The Yangtze River Cruise Guide
More than 60 vessels operate cruises along the Yangtze, the world’s third-longest river, which stretches 6,300 kilometres from Shanghai through China’s heartland. The most popular cover the area known as the Three River Gorges, a 160-kilometre stretch between Nanjin Pass in the east and White King City in the west. Journeys are timed to show the gorges at their best – in daylight.
Travellers likely to visit China only once may wish to combine a river cruise with must-see sights such as the Great Wall (at Beijing), the haunting karst landscape of Guilin, cosmopolitan Shanghai and the terracotta warriors and the First Emperor of China’s tomb at Xian. All can be neatly packaged.
The Yangtze (sometimes called the 'yellow river' or, to be politically correct, the 'golden river') is China’s lifeline. With its mainstream and tributaries it runs through 18 provinces and cities and is regarded as dividing China roughly into north and south. From its source in the plateaus of the northern Tibetan highlands, it flows past the river cruise port of Chongqing, then through the plains of Jiangsu and Shanghai to the East China Sea.
It is divided into three sections: the Upper Reaches (including the Three Gorges), the Middle Reaches, and the Lower Reaches. The Three Gorges Project, begun in 1971 and completed in 2009, was the world’s largest-ever construction scheme. Designed to combat annual flooding and consequent loss of life, it created the world’s largest reservoir, and raised the level of the Yangtze River by about 175 metres, submerging towns and villages.
The dam, now the world’s biggest electricity-generating facility, supplies 15 per cent of China’s hydroelectricity power.
The Three Gorges
Xiling Gorge is the longest, at 76 kilometres, and winds through spectacular canyons. It stretches from the mouth of the Xiangxi River in the west to Nanjinguan Pass (Yiching City) in the east.
Wu Gorge, 40 kilometres long, is known as 'witches gorge' because of its depth and twisting nature. It extends eastward from the mouth of the Daning River to the east of the walled city of Wushan, and includes the stunning Twelve Peaks – the most famous being Goddess Peak.
Qutang Gorge, known locally as 'wind box gorge', is 45 kilometres long and is lined with limestone. The river travels through a narrow sluice, which rises between sheer cliffs. The most dramatic of the three gorges, it is noted for its Meng Lian staircase, carved by a murdered Song Dynasty official’s bodyguard who was attempting to recover his master’s body from the depths of the cliff face.
The Three Lesser (or Small) Gorges
Dragon Gate Gorge, Misty Gorge and Emerald Gorge are impressive, too, and often form part of the main cruise. They can also be reached by small vessels from Wushan.
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The full 2,253-kilometre river journey between Chongqing and Shanghai takes 10 or 11 days, but most people opt for a cruise and tour programme that includes a three- to six-day journey along the Yangtze from Chongqing to Wuhan to visit the Three Gorges, followed by trips to the Great Wall, Guilin, Shanghai and Xian.
Evenings may include a visit to a local restaurant for a typical Chinese banquet, to see Chinese Opera or a performance by the renowned Shanghai Acrobats.
Typical Cruise Operators
There are several operators but before booking do check on the facilities, hosting and excursion services, and the newness of the vessels. Because July and early August are extremely hot and humid, the best time to take a river cruise is May to June, and late August to October.
However, in the Yangtze Valley, temperatures between April and September can reach into 36C and summer rains can be torrential. Monsoons – seasonally changing winds – dominate weather conditions.
Typical 5-Night Three Gorges Itinerary
Day 1: Fly from Shanghai to Wuhan (shortest flight time: 80 minutes). Embark your rivership in Wuhan in the evening. Cruising all night.
Day 2: Cruising all day and night.
Day 3: Arrive in San Douping. Visit the Three Gorges Dam and pass through the locks. Cruising all night.
Day 4: Arrive in Wuhan. Excursion to Daning River Gorges.
Day 5: Arrive in Wanxian for a city tour. Cruising all night.
Day 6: Arrive in Chongqing at lunchtime. Disembark.
Typical 3-Night Three Gorges Itinerary
Day 1: Embark at Chongqing in early morning. Arrive Shibaozhai in the afternoon for a visit to the famed 12th Century Shibaozhai Pagoda. Cruising all night.
Day 2: Arrive in the Badong area. Excursion to Daning River or Shennong River. Arrive in Sandouping. Anchor overnight.
Day 3: Tour of Sandouping and the adjacent Three Gorges Dam. Pass through Gezhou Dam Ship Lock. Cruising all night.
Day 4: Arrive Wuhan at lunchtime. Disembark.
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This article was written by Douglas Ward from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.