A Li river boat cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo can be a great introduction to the clear rivers (aside from the rainy season, Yangshuo climate) and the impressive karst mountain landscape this region is famous for and a true highlight of your China river trip. Contrary to most beliefs, the entire stretch between the wharf, located 40km outside of Guilin and Xing Ping is breath-taking with literally hundreds of karst peaks towering up as huge dragon teeth from both sides of the Li river up the sky which makes one feel rather small, even on a medium sized cruise boat. While this cruise gets a tourist stamp, boats leave at different times in one long series and the 10 boats you may spot in front or behind only make up about 1% of the scenery composed of the river and the surrounding mountain peaks.
The shorter stretch between Yangdi and Xingping can also be enjoyed per raft - in either direction - but in our opinion this seemingly 'more local experience', is far more touristic with dozens of rafts passing by in either direction on all sides and the rafts on this river have all been made of PVC-pipes (with a failed bamboo resemblance) to withstand the strong currents on the river and as a safety precaution. Note that the small rafts offer very little protection from the rain (or sun) while the cruise boats provide you with a wide open and covered deck, and indoor seating area.
Also, there is a min. and max. age restriction of 7 and 70 years respectively for all the rafts on the Li-river so if you have anyone in your group outside these restrictions then a river cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo would be your only option to enjoy the Li river scenery on the river.
Li river Cruise Boat Types
- Class Superior: We discovered new models have been introduced called the Di Jing Hao and Feng Guang Hao cruise boats. This is classified as the 'super luxury' boat but is actually the only luxurious boat type on the river. Maximum capacity on these boats is 70 seats spread over a lower and upper deck with fewer fellow passengers than on the types mentioned below (120-150). As with all Li river cruises, the included lunch is not the biggest draw (but better than the deluxe lunch) but the high standard of facilities and decor, the cleanliness of the boat, and the fact you will enjoy more space with fewer passengers aboard, makes this the most comfortable way to enjoy the stunning Li river scenery on your way to Yangshuo. If you're coming with a group and would like to have it private the entire boat can be chartered as well. Because of this, the cruise is only guaranteed to run 15 days in advance if it hasn't been chartered up till then, which rarely occurs. During peak season (April - October) it generally runs daily but during the low season, possible dates are limited to Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, or may be suspended.
- 3 star cruises: The most popular cruise is the 3 stars cruise formerly known as deluxe cruise. They offer a covered air conditioned seating area on the first and second floors, an English speaking guide shared with all passengers (provided by the cruise company, more focussed on Chinese travellers) and a pretty basic lunch. There are several models of this boat on the river. The ones we book are the newest ones launched in 2016. All 3 star cruise boats now leave from the Mopan Shan wharf. Luggage can always be taken aboard with you.
- Class Basic: These Chinese tour boats provide a budget option with basic seating , mandarin speaking guide and very poor lunch (they say...) As we had regular complaints about the cleanliness, crowds and overall service of this cruise beyond our control we stopped to book the Chinese cruise.
- Smaller motorised rafts leave near Yangdi and generally stop in Xing Ping, a 40min bus ride from Yangshuo. For more information about a cruise per smaller motorised boat see our Yangshuo Li-river bamboo rafting tour page.
- Important: Please note that with all cruise options the guide and lunch can be pretty disappointing although that depends on expectations of course. The English speaking guide aboard is hired, appointed and paid by the cruise companies as a mandatory safety precaution to - also - assist foreign travellers who do not speak mandarin in case of an emergency. These guides are paid very little and will try to earn commissions on anything. Please note that these are not our guides and they might try and up-sell by saying the lunch is very little or very poor so you'd order from an expensive commissioned menu. They may appoint you to the 1st floor and try to up-sell seats on the 2nd floor (3 star cruise) at an extra charge. They might say Yangshuo has nothing else to offer to sell their own afternoon tour. Yangshuo Insider has absolutely no connections with any of the cruise guides and we advise to simply ignore the commerce and have it not affect your experience in any way. If you choose not to book your own private guide with us, chances are you will actually find private guides on the boat that will be more helpful, friendly and are a true reflection of the hospitality and generosity the Chinese people are known for here.
