The 3 Best Ways to Visit the Li River

Written by Ruru Zhou Updated Jul. 28, 2022

The Li River, one of the most beautiful rivers in China, is the soul of Guilin. There are three top ways to explore the beauty of the river: the Li River cruise, the bamboo raft, and hiking.

Boating and rafting, blending into the picturesque scenery, are more popular. For security reasons, there is only one road segment good for hiking, from Husband Hill to Xingping.

Li River Boat Cruise v.s Rafting v.s Hiking Summary Table

  Boat Cruise Rafting Hiking
Time needed 4-5 hours 1-2 hours 4 hours
Itinerary Guilin to Yangshuo Yangdi to Nine-Horse Hill;
Xingping to Nine-Horse Hill (round trip)
Husband Hill to Xingping
In bad weather Still possible/enjoyable Uncomfortable/unavailable Uncomfortable/unavailable
Restroom Available Unavailable It depends.
Facilities Toilet, seat with table, costlier but better quality Comfortable bamboo chair, disembark for more It depends.

1. Cruise – Enjoy the River from Guilin to Yangshuo

Traveling by boat, you can enjoy some of the quintessential parts of the Li River on the stretch from Guilin to Yangshuo. Air-conditioned boats will provide you with a relaxing and weatherproof tour.

Two Types of Boats to Choose

4-Star Boat

4-Star Boat

Two types of boats are available: normal (three-star) boats and luxury (four-star) boats.

Similarities: same scenery, seating at tables, restrooms, free Wi-Fi, public deck, tour guides, lunch.

Differences: higher prices correspond to better service and better lunches.

Best Time to Visit – from April to October

Cruise Pier

Cruise Pier

In April, the river and mountain peaks wear misty ribbons, like a blooming young girl, too shy to show off her beauty. The tranquil morning with hazy drizzle and the soft twitter of birds from the mountains, adds more mystery to the river. Despite the damp, April temperatures may be just fine for a boat trip.

From May to September, rainfall is abundant and the water level in the Li River reaches its highest. Sometimes on stormy days, the river will become muddy. Summer in Guilin can be hot and crowded (school summer vacation is from July to August), but this is the best time to change into your swimming suit and enjoy the cool river.

October provides more comfortable temperatures than other months, with cooler and drier air. Many people choose to come at this time because bright sunshine and azure skies make for clear and splendid reflections of mountain peaks in the river. What’s more, the whole city basks in the alluring scent of osmanthus flowers. Other months, from November to March are slow and quiet. As the deep winter in Guilin can be cold and wet, if you cannot bear the cold but want a more private tour, we’d recommend November or March.

Service – Leaves Much to Be Desired

Even though service on the boat may lead to some complaints, it will not spoil the wonderful views. Some tour guides will use microphones, because of the buzz on the boats. For a commission, they may peddle food or souvenirs. It’s good to be aware that they are selling stuff at inflated prices.

Before and After the Cruise

Visitors need to book tickets in advance, either with us or with a local guide. We will pick you up at your hotel in the morning and drive you to the pier. Anyone who does not have a private tour guide needs to go to the pier by taxi or rent a car (there is no public transportation there). It takes about 50 minutes from the city and costs about 70 yuan.

The two types of boats dock at different piers in Yangshuo. The normal boats stop at Longtoushan Pier and the luxury boats drop you off at the Shuidongmen Pier, which is closer to West Street (at the center of the town).

Click the Essence of Guilin Tour to experience the Li River Cruise!

Li River Cruise Tips

2. Rafting – Get Close to the Water

Scenery on the Chinese 20-Yuan Banknote

Chinese 20-Yuan Banknote

Instead of the four-hour boat cruise, you may prefer a more adventurous bamboo raft. If the river is swollen, it’ll make for a choppy experience, and you will probably end up a damp sailor.

The route from Yangdi to Xingping has been temporarily suspended, but there are two other routes for bamboo rafts on the same river, where you'll have the opportunity to see the scenery on the Chinese 20-yuan banknote.

 The Rafts on the Li River

Originally all rafts were made of bamboo, but nowadays many are made from PVC pipes, expertly lashed together. The rafts each have comfortable bamboo armchairs for 4 to 6 tourists and a large sunshine canopy.

Floating down the river, the raft is controlled by a skilled driver with a wooden paddle. An outboard motor is on hand in case extra power is needed. There is no restroom on the raft.

More Flexibility Comes with More Restrictions

Bamboo Rafting

Bamboo Rafting

The season and weather will influence your rafting plans. In bad weather, especially in spring and summer, rafting can be canceled at short notice.

It is possible to enjoy some photo stops during the trip or to enjoy a simple lunch at a local restaurant on the river bank. If you like, you can invite your raftsman to eat with you.

Some local vendors with their own rafts will sell you refreshments at high prices. Instead, you can easily buy drinks or snacks before leaving Yangdi or have lunch after arriving at Xingping.

 How to Plan a Li River Raft Trip

Sightseeing along the River

Sightseeing Along the River

It takes about an hour to drive from Guilin to Yangdi and two hours from Guilin to Xingping. You can take the bus from Guilin Bus Station to Yangdi Pier.

When at Xingping, there will be a free shuttle transferring you from the pier to Xingping Bus Station where you can choose a bus going on to Yangshuo or take one back to Guilin.

You can book your trip with a local guide, who will contact a raftsman and arrange the best time for you. If you prefer not to share a raft with others or don’t want it to be fully occupied, that can be arranged, but you need to pay extra for each vacant seat.

Tips for Li River Raft Trip

Wanna TAILOR-MAKE your private raft tour with us?

3. Hiking – Get Close to Nature and Local Life

Hiking the Li River gives a great opportunity for travelers to see the gorgeous landscape close-up and the rural life of the farmers who live by the river. For security reasons, there is only one route available for hiking at present.

Best Hiking Itinerary

Say Hi to the Locals

Say Hi to the Locals

Currently, the best hiking route is Quanjiazhou - Xingping. The hiking route is 11 km long, and it takes about 4 hours to finish it. 

On the way, you will pass some small villages, and see rice fields and orchards with many seasonal fruits and unique karst mountains, as well as green bamboo and local people washing clothes by the river...It is peaceful, as there are few tourists on the way.

Li River Hiking Tips

Back to the Li River.

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