Five River Cruises to do Before You Die

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There’s something wonderfully serene about the gentle lap of water against the hull of a boat and the way the wind tussles your hair as a boat cuts through the water. While these days the roads and the skies have become our main modes of transportation, it wasn’t so long ago that the waterways of the world were a prime way from getting from point A to point B.

These days river cruises are luxuries best enjoyed while on holiday, and there’s no shortage of rivers to explore or companies offering to take you out on the water. While hitching a ride upriver might not be the fastest or most cost efficient way to travel, it does provide one hell of an experience as well as letting you see a country from an entirely different angle.

To that end, and fully aware that the heat of summer will soon make a cool breeze on the water a Godsend, I’ve put together a list of five iconic river cruises I’d love to do before I check out.

Honorable Mention – The Yangtze River, China

Unlucky to miss out is China’s Yangtze River, which is odd when you consider it’s the cruise I’m mostly likely to make out of the ones on this list. The third longest river in the world, the Yangtze starts in China’s Qingai province and winds its way through ten others before emerging into the Yellow Sea in Shanghai. When you consider the sheer size of China and the geographic diversity that exists in the country, you get an idea of just what an epic journey a Yangtze River cruise could be.

A boat cruses under the Wanxian Bridge on the Yangtze River
A boat cruses under the Wanxian Bridge on the Yangtze River. Photo from Fotopedia.

With stretches passing through regions such as Tibet, the legendary Three Gorges, and a number of towns – both inhabited and abandoned – a cruise along the Yangtze can be catered to whatever interests you might have: be those historical, natural, or cultural.

Cruises typically last somewhere between 4 and 16 days and offer a range of prices (the most expensive being 1600 RMB for a private cabin, which is a steal). Meals and shore trips are often included, so shop around for the best fit for your budget and interests.

#5 – Mekong River, South-East Asia

A river surrounded in mystery and with countless stories to tell, the Mekong finds its origins in China but is most certainly more associated with the steamy tropics of South East Asia. Long has the Mekong been the lifeblood of trade and day to day life in the nations of Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia – and it’s no surprise that a bustling river trade still exists both on its shores and in its waters.

The chance to see life as the locals live it is a real lure for me when it comes to the Mekong river, but there’s also no shortage of cultural wonders to take in or beautiful scenery to photograph.  Still very much a treacherous waterway, the Mekong also boasts waterfalls and canyons and rapids to get hearts pumping.

The river holds an almost mythic quality, and I look forward to someday lazily batting at mosquitoes as I sip a cold Singha after a long day of exploring riverside markets or snapping photos of curious wildlife.

#4 – The Mississippi River, USA

The glory days of paddle boat steamers may be well behind them, but there’s still a great deal of charm to be found in a lazy crawl down the mighty Mississippi River in the southern United States.

A boat on the Mississippi River
A boat sails lazily along the Mississippi River. Photo from Fotopedia.

Unlike the other rivers on the list, the Mississippi doesn’t offer quite the variety when it comes to cruise companies – but those that exist do offer a variety of options ranging from themed day trips to several night journeys. All of the cliches of riverboat travel are there for the taking – decadent food, raucous music, and the laid back pace that seems synonymous with the American south.

Weighing in quite a bit cheaper than the Chinese or South East Asian tours, a Mississippi river cruise might just make it on my upcoming US itinerary…

#3 – The Danube, Europe

Everything is more expensive in Europe, and that certainly seems true of cruising one of Europe’s most famous rivers. But if you’re looking to travel in the lap of luxury while taking on some of Europe’s most famous sights, a river cruise along the Danube can’t really be beaten.

There is an abundance of options when it comes to selecting a cruise along the Danube, with many bundling in several days stay in cities along the way as well. Prices vary from as low as $1000 for a trip to upwards of $4,000 depending on where you look. You’ll be sipping fine wine and dining on fine food as you go, though, so it’s an indulgence that will garner countless fond memories and fun tales to share down the line.

Viking Cruises, in particular, has a number of cruise specials worth looking at; including some fly cruise deals that discount the cost of your flight to Europe if you’re going to be taking one of their tours. Not a bad way to see Europe at all.

#2 – The Amazon, South America

Meandering through the heart of the largest forest in the world, the Amazon really is one of the last frontiers. As you can imagine, cruises along the Amazon aren’t so much about high-flying decadence or cities along the way, as wildlife takes center stage. The biodiversity on display in the Amazon is second to none and large stretches of the river are still undeveloped, allowing tourists an opportunity to see the mysterious jungle in all of its foreboding glory.

Being the second longest river in the world, there’s plenty of options when it comes to starting and finishing locations. Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Brazil all have cruises companies – so if you’re likely to be in South America and want to try the cruise, don’t forget to shop around the various countries.

#1 – The Nile, Africa

It really had to be #1. It’s not just that the Nile is the longest river in the world, or even that it makes its way through the stunning scenery of Egypt, either; it’s the fact that the Nile is more seeped in history than any other river I can imagine. It was (and still is) the lifeblood of such a huge part of Africa. What stories must have unfolded on the reed lined shores of the Nile? How many broken hearts, shattered dreams, and moments of triumph?

blue nile falls
Probably best not to book a cruise over the Blue Nile Falls though...

The lion’s share of boats are Egyptian and they are graded from the pricey (and fancy) five stars right down to what I can only assume is a rusted dingy with zero stars. That gives you plenty of flexibility budget wise, and should let you dictate the style of trip you want. Do you want to eat caviar as you coast? Or see a hippo or crocodile up close and personal as your boat lists dangerously to the left?*

*I sincerely doubt any tourist boat is actually like this, but it’s a fun image.

Your Dream Cruises

There’s no shortage of rivers out there to cruise, so which would you add to the above list? Already done a river cruise? I’d love to hear more about it!

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