Li-river cruise schedule and prices
Boats all leave between 9.00-9.30 in the morning. If you arrive at the Guilin airport before 7.00AM you could still make it for the cruise that morning with a private transfer per taxi or mini-van but this is not recommended because if your flight would be delayed you would miss the cruise. That is why most service providers will refuse to arrange tickets for those who arrive on an early flight the same day but if you can find one, the ride per taxi or larger mini-van would take about 1h20min and the cost would be about 320 CNY by taxi or 450 CNY by van.
So coming to Yangshuo on a Li river cruise generally requires an overnight stay in Guilin. Cruises depart between 09:30-10:00 with pick-up around 08:00 slightly depending on the location of your Guilin hotel. All pick-ups are per private taxi, minivan, or bigger bus depending on your group size requirements. You will arrive Yangshuo between 13:30 - 15:30 (summer/winter).
Luggage on all cruises can be taken on board with you.
If you haven't done so already, be sure to watch our own Yangshuo video directed by Bernardo Salce with the highlights of Yangshuo in terms of scenery, culture and possible experiences for you.
Warning: Too often we hear sad stories of travellers being scammed and taken on shopping tours (the free 'pick-up service'), being accommodated on cheaper boats (first time visitors may not notice the difference until arrival), boat trips cut short with a surprising bus tour to Yangshuo or taken on smaller motorised rafts that are enjoyable when the weather is nice, but not quite when it isn't, and are certainly not what you paid for... So do inform yourselves well about the inclusions of your river tour in detail or simply have us book the Li-river cruise for you. While we make it a policy not to mention anything negative about a service provider in general, beware of the CITS travel agencies that clutter the country.
Please note that since the creation of the new Yulong river park in September 2017, there are no direct transfers between the wharf in Yangshuo and the majority of accommodations located near the Yulong river inside the park possible. Everyone entering or leaving the park with a motorised vehicle will need to get off at one of the entry gates and buy a ticket for the public shuttle buses to get in or out. Please read this post to make a well informed decision about the consequences before choosing your accommodation in Yangshuo.
Li river cruise from Yangshuo to Yangdi, direction Guilin
It is also possible to enjoy the cruise in the opposite direction leaving from Yangshuo to Yangdi in the direction of Guilin. Ideal for those who prefer not to stay overnight in Guilin to board the cruise there and/or choose a more scenic and interesting way to return.
Li River Cruise Ticket Reservation
More river trips in Yangshuo
For an over view of river trips on the Li-river per smaller bamboo raft with prices see our Yangshuo Li river bamboo rafting tour page. For an overview of river trips on the Yulong river (Dragon river) per real bamboo raft with schedules and cost check our Yangshuo Yulong river bamboo rafting page.
For a different experience be your own driver on the quietest part of the Li-river, check out our Kayaking in Yangshuo page.
Due to its arrival in the early afternoon, travelers coming per Li-river cruise will often enjoy the impressive Liu San Jie light show the same evening.
Li-river cruise Guilin Yangshuo some useful reviews
W0w, we loved the Li river cruise. The scenery is spectacular. Thoroughly enjoyed the river trip. Met people from all over the world as we sailed along. On the advice of friends we arranged a box lunch at our hotel to take on the trip. Very glad we did as the food was not very appealing to us.
The Li river scenery is amazing. We were on the boat for about 4 hours. When we first boarded it was raining and we were seated at tables downstairs. We were not too keen on this and ventured upstairs to find it had stopped raining. We stood on the upper deck for the whole trip and did not once get tired of the magnificent views. From small bamboo rafts latching on to our boat to try and sell fruit to the beautiful mountain scenery, this was like floating in a dream.