The world is home to nearly 200 countries, and if you’re looking to see more of the world this year, it can be tricky to know which places you want to visit most.
Some of us are interested in countries that are packed with history and heritage sites like Inca temples. For others, it’s immersive cultures that are most alluring, like colourful India and spiritual Nepal. Lots of people are also drawn in by its nature itself – from the unique Galápagos Islands to the vast, wild Amazon.
Even once you’ve chosen a country to visit, seeing as much of it as you possibly can without wearing yourself out can be a fine line to tread.
With that said, a river cruise is often the best way to see a new country – or several new countries – as it allows you to kick back and relax on luxurious accommodation as you drift along waterways, stopping off at different places and soaking up sensational views as you go.
That’s why we’ve partnered with Avalon Waterways, who’re experts on exotic river cruises all around the world. On an Avalon cruise, you’ll have a captain, cruise director, and knowledgeable crew to look after you – and because you’ll be making multiple stops along the way, you’ll be able to see and do much more than you could on foot…often, while escaping the crowds.
So, to get you inspired, here are six exotic river cruises for 2023.
1. Spirit of the Ganges, India
If you’ve always been drawn to the vivid colours, vibrant cultures, and cherished spiritual traditions of India, then why not discover it on a cruise?
This seven-day cruise begins and ends in Kolkata, the country’s only riverside port city, and you’ll be able to explore its grand colonial architecture, art galleries, and temples after disembarking, as well as visit Mother Teresa’s former home.
You’ll spend the week drifting along the Ganges, the holy river of Hinduism. A stop off in Kalna, will allow you to go sightseeing by rickshaw, get blessed by a priest in a temple complex, and visit a muslin weaver’s home.
In the village of Matiari, there’ll be opportunities to see traditional sweets being made and chat with local craftsmen – and as you cruise, you’ll see the many ways that humans are connected to the river.
At Murshidabad, you’ll travel by electric rickshaw to Jiaganj. Here, you’ll visit the crafts market in Azimganj; see beautiful, ornate saris being woven; and watch silver and gold-making demonstrations in Bari Kothi.
Another cruise highlight is the ISKCON temple – the famous Hare Krishna headquarters – in Mayapur before visiting a farmer’s home and seeing how pottery is made in Guptipara.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime tour that will take you into the heart of India and show you the best that this unique and colourful country has to offer. You can immerse yourself in the local culture, yet take breaks from the crowds and the heat whenever you like, and enjoy a powerful sense of peace as you explore on your own terms.
Discover the spirituality of the Indian Ganges
2. The Peruvian Amazon and Inca Empire
Peru is one of the most dazzling and diverse places in the world. This big, beautiful country is home to so many sensational sights that it’s pretty much impossible to see them all in one trip – and choosing to visit the Amazonian wilderness or ancient Incan cities can seem like an impossible task. So, if you’re looking to see as much as you possibly can, a river cruise is your best bet.
This 13-day trip begins in lively Lima, where you’ll find your bearings on a guided tour. Peru boasts the best cuisine in Latin America, and you’ll get a taste of its delicious diversity during an elaborate welcome dinner.
You’ll then fly over the ancient and mystifying Nazca Lines – vast geoglyphs that can only be seen from the sky – which include a monkey, whale, hummingbird, shark, spider, and plants.
Next up is Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire. From here, you’ll explore the Sacred Valley and visit the ruins of Sacsayhuaman and Kenko, browse for souvenirs in the bustling Pisac Market, and explore the dramatic Ollantaytambo ruins. And of course, you’ll visit the magnificent, majestic Machu Picchu, taking the 360° train up the mountains to enjoy a guided tour of this spectacular site.
Then, it’s time to visit one of the most unexplored regions in the world – the Peruvian Amazon. Boarding one of the world’s most stylish small ships, you’ll enjoy unrivalled luxury as you cruise through this wilderness. You can visit native communities, kayak along tributaries, swim with pink dolphins, go on wildlife excursions, and marvel at the unique biodiversity of this remarkable region.
Experience the beauty and culture of Peru
3. Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands
If you’d love to go to South America but are more intrigued by nature and wildlife than history and ancient cultures, this next holiday could be your dream break.
Ecuador may be a small country, but it’s incredibly diverse and boasts magnificent mountains, cosmopolitan colonial towns, and the mesmerising Galápagos Islands – which are 13 volcanic islands that changed the way we view the world.
This eight-day tour kicks off in Ecuador’s capital, Quito, which is dramatically situated high up in the Andes. You’ll get a feel for this relaxed yet vibrant city on a walking tour, where you can lose yourself in the Old Town, a Unesco World Heritage Site that’s packed with captivating colonial buildings and monuments. You’ll meet local artists, visit a chocolate factory, and enjoy a delicious welcome dinner.
You’ll then fly to the Galápagos Islands, 600 miles off Ecuador’s coast. These islands are like nowhere else in the world, and the animals that live on them are just as unique.
