises take you through one of China’s great natural spectacles, the Three Gorges. Running through this area of immense cultural and historical significance, the Yangtze is often called the ‘lifeblood of China’, and a short cruise along through the lush scenery and dramatic valleys of the Three Gorges can be a highlight of longer overland itineraries.

When to go: March to October
Our top selling trip: Guilin & Yangtze river cruise holiday, China

3. Kerala backwaters, India

A backwaters cruise of Kerala introduces you to a birdwatchers’ paradise. Sail tranquilly aboard a traditional rice barge past terns, cormorants and kingfishers, through a region known as the ‘Venice of the East’ for its vast canal network. Bask in the sense of remoteness here, the luxury of having a boat to yourself accompanied by a small but professional crew, and the freedom to craft your own itinerary.

When to go: All year-round
Our top selling trip: Kerala houseboat holiday

4. Irrawaddy River

Sail the legendary ‘Road to Mandalay’ route along the Irrawaddy’s most attractive stretch, from Mandalay to the iconic Bagan, visiting local markets and villages, beautiful pagodas and historic hill stations, along the way. Local guides lead shore excursions from luxurious cruise ships with airy, en suite cabins and suites that boast exquisite furnishings. Dinner on deck beneath the stars reveals plenty of memorable riverside scenes.

When to go: October to March
Our top selling trip: Irrawaddy river cruise

5. Mekong River

This holiday gives you the chance to add a three-day cruise along the Cambodian segment of the Mekong River to your Southeast Asia holiday. It’s far better than day-tripping: by spending a good stint of time on-board, you'll get the chance to visit Cambodia’s lesser-visited treasures, such as riverside Buddhist temples and floating villages.

When to go: All year round
Our top selling trip: Mekong River cruise to Angkor Wat

6. Senegal & Gambia

River cruises in West Africa see you exploring wetlands, bird sanctuaries and national parks teeming with wildlife, aboard a combination of converted groundnut boat, ferries and motorised pirogues. They’re a great opportunity to taste, and possibly learn, some Gambian cookery, see crocodiles, hippos, chimpanzees and river dolphins and discover the fascinating colonial footprints left in this region.

When to go: October to May
Our top selling trip: Senegal and Gambia river cruise holiday
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Clarence] [Intro: Anna & Michal] [1. The River Nile, Egypt: Ryan] [3. Kerala backwaters, India: Alex Graves] [5. Mekong River: Akuppa John Wigham]