The world’s most unusual river cruises

See Africa's 'Big Five' from the comfort of a private boat safari along the Chobe River
See Africa's 'Big Five' from the comfort of a private boat safari along the Chobe River - Panache Cruises

River cruising is changing. More and more of us are discovering how practical, affordable and relaxing a voyage down a lovely waterway can be, and the world’s shipyards have responded in kind, churning out an armada of new vessels to cope with demand. This is wonderful, in many ways – but it does also mean that many of the most popular routes are now congested as never before.

But there is a silver lining: as a result, many cruise lines are now expanding their offerings, looking to more unusual rivers in less-visited regions, and compiling fascinating, adventurous itineraries which delve well below the surface.

If you’ve ticked off the usual haunts and fancy striking out into unchartered (almost) waters, the below sailings might just be right up your stream.

The Gambia

West Africa

Experience the pace of everyday life in The Gambia on a river cruise
Experience the pace of everyday life in The Gambia on a river cruise

Sailing 250 miles up a west African river in an A-list-worth megayacht is a unique experience, to say the least. Islands made of clamshells and mysterious stone burial grounds thousands of years old are amongst the wonders that await in The Gambia. Rarely visited small villages and towns dot the riverbanks, allowing passengers to experience the pace of everyday life here, whilst canoe excursions deep into the shallow side rivers provide opportunities to get up close to the abundant wildlife.

Variety Cruises (0208 324 3117; seafarercruises.co.uk) has the 10-day Rivers of West Africa cruise from £3,167 per person. Price includes flights, transfers, and two nights in Dakar. Calling at Dakar, Banjui, Kantaur, Gambia River National Park, Kaur, Tendaba and Jannanbureh. Departs January 16, 2025.  

Rio Napo

Ecuador

The Anakonda Napo River cruise visits the most biodiverse place on earth, Yasuní National Park
The Anakonda Napo River cruise visits the most biodiverse place on earth, Yasuní National Park

If the idea of having an adventure in nature appeals, but you’re not keen to forgo your creature comforts, the Ecuadorian jungle may, somewhat unexpectedly, be just the place for you. This cruise visits the most biodiverse place on earth, Yasuní National Park, a record-breaking World Biosphere Reserve that’s home to almost 600 bird species and 150 types of amphibian. Grab your binoculars and take to canoes for one of the Amazon Rain Forest’s most spectacular shows as macaws, parakeets and parrots gather to put on a show.

Rainforest Cruises (00 1 888 215 3555) has the eight-day Anakonda Napo River cruise from £5,195 per person. Price includes domestic flights, transfers, night glamping in the jungle, WiFi, gratuities and port charges. Calling at Quito, Coca, Providencia, El Retiro, Pañacocha, Turín, Tiputini and Rocafuerte. Departs November 13, 2024.

Chobe River

Southern Africa

Watch elephants come to drink as you drift down the Chobe River
Watch elephants come to drink as you drift down the Chobe River - Panache Cruises

This cruise offers a chance to see Africa’s “Big Five” from the comfort of a private boat safari. As you drift sedately down the Chobe River, you’ll likely see elephants come to drink, while hippos and crocodiles bask in the sun on the riverbank. There is an exclusive picnic and safari inside the Chobe National Park itself, and a visit to the Kruger National Park, plus a two night stay at the majestic Victoria Falls.

Panache Cruises (0800 520 2250; panachecruises.com) has the 12-night Wildlife and the Falls cruise from £11,492 per person. Including flights, some excursions, beer and wine with lunch and dinner, daily cocktail hour and WiFi. Calling at Johannesburg, Chobe River, Chobe National Park, Victoria Falls, Kruger National Park. Departs November 10, 2024.

Potomac River

United States

The 11-day American Revolution cruise takes in the 'Historic Triangle' of Virginia
The 11-day American Revolution cruise takes in the 'Historic Triangle' of Virginia

Taking in the “Historic Triangle” of Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown on a round-trip sailing from Washington DC, this cruise is a wonderful opportunity to get to grips with the region’s historical significance and natural beauty.