You’ll first visit the Charles Darwin Research Station to learn all about conservation efforts on the islands, and discover how Darwin formed his theory of natural selection here. Then, you’ll board the recently refurbished Treasure of Galápagos to begin your four-night cruise.
Each day you’ll travel to a new island to enjoy naturalist-guided walks in this otherworldly landscape, trekking over lunar-like lava fields, red-sand beaches, and rocky calderas. You’ll snorkel in the tropical waters and see turtles, sharks, and rays. Then, on land, you can marvel at colonies of sea lions, pelicans, flamingos, and hopefully spot iguanas and albatrosses.
An unforgettable experience for any wildlife enthusiast.
Embrace the wilderness of Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands
4. Mekong Discovery, Cambodia and Vietnam
Southeast Asia is home to 11 countries of astonishing geographical, cultural, religious, and historical diversity.
While each country offers something special, Cambodia and Vietnam are especially alluring – and whether you’re dreaming of strolling through emerald-green rice fields or swimming in warm, azure waters, a river cruise is the best way to make those dreams a reality.
This eight-day tour will begin in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, where you’ll first cruise up the Mekong River to the ancient hilltop temple of Wat Hanchey and take part in a water blessing by local monks. You’ll then head to authentic Angkor Ban, where you’ll experience the unique local culture on a walking tour, which will include a school visit.
Next, you’ll immerse yourself in the beautiful tranquillity of the Cambodian countryside, where you can visit a local farmer’s home in Kampong Tralach, and tour the floating village of Kompong Luong. Then it’s back to Phnom Penh, where you can visit the bustling central market, tour the Royal Palace, or learn about the city’s heartbreaking history at the Tuol Sleng Museum and Killing Fields.
Later, you’ll cruise down the Mekong until you enter Vietnam, where you’ll be able to soak up the local culture while touring colourful markets. As you drift along, you can admire views of endless paddy fields and cone-hatted farmers, and make many stops along the way. Visit the idyllic island of Cu Lao Gieng, explore the city of Vinh Long, and finish in the intoxicating Ho Chi Minh City.
Uncover the delights of Cambodia and Vietnam
5. Colourful India and Nepal
India is known across the world for its colour, culture, and spirituality – but so is its neighbour, Nepal. While it might be most famous for being the home of Mount Everest, Nepal’s capital Kathmandu is one of the most enigmatic and vibrant cities in Asia. A hub of creativity, culture, and cuisine, it’s a city that should be on your bucket list – and this Indian and Nepalese holiday is the way to cross it off.
During this 16-day tour, you’ll explore many of India’s most famous sights. Beginning in the buzzing city of Delhi, you’ll enjoy a guided tour of the city, taking a rickshaw through the colourful Chandni Chowk bazaar, and visiting historic sites like Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Qutub Minar, and the Presidential Palace. You’ll also get to witness the sun rise over the Taj Mahal, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
You’ll then explore the city of Jaipur, where you can visit sites like Amber Fort and the Palace of the Winds, before flying to Kolkata where your Ganges river cruise will begin.
As you weave your way up the river, you’ll get a glimpse of a whole other side of India. From touring local villages and temples to browsing markets and visiting farmer’s homes, this is a unique chance to experience rural India.
Once you arrive back in Kolkata, you’ll then fly to Kathmandu, where you’ll see the best this sacred city has to offer. You’ll visit the sprawling palace of Hanuman Dhoka – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and the Temple of Kumari, which is the residence of the only living deity in the world. You’ll also visit Boudhanath, which is home to Nepal’s largest stupa.
This is a truly unique tour that takes you through Asia’s holy heart.
Take a tour through Asia’s spiritual heartland
The world is a big, beautiful, and incredibly diverse place – and visiting exciting, exotic countries and discovering captivating new cultures is one of life’s greatest adventures.
There are so many countries and sights to see, in fact, that trying to plan a holiday can be far more stressful than we imagine. With so many places to visit, how can we fit as much in as we can without feeling overwhelmed?
While we’ll never be able to see all of our wonderful world, a river cruise is definitely a wonderful way to try! With Avalon Waterways, you don’t only have the luxury of stylish accommodation and caring staff, but you also have the luxury of time. This is time you can spend relaxing on the deck and admiring the views around you, or time you can spend sightseeing, going on excursions, and really immersing yourself in your surroundings.
Whether you want to drift lazily along the Mekong River uncovering the beauty of Southeast Asia or wind your way through one of the Amazon’s many tributaries as you lose yourself in the vast wilderness, there’s an exotic cruise for everyone – and these are just six of them!
From guided tours in sacred cities and visiting local communities, to admiring gorgeous views and soaking up the sun, a cruise with Avalon Waterways will always be an unforgettable experience – whichever destination you choose.
To browse more river cruises, you can head over to the Avalon Waterways website.