The most stunning rivers in the world

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 20.05.2024

Yangzi, China

River cruises down China’s most important and largest river, the Yangzi, are an increasingly popular tourist attraction. Highlights on the route include the breathtakingly scenic Three Gorges area, now also known for its huge hydroelectric dam, which generates a staggering amount of electricity each year.

three-rivers-gorges-yangtze-river -china-shutterstock_1171807789

Yangzi gorge © Shutterstock

Cahabón, Guatemala

Transparent, turquoise water, bubbling cascades and pretty waterfalls are the trademarks of the Cahabón River in eastern Guatemala. But it also has a more active trick up its sleeve – it’s a great spot for whitewater rafting, with punchy rapids and drops churning the water into creamy torrents and challenging even the most experienced of rafters.

Looking for a way to be better prepared for your trip to Guatemala? Start by familiarising yourself with things to know before you go.


Cahabon River in Semuc Champey, Guatemala © PSPICS/Shutterstock

Loire, France

A justly deserved UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Loire valley in central France is blanketed in prestigious vineyards, blossoming orchards and spectacular châteaux. It’s also carved by the longest river in France, the lovely Loire, which sweeps its way past tumbledown villages and glorious cities like Angers and Blois, beneath lofty bridges and alongside rolling fields.


Chateau de Sully-sur-Loire, France © Viacheslav Lopatin/Shutterstock

Kenai, Alaska

A pristine meltwater river in southern Alaska, the Kenai is a paradise for fishermen – and particularly those who like their fish big, in the form of Chinook (aka King) salmon or Rainbow Trout. September is the best month to catch large silver salmon, while red beauties are typically hooked in the summer months and pink ones are abundant every other year.


Kenai River in Cooper Landing Alaska fishing boat © Keri Ann Riley/Shutterstock

Zambezi, Africa

Thundering down from a height of 108m, Victoria Falls is the honey-pot portion of Africa’s fourth largest river, the Zambezi. As well as providing fish for the 32 million-strong population who live in the region, the river is a lifeline for an enormous variety of wildlife such as hippopotamuses, crocodiles, giraffes and elephants.


Elephant with baby crossing the river Zambezi, Zambia © GUDKOV ANDREY/Shutterstock

Mississippi, USA

The good ol’ Mississippi has long been a vital commercial waterway, and from 1820–50, was chock-a-block with tiered steamboats chugging cotton, food, tobacco and timber down its sleepy flow. These old boats have now been replaced with more modern vessels, but the river continues to be a major commercial focus, servicing the important port of New Orleans.

Docked steamboat in New Orleans © pisaphotography/Shutterstock

Docked steamboat in New Orleans © pisaphotography/Shutterstock

Yarra, Australia

Australia’s Yarra River is in the southeastern state of Victoria, and the buzzing metropolis of Melbourne was established upon its banks in 1835. Victim of logging, widening and manipulating – not to mention extensive mining during the Victorian Gold Rush – the river takes on a brown, silty hue once it hits Melbourne, however in its origins north and east of the city, the water is clearer and the surroundings decidedly more bucolic.


Yarra river in Melbourne, Australia © Production Perig/Shutterstock

Nile, Egypt

Say the word, “Nile”, and images of the Egyptian desert, pyramids, and pharaohs come to mind. And indeed, the ancient Egyptians owe their remarkable civilization to the mighty river and its fertile basin. But in actual fact, only 22 percent of the Nile flows through the country, the rest covers 10 others including Tanzania and Kenya.


Sunset over the Nile River in the city of Aswan with sandy and deserted shores © leshiy985/Shutterstock

Thames, United Kingdom

England’s second longest river, the Thames flows through the capital, London, as well as smaller towns such as Oxford, Henley and Windsor. It provides drinking water for much of southern England, and is a focal point for recreation, dotted with houseboats, fishermen and rowers, and hosts the annual Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge universities.


London with the River Thames and Tower Bridge © Csaba Peterdi/Shutterstock

Amazon, South America

The Amazon River dominates a large portion of South America, spreading its thick tentacles through Brazil, Colombia and Peru. Often called “The River Sea”, it can reach up to around 48km wide in the wet season, and at the Atlantic Ocean mouth it’s a staggering 240km across. The most famous fishy resident is the carnivorous piranha; the nasty Red-Bellied species is known to attack humans.


