The Li River, or Li Jiang, is in Guilin, in South China’s Guangxi Province. It is renowned as being one of “the world’s top 10 watery wonders” according to National Geographic. The Li River cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo boasts the most beautiful scenery. Along the 86-kilometer waterway, you will see karst peaks, grazing water buffalo, farmers working in the fields, and traditional villages nestled at the bases of the hills.
- Chinese: 漓江 Lí Jiāng /lee jyang/
- Scenic Area: Guilin–Yangshuo
- Activities: a Li River cruise, bamboo rafting, hiking, cormorant fishing, watching the night show Impression Liu Sanjie, photography
There are several ways to tour the Li River: take a relaxing cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo, take a bamboo raft trip, and hiking alongside the Li River to get closer to nature. The most relaxing and popular way is to take a boat cruise.
A Li River Cruise
The best way to appreciate the beautiful scenery of the karst landscape along the river is to take a Li River cruise. The boat trip from Guilin to Yangshuo is one of the most popular activities in Guilin.
The cruise starts from a pier close to Guilin in the morning (at about 10am). The whole trip takes about 4 hours and reaches Yangshuo at 1.20pm.
The Li River Cruise Boats (4-Star Boats Vs. 3-Star Boats)
Currently, there are two kinds of boat that travel across the Li River: 4-star and 3-star boats. The 4-star boats are the newest and best ones.
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.
The seating capacity of the 4-star cruise boats is half that of the 3-star boats so they are not as crowded and there isn’t much disruptive microphone usage on board. A buffet lunch is served.
Three-star cruises are the most common type to be booked by travel agencies, even for foreign visitors, as they consider the cost to be a priority.
To maximize your Li River experience, we usually arrange 4-star cruises for our customers. We try to book upper deck seating as much as possible for the best views.
The Cruise Schedule and Route
- The boat departs between 9am and 10am from a pier that is about 1 hour’s drive from Guilin. This means you need to leave your hotel at about 8am.
- You will arrive in Yangshuo at about 1pm. The boat departs every day except in the event of storms when the cruise will be canceled.
- From March to November: Guilin to Yangshuo, about 4 hours
- From December to February: The route may shorten to Yangdi to Xingping because of the shallow water. The cruise takes about 2 hours. Don’t worry - even though the cruise route is shortened to 2 hours, most of the highlights you will see are in the section stretching from Yangdi to Xingping
- During the shallow water season, We will take you to visit Xianggong Hill so that you can have a bird’s-eye view of the Li River flowing among the karst mountains in Xingping.
- Please be advised that this is a one-way cruise. There are no cruises from Yangshuo to Guilin.
A Li River Cruise Tour
The Li River day tour usually includes a cruise on the Li River and some activities in Yangshuo after you disembark in Yangshuo in the afternoon.
Most travel companies take their groups to visit some attractions in the Yangshuo countryside, such as Moon Hill, and then hurry back to Guilin at about 5pm in the afternoon.
Our private tours are flexible and the activities in Yangshuo can be customized according to your preferences. You can choose to stroll around West Street, enjoy a rest in a caf é, or go cycling in the countryside.
Tips for the Li River Cruise
- As the cruise starts early in the morning in Guilin, you need to stay for one night in Guilin.
- There are English-speaking guides on the cruise boats who will introduce the highlights as the boat reaches them. Our private guide will accompany you to board the boat. He/she will give you advice, such as the right time to go to the deck to see the best scenery and to get excellent photos.
- What happens with your baggage? If you travel with us, your private car will take your baggage from Guilin to Yangshuo, and it will be sent straight to your hotel if you plan to stay in Yangshuo.
- A Li River cruise with kids: You may be concerned that your kids may feel bored during a 4-hour cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo. Don’t worry: your guide will keep them entertained with activities, such as drawing pictures.
A Li River Bamboo Raft Trip
Taking a bamboo raft along the river is a more traditional way to travel. You can get closer to the water but it is affected by the weather.
It is a different way to see the beautiful scenery of the Li River, and the route is shorter than the ones used for the cruise boats.
- Route: Yangdi Village (40km/25mi south of Guilin) to Nine Horse Fresco Hill; Nine Horse Fresco Hill to Xingping Village
- Time needed: 1 hour
- Facilities: motorized raft, four–six seats, large sunshade/canopy
- Food: local lunch and snacks sold on the shore
We currently don't recommend rafting on the Li River because the standard of service from the raftsmen can't be guaranteed. For example, your raftsman may shorten your rafting trip without prior agreement so that he can have more time for other clients.
Of course, if you do take a bamboo raft trip, the scenery along the river won’t disappoint you - but don’t expect too much in the way of a service from the raftsman.
Read more about a Li River Cruise Versus Bamboo Raft .
Hiking Alongside the Li River
Hiking along the Li River you can get closer to nature and you may meet some of the local farmers. It's also good for your health to do some outdoor exercise.
- Route: Xingping – Nine Horse Painting Hill – Xingping
- Distance: about 12 kilometers (8 miles)
- Time needed: 4–5 hours
- Best times: spring and autumn
Weather: Best Times to Visit the Li River
The best time for you will depend upon what Li River scenery you want to see, and how bothered you are by tourist crowds.
Scenery along the Li River differs each season. Spring or post-rain summer is misty with the water and lush peaks shrouded in a veil like a painting; summer and fall are usually sunny with clear vistas of small villages with old buildings set among green karst hills; late autumn and winter is mild to cold, serene, and quiet.
The busy travel season is from May to October, with the busiest times being the summer holidays during July and August and the National Day holiday from October 1st to 7th. Most attractions in Guilin are packed with Chinese travelers.
Read more on the best times to visit Guilin.
Take a Li River Cruise with Us
A tour to Guilin should be a relaxing escape. We understand that no one likes to travel in a large noisy group, hurrying from one place to another.
Our tours are flexible and private. There are no group tours with strangers and no time-wasting. You can travel at your own pace.
Let’s help you create a Li River tour or you can have a look at our most popular Guilin tours:
Or contact us and we’ll create your perfect Guilin tour.
What's a Tour With us Like?
A family of four that moved from US to China just released a video about their time in Guilin with us in October, 2021. Contact us to send a free inquiry.