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A guide to the best North & South America river cruises

Cruise Advice

The vast continental mass of the Americas is home to two of the most iconic rivers on earth, the Amazon and the Mississippi, along with lesser known waterways such as the Columbia river in the Pacific Northwest.

There are a number of specialist operators offering interesting and unique river cruise itineraries in both North and South America, and we've put together this short guide highlighting a few of the most interesting options...

The Columbia and Snake Rivers

The Lewis and Clark Expedition from May 1804 to September 1806 was the first American expedition to cross what is now the western portion of the United States, under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and his close friend, Second Lieutenant William Clark, with their Native American guide Sacajawe.

So although the names may mean little to us Brits, if you invite an American to embrace their inner pioneer, they will immediately think of Lewis and Clark, and picture exactly this cruise, through the wilderness of the beautiful Pacific Northwest. You will see amazing and majestic landscapes such as the Columbia River Gorge cutting through the Cascade Mountains, the magnificent Multnomah Falls, Hell's Canyon and the collapsed volcanic crater of Mount St. Helens.

You can visit some amazing wine country, learn more about Native American culture, and hear about the daring exploits of frontiersmen and adventurers. Along the Columbia River, fish ladders help salmon swim upstream while bison, deer and elk graze freely.

Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, USA

The Mississippi

If, like me, you grew up on a diet of Gone with the Wind, you will always have a hankering to travel on the Mississippi - but you are probably not aware how many options there are on this huge river, one of the longest in the world. Mississippi river cruises can incorporate the Ohio and Tennessee rivers, and of course the Upper Mississippi itineraries - between St Louis and Minneapolis through America's heartland - are quite different from the Lower Mississippi itineraries through the Deep South, finishing in New Orleans.

Itineraries can appeal to nature lovers, history buffs and music fans alike, and for a British guest are a fascinating journey into the very heart of early American history.

Century-old oak trees, indigenous wildlife, Civil War memorials and vast plantations await you on a Lower Mississippi river cruise. From the vessel you can take in the sights of the river and on shore you visit some of the South's most famous cities. The famous paddlewheelers of the Mississippi are a perfect base to learn about the area's history and landscape. And on shore, you can experience the very best of true Southern culture.

Paddle steamer in New Orleans

The Amazon

The Peruvian stretch of the Amazon river is reached from the west of the Andes, so visitors fly in via Lima, and can combine an extraordinary Amazon cruise with a tour to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and beyond.

A cruise in this region is an extraordinary trip into the heart of South America to see the exotic wildlife and natural beauty of Amazonia. You travel far into the depths of the Amazon's rainforests to learn more about the wildlife, ecosystems, local customs and jungle landscapes. Birds calling to each other through the leafy canopy form the soundtrack as you search out Amazon river dolphins, taricaya turtles and manatee. You might just glimpse a three toed sloth peering down at you from a nearby branch. Expect to be very active, as you kayak, canoe and swim in the unspoiled black waters, take a jungle walk in the San Jose flooded forest or fish along the black waters of the Pacaya River.

Pink dolphin in the Amazon river

River Cruising Uncovered

Thinking about a river cruise but don't know where to start? Our informative guide is packed full of everything you need to know, including which cruise lines we recommend, what to expect on each river and how to make the most of your trip...

Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising. Most recently she's cruised on Windstar and has also sailed with Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, SeaDream, Ponant, AmaWaterways and Aqua Expeditions. Her favourite destination is the Galapagos however she's also enjoyed cruises in the Mediterranean, Danube, Middle East, East Africa & Indian Ocean, Brahmaputra, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the Mekong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Caribbean and the Arctic. When she’s not travelling she loves reading, food and wine.

More about Edwina

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