From Egypt to China: The coolest river cruises to take around the world

2020-01-21 16:45 - Gabi Zietsman
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How does a river cruise differ from an ocean cruise?

In South Africa we are more familiar with the latter, but in other parts of Africa, Europe, South America and in Asia, a river cruise is a popular method of exploring a country all while sleeping in one bed.

READ: A good river cruise is very much like life. 

Unlike an ocean cruise, where you can spend days trapped on the boat in the middle of nowhere, a river cruise sails during the night while you sleep, letting you wake up in a new port every morning and spending as little time as possible on the ship.

These ships are also normally smaller, less crowded than the mega-cruise liners of the seven seas, and you have a much more varied scenery to watch flitting by while sipping on cocktails.

But don't know where to start looking for the ultimate river cruise? Here are a few to get your boat rowing.

ALSO SEE: This cruise ship will be the first to touch all 7 continents 

The Nile, Egypt

Not only is the Nile a dreamlike destination, but cruising its mystical waters is also one of the best ways to see Egypt's ancient past - from tombs to temples forming beautiful historical landscapes. 

Suggested itinerary: Nile cruises normally hail from either Aswan or Luxor - you can choose which one to start and where to end. Along the way a river cruise normally stops over at Karnak Temple, the Valley of the Kings and Queens, the Temple of Kom Ombo, the island temple of Philae and the Temple of Horus. 

READ MORE: What you should know about cruising the Nile 

Rhône River, Western Europe

This river is born in the Swiss Alps and meanders through Europe all the way to the Mediterranean sea - and while it travels through a few European countries, many cruises focus on the beauty of the French countryside.

Suggested itinerary: Start in the city of Lyon where you'll gorge yourself on its gourmand scene, then cruise to Chalon, the wine-hills of Beaujolais, Vienne, Tournon and limestone cliffs of the Ardèche Gorges. The cruise normally stops in Avignon - a religious haunt home to the largest Gothic palace in the world.

Danube River, Eastern Europe

Take on the other side of Europe on the continent's second-longest river, travelling from Germany through the Eastern Bloc and the cities of Vienna and Budapest. 

Suggested itinerary: You have two options to traverse such a long river - east and west, with Budapest in the middle. The one is more Germanic and Austrian, giving you a fairy tale-esque experience with pretty cities and storybook towns.

The other goes through Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania - this offers a more authentic experience, showing off the history of this region's history among the prettier sites.

SEE: 5 Countries in one week? It's possible in Eastern Europe 

Amazon River, South America

Instead of cities and quaint towns, the Amazon offers wild jungles and mythical species hiding on its banks - the perfect cruise for those who want a little adventure with their holiday.

Suggested itinerary: You can opt for ultra-luxurious or cheap comfort cruises, either on the river sections in Peru, Bolivia or Brazil - or even all on one itinerary. In Brazil visit the Jaú National Park in the heart of the Amazon, with minimal crowds, and stop off at villages for cultural experiences with the local Indians. You'll also spot pink dolphins and giant lilies in the river and on the banks look out for monkeys, parrots and other local wildlife.

Mekong River, Southeast Asia

This is the 12th longest river in the world and runs through Tibet, China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam until it finally reaches the South China Sea.

Suggested itinerary: Most cruises start or end in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City, and explores the best cultural sights from there in Laos and Cambodia as well as Vietnam. You'll see the Buddhist temples of Tak Bat, palaces in Phnom Penh and adventure activities in Vientiane.

MAPPED: From Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh on a sea-foodie road trip through Vietnam 

Chobe River, Botswana

Consistently named one of the top river safaris in Africa, the cruises in this wildlife mecca normally come with a luxurious price tag where you'll feel like royalty.

Suggested itinerary: All cruises depart from Kasane - the gateway town to Chobe National Park - and are more like houseboats than cruises. The itinerary is more open to what you want to do, and focus is mostly placed on seeing wildlife and birds, fishing, visiting villages and doing land-based safaris or guided walks.

Ganges River, India

A cruise down the Ganges is more of a spiritual affair as India's holiest river, and while beautiful is a cruise for those who don't mind seeing the country from all aspects - even the less pretty ones.

Suggested itinerary: The more typical cruises do round-trips from Kolkata, stopping in small ports offering temple visits and adding on the Golden Triangle excursions, but if you want to sail on the proper Ganges sail between August and September on a 'City of Light' itinerary from Varanasi and Patna - the former a holy city that attract thousands of pilgrims.

READ: The best things to see in India’s Golden Triangle in 9 days for under R15k 

Yangtze River, China

This is considered one of the most beautiful river cruises to take in the world, its 6 300km-banks dressed up in breathtaking natural scenery. It's also the third-longest river in the world, after the Nile and the Amazon.

Suggested itinerary: You normally start in Chongqing and end in Yichang over five days. Cultural sights include historic villages, pagodas, the Three Gorges and a city full of ghosts at Fengdu. The main cruise season is from April to October. 

Mississippi River, US

The ultimate slow boat experience, cruising the south of the US is best done on a classic steamboat and offers a glimpse into the country's tumultuous past - with maybe the twang of a banjo in the background somewhere.

Suggested itinerary: Three parts can be sailed on the Mississipi - lower, middle and upper - and cruises can either start/end at New Orleans, Memphis, St Louis and St Paul. The lower Mississippi section has more culturally and historically interesting ports to visit, while the middle and upper are considered a lot more scenic.

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