Cruise one of the world’s great rivers Crossing countries, or continents, the world’s great rivers offer wildlife, scenery, and a fascinating insight into the cultures you meet along the way. Here are four of the most exhilarating trips you can take.
1. Danube Flowing from the Black Forest region of Germany to the Black Sea, this great waterway takes in some of the great cities and landscapes in Europe on a journey of more than 1,700 miles (2,735km). It may not always be as blue as the Strauss waltz implied, but its beauty is unquestionable, particularly if you cruise the stretch from Vienna to Budapest.
2. Mississippi This river splices through the heart of the US. It begins at Lake Itasca, Minnesota, and travels down through eight states before flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way it’s fed by numerous tributaries and remains one of the world’s great commercial waterways. The most atmospheric cruises are on old-time steamboats such as the Delta Queen.
3. Nile The longest river on the planet, this begins as two rivers in Ethiopia and Rwanda, converges in Sudan, and then flows north all the way to the Mediterranean. Head to Egypt, where the Nile has carved out the country’s destiny, to see it at its most spectacular. There are endless cruise options, but the most popular route is from Luxor to the Aswan Dam.
4. Yangtze Beginning in Tibet and flowing west to Shanghai, this is Asia’s greatest river, and the third longest in the world. It passes through spectacular scenery. River cruises offer a leisurely and scenic way to cover major sites such as the Terracotta Warriors at Xian, and the mausoleum at Nanjing, as well as the mighty (and somewhat controversial) Three Gorges Dam.
Visit the world’s deepest freshwater lake
Lake Baikal holds over a fifth of the world’s surface water, and is also the oldest and deepest lake. Its isolation has allowed unique fauna and flora to thrive, earning it World Heritage site status.
Formed as a result of immense tectonic activity, Lake Baikal is estimated to be 5,370 ft (1,637m) deep, but if you include the sediment below the water, the fissure in the earth’s surface is a mighty five miles (8km) deep. Only when the Trans-Siberian Express reached this corner of southern Siberia was the extent of the lake first mapped (for the railway see page 125). Its biodiversity is amazing, with over 1,000 plant species and 1,500 animal varieties.
Over half are only found in this region, which is why it is of such importance. For visitors, one of the most enchanting spectacles is the lake’s only mammal, the Baikal seal. This earless variety spends its whole life in freshwater and can live for over 55 years. No one knows exactly how it arrived so far from the sea, but scientists speculate that a corridor once linked the lake to the Arctic Ocean. The tranquil blue water stretches over 1,300 miles (1,600km), so there is plenty to see.
You can tour the periphery by rail (a ten-hour journey including 200 bridges), or join winter treks across it by jeep and dogsled. Truly adventurous souls can sign up for a Baikal Explorers’ winter diving expedition. The water is pristine but chipping through the ice and swimming in temperatures averaging less than 39° Fahrenheit (4° celsius) makes this a bracing experience.