Sailing along inland waterways is becoming more and more popular. This is a wonderful way to move slowly and smoothly through a country, with fantastic access to the sights and a chance to absorb the ambiance of a destination. River cruising is a perfect combination of slow travel that allows you to immerse yourself in a place and the relaxation of remaining in accommodation with all the comforts of a hotel.
This large and varied region of the world is home to the globe's largest river system – the Amazon. One popular route follows the Napo river – a tributary of the Amazon – through Ecuador. Passengers could explore Yasuni National Park, the largest protected region in Ecuador, which is noted for its incredible biodiversity. Activities such as canoeing and exploring the rainforest on foot are common. There are also a variety of cruises plying the Amazon through the rainforest of Brazil. Around 60 per cent of the Amazonian rainforest is in Brazil and a boat is a great way to explore its rich flora and fauna. Many Amazon cruises depart from the city of Manaus, the largest metropolis in the Amazon basin and surrounded by jungle. Although it is 1,500km from the sea, the town is an important port and home to around three million people. Mainly noted as the home of the Incas, Peru also offers a fine stretch of water. The Peruvian segment of the Amazon river system offers lush greenery, exotic wildlife and pink dolphins.
Europe has many impressive rivers, from the Danube to the Rhine and the Elbe. A wide range of cruise itineraries means that passengers can take in romantic cities such as Budapest, Basel and Prague from the serene atmosphere of a beautifully-appointed ship. In Portugal, the Douro river traverses a stunning wine region that is also a UNESCO site. The Danube is framed by spectacular scenery, with mountains, cliffs and atmospheric villages, and can encompass stunning sights in Germany, Austria and Hungary. In France, culture developed along its waterways and French river cruises take in farmlands and rich regional cuisines, seductive vineyards and historic cities and villages. Cruises in Bordeaux are known for their gastronomic splendours and fine wines, along with the architecturally breathtaking chateaux of Aquitaine – once the richest kingdom in Europe. Russia is a vast country and has extensive river systems, including the Volga, the Svir and the lakes of Ladoga and Onega. It is possible to cruise all the way from St Petersburg – often compared to Venice due to its many canals – to Moscow, the nation's capital, seeing ornate palaces, rural landscapes and the culture of the Russian heartland along the way.
As cities become ever busier, river cruising is becoming a pleasant alternative to travelling overland. In countries such as Myanmar, the Ayeyarwaddy river was the ‘national highway’ of the country before roads and vehicles were invented. Many ancient cities are located on the river banks of Myanmar. The Mekong is not navigable along its entire length due to rocks; however, the lower segment, from Cambodia down to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, is a fascinating stretch of water, taking in floating villages, the Vietnamese river delta and cities such as Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. The upper Mekong, which at times is the border between Thailand and Laos, can be cruised by boat, with cruises quite common between Vientiane – the Laotian capital – and the glorious UNESCO world heritage site of Luang Prabang in the northern part of the country. The Brahmaputra and Hooghly – a tributary of the Ganges – rivers in India are opening up now to cruising and are a relaxing way to see the fascinating north-eastern region of the subcontinent; meanwhile, the island of Borneo has rich forest and a river cruise gives passengers a unique way to appreciate it.