Yangtze River Travel Guide

Civilizations flourish along and around rivers. This was true of the Nile in Africa, the Amazon of South America, and couldn’t be truer of the Yangtze traversing China. The world’s third longest river winds a distance of 3,964 miles through eleven provinces and cities, virtually dividing China into North and South.  Cruising along will bring you gaping at cliffs with sporadic houses jutting out, gorgeous gorges, and other geological formations. The seemingly endless stretch of the waters and its sheer expanse make you wonder how mighty and powerful a river Yangtze is.

Hop on the ports and you will enter ancient cities and kingdoms, with their own legends and lore. The river teems not only of natural wonders, but also of historical and cultural appeal and importance.

Yangtze in a Nutshell

The mighty Yangtze is supplied by its headwaters flowing 16,000 feet high from the Kunlun Mountains in the Qinghai Province. It then weaves through four provinces from Sichuan, on to Hubei, to Auhui, then Juangsu. Before the river pours out to the China Sea, it provides water to more than 700 tributaries and supplies the world’s largest dam and hydroelectric power station.

Best Time to Visit

Some parts of the Yangtze can be searing during summers, and freezing and wet during winters. Cruise prices and admission to the different sites are lower, though. The best time to visit in terms of weather conditions would be spring and autumn, from the months of April to June and from September to November. These are also when tourists are teeming and prices are at the peak. If you prize the quiet that the off season affords you and if you can take the weather discomforts, then you will enjoy both affordable rates and less-crowded tours.

Weather

The weather in the Yangtze very much depends on where you are along the nearly 4,000 miles of river. The river looks like a curve that divides China into the northern and the southern parts. Across the river, cultures and customs differ. The same it is with the weather.

Chongqing earned the moniker as one of the three furnaces of China because of its searing temperature reaching 104 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer season. Springs and winters offer very comfortable temperatures. Yichang has hot and humid summers, pleasant autumns, sunny springs, and wet and freezing winters. Visit Yichang during the autumn and spring seasons. Wuhan is the other furnace of China where summers can scorch. The best times to explore it will be April to May, and September to October when it is dry but relatively cool.

Top Attractions

Yangtze River has influenced past civilizations and produced some of China’s most notable persons. One of these is Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism. The river has a long history of affecting cultures, politics, economies, beliefs and traditions. Today the river continues to affect lives, societies, and the environment. Don’t just let the cruise take you for a ride. Gain knowledge about the river and trust yourself – you will enjoy the cruise twofold. On the cruise, there will be selected stops and excursions, depending on the chosen itinerary. Listed below are some of the ports and corresponding attractions you can visit while on a stop-over or excursion. The cruises pay for most admission fees if specified as inclusion in your cruise package.

1) Ci Qi Kou (Porcelain Village)

You first arrive in Chongqing, southwest China’s largest industrial and commercial hub. It is also called “mountain city” because of building constructions on mountainsides. Most cruises and tours take off from the port of Chongqing. It is worth to note that the earliest Homo erectus ever found in China was unearthed in Chongqing.

Ci Qi Kou is an ancient village in this city. When Chongqing urbanized, Ci Qi Kou remained much the way it was. Chongqing can always look back at the village and see its untouched past, unaffected by the modern world. In fact, the State recognized this and declared Ci Qi Kou as a protected cultural site. In the 14th century, the village was the center for porcelain production evidenced by ancient kiln sites unearthed. Stroll to Ci Qi Kou’s hundreds of tea bars, browse over artists’ craft studio and the Shu embroidery shops. You can see the local artisans at work and chat with the resident of this little town.

Address: Ci Qi Kou, West of Chongqing

2) Three Gorges Museum

Before you sail to the much-heralded Three Gorges, peruse the exhibits in the Three Gorges Museum. The building that houses the exhibits is a grand display of engineering in itself, with arched walls and glassy dome. You won’t miss it in front of the People’s Hall in Chongqing. It holds essential cultural and historical accounts of Chongqing, the Three Gorges, bronze sculptures, the kilometric Environmental Corridor, the changes and development in Chongqing, wartime record of ordeals under the Japanese, paintings, calligraphies, porcelains, and other cultural relics from ancient dynasties. Entrance is free, guided tours starts at USD22 (updated 2020).

