Chongqing is the departure point for the two-day cruise downriver through the Three Gorges to Yichang. There are two main cruise options, both of which run year-round: relatively inexpensive public ferries, which stop along the way to pick up passengers; and upmarket cruise ships, which only stop at tour sites. For prices from Chongqing to Yichang, along with practical information on buying both ferry and cruise-ship tickets. You can also reach all the places covered here by bus from Chongqing, though roads get worse the further east you go.
Public ferries are crowded and noisy, with berths starting at first class – a double cabin with bathroom – and descending in varying permutations through triples and quads with shared toilets, to a bed in sixteen-person cabins; even first-class cabins are small and functional. Timing is important: try to avoid leaving Chongqing between 10am and noon, as you’ll hit the first gorge too early and the third too late to see much. Not all ferries pull in at all ports, and schedules can change en route to compensate for delays, so it’s possible that you’ll miss some key sights. At each stop, departure times are announced in Chinese. Meals (buy tickets from the mid-deck office) are cheap, basic and only available for a short time at 7am, 10am and 6pm, though there’s plenty available onshore at stops. Bring snacks, and in winter, warm clothing. Many tourists complain of unhelpful or plain useless tour guides, and of being harassed by ferry staff to buy expensive on-board tickets for observation decks when access is, in fact, free or much cheaper than advertised.
Alternatively, you could travel in style on a cruise ship. These vessels verge on five-star luxury, with comfortable cabins, glassed-in observation decks, games rooms and real restaurants. They’re usually booked out by tour parties during peak season, though at other times you can often wrangle discounts and get a berth at short notice.