Nine Great River Journeys for Unrivalled Exploration
Published on: January 30th, 2018
Last modified: July 27th, 2023
From the Amazon to the Mekong, river journeys offer some of the best opportunities for unrivalled exploration.
Whether you're after a leisurely few days cruising or an adventure deep into the bush, these are some of the best river journeys in the world.
Our top picks
Amazon River Cruise, Brazil
The vast, dense Amazonian wilderness isn’t easily explored, so discovering the amazing ecosystem is best done on a river cruise along a section of the river. For more freedom though, there’s the Zenith Private Amazon Cruiser, which navigates the Amazon and its tributaries to suit the passengers onboard, affording greater exploration. As well as guided nature walks and the chance to try your hand at fishing, the 120-foot vessel’s home theatre, bar, jacuzzi and sauna will keep you entertained.
Mekong River, Cambodia & Vietnam
Communities live, work and play along the Mekong River as it flows through rural Cambodia and Vietnam. Fresh produce is sold at floating markets and monks pray in the riverside temples. Immerse yourself in the river’s daily activity by cruising down the river on the five-star Aqua Mekong. Onboard, passengers can take a dip in the plunge pool, relax in the bar and see the sunset from the cruiser’s observation deck, plus, the vessel is built with sustainability in mind, leading conservation and community education initiatives. Esteemed chef David Thompson of Bangkok’s top restaurant Nahm created the onboard menu.
Northern Peru’s Amazon rainforest is best navigated by boat, with pristine areas of rainforest such as the flooded forest of Pacaya-Samiria. The luxury vessel Aria Amazon takes passengers on a journey through this region, with skiffs to explore deep into the rainforest where the larger boat can’t go. Visit indigenous villages, set out on nature walks with an expert naturalist guide, go fishing, seek out dolphins and spot the abundant birdlife. The boat itself has contemporary interiors, with Amazon photography by Jean Claude Constante. Between excursions, unwind in the outdoor jacuzzi, have a cocktail at the bar and dine on the exceptional cuisine by Lima’s top chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino.
Irrawaddy River, Myanmar
Instead of hopping between the major destinations, delve into Myanmar‘s countryside by setting out on a three to eleven-day journey along the River Irrawaddy. The recently launched luxury river cruiser, Sanctuary Ananda stops by the village of Sin Kyun, and U-Bein bridge, which is especially stunning at sunset. With Myanmar’s top destinations like Yangon and Bagan on the itinerary, passengers don’t miss out on the iconic sights. The cruiser combines contemporary design with Burmese accents, showcasing the work of local artists and makers. Make use of the spa, gym and plunge pool, and take part in early morning meditation and sunrise yoga, as well as insightful Q&A sessions with the guides.
Selinda Adventure Trail, Botswana
The most active addition to this list, the Selinda Adventure Trail in Northern Botswana’s Selinda Reserve is an amazing way to see the region up close. Adventurers spend their days canoeing in the channels and walking in the reserve, exploring the natural environment and local wildlife with your personal local guide. Situated between the Okavango Delta and Linyanti and Kwando water systems, the area is rife with fascinating wildlife, from elephants and wild dogs to hippos and birds.
Short, but notable river journeys
Kinabatangan River, Borneo
Venture into Borneo‘s wilderness by cruising amidst the mangrove and rainforest of the Kinabatangan River. See proboscis monkeys as they congregate by the river, and spot orangutans, gibbons and pygmy elephants, and watch as hornbills sail overhead.
Batang Ai National Park attracts those in search of Bornean rainforest and the Iban tribe’s iconic longhouses. While it’s not completely off the beaten track, with a luxury longhouse-style hotel, the area can only be reached by a river that winds through the dense jungle, and the protected area is still inhabited by Iban tribal groups who have retained their traditional way of life. Set out on nature walks for a good chance of seeing the forest’s resident orangutans.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
During Botswana’s dry season, the Okavango Delta fills up with water as the Okavango River floods the basin. Use this time to explore the region’s waterways by taking a water safari in a wooden dug-out canoe known as a mokoro. From waterbirds and frogs to swimming lions and wading elephants, this is a safari unlike any other.
Nile River, Uganda
Cruise a section of Uganda‘s stretch of the Nile at Mweya, a peninsula of Queen Elizabeth National Park that lies amidst the Rwenzori Mountains. While on water safari here, see the river’s healthy population of hippos and Nile crocodiles, with buffalo and elephants by the riverside.
Zambezi River, Zambia
While visiting Victoria Falls, take a leisurely cruise on the River Zambezi to travel along the length of Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. Go at sunrise or sunset for the best views, and spot the national park’s wild game as you pass by. It’s a spectacular way to wind down after a long morning of game driving – you’ll have the chance to get (safely) up close to the river’s hippo and elephant populations while sipping on your favourite wine. What a way to end a day.