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From the Nile to the Mekong: Best Exotic River Cruises

Cruise Advice
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The last decade has seen a huge boom in river cruising, with new ships, expanded routes, and even brand-new operators joining the river cruise arena to keep up with ever-increasing demand. The largest growth has been on the rivers of Europe but if you're looking to venture further afield, there are incredible river cruises on the Mekong, Nile, Chobe, Ganges, Amazon and the Magdalena offering an exotic journey along some of the world's great waterways.

Mekong River Cruises

The mighty Mekong River flows through six countries in total but it is the lower section, flowing through Vietnam and Cambodia, which is most commonly explored on a river cruise. Often bookended with time in bustling Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap for the temples of Angkor, your Mekong river cruise will give you a taste of local life with visits to vibrant markets and friendly villages on tuk tuk rides, boat trips and walking tours. Visit Cambodia's capital city, Phnom Penh, home of the ornate Royal Palace and National Museum and where you can choose to visit the sobering sites of Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

For an active Mekong river cruise experience, guests on board Aqua Expeditions' 40-guest Aqua Mekong can enjoy kayaking and bicycle tours and for special events, Scenic's itinerary offers two days in Siem Reap with an exclusive gala dinner at an Angkor temple.

Aqua Expeditions Tender on the Mekong River on Aqua Mekong

Nile River Cruises

A fantastic way to explore the spectacular sights and ancient treasures of Egypt, cruising the Nile River is a popular option, and many operators offer their take on an immersive Egyptian adventure. Your unique vessel will often showcase Egyptian-inspired décor and you will be guided by an Egyptologist to ensure your time ashore is enriching and informative.

Generally sailing on the stretch of the Nile between Luxor and Aswan, your river cruise offers the chance to explore iconic sights including the Valley of the Queens, Temple of Karnak and Kom Ombo Temple. Itineraries can also include land extensions in Cairo, to visit the Egyptian Museum and nearby Giza, home of the great Pyramids and Sphinx. Uniworld's S.S. Sphinx showcases decor from local artisans, and includes sightseeing and excursions, and look out for exclusive experiences such as Tauck's after-hours private visit to the Valley of the Kings including entry to the tomb of Tutankhamun.

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Amazon River Cruises

One of our favourite river cruise companies, Aqua Expeditions has a vessel on the upper Amazon, the lovely Aqua Nera. With 20 stylish suites, she operates three-, four- and seven-night journeys out of Iquitos exploring the mythical Amazon rainforest and local Peruvian culture.

The décor reflects the region, with beautiful dark woods mirroring the black water lagoons of the Peruvian Amazon, alongside vibrant flashes of colour using indigenous textile patterns and locally sourced fabrics and dyes. Whizz ashore or up intriguing tributaries in speedy skiffs, explore backwaters by kayak and swim where safe in the silent waters.

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Ganges River Cruises

Although India's Golden Triangle is a popular land-based tour, combining it with a Ganges River cruise is something a little more unusual. Uniworld's enriching itinerary begins with an overland tour visiting frenetic New Delhi, Agra for the Taj Mahal, and the 'Pink City' of Jaipur. You will then board the intimate Ganges Voyager II in Kolkata for a voyage along the sacred Ganges offering the unique opportunity to delve into India's fascinating historical and religious heritage.

Explore the beguiling mix of French Colonial and Indian architecture in Chandannagar, marvel at the magnificent Hindu temples in Kalna, and keep an eye out for a rare sighting of the endangered Ganges dolphin as you sail this iconic waterway.

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Chobe River Cruises

Between Botswana and Namibia, the Chobe River runs along the northern edge of Chobe National Park, home to an incredible array of wildlife particularly concentrated around the riverfront area. You can enjoy an unforgettable four-night cruise along the Chobe River on AmaWaterways' intimate 28-guest Zambezi Queen, specifically designed for this area.

This river cruise experience is all about the wildlife, and you will enjoy opportunities for safari exploration by boat and by 4x4 vehicle deeper into the National Park and be charmed by the locals as you visit a nearby village. The voyage is combined with an overland tour to the magnificent Victoria Falls plus time in either Cape Town or Kruger National Park, or you might choose to add on an enchanting Rovos Rail journey to complete your trip.

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The Magdalena River

For something less well-known, the Magdalena River is the principal river in Colombia, flowing from the Andes to the Caribbean Sea. The only major river cruise line to operate in this region is AmaWaterways and you can immerse yourself in the vibrant culture, diverse heritage, and rich biodiversity of this region on board one of two newly designed river vessels.

Your voyage will begin or end in Baranquilla where you will enjoy an exclusive 'Carnaval' celebration to give you a taste of the city's famous annual festival, and will sail as far upriver as El Banco, a town full of history and the home of cumbia music and dance. Along the way you will visit the 'floating village' of Nueva Valencia, only navigable by boat, step back in time in Mompox, and discover more hidden treasures for a truly fascinating Colombian adventure.

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Meet the author

Louise is Marketing Executive at Mundy Cruising, having worked with the company for nearly a year and in travel for over 8 years. Most recently she's cruised on Explora Journeys and has also sailed with Crystal Cruises, Paul Gauguin Cruises, Seabourn, Ponant and Uniworld. Her favourite destination is New Zealand however she's also enjoyed cruises in the Mediterranean, Pacific Islands, Norwegian Fjords, Indian Ocean and South Africa. When she’s not travelling she loves cooking and trying new restaurants.

More about Louise

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