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Three Gorges (Sanxia) Tours and Activities

Three Gorges (Sanxia)
China’s signature river trip, a Three Gorges (Sanxia) cruise is the defining experience of the Yangtze, Asia’s longest river. Famed for their beauty for more than 1,000 years, the Three Gorges have been reshaped by the rising waters of the Three Gorges Dam. But the magic of Qutang Gorge, Wu Gorge, and Xiling Gorge endures.

The Basics
Visit the Three Gorges on a Yangtze River cruise. Choose between the more popular downstream journey from Chongqing to Yichang or the less popular upstream journey from Yichang to Chongqing. It’s sometimes possible to find cruises from Wanzhou, east of Chongqing, which can shave a day off the journey. 

Popular stops along the way include the 17th-century Shibaozhai pagoda and Fengjie Ancient Town, with side trips including the scenic Shennong Stream and Three Little Gorges. Cruise ships stop short of the Three Gorges Dam, but Three Gorges Dam tours are often available as an add-on.

Things to Know Before You Go
  • A Three Gorges trip is a must for photographers, Instagrammers, and lovers of landscapes.
  • Most cruises spend either three or four nights on the river, to ensure that you pass through the gorges in daylight. Shorter tours may miss out on some of the views.
  • Book popular side trips in advance when reserving your Yangtze River cruise to avoid disappointment.
  • Service standards on board Three Gorges cruise ships vary widely. Don’t expect English to be spoken on the cheapest ships, which focus on domestic tourists.
  • The Three Gorges is a challenging destination for travelers who use wheelchairs.

How to Get There
Most travelers start their Three Gorges cruise from either Chongqing or Yichang. Chongqing is one of China’s larger metropolitan areas, with an international airport and fast rail connections across China. Yichang is a compact city with a domestic airport (Three Gorges Airport), plus train and bus connections. Many China tour packages include a Three Gorges cruise.

When to Get There
Cool winters and rainy summers make spring (April to May) and fall (September to early November) the most popular times to take a Three Gorges cruise—but don’t even think about traveling during Golden Week, China’s major holiday period at the start of October. Prices are generally most affordable during winter (December through March).

How Has the Three Gorges Dam Changed the Three Gorges?
The world’s largest hydropower project, the Three Gorges Dam displaced 1,300,000 people and reshaped one of China’s most famous landscapes. While some of the most scenic towns and villages on the Three Gorges were relocated piece by piece or reinvented on higher ground, others were submerged for good. Besides its impact on the environment, raised water levels have made the journey through the gorges less dramatic: Peaks seem lower and canyons wider.
Address: Yangtze River
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