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Boutique Cruise Vacation: Explore Exotic Rivers from the Amazon to the Nile in Luxury

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

A cruise on rivers as legendary as the Amazon, the Nile, the Ganges or the Mekong offers knowledge that would be impossible from land. Many also offer a level of luxury that few land-based hotels can compete with. Here are eight of the most intriguing.

SACRED INDIA

Opulent: The Victoria Memorial in Kolkata.  Take in the sights of the city on a 'serene' ride aboard the Ganges Voyager II

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

A bedroom inside the incredibly comfortable Ganges Voyager II

A bedroom inside the incredibly comfortable Ganges Voyager II

A bedroom inside the incredibly comfortable Ganges Voyager II

If India’s ramshackle roads and congested trains hit the overload button, head to the holy Ganges of India.

This journey is serene but doesn’t shy away from the complexities of India: visit rural villages and Mother Teresa’s home for orphaned children in Kolkata along with temples, museums, and colonial mansions. You can also see bustling New Delhi, Agra (for the Taj Mahal at sunset), and beautiful Jaipur.

Ganges Voyager II is a bit dated but extremely comfortable and daily yoga is included.

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

Nile beggar

Nour el Nil's fleet of six dahabiyas exudes a peculiar luxury.  In the photo appears the ship 'Malouka' of the fleet.

Nour el Nil's fleet of six dahabiyas exudes a peculiar luxury.  In the photo appears the ship 'Malouka' of the fleet.

Nour el Nil’s fleet of six dahabiyas exudes a peculiar luxury. In the photo appears the ship ‘Malouka’ of the fleet.

Nile cruises tend to bring glitz, but Nour el Nil’s fleet of six dahabiyas (two-masted sailboats) exudes a quirky luxury.

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

This trip includes places that larger ships cannot reach, such as the Temple of Nekhbet at El Kab and the Temple of Horemheb at Gebel el-Silsila (along with the more well-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 latest falafel.

Curl up in a hammock or recline on the floor cushions as Egyptian river life meanders by on the Nour el Nil journey up the Nile

Curl up in a hammock or recline on the floor cushions as Egyptian river life meanders by on the Nour el Nil journey up the Nile

Curl up in a hammock or recline on the floor cushions as Egyptian river life meanders by on the Nour el Nil journey up the Nile

The photo shows one of the bedrooms on board the 'Adelaide'.  Suites have a touch of French country chic

The photo shows one of the bedrooms on board the 'Adelaide'.  Suites have a touch of French country chic

The photo shows one of the bedrooms on board the ‘Adelaide’. Suites have a touch of French country chic

The photo shows the bathroom on board the ship 'El Nil'.  Five nights with Nour el Nil cost from £ 1,070 per person

The photo shows the bathroom on board the ship 'El Nil'.  Five nights with Nour el Nil cost from £ 1,070 per person

The photo shows the bathroom on board the ship ‘El Nil’. 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.

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

WONDERS OF WEST AFRICA

Cruise through four wildlife-filled nature reserves (including the Sine Saloum delta, a Unesco biosphere reserve) along the Senegal and Gambian waterways.

Harmony G is an elegant yacht with room for just 44 people. The inevitable downside of a yacht over a custom-built cruise is that the cabins are comfortable, but who cares when you’ll be spending most of your time on the deck?

You transfer to pirogues (long canoes) with a naturalist guide to spot everything from baboons to bush babies, wild boars and swamp mongooses. And suffice it to say, bird watchers will be shaking with ecstasy.

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

ROYAL RUSSIA

Moscow and St. Petersburg: two cities linked by rivers, several canals and two huge lakes that sparkle in western Russia.

Join the dots with this cruise, showcasing life beyond the tourist hotspots of cultural megaliths.

Sometimes you go through a dense forest; every now and then a church tower pokes out of the water.

In addition to city tours, explore Yaroslavl (the ‘Florence of Russia’ known for its art), the rebuilt town of Mandrogi, and historic Uglich, a beautiful city with a bloody past. MS Rublev is an older ship, a bit dated, but comfortable and spacious.

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

SAFARI SHOW

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

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

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

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

Passengers can see The Zambezi Queen's finest wildlife show, which travels through Botswana (pictured), South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

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

Lions lying in the sun; leopards lounging in the trees, elephants and water buffalo drinking from the water’s edge; You don’t even need to get out of bed to see this spectacle of wildlife across Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

The Zambezi Queen is a luxurious 14-suite eco-friendly houseboat. The indoor dining room, lounge, and bar are all air-conditioned (but still have floor-to-ceiling windows so you don’t miss a single hippo or osprey). Or take a dip in the plunge pool on the outdoor deck.

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

PARROTS IN PERU

All Aqua Expeditions ships are retro-chic, incredibly beautiful, but the new Aqua Nera ups the ante.

Twenty suites exude laid-back luxury as one of Peru’s best chefs, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, creates delicious meals with Amazonian produce. Does anyone want yucca gnocchi? There is a one-to-one guest / staff ratio on board and the naturalist guides take you every day to the heart of the Peruvian Amazon.

Get up close and personal with monkeys and macaws, parrots and piranhas (okay, not too close) in the lush rainforest. Take some time off at the spa or watch a movie in the private screening room.

Reserve: Three night cruise from £ 3,475 per person (aquaexpeditions.com).

SEE CHINA

Suites on the Sanctuary Retreats journey down the Yangtze are cool, quiet, and supremely comfortable

Suites on the Sanctuary Retreats journey down the Yangtze are cool, quiet, and supremely comfortable

Suites on the Sanctuary Retreats journey down the Yangtze are cool, quiet, and supremely comfortable

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

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

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

The Yangtze is a lush, meandering river famous for its amazing gorges. This cruise combines the old and the new, often in surprising ways.

The river is home to a high-tech underwater museum for viewing ancient rock carvings, while the Three Gorges Dam is a blast of wild elemental power with pristine human technology.

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

The suites are cool, quiet, and extremely comfortable; You eat à la carte (Chinese or continental) and you can learn to cook dumplings and other local delicacies.

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

MEKONG MEANDER

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

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

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

Most travelers dive into Angkor Wat alone, but it’s worth wandering 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: visit the markets in Phnom Penh and learn how to cook Khmer dishes.

Scenic Spirit really does have the feel of a floating boutique hotel, with 34 suites (all with butler service). The terrace is super elegant with a pool surrounded by palm trees, an open-air cinema and a steam room.

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

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