Address: 236 renmin Road, Yu Zhong District, Chongqing

3) Dazu Rock Carvings

Still in Chongqing, massive rock carvings of religious sculptures are favorite sights. The Dazu Rock Carvings show influences of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. The three-dimensional images were carved artistically and skillfully on a cliff side and could be dated back to 7th century A.D. Admission fee is starts at USD7 to USD22 (updated 2020) .

Address: 7 Beishan Road, Dazu County, Chongqing

4) Beishan Rock Carving, and others

Extending from Dazu is another series of large-scale diorama of the Beishan, Baodingshan, and Shengshou rock carvings.

This destination showcases separate rock carvings that are located close to each other. The statues look like a congregation of Oriental petrified gods and goddesses. The Beishan Rock Carving is dominated by Buddhist figures, with Bodhisattva standing out. She is the Oriental Venus. The Baodingshan Rock Carving is a massive grouping of stone figures, with around 10,000 statues. You can say that it totally rocks! The other rock figures include ethnic Buddhist figures, clay creations of Taoist gods in the 10th century, Lao Tzu and Confucius-influenced grotto art.  During peak season, tickets range from USD29.50 for all the carvings in all the temples. Ticket for Beishan alone starts at USD7, and for Baodingshan starts at USD15 (updated 2020).

Address: Beishan, Dazu County, Chongqing

5) Ghost City

Downstream from Chongqing, you will arrive at Fengdu port. Fengdu is famed as Eastern Han Dynasty’s “Ghost City” and is usually a part of the excursion along the Yangtze. Visiting this place will introduce you to the belief in the afterlife with the ghost returning to pass three important tests before making the final leave. It is a showcase of the ghost culture and artisanship in turning these beliefs into tangible representations. You pay USD2 to use the lift up the hill.

Address: Fengdu County (107 miles from Chongqing)

6) Snow Jade Cave

Man certainly can’t compete with nature as these time-carved carbonated rock sculptures flaunt. Snow Jade Cave is a 5,393- feet network of underground streams and fissures with awe-inspiring stalagmites and stalactites.  Considered as one of the Four Best Caves in the World, the Snow Jade is a massive 3-storied cave with spectacular formations of mostly pure white crystalline stalactites. There are over 100 interesting sights inside the cave and 2 have applied for a Guinness World Record. Also referred to as the “white marble sculpture museum,” the formations include shield, coral shapes, stone hair, waterfall, and animal shapes. Two most notable structures are the Terra Shield and Tower Coral. Admission fee is USD10 (updated 2020).

Address: Fengdu County

7) Shibaozhai (Precious Stone Fortress)

Zhongxian is another port where a stop-over can be made to Shibaozhai. An incredible 12-storey vermillion pagoda creeping on a precipitous cliff, the Shibaozhai is an amazing structure to see. It was built in the 18th century by the Qing Dynasty. Admission fee is USD8 (updated 2020).

Address: 17 Yinshan Street, Baoshi Town, Zhongxian County

8) Lesser Three Gorges

The Lesser Three Gorges are: the Dragon Gate Gorge, Misty Gorge, and Emerald Gorge. While referred as “lesser” in comparison to the bigger Three Gorges, this trio must not to be construed to be lesser in beauty and excitement. The view along the gorges offers spectacular sheer cliffs and frothing dangerous rapids. After passing that stimulating 37-mile stretch of rapids, you can again sit back and admire calmer views. The gorges are part of the Wushan County.

Location: Wushan County

9) The Three Gorges

The Three Gorges is the highlight of most cruises. The gorges are the Qutang Gorge, Wuxia Gorge, and Xiling Gorge. You will be cruising along some of the most scenic spots of the cruise on either bank, including the Kui Gate, mountains peaking higher than the high cliffs, grotesquely-shaped rocks, and eerie fogs. There would be moments when the sheer height of mountains would seem to drown you while your ship snakes around the gorges. The poetic scene of caves, streams, rock formations, vegetation, reefs and stones, passes and bridges saves any alarm a traveler may feel during the winding and partly turbulent course.

Location: Yichang City

10) The Three Gorges Dam

An engineering feat, the Three Gorges Dam may well be the Chinese people’s third superstructure after the Great Wall of China and the Grand Canal. The dam was built to control the flooding from the mammoth headwaters of Yangtze and to harness hydropower. The Three Gorges Dam is the largest hydropower project in the world. The scenic area along the dam has the Tanzi Mountain in the background, several viewing points, and the Memorial Garden.

