When most of us think about river cruising, we picture Europe. With cruises departing throughout much of continental Europe, from Russia in the north to Portugal and Italy in the south, there are few places in Europe that can’t be reached by either barge or river cruise ship.
But river cruises aren’t just limited to European destinations. In fact, there’s a whole world out there – and a surprising amount of it can be explored from the comfort of a river cruise ship. Here are eight river cruises worldwide outside of Europe.
Egypt is back on the map again for 2016 after experiencing a period of instability due to political unrest following the Arab Spring uprising that swept through the country in early 2011 and reached its peak in 2013 with the military coup that removed ex-Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
But for those who have always wanted to sail the surprisingly-beautiful Nile River, there is good news: Avalon Waterways, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Viking River Cruises are offering itineraries in Egypt in 2016.
Typically, these itineraries begin in Cairo with a handful of overnights in the Egyptian. Guests are then flown to Luxor, where they can tour the magnificent Valley of the Kings to see King Tutankhamun’s tomb, among others, along with the imposing Temple of Luxor.
From Luxor, guests river cruise south along the Nile to Aswan, also known as the ancient city of Swenett. In a country surrounded by monotonously-colored desert, Aswan and the Nile will make you realize why the term “mirage” exists in the first place. So lush, green and verdant, the sight of the banks of the Nile replete with sailboats zipping in and out will make you feel like you’re in another world.
Operating Period: January – December
Right now, only one company offers river cruise journeys through Africa, and that’s AmaWaterways. The popular river cruise line features four separate cruise tour itineraries for 2016 lasting between 10 and 19 days in duration that explore Botswana, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
The actual cruise portion of the trip – held aboard the intimate, 28-guest Zambezi Queen – is rather short, at only four days in length. Still, these itineraries combine a cruise along the Chobe River with a much larger, comprehensive land tour that includes multiple safari tours, evenings spent in luxury safari lodges, and stops in two of South Africa’s biggest cities, Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Operating Period: April – November
In 2016, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection will introduce its first luxury cruises along India’s famed Ganges River. The 13-day India’s Golden Triangle and the Sacred Ganges cruise tour will be operated aboard the brand-new, 56-guest Ganges Voyager II.
Travelling from New Delhi to Kolkata, guests will first explore India by land, with two nights in India’s sprawling capital city. From there, guests travel to Agra where they can choose to watch the sun rise over the famed Taj Mahal before setting out for Jaipur. After two nights in Jaipur, guests fly south to Kolkata for a week-long voyage up the Ganges aboard the Ganges Voyager II.
Uniworld’s high-standard of luxury has transferred over to the overland experience as well: Guests will stay in Oberoi Hotels for the duration of their land-based programs. Oberoi is a luxury hotel group headquartered in Delhi that is famous for its opulent hotels and high standards of service.
If you’ve always wanted to see India but have been put off by the thought of having to arrange all the details yourself, Uniworld’s new, fully-escorted river cruise tour is possibly one of the best ways to experience all that India has to offer.
Operating Period: January – December
River cruises throughout China are numerous. In fact, Chinese river cruises offered by North American and European companies are every bit as varied as offerings in Europe are, with multiple itineraries across several cruise lines that span different dates, durations, ships, rivers and countries.
Avalon Waterways, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, Viking River Cruises all offer multiple itineraries and departure dates in Asia. Sailing the powerful Yangtze River, these voyages typically begin in Beijing and finish in Shanghai (or vice-versa) and include between six and 11-day voyages by river cruise ship. Some longer voyages even include an overland stop in vibrant Hong Kong.
River cruise ships in Asia actually tend to be slightly more elaborate than their European counterparts, thanks to the size of the river and the lack of low bridges and ultra-narrow locks. As such, these river cruise ships can have features like indoor swimming pools, expansive spas, and sprawling multi-story atriums.
Most China river cruises are also cruise-tours, and it’s worth noting that these itineraries can involve a substantial amount of flying to and from different locales, particularly if you elect to do one of the itineraries that includes a multi-night visit to the Tibetan city of Lhasa. Lhasa is home to the famous Potala Palace, the former home of the Dalai Lama and today a museum and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Operating Period: March – November.
