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Li River Cruise: An Insider's Guide

One of the world's "Top 10 Watery Wonders" according to National Geographic, the Li River has the most popular and picturesque scenery in China.

Read on to find out the best ways to enjoy the Li River and useful tips for planning your tour.

  • Chinese: 漓江 Lí Jiāng /lee jyang/
  • Scenic Area: Guilin–Yangshuo, South China
  • Activities: the Li River cruise, bamboo rafting, hiking, cormorant fishing, watching night show Impression Liu Sanjie, photography

The Li River Cruise

Li River boat cruises and bamboo rafting are two great options. And hiking along the river is a good chance to get closer to nature and local life.

the Li River map

Take a cruise to enjoy the beautiful scenery.Take a cruise to enjoy the beautiful scenery.

The best way to appreciate the beautiful scenery of the karst landscape along the river is  to take a Li River cruise tour. The boat trip from Guilin to Yangshuo is one of the most popular activities in a Guilin holiday.

  • Route: Mopanshan/Zhujiang Pier (20km/12mi southeast of downtown Guilin) – Yangshuo
  • Time needed: 4–5 hours

Scenery: Along the river you can see stunning karst hills, bamboo groves, and villages. Look down in the clear river to see the river bottom and rocky shoals. Highlights along the way include Nine Horse Fresco Hill, Yellow Cloth Shoal, 20-Yuan Bill Hill, and Xingping Town.

4-Star Cruises vs 3-Star Cruises

Currently, the most popular boats on the Li River are the 4-star and 3-star riverboats. The 4-star boats are the newest and best ones.

2A 4-star riverboat

Compared to 3-star cruise boats, the 4-star boats provide a more comfortable and enjoyable experience, as they are equipped with modern facilities, larger seats and cleaner Western bathrooms.

4-star cruise boats’ seating capacity is half of the 3-star boat’s, so they’re not so crowded, and there isn’t much disruptive microphone usage on-board. The lunch is buffet style.

3-star cruises are the most commonly booked, even for foreign visitors, by travel agencies who put cost control first.

To maximize your Li River experience , we only arrange 4-star cruises for our customers. And we try to book upper deck seating as much as possible for the best views.

Group Tour vs. Private tour

On a group tour a coach picks you up from your hotel. There is a tour guide on the ship who recites a basic introduction of the scenery along the Li River. When you arrive at Yangshuo, your tour guide may bring you to some local souvenir shops (to earn some commissions).

Li River cruiseA Li River cruise boat

On our private tour, you will have a private English-speaking guide and driver. The schedule will be more flexible and convenient, and you will not feel like you are being herded. 

With your own guide, your introduction to the sights will be tailored to you and your questions. During the cruise, your private guide will tell you the right time to go to the deck for the best scenery and help you take photos. 

If travelling with a child/children, your well-prepared guide can arrange some entertainment activities such as drawing.

Include a Cruise in a Guilin Tour

As all cruises are from Guilin to Yangshuo, you may want to arrange the Guilin leg of your tour pre-cruise, then your Yangshuo activities afterwards. Buses from Yangshuo to Guilin take about 1½ hours.

If you are interested in a Li River cruise, here is our best-selling Guilin tour including a Li River cruise for your inspiration: Essence of Guilin and Li River Tour.

Li River raftingLi River bamboo rafting

Li River Bamboo Rafting

Taking a bamboo raft is more traditional, and a way to get closer to the water, but more affected by the weather. It is a different way to see the beautiful scenery of the Li River, and the route is shorter than for the big boats.;

  • Route: Yangdi Village (40km/25mi south of Guilin) – Nine Horse Fresco; Nine Horse FrescoXingping Village
  • Time needed: 1 hour
  • Facilities: motorized raft, 4–6 seats, large sunshade/canopy
  • Food: local lunch and snacks sold on the shore

What You Should Know

Li River rafts are traditional in design, but many are made from plastic pipes in the shape of bamboo. They are powered by a long-tail outboard motor, which will make some noise. 

The rafts are open at the front, rear, and sides, but have a steel canopy / sunshade to protect passengers from the sun and rain.

A raft has 4 or 6 passenger seats. If you don’t want to share a raft with others, or don't want to wait for your raft to be fully occupied, you can rent a raft on your own, but you need to pay an extra about 40 yuan per vacant seat.

To ensure the safe passage of cruises, rafts are not permitted to run from 11:30am to 1pm. In bad weather, especially in spring and summer, rafting can be cancelled at short notice. The age restriction is 7–70 years old.

We currently don't recommend Li River rafting, because the service standard of the raftmen can't be guaranteed. For example, your raftman may shorten your rafting trip without prior agreement so that he could have more time for other clients. Of course, if you do it, the scenery along the river will never disappoint you; but do not expect too much of the raftman's service. 

The Yulong River, a tributary of the Li near Yangshuo, is also popular for rafting amongst karst countryside.

