Most people’s first trip to China lasts just two or three weeks – a relatively short amount of time to try and take in over 4,000 years of history, 56 different minority groups and the third largest country in the world.
A cruise on the mighty Yangtze River is a great way to have a break from the temples and museums, and digest what you’ve seen so far.
For those so inclined, it’s an opportunity to perhaps tackle one of the many readable histories of China, to give some context to what you’ve seen. For others it’s a good chance to relax on the sundeck and soak up the scenery.
Either way, a Yangtze cruise is a highly recommended option as part of a first trip to China.
Start planning your Yangtze River cruise in China
Places to see on your cruise
The majority of boats ply the Yangtze between the cities of Chongqing and Yichang.
The scenery on the downstream route, from Chongqing to Yichang, gets better and better, culminating in the spectacular Three Gorges. The upstream route takes a little longer, four nights as opposed to three downstream, and so is better suited to those with more time.
A small number of boats continue all the way to Shanghai – not recommended unless you are a die-hard cruise enthusiast, as you’ll have witnessed the best of the area’s scenery before Yichang.
Sanctuary Cruise, Yangtze River
Qutang Gorge, Yangtze River
Cruise up Lesser Gorges, Yangtze River, China
Gateway to the Yangtze, Chongqing has grown hugely over the last decade or so.
It’s not an especially attractive city, but for those arriving from elsewhere with time to spare before boarding a Yangtze boat in the evening, there are some beautifully preserved Buddhist grottoes in the vicinity. You should also leave time to try the local speciality – Chongqing hotpot, a spicy dish adored by the locals!
Fengdu The ‘ghost city’ of Fengdu takes its name from two Chinese officials who became bored of court life, and moved to the area to practice Taoist teachings. They reputably became so good at it that they both became immortal – hence the name ghost city.
There are a number of temples here, and it’s a good place to learn some of the tenets of Taoism.
The Three Gorges
The scenic highlight of the cruise, the Three Gorges of Qutang, Wu and Xiling are each markedly different.
Qutang is the first one that you come to if traveling downstream. At eight kilometres long it is the shortest, but arguably the most spectacular. At its narrowest point it is just 100 metres across, and the huge vertical sheets of rock are majestically imposing.
Wu ('witches') gorge, around 20 kilometres further downstream, is more verdant, with the jagged peaks sometimes hidden in a swirling, atmospheric mist.
Xiling, the longest gorge, is the least spectacular, but used to be the most dangerous before the river was tamed. You can still see beacons glowing on the banks at night, to warn captains away from the shallows.
Day excursion on the Yangtze
The Three Gorges Dam
The controversial Three Gorges Dam project is known the world over. Whatever your views on it, it’s difficult not to be awed by the sheer scale of the achievement.
It’s the world’s longest dam, at 7,660 feet, as well as the world’s largest hydroelectric power station by output. The project is a great source of pride to most Chinese people.
You’ll see the huge dam from a viewing platform, and continue around the surprisingly interesting visitors center.
All of the Yangtze cruises spend some time visiting one of the smaller tributaries of the Yangtze. These have their own gorges, some of which are as impressive as the Three Gorges themselves.
Smaller boats are used for these side trips, and most land on shore to explore some of the local villages on the river banks.
Yichang is where most boats turn around and head back up the river to Chongqing.
There is little to detain you here, and most people transfer from their boat to the airport, for an onward flight.
Recommended cruise boats
We offer a range of boats, from the luxurious Sanctuary cruise to the great value Victoria Cruise boats.
All boats are of a good standard, with reasonably sized, en suite cabins. On shore excursions are in groups, led by generally excellent local guides. Here we present a selection of our favorites.