5. Vietnam & Cambodia
The Mekong River, which runs through Vietnam and Cambodia, has emerged as one of Southeast Asia’s hottest river cruising destinations. AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, CroisiEurope, Scenic, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, and Viking River Cruises all offer cruises in this region.
While most of these departures are longer overland tours that typically either begin or end in Hanoi (for spectacular Ha Long Bay), some cruise lines also offer up their Mekong voyages as a weeklong cruise-only option. These begin in Siem Reap, Cambodia and end in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (or reverse).
The staple of these cruises is the opportunity to visit major sites like Phnom Penh, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City, but quite often it is the floating villages and humble dwellings that line the Mekong that make the biggest impression. The way of life here is a mixture of traditional agriculture interspersed with modern technology, so expect to see a lot of farmers working in fields with their hands while answering their iPhones.
For the first-time visitor to Asia, a river cruise along the Mekong is a fantastic starting point.
Operating Period: January – December
6. Myanmar (Burma)
Steeped in mystery, Myanmar (or Burma) is one of the newest and most quickly-emerging river cruise itineraries. Formerly difficult for tourists to enter, Myanmar now sees more than one million foreign tourists annually.
AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Viking River Cruises all offer cruise tour itineraries in Myanmar, sailing deep into the heart of the country along the Irrawaddy River.
These are journeys for the experienced traveller; most itineraries will begin in nearby Bangkok, Thailand and will feature plenty of intra-Asia flights in order to complete the itinerary successfully. But the rewards for doing so are plentiful.
In historic Mandalay, guests will get to explore the cities numerous monasteries and pagodas, including the sprawling Mandalay Palace that was constructed between 1857 and 1859.
Elsewhere, guests can visit the glorious treasures of Bagan, see the Thiri-ya-kittiya archeological site in Pyu, and immerse themselves fully in Burmese culture, history and traditions.
Operating Period: January – December.
7. North America
North America isn’t left out of the action, either. While there are numerous small river cruises on offer, the two major regions within North America are the Mississippi River in the central United States, and the Columbia & Snake Rivers that border the western states of Oregon and Washington State.
On the Mississippi, American Cruise Lines and The American Queen Steamboat Company are the leaders – though Viking River Cruises has previously announced that it, too, will soon enter the North American market on the Mississippi.
Sailing through the heartland of the United States, guests can travel as far north as St. Paul, Minnesota and as far south as The Big Easy, New Orleans. As far as river cruises are concerned, the Mississippi is divided into two primary sections: the Upper Mississippi and the Lower Mississippi. Both offer their own unique combinations of ports and history, and themed cruises along the Mississippi are numerous, with focus on things like Dixieland Jazz, the documentaries of Ken Burns, the Civil War and more.
Along the Columbia and Snake Rivers, most guests will travel from Portland, Oregon, with its fabulous beer culture, and leave the lush rainforest of the Pacific for the dry, prairie-like valleys of eastern Washington and Oregon. Some itineraries even include a jet-boat tour through Hell’s Canyon, were industrialist tycoon John Jacob Astor’s Overland Party spent a harrowing winter in 1810. They were on their quest to the Pacific Ocean, and eventually founded the port town known as Astoria.
American Cruise Lines, The American Queen Steamboat Company, and Un-Cruise Adventures all operate river cruises along the Columbia & Snake Rivers.
Operation Period: April – November.
8. South America
In South America, Avalon Waterways offers river cruises along the mighty Amazon River.
An 11-day journey operating roundtrip from Lima, Peru, these cruise-tour journeys combine overland explorations of nearby Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Sacred Valley with a three-night voyage up the Peruvian Amazon to Iquitos.
The largest city in the Peruvian Amazon, Iquitos contains numerous historical sights, monuments and picturesque streets and neighboorhoods. One particular area – Belen – is known as “The Venice of the Amazon” for the floodwaters that routinely turn this ramshackle dwelling filled with wood and corrugated steel structures into a floating city in its own right.
The main attraction is, of course, the long and mysterious Amazon. The largest river when measured by discharge in the world, the Amazon stretches more than 4,000 miles from the Peruvian Andes to the Atlantic Ocean. It traverses 16,962 feet of altitude from its source to sea level, and can stretch six miles in width during low water season.
It is home to more than one third of all known species of animals, reptiles, fish, flora and fauna in the world.
Operating Period: January – November.