Wonders on the water: Explore the world from a boutique cruise ship

Bored of the Danube and the Seine? Some of the world’s most exotic rivers can be explored on boutique cruise ships offering levels of luxury few land-bound hotels can match…

  • Look beyond Europe and embark on a river cruise along legendary waterways like the Nile, Ganges or Mekong
  • One of Peru’s finest chefs creates meals using Amazonian produce on Aqua Expeditions’ Amazon voyage 
  • Uniworld’s cruise along the Ganges pays a visit to Mother Teresa’s home for orphaned children in Kolkata  

When you’re done with the Danube and the Seine no longer shines, it’s time to look further afield. The great rivers of the world glint and glimmer — and the appeal is obvious.

A cruise along such legendary rivers as the Amazon, Nile, Ganges or Mekong gives insights that would be impossible from land. Many also offer a level of luxury that few land-bound hotels can rival. Here are eight of the most intriguing.


Opulent: The Victoria Memorial in Kolkata. Take in views of the city on a ‘serene’ voyage aboard the Ganges Voyager II

A bedroom inside the supremely comfortable Ganges Voyager II

If India’s ramshackle roads and busy trains hit your overload button, take to India’s holy Ganges.

This voyage is serene yet doesn’t dodge India’s complexities — you visit rural villages and Mother Teresa’s home for orphaned children in Kolkata alongside temples, museums and colonial mansions. You also get to see bustling New Delhi, Agra (for the Taj Mahal at sunset) and gorgeous Jaipur.

Ganges Voyager II is a little old-fashioned but supremely comfortable and daily yoga is included.

Book it: Twelve nights with Uniworld from £5,399 pp (uniworld.com).


Nour el Nil’s fleet of six dahabiyas ooze quirky luxe. Pictured is the fleet’s ‘Malouka’ boat 

Nile cruise ships tend to bring on the bling, but Nour el Nil’s fleet of six dahabiyas (two-masted sailing boats) ooze quirky luxe. 

Curl up in a hammock or stretch out on floor cushions as Egyptian river life meanders by. The only sound is the wind in the sails and the clink of ice in your glass.

This journey takes in sites larger ships can’t reach such as the Temple of Nekhbet at El Kab and that of Horemheb at Gebel el-Silsila (alongside better-known but still magical Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo).

Back on board, the suites have a touch of French country chic, while the food is authentic Egyptian, from freshly caught Nile perch to the ultimate falafel. 

Curl up in a hammock or stretch out on floor cushions as Egyptian river life meanders by on Nour el Nil’s trip down the Nile

Pictured is one of the bedrooms onboard the ‘Adelaide’. The suites have a touch of French country chic

Pictured is the bathroom onboard the ‘El Nil’ boat. Five nights with Nour el Nil cost from £1,070 per person 

A Nile cruise is always special but this one is in a different league.

Book it: Five nights with Nour el Nil from £1,070 pp. Dahabiyas are also available for charter (nourelnil.com).


Sail through four wildlife-brimming natural reserves (including Sine Saloum Delta, a Unesco Biosphere reserve) along the waterways of Senegal and Gambia.

Harmony G is a sleek yacht with space for just 44. The inevitable downside of a yacht over a tailor-built cruiser is that cabins are snug — but who cares when you’ll spend most time on the sun deck?

You transfer into pirogues (long canoes) with a naturalist guide to spot everything from baboons to bush babies, warthogs to marsh mongoose. And suffice to say birders will be twitching in ecstasy.

Book it: Seven nights with Variety Cruises from £1,133 pp (varietycruises.com).


Moscow and St Petersburg — two cities linked by rivers, several canals and two massive lakes shimmering through western Russia. 

Join the dots with this cruise, which shows life beyond the tourist hot spots of the cultural megaliths.

Sometimes you pass dense forest; occasionally a church tower will poke out of the water. 

Besides the city tours, you explore Yaroslavl (the ‘Florence of Russia’ known for its art), the reconstructed village of Mandrogi, and historic Uglich — a beautiful town with a bloody past. MS Rublev is an older ship, a tad dated, but it’s comfortable and spacious.

Book it: Nine nights with Titan from £1,899 pp (titantravel.co.uk). 


Sit back and relax on a nine-night cruise on The Zambezi Queen (pictured), a luxury eco-friendly houseboat

Passengers can watch the ultimate wildlife show from The Zambezi Queen, which travels through Botswana (pictured), South Africa and Zimbabwe

Lions lolling in the sun; leopards lounging in trees, elephants and water buffalo drinking from the water’s edge — you don’t even need to move from your bed to watch this ultimate wildlife show through Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The Zambezi Queen is a luxury eco-friendly 14-suite houseboat. The indoor dining room, lounge and bar are air-conditioned (but still have floor-to-ceiling windows so you don’t miss a single hippo or fish eagle). Or pop into the plunge pool on the open-air sun deck.

Book it: Nine nights with Ama Waterways from £9,457 pp (amawaterways.co.uk).


All Aqua Expeditions’ ships are retro-chic, drop-dead gorgeous, but new Aqua Nera ups the ante.

Twenty suites ooze laid-back luxe while one of Peru’s finest chefs, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, creates delicious meals from Amazonian produce — anyone for yucca gnocchi? There’s a one-to-one guest/staff ratio on-board and naturalist guides take you out each day into the heart of the Peruvian Amazon.

Get up close and personal with monkeys and macaws, parrots and piranhas (OK, not too close) in the lush rainforest. Take downtime in the spa or catch a film in the private screening room.

Book it: Three-night cruise from around £3,475 pp (aquaexpeditions.com).


Suites on Sanctuary Retreats’ voyage down the Yangtze are cool, calm and supremely comfortable

Guests eat a la carte (Chinese or continental) in the Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer’s dining room, pictured 

The Yangtze is a lush, snaking river renowned for its jaw-dropping gorges. This cruise blends ancient and modern — often in surprising ways.

The river is home to a high-tech underwater museum to view ancient rock carvings, while the Three Gorges dam is a smash of wild elemental power with immaculate human technology.

On board, learn about ancient Chinese medicine and practise tai’chi on the deck (or just lie back for an acupressure massage).

Suites are cool, calm and supremely comfortable; you eat a la carte (Chinese or continental) and can learn to cook dumplings and other local delicacies.

Book it: Four nights with Sanctuary Retreats from around £960 pp (sanctuaryretreats.com).


With its 34 suites and butler service, Scenic Spirit (pictured above) has the feel of a floating hotel 

Most travellers plunge only into Angkor Wat but it’s worth meandering along the mighty Mekong River as it twists from Ho Chi Minh City through Cambodia and Vietnam to Siem Reap.

This cruise helps you understand the culture, folklore, history and wildlife of this stunning part of the world. Not to mention the food — you visit markets in Phnom Penh and learn to cook Khmer dishes.

Scenic Spirit really does have the feel of a floating boutique hotel, with 34 suites (all with butler service). The sun deck is super-swish with palm-lined pool, open-air cinema and steam room.

Book it: Nine nights with Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours from £4,650 pp (scenic.co.uk). 

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