Visitors can observe the conservation projects being implemented and soak in a relaxing panorama at the 185 Platform, 185 meters high. The Memorial Garden is a museum of equipment and machines used when the dam was constructed. Amidst all technology and engineering, you can still venture to an ancient structure, the Huangling Temple. Entrance fee is USD15 (updated 2020).

Address: Yichang City

Where to Eat

While on the cruise, the main meals will be served in the ship and covered by the cost of the cruise. Breakfasts are usually buffet-style while suppers are plated table arrangements. During stopovers and excursions, though, you may want to partake of the unique taste of the Chinese along the Yangtze. Take note that it is a huge country and from one point of the Yangtze to another, the culture and traditions vary. A traveler is a student of culture, not to mention a food connoisseur, so alight and take opportunities to learn and taste the different cuisines along the river Yangtze.

1) Ba Yi Road Food Center

Chongqing, the point of departure or arrival of your ship depending on the itinerary you chose, is noted for its Sichuan dishes – one of the four world-renowned Chinese cuisines. While in Chongqing don’t miss out on it, unless you travel the Yangtze every day. This food center along Ba Yi Road is the hub for all Chongqing snack items sold in stalls. Sample the Haoyoulai noodles, hot pot, Bangbang chicken, and other succulent sesame-smelling food. A filling snack will cost you around USD2.

Address: Ba Yi Road, Yu Zhong District, Chongqing

2) Baijian Restaurant

Try this restaurant for its delicious mutton, the specialty of the house. They also serve Wang duck, sweet dumplings, pickled vegetables, and a host of delicious Chinese food. A meal costs an average of USD5.50 per person.

Address: 68 Jiefang Xi Road, Yu Zhong District, Chongqing

3) Restaurants on Xiba (west dam)

Restaurants along the river bank are favorite food destinations of both tourists and locals for the famous Yangtze River-Sanxia dishes prepared in Yichang’s food streets. Local favorites are Sanyou spirit chicken and Xiakou pearl soup. Relish the radish-stuffed dumpling while you enjoy the freshness offered by the view of the Yangtze River. A decent meal will cost around USD8 per person.

Address: Xiba (river side), Yichang

4) Xiaomian Food Street

Don’t leave without tasting the specialties like the cold shrimp, fried turnip dumpling, Bingliang cake, and Dingding cake. Take a mouthful of the Three Gorges pearl soup with the image of the gorgeous gorges in mind.  An unforgettable meal will cost you around USD7.50.

Address: North Huancheng , Road, Yichang 

5) Hubuxiang Breakfast Street

The Chinese love to cook, and you can taste it from the basic noodles to the more elaborate 8-diagram soup from tortoise meat. This historic street is a throbbing breakfast center with 30 types of breakfast meals available at any day. It also features hot-fried noodles, rice wine and steamed Wuchang fish with bamboo shoot. A hearty meal will cost around USD8.50.

Address: Zhonghua Lu Street, Wuchang, Wuhan

Where to Stay

Exploring Yangtze is neither easy nor cheap. Unless you are on a scientific exploration or on a treasure hunt, going to Yangtze and discovering sights should be done through tested cruises. Trying any other means to see the Yangtze is nothing short of folly. That being said, it is recommended that you make plans of taking a cruise.

There are many cruise ships available. Each cruise ship has its preferred itinerary which includes stop-overs to cities and sights. It must be understood that for the whole duration of the trip, you will be accommodated on the ship which serves as your mobile hotel while you hop from one port to another. Hereunder is a list of cruises that will take you to the Yangtze and to the wonders peculiar to every city or town through which the river meanders.

