Flowing for 3,915 miles (6,300km) from the Tibetan Plateau to the East China Sea, the Yangtze is the country’s most scenic waterway. A series of dramatic gorges line the great river, which since the completion of the Three Gorges Dam in 2003 has been navigable for most of its length by luxury cruise vessels.
The full journey, from Chongqing in the east to Shanghai on the western seaboard, takes 7 days to complete (or 9 in the other direction). For those with less time, we normally recommend covering just the section between Chongqing and Yichang – the most scenically diverse and culturally interesting – which can be completed in 4 days if travelling downstream, or 5 if you start at Yichang and travel westwards against the current. Our favourite vessels are:
Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer
The smallest of the Yangtze cruisers, with only 62 exclusive cabins and suites (the most spacious on the river), this is the crème de la crème of Yangtze cruisers and our number one choice. All of the accommodation benefits from private balconies and gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows yielding expansive views.
An unrivalled staff-to-passenger ratio of 1:1 ensures highly personalized service at all times. International-grade, five-star facilities on board include à la carte dining, an indulgent spa, fitness centre, theatre and high observation deck. Passengers may also benefit from a range of onboard activities, including Tai Chi, Chinese cookery classes and lessons in traditional Mandarin calligraphy.
Another real plus with the Sanctuary is that it visits less crowded sites than its competitors, and uses only the most knowledgeable guides.
Century River Cruises
Century’s fleet of seven cruisers, which carry between 198 and 408 passengers, is one of the most modern and well equipped working the Yangtze, and the only one whose boats all have grand atrium lobbies, sun deck bars and private balconies in every cabin. A lively programme of entertainment is provided in the evenings, featuring local opera and dance.
This America-owned company runs cruises year-round in boats with capacities ranging from 200 to 400 passengers. Most were built in the 1990s, but have seen major renovation since and offer excellent value for money. Being larger ships, they have the feel of classic cruisers, with elevators and atrium lobbies in their spacious interiors.