You’ll visit the must-see sites of the capital, plus George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, Arlington National Cemetery and Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad exhibit, as well as sailing on an authentic “skipjack” – a traditional fishing boat – through the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

American Cruise Lines (0800 021 3172; americancruiselines.com) has the 11-day American Revolution cruise from £6,499 per person. Price includes flights, overseas transfers, one-night pre-cruise hotel stay in Washington, beer and wine with lunch and dinner, WiFi, gratuities and port charges. Calling at Washington DC, Annapolis, St Michaels, Cambridge, Norfolk, Williamsburg/Yorktown and Mount Vernon. Departs October 9, 2024.  

The Vltava

Czechia

Melnik is home to one of the most beautiful Renaissance castles in all of Bohemia
Melnik is home to one of the most beautiful Renaissance castles in all of Bohemia

The Viltava is often referred to as “The Czech National River”, winding as it does through Bohemia and the Czech capital, Prague, where this cruise offers the chance to explore cobbled streets, Prazsky hrad (Prague Castle) and the magnificent Old Town Square, home of the Astronomical Clock, a masterpiece of 15th century science and technology.

From there, it is onwards to market town Stechovice, where you will visit the art nouveau-style Church of Saint John the Baptist, built in 1911, then onto Melnik, for a tour of one of the most beautiful Renaissance castles in all of Bohemia. Finally, the cruise floats gently into Dresden – the Florence of the Elbe.

CroisiEurope (01756 691269; croisieurope.co.uk) has the seven-day Prague, Dresden and the Castles of Bohemia cruise from £1,414 per person. Price includes return flights, all meals, drinks and port fees. Calling at Prague, Stechovice, Melnik and Dresden. Departs July 31, 2024  

Brahmaputra River

Tibet, India and Bangladesh

The Full Brahmaputra cruise takes in Majuli Island – renowned for its colourful manuscript painting and masks
The Full Brahmaputra cruise takes in Majuli Island – renowned for its colourful manuscript painting and masks - alamy

Sailing just below the Himalayan mountain Kingdom of Bhutan, this cruise begins in the sprawling Indian city of Guwahati, where you’ll have the chance to visit ancient Hindu temples, before stopping at three separate National Parks to search for tigers and the Indian Rhinoceros. Look out for the almost-blind Brahmaputra River Dolphins on the way to Majuli Island – renowned for its colourful manuscript painting and masks – whilst the waterfalls and botanical gardens of Jeypore, “The City of the Freshwater Lakes”, perfectly showcase frenetic India’s lush, natural side.

Fred Holidays (0800 988 3369; fredholidays.co.uk) has the 10-night Full Brahmaputra cruise from £4,321 per person. Price includes return international flights, transportation throughout, and internal flights from Jaipur to Kolkata. Calling at Guwahati, Silghat, Kaziranga, Majuli, Dibru Saikhowa, Jeypore and Dibrugarh. Departs October 14, 2024.

The Magdalena

Colombia

The seven-day Wonders of Colombia cruise begins in Cartagena, one of South America's oldest cities
The seven-day Wonders of Colombia cruise begins in Cartagena, one of South America's oldest cities - getty

On this cruise, you’ll venture deep into Colombian culture, soaking up colonial architecture in Cartagena, one of South America’s oldest cities, then exploring the historic Unesco World Heritage centre of Mompox, which grew from the Conquistadors gold and silver bullion storage. You’ll finish in Barranquilla – home to musicians, writers and painters and, as such, awash with fascinating museums and cultural sites. If a week doesn’t seem long enough, you’re in luck – this sailing comes with the option of adding a pre-cruise trip to Medellín and Cartagena, or a post-cruise excursion in Panama City.

AmaWaterways (0800 520 2250; amawaterways.co.uk) has the seven-day Wonders of Colombia cruise from £5,240 per person. Price includes return flights, Wi-Fi and Wellness programme, Calling at Cartagena, Mompox, Magangue and Barranquilla. Departs January 18, 2025.   

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