1) Yangtze River Tours

This 4-day cruise will take you from Chongqing, to the beautiful 3-Gorges and Dams and on to Yichang, with a tour to museums and an ancient town in Chongqing, shore excursions to the Ghost City of Fengdu, and highlighted by the 3-Gorges tour, and the dams and villages. For the whole duration, you will be staying at the ship for the night. Accommodations for single room superior class starts at USD520 per person, while for deluxe class it starts at USD420. The price includes entrance fees and meals, full board on the ship, and all transfers and city transportation (updated 2020)

Take-off point: Chongqing pier (all cruise participants will be picked up from the Chongqing airport or train station)

2) Victoria Cruises

The Victoria Cruises is the only American fleet plying the Yangtze. The 5-star fleet, consisting of 8 vessels, offers several itineraries along the river with minimum of 3 nights sailing and touring to a maximum of 8 nights. The rooms are equipped with radio and satellite phone and furnished with luxurious beds, TV, mini-refrigerator, mini-bar, safe box, bathtub and a balcony. Amenities include a business center, shopping center, massage room, night club, bar, reading room, and a clinic. The sundecks are not to be missed. Prices vary depending on itinerary, number of days, and whether the cruise is downstream (Chongqing to Yichang) or upstream (vice versa) which takes longer. Price starts at USD470 per person (updated 2020).

Take-off point: Chongqing pier (for downstream cruise); Yichang pier (for upstream cruise)

3) President Yangtze Cruises

These 5-star colossal ships ply the Yangtze River every day except Sunday. The fleet of 6 ships specializes in the 3-Gorges cruises which includes stop-overs on the main city ports between Chongqing and Yichang. The ship offers several types of accommodations ranging from standard rooms to presidential suites, and amenities including dining hall, ballroom, gym, sauna, salon, massage rooms, shopping and business centers, and viewing decks. A downstream cruise will take 4 days and 3 nights, while an upstream cruise will take 5 days and 4 nights. Price starts at USD371 per person (updated 2020).

Take-off point: Chongqing pier (for downstream cruise); Yichang pier (for upstream cruise)

4) China Dragon Cruises

These sleek 5-star ships are Chinese-owned and operated and they sail through the main cities between Chongqing and Yichang. Adopting contemporary European designs in the interior and exterior of the ships, accommodations and amenities are guaranteed top-notch. This is the first fleet in the Yangtze to introduce elevators in its ships. The cruise from Chongqing to Yichang takes 4 days and 3 nights at about USD400 per person; while the trip upstream will take a leisurely 5 days and 4 nights starts at USD360 per person.

Take-off point: Chongqing pier (for downstream cruise); Yichang pier (for upstream cruise)

5) New Century Serials

The New Century Cruises have 4-star and 5-star vessels, which claim to have the newest and most luxurious river cruises in the world. The vessels sail with cutting-edge technology, thus assure safe navigation. The ship’s accommodations correspond to 5-star hotel standards with luxurious beds, full bathroom features, private balcony, satellite TV, telephone and mini-bar. An upstream trip cruise will take 5 days and 4 nights, while a downstream itinerary will take 4 days and 3 nights. Both cruises cost USD528 per person (updated 2020).

Things to Do

A trip to China isn't complete without traversing through one of its most prized possessions--the Yangtze. The area the river covers is so vast that it would take months to see even a fraction of the attractions the river has to offer. Such makes for a perfect venue for exciting activities like the following:

1) Explore Chongqing

This is where the cruise usually starts. The city has many attractions to explore. You can wait for the tour to bring you around, or you can arrive earlier and explore the city by yourself.

2) Take a River Cruise

This has to be booked ahead of time. Determine the itinerary that best suits you. There are upstream and downstream cruises.

3) Take Excursions

Learn about the people and villages along the river. It will make your cruise a richer experience.

4) Discover Ancient Cities and Kingdoms

China is known for its long lineage of emperialism and long periods of stability. Hear about the ancient cities and kingdoms where emperors ruled. Listen to legends and stories from the locals of how the Great Wall was built or the stories of Shaolin.

5) Sample Local Food and Delicacies

The Chinese people are creative cooks and culinary masters. Take a sample of their specialties and local cuisine.

A cruise along Yangtze is a journey to a culture that goes back several millennia. The beliefs, way of life, food, architecture and scenery may contrast starkly from your own experience and views. Appreciate the diversity, even the difference in the zones of comfort or discomfort. It is a journey to a unique part of the earth – the part that is exclusive to Yangtze. That’s what makes it interesting.

Marv Perez

Escape Hunter - January 22, 2014

Unfortunately much of the Yangtze’s beauty has been destroyed with the construction of the Three Gorges Dam complex.

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