Discovering the joys of river voyages

From stargazing on the Amazon to sailing on the Nile, these leisurely trips leave the frenzy of modern life behind

  • Stargazing between the banks of Peru’s Amazon

    Hidden in the dense Peruvian jungle, the buzzing port at Iquitos is the prime location to embark on an eastbound river journey through the Amazon Basin. Since most first-time visitors stick to Brazilian waters, Peru’s river experience remains authentic and local. The open-air decks are strewn with a rainbow of brightly colored hammocks strategically pitched to avoid the stern’s lingering latrine aroma and engine hum. While gently swaying in rhythm with the boat, the world floats by effortlessly. Neighbors trade gossip and discuss their families, while old men sip cheap beer and bet on dominoes. As the day wanes, the surrounding landscape fades from rusty orange to deep indigo, revealing a multitude of constellations and planets rarely visible in the world’s well-traveled urban centers. Map it.

  • Lolling on the Yulong River in Yangshuo, China

    After the grit-breathing, moped-dodging, hawker-deflecting adventures of exploring China’s urban destinations, many yearn for a greener respite. Subtropical Yangshuo and its Yulong River provide the perfect antidote. Soothing as a slow-but-sure caress, the Yulong River meanders through a verdant landscape of mist-shrouded karst peaks, fecund rice paddies and wallowing water buffalo. It is past this lush backdrop that visitors can lazily float down the river aboard bamboo rafts. Dawdling is encouraged, and almost mandated, as the raft guides insist on stopping for a cold beer, a skewer of grilled chicken, or a freshly caught fish from local vendors on their small floating quasi-cafes, the ultimate in alfresco dining. Those staying riverside at Yangshuo Mountain Retreat can disembark and continue a Yulong-induced idyll from their own patio chairs. Map it.

  • Abandoning all sense of time on a felucca in Aswan, Egypt

    Breathing life into the barren desert of Egypt, the River Nile has a profoundly spiritual significance. Sail from Aswan to Edfu on a traditional Egyptian felucca, and your life merges with that of the river. When the ebb and flow of the elements defines your progress, time ceases to have any meaning. The wind whispers over the sails, and water slaps gently against the hull. The colors are primal, savage in their intensity: the inky blue of the river, the verdant green of the banks, and the deep pink of the granite mountains, which guard the horizon like jagged sentinels. As you slip past simple villages, listening to the joyful splashing of naked children, and meeting the placid gaze of gentle water buffalo, the serenity of thousands of years seeps into you. The River Nile always was, and always will be, the soul of this ancient land. Map it.

  • Jungle cruising to the heart of the Mayan world in Yaxchilan, Mexico

    As you take a wobbly walk into the long, wooden lancha, it’s clear this will be no Disney jungle cruise, but rather the real thing. The battered outboard sputters to life and suddenly your skin cools slightly as the heavy tropical air begins rushing by. You are on your way to the realm of the ancient Maya, a ruined city perched on a hillside shrouded in high canopy jungle and overlooking a bend in the Usumacinta River that forms the border between Southern Mexico and Guatemala. Clouds loom over giant ceiba trees, their massive roots adding to the timeless nature of the scene. Black howler monkeys perform acrobatics overhead along the river shore, as an occasional crocodile slides silently from his sandbar perch into the muddy gray water. Ahead, the lost city of Yaxchilan. Map it.

  • Floating under a ch

    Picture yourself on a boat on a river … floating under the arches of the 16th-century Ch

  • Floating in a pinasse on the River Niger in Mopti, Mali

    Escape the mayhem of Mopti’s vibrant market for a glide through the Niger’s calm waters. You’ll find shade under the curved thatch roof of the pinasse, or you can perch up top for panoramic views of the red-clay villages sprinkled on the river’s shores. Propelled by the boatman’s pole, you wave to villagers washing colorful cottons at the shoreline and greet Bozo fishermen casting and pulling in their nets. The clang of cowbells heralds the Fulani herding home their cattle. You sip from a steaming cup of freshly brewed, syrupy mint tea as the sunset turns the waters a glowing gold. Map it.

  • Sailing on a boat with a cause in Saugerties, N.Y.

    From the shoreline, the Clearwater Sloop glides down the Hudson with a swagger, her stately frame reminiscent of the single-masted 18th-century Dutch ships that were once a common sight here. As a passenger, you find yourself gazing proudly at the banks as distant figures marvel at this elegant vessel with sails aloft. Although the sloop calls to mind the past, a new environmental monitoring station, hidden in the hull, lends a clue to her forward-thinking mission. In 1966, folksinger Pete Seeger and his supporters decided to build a boat to draw attention to the waning condition of the Hudson River Valley. Christened in 1969, the Clearwater began a powerful movement that is credited with the revival of the river and its banks. Take a sail today on the cleaner waters she helped inspire. Map it.

  • Spinning in the funny boats in Hampi, India

    “Do you like speed?” is not the question you expect to be asked when floating idly in a calm river. The ferryman who picked you up on Hampi’s shore for a tour down the Tungabhadra River poses this question near the end of the trip. He’s gained your trust throughout the journey, expertly maneuvering the lightweight bamboo saucer, which locals call the “funny boats,” and telling amusing anecdotes about the boulder-strewn ancient city. Having already enjoyed a leisurely cruise, a little speed could be nice. With a grin, your captain dips his oar into the river and furiously paddles your tiny disc of a boat into a spinning frenzy. The landscape becomes a blur, a yelp escapes your lips, and you hold on tight. When the rush is over and your head and stomach have settled, you nod agreement to his question, “Again?” Map it.

  • Going to sea on the M.V. Uchuck III in Gold River, British Columbia

    If you take a day trip on the M.V. Uchuck III, wear layers of warm clothing. That way, in any weather you can sit on deck in front of the wheelhouse of this working packet freighter, a steaming cup of hot chocolate or coffee in hand, Tahsis Inlet opening out in front of you. It’s a slow ride down the inlet from Gold River to Nootka Sound, but that’s fine: Slow is just the right speed for this tour. The ship will stop several times to offload supplies and drop off kayakers, creating interesting photo opportunities. You might even get a lunch break at scenic Friendly Cove. Meanwhile, even the captain himself won’t have a finer view of this rugged coastline, or a better chance of spotting bald eagles, sea otters or the occasional whale. Map it.

  • Drifting by the diorama of delta life in Can Tho, Vietnam

    The woman steering your boat balances precariously on the edge of the bow as you drift slowly through the narrow canals of the Mekong Delta. As the sun climbs up into the sky, it reflects brilliantly off the loamy water, and you are glad for the conical straw hats that were distributed at the beginning of the ride. The canal widens and low houses appear along the banks where women hunch at the edge busily washing vegetables, pots and laundry. Farther downstream and suddenly you have joined a bustling floating market. A long barge drifts by covered with cabbages or pineapples. On another, merchants are busily heaving large sacks of flour up to the deck. Meanwhile, small pontoons weave in and out with glinting bottles of refreshments or golden baguettes for b

  • Floating down the Zambezi River at sunset in Zimbabwe

    As the setting sun turns the sky a deep orange, the captain turns off the motor, allowing the boat to drift silently down the Zambezi River. You float by a cape buffalo munching on marsh grass and pass within feet of an elephant standing on the shore. The only sound is a distant, low rumble. You pay it little heed until you realize you are floating toward Victoria Falls. What if the captain cannot restart the boat’s engine? Could you get to shore before being sucked into the raging torrent of water going over the falls? Of course, the motor starts right up, but not before you watch one of the most gorgeous sunsets you have ever seen. Map it.