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The 10 Most Exotic River Cruises

From the depths of the Amazon to the banks of the Nile, exotic river cruises are all the rage. Find your sea legs and hop aboard for a tour around the world’s 10 best river boat cruises.

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Exotic River Cruise #1: Nile River, Egypt

There is almost too much to see in Egypt: the pyramids at Giza and the Sphinx, the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Luxor Temple, Karnak, the Valley of the Kings – the list goes on. If you have the time, make this a leisurely endeavor, travel aboard an exotic river cruise and take some shore excursions along the way. The Nile is a band of fertility in an otherwise desert land. Recline on wicker chairs on the deck of a luxury steamboat, or watch the world drift by from the balcony of your air-conditioned cabin. From Cairo to Aswan is a treasure trove of temples and tombs. Go even further and take a cruise above Aswan dam where the Nile has spread out to become Lake Nasser and features a whole different itinerary of important sites such as Philae Temple and the amazing Abu Simbel. (Photo courtesy of Ahmed Al.Badawy/Flickr Creative Commons)

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Exotic River Cruise #2: Amazon River, South America

This may be the second longest river in the world, but is a leader in the amount of water and territory it drains. Venture deep into the rich biodiversity of the Amazon and dine on fresh local fish, ceviche and other regional cuisine. There is no limit to what you might spend on an exotic river cruise, but there are more options than just a high-end luxury tour. Many travelers start at Manaus, just before the Rio Negro and Rio Solimões join to form the Amazon proper. Gap Adventures puts travellers on a comfortable, authentic riverboat. Learn from qualified lecturers on board about the natural wonders around you, then get out on skiffs or even on shore for a trek to see all the flora and fauna up close and personal. (Photo courtesy of Jorge Andrade)

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Exotic River Cruise #3: Danube River, Germany to Russia

This is Europe’s second longest river. So lovely is the Danube that it inspired Johann Strauss to compose his famous piece Blue Danube. Rising up out of the Black Forest of Germany, it flows 2,850 km to empty into the Black Sea between Ukraine and Romania. Give yourself about 8 days to see the highlights from Nuremberg to Budapest, with its traditional Buda side and the more modern Pest right across the water. From there head up river to Vienna and its marvelous architecture, the Opera House, and St. Stephan’s Cathedral. See a Benedictine Abbey in Melk and explore the well preserved medieval city of Regensburg and other attractions of Bavaria. (Photo courtesy of Aapo Haapanen)

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Exotic River Cruise #4: Yangtze River, Tibet to East China Sea

From the glaciers of Tibet to the East China Sea, the Yangtze is Asia’s longest river and offers a perfect sampling of the riches of China. Many cruises start or end in Chongqing, a city clinging to the sides of a mountain. The highlight of any river cruise is Three Gorges, one of the most remarkable natural sites in China, often shrouded with mists and as narrow as 500 feet. The sheer cliffs sometimes give little opportunity for the sun to grace the river and the highest soars to 4000 feet. Where the gorges are natural wonders, the Three Gorge dam is a massive structure of human creation and quite a sight in itself. (Photo courtesy of Quentin Scouflaire)

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Exotic River Cruise #5: Ayeryarwady River, Myanmar

Perhaps not a household name, this river runs the length of Myanmar. The country formerly known as Burma has been shrouded in mystery and controversy for much of its post-colonial history, and tourism is really just starting to take hold in this country rich in culture, history, and natural beauty. Board the Road to Mandalay, a luxury cruise run by Orient Express, and see life along the river while making shore excursions at the seat of the former kingdom at Mandalay, as well as at Bagan, an incredible plain of temples and pagodas on the scale of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Revolinski)

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Exotic River Cruise #6: Mekong River, Tibet to Vietnam

This is the lifeline of Southeast Asia descending from the Tibetan plains all the way to its delta in Vietnam. Bear witness to life on the muddy river with its lush vegetation, local traffic, and delicious food. It’s a working river, and you’ll see plenty of daily life and even floating markets. A popular option is to sail to or from the delta, not far from Ho Chi Minh City, all the way into Cambodia, not far from Siem Reap and the famous Angkor Wat temple complex. (Photo courtesy of Francesco Paroni Sterbini)

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Exotic River Cruise #7: Mississippi River, U.S.

The Mighty Mississippi divides a nation on its southerly course to the Gulf of Mexico. Mark Twain wrote often of life on the Mississippi and it has figured greatly in the history of the United States. Step back in time, board a classic steamer paddleboat and visit cities from St. Paul all the way down to New Orleans. Queen of the Mississippi offers a weeklong sail from Memphis, the home of the blues and barbeque, all the way through Cajun country to New Orleans and the Delta, another music and food mecca. (Photo courtesy of Franz Neumeier)

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Exotic River Cruise #8: Volga River, Russia

Holding a dear place in Russian folklore, the mother river of Russia is Europe’s longest. Viking River Cruises offers Waterways of the Czars, a 13-day voyage along the Volga where you will visit small, picturesque towns. See the Church of St. Dmitry on the Blood, constructed in memory of Ivan the Terrible’s dead son, or the amazing frescoes of the Church of St. Elijah the Prophet. The Volga was widened for river traffic and several canals adjoining it create a connection via the Volga to the famous end points of this cruise: Moscow and St. Petersburg. (Photo courtesy of Elliott Brown)

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Exotic River Cruise #9: Rhine River, Switzerland to Netherlands

From its headwaters in Switzerland, the Rhine flows through France, Germany and the Netherlands before it reaches the Atlantic. Obviously that’s a lot of territory and it includes the marvelous wines of the Rhine Valley, a stop in Cologne for its enormous cathedral, Strasbourg, Brussels, and another collection of waterways, the canals of Amsterdam. Castles, fortresses, and palaces make for shore excursions. And it’s not just a summer seasonal journey. In winter, some cruises offer tours of the Christmas markets and views of the snow-covered hills and mountains along the way. (Photo courtesy of mlyutin)

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Exotic River Cruise #10: Rhone River, Switzerland to France

Another form of watercraft great for touring is the river barge. Originally barges were a major form of shipping along the waterways of Europe, but when that industry faded away, the barges enjoyed a rebirth as converted hotels on the water. Barge cruises tend to be smaller than other river cruises with anywhere from 4 to 24 passengers. Explore the beautiful French countryside along the Rhône River on board the 12-guest Napoleon. Disembark to visit old cathedrals, sample wines, and have romantic dinners. (Photo courtesy of Elliott Brown)