Cruise vs. Rafting

Li River bamboo rafting Enjoy bamboo rafting on the Li River with family.

The cruise covers a longer distance, so less road travel. Facilities are better (bathroom, table, AC, full shelter from the rain and wind, viewing decks, lunch provided). More sociable, you can meet new friends from other countries, though you may feel it's too crowded to see the scenery well on the deck.

Rafting is more private and flexible: you can travel the Li River with a select group of friends/family. It's a more relaxing way to appreciate the beauty of the Li River. Though a shorter distance, you don't miss any of the best stretch of the Li River near Xingping. It's not recommended in cold or rainy weather.

For more see Li River Cruise vs Bamboo Raft — An Australian Expat's View.

Li River hikingGet closer to nature and local life by hiking.

Li River Hiking

Hiking along the Li River you can get closer to nature, and may meet the local farmers. It's also good for your health to do some outdoor exercise.

  • Route: Quanjiazhou – Xingping Village 
  • Distance: about 3 kilometers
  • Time needed: 2–2.5 hours
  • Best times: spring and autumn

The Best Times to Visit

The Li RiverThe Li River Fishman

April to June — Misty and Rainy

The classic picture in people's mind is the Li River in mist. This scenery appears most from April to June.

In April it usually drizzles all day long and you may not see the scenery clearly on the river. In May and June the rainfall is more violent, often as stormy downpours! You may need to hold an umbrella on the deck, which is inconvenient to enjoy the scenery. An excellent time to see mist hugging the hills is early on a warm morning after a night of rain.

July to October — Clear and Sunny

This period is the best time to see the scenery along the river clearly. During sunny days you can see the inverted reflection of the hills on both sides in the water.

Li RiverThe Li River on a sunny day

July and August are the hottest months in Guilin; there are still stormy downpours, but short-lived. September and October are the hot/warm and drier months.

It is colder by the river than in the city, so bring another layer of clothing. Bring sun block and sunglasses to enjoy a comfortable time by the Li.

November to March — Cool and Quiet

Winter is the low season, and the water level gets much lower, so cruises are shortened to about 2 hours. There are some sunny days, but otherwise it's cool/cold and damp, sometimes with drizzle or persistent rain.

It's quieter during this period, so you can enjoy fewer crowds and lower prices, if not the weather.

Cormorant Fishing on the Li River

Fishing on the Li RiverA fisherman is casting a net to catch fish.

Cormorant fishing is a traditional activity in China. These days, competition from modern fishing techniques means the fishermen can't make a living from cormorant fishing alone.

This centuries-old tradition is now mostly practiced to entertain tourists. You are unlikely to see it on the river. But if you want to see this view and take photos of it, we can arrange it for you with local fishermen at Xingping.

Photography Tips

When you search the Li River on the Internet, you can see many fantastic pictures. Most of the photos are taken around Xingping, near Yangshuo.

Xingping sunriseSunrise at Xingping

To shoot the whole of Xingping, climb Xianggong Hill in Xingping. You can overlook the river and take the spectacular photos of it. The multihued fields and small village houses melt nature and culture together.

To take sunrise photos, Xianggong Hill is also an ideal site. Nine Horse Fresco Hill is also recommended.

To take sunset shots, you may go to Xingping, which looks out west over the Li. The nearby 20 yuan banknote site is a good site to stage fishing lights on the Li River, with the help of local cormorant fishermen.

Read more about photography tips and locations for the Li River.

1-Day Li River Cruise and Yangshuo Highlights Tour

Departure: Daily

Price: From US$199 per person (based on a group of 2 persons)

Schedule for Reference

li river tour


08:10–09:00: Your guide will pick you up from your hotel in Guilin and transfer you to the wharf.

09:00–09:30: Your guide will board the Li River cruise together with you.

09:30–11:30: Enjoy the picturesque scenery and relax on boat. A cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo is an unforgettable experience.

11:30–12:00: Buffet lunch on board will usually be served at this time.

13:00–14:00: Disembark in Yangshuo. You may arrive in Yangshuo a little before or after 13:00 hrs, since the water flows at different speeds in different seasons.

14:00–15:30: Join in the Yangshuo countryside tour. You can choose either to cycle or go by private car – there is no price difference.

15:30–17:00: Your private car and guide will transfer you back to your hotel in Guilin or to the hotel in Yangshuo.

Price inclusions:

  • Entrance to scenic spots listed in the itinerary
  • Li River cruise by public 4-star boat
  • Private guide service from an experienced English-speaking tour guide
  • Private transfers between the attractions and hotels
  • Meals mentioned in the itinerary
  • Connections on our portable Wi-Fi during the sightseeing

Find more details on 1-Day Li River Cruise and Yangshuo Highlights Tour.

QUICK INQUIRY Each tour can be tailored.

More Li River Tours

If you are planning a tour to the Li River, consider our popular Guilin tours. With China Highlights you can arrange the Li River experience you want with private transport and guide, whether by cruise boat, raft, or foot.

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