6 Life-Changing River Cruises Around the World

Travelers these days want more from their adventures than what they can simply read in a travel guide. They seek authentic experiences that offer an opportunity to venture through hard-to-reach villages, dine with locals, discover sacred shrines and gain a deeper understanding of different cultures through firsthand experience and knowledgeable experts.

River cruising offers curious travelers a wholly unique way to experience fascinating destinations—these voyages often provide educational and enriching experiences that make your travels both meaningful and memorable. Thanks to small boats and small groups (i.e. access to more exclusive ports and a better crew-to-passenger ratio), it’s no wonder that Road Scholars love embarking on a river cruise when they’re ready to explore the world.

From discovering the curiosities of the Africa’s Chobe River to learning about the holiness of the Ganges in India, travel around the world with us to six extraordinary destinations that are best explored on a river cruise.

1. Uncover the Nile River’s Greatest Mysteries

There isn’t a more bucket list worthy destination than a river cruise down Egypt’s Nile River. Delve into this incredible and influential part of world history when you learn straight from an Egyptologist who is ready to answer your every question. More than simply a trip to the pyramids (although that, too!), you’ll learn—in detail—the roles each pharaoh and queen played in shaping ancient Egypt. Calling at different small ports along the Nile River, participants disembark to visit pyramids and descend into tombs. On a Nile River study cruise, you’ll come face-to-face with the rulers responsible for some of the most incredible pieces of architecture, and the treasures that still baffle and intrigue the modern world.

Road Scholar Recommends: Beyond the Pharaohs: Egypt Past and Present

2. Discover the Mississippi River

A classic and elegant way to experience the heart of the United States, stepping aboard the American Duchess—the first and only all-suite paddle-wheeler to cruise down U.S. rivers—offers the best ways to have the quintessential Southern experience. From the flavors of New Orleans to the sounds of Memphis, you’ll explore a side of the country steeped in history and culture. Your Mississippi river cruise visits small towns dotting the landscape, each one full of historical significance, such as St. Francisville and Vicksburg. Your voyage through the Old South also brings you right onto historic battlefields, where you’ll learn about America’s most well-regarded generals and commanders, all while spending easy nights filled with breezy blues and lively jazz music.

Road Scholar Recommends: Southern Grandeur: A Private Voyage on the Mississippi

3. Connect to Southeast Asian Culture as You Float Down the Mekong River

Prepare to explore Southeast Asia’s dense and diverse jungles, marvel at educational excursions to the region’s most important religious monuments and jump right into the local way of life, which even means picking up a few local phrases along an unforgettable journey. Aboard the Mekong Sun river cruise, participants have access to the river’s best night markets, remote and otherwise hard-to-access communities and the chance to meet the incredible wildlife that call the Mekong River home. You’ll learn about UNESCO World Heritage Sites and culminate your educational adventure with a once-in-a-lifetime experience: an expert-led discovery of the extraordinary temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Road Scholar Recommends: The Mekong and Icons of Southeast Asia: Ha Long Bay, Angkor Wat & Luang Prabang

4. Delight Yourself on India’s Holiest River: The “Mother Ganges”

The Ganges is one of the holiest rivers in the world and certainly the holiest of rivers in Hinduism. Add to that the allure of visiting India itself—a subcontinent as mysterious as it is fascinating— and you’ll never forget sailing from Kolkata to Munger aboard the RV Bengal Ganga. It’s not enough to just see the locations that make India one of the most spiritual places in the world—this is a journey where understanding only comes through participation in immersive excursions, as well. From the Katra Mosque to the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Theresa, there’s plenty to learn from and experience aboard the vessel, especially during the expert presentations. In fact, there’s a particularly interesting one on Spirituality in India that will change your entire conception of the country’s peoples and cultures.

Road Scholar Recommends: India’s Holy Ganges River: Rituals, History and the Sacred City of Varanasi

5. Voyage Down the World’s Largest and Longest River, the Amazon

Jump headfirst into Peru and discover the two amazing worlds that make up this breathtaking region—the Inca highlands and the Amazon. There’s just something about the thought of floating down the Amazon River, the largest and longest river in the world, that ignites the explorer in us. When traveling by river cruise through Peru, you’ll fill your days with excursions through the rainforest led by experts ready to help you learn about colorful birds and rare flora and fauna. No South American expedition is complete without a visit to a local shaman, as well as dinner with a local family, which will open your eyes to how locals live in the remotest of regions. Rounding out this unforgettable riverboat adventure, you’ll spend days and nights whipping up new dishes at a cooking class, fishing for piranhas and swimming with pink dolphins, before heading to the Inca highlands for arguably the memory of a lifetime: a hike through Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley.

Road Scholar Recommends: Two Worlds of Peru: The Inca Highlands and the Amazon

6. Wave Hello to Wildlife from Africa’s Chobe River

Unforgettable wildlife is calling to you and there’s no better way to experience Africa than by way of a learning voyage down the Chobe River aboard the Zambezi Queen. On board, you’ll float between the beautiful banks of Botswana and Namibia and you’ll lose yourself in the sights and sounds that are distinct to this part of the world—zebras supping from the rivers and elephants triumphantly calling to their herd. You’ll embark on safaris to scour the landscape for the Big Five and learn about this amazing ecosystem with expert naturalists.

Road Scholar Recommends: Safari by Water & Land: Zimbabwe, Namibia & Botswana

See Road Scholar’s complete collection of river cruises →

So, from the Amazon to the Ganges, which river cruise will you cross off your list first?

Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook or Instagram!

About the Author
JoAnn Bell, Senior Vice President of Program Development, develops and manages more than 5,500 learning adventures in 150 countries and 50 states. JoAnn's extensive travel industry experience informs her expert insight on everything from where to find the world's most charming streets to must-see hidden gems across the globe.

Get our e-newsletter!

Stay in the loop on our new blogs, special offers, new adventures and more.