Amazon Rainforest in Brazil © Gustavo Frazao/Shutterstock

Congo, Africa

The deepest river in the world, Africa’s Congo River (previously known as the Zaire) is generally acknowledged to be the backdrop to Joseph Conrad’s dark and disturbing novella, The Heart of Darkness. Cutting through thick rainforest, the river is home to a varied wildlife including crocodiles and turtles.


Congo River © PhotocechCZ/Shutterstock

Caño Cristales, Colombia

Dubbed the “River of Five Colours”, Colombia’s Caño Cristales is reckoned to be the most beautiful river in the world. Once a year (September–November), the moss-like macarenia clavígera plant flowers a deep and brilliant red on the riverbed, and is mesmerizingly offset by the sandy yellows, blues, blacks and greens of the river’s rocks, banks and foliage.

Cano Cristales, Colombia © VarnaK/Shutterstock

Cano Cristales, Colombia © VarnaK/Shutterstock

Colorado, USA

The arid Arizona desert is ruthlessly sliced by the magnificent Colorado River, which wiggles its way in a series of dramatic sweeps and bends from its source in the Rockies through to its end in the Baja California delta. Rust-red canyons, yawning gorges, roaring whitewater rapids and thundering waterfalls make up the incredible scenery on the river’s course.


Twilight on Horseshoe Bend in Page Arizona © Stephen Moehle/Shutterstock

Danube, Europe

So famous it’s got a waltz named after it, the “Blue Danube” has long been Europe’s main waterway, linking west to east from Germany via Austria and Hungary to Romania and Ukraine. It’s a favourite for cruises, passing quaint chocolate-box villages, magnificent cities like Budapest, and ubiquitous rolling green countryside.

Budapest from the Gellert hill © Resul Muslu/Shutterstock

Aerial view of Budapest © Shutterstock

Mekong, Southeast Asia

Framed with lush jungle vegetation and soft mountains, the Mekong runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Taking a slow boat from Houayxai to Luang Prabang in Laos is the ultimate Mekong experience; the gentle two-day journey enables travellers to absorb the stunning landscapes and local culture.

Mekong river, Luang Prabang port in Laos © i viewfinder/Shutterstock

Mekong river, Luang Prabang, Laos © i viewfinder/Shutterstock

Verzasca, Switzerland

Scuba divers just love the Swiss Verzasca river in Italian-speaking Ticino for its intensely clear, emerald-green water. Trickling over striated rocks in the upper reaches, the river soon reaches the Verzasca Dam (aka Contra Dam), a favourite bungee jumping site that appeared in the 1995 James Bond movie GoldenEye.


Roman Bridge called Ponte dei Salti in Lavertezzo, Verzasca, Switzerland © Atmosphere1/Shutterstock

Volga, Russia

The Big Momma of Europe’s rivers, the Volga zips through central Russia and is claimed by its occupants as a national symbol. Dotted with huge reservoirs, crossed by colossal bridges and home to pelicans and flamingos in some stretches, it flows north of Russia’s magnificent capital city, Moscow.


Volga river, Russia © Igor Klyakhin/Shutterstock

Futaleufú, Argentina and Chile

Glacier till makes up the Futaleufú river, which is why it’s so gorgeously clear and gorgeously blue. Starting in Argentina and traversing the Andes into Chile, the river is currently a hotspot for whitewater rafting and kayaking, though a hydroelectric dam has been proposed by the Chilean government, which may put paid to those incredible frothy rapids.

Kayaking at Futaleufu river, Patagonia - Chile © Guaxinim/Shutterstock

Kayaking at Futaleufu river, Patagonia - Chile © Guaxinim/Shutterstock

River Ganges, India

The most famous Indian river with the most densely populated basin in the world, the Ganges is also sacred within the Hindu religion, worshipped as the goddess Ganga. Hindus honour their ancestors by dousing their backs with the river water, and float offerings such as rose petals, flowers and oil. To bathe in the Ganges is a fulfillment of purity in many Hindus religious life.

Varanasi, Ganges, India © Shutterstock

Top image and above: River Ganges in Varanasi © D'July/Shutterstock

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 20.05.2024

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