If you’re a nature and wildlife lover, an Amazon cruise is an experience that should be at the top of your travel bucket list. Not only is the Amazon the second-longest river in the world, but the Amazon rainforest is also home to over one-third of the animal species on the planet.
The mighty Amazon River starts in the Peruvian Andes and winds its way through Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil and into the Atlantic Ocean. It deserves to be called mighty because it contains one-fifth of the water found in all the rivers in the world and empties out more water into the Atlantic than the next seven largest rivers combined.
- Amazon Cruise
What To Expect On An Amazon Cruise
The Amazon rainforest is home to the largest and diverse collection of plants and animals, including 40,000 plant species, 1300 birds, 427 mammals, 400 amphibians and 378 reptiles.
Cruising the Amazon river is a chance to see unique wildlife such as tamarin monkeys, three-toed sloths, monk saki monkeys and scarlet macaws.
The river is home to Amazon River dolphins, Amazonian manatees, giant otters, anacondas, caimans, bull sharks, piranhas and electric eels.
Meeting villagers deep in the jungle is a delightful experience.
Where To Cruise The Amazon River
Amazon river cruises in Peru start in Iquitos, which is a city surrounded by rivers and rainforest and the largest city in the world with no connecting roads.
Iquitos is a kaleidoscope of colourful scenes such as timber shacks with iron roofs, skinny dogs asleep on concrete steps and dark-skinned men hawking piles of plantain, bananas and sugar cane on the streets.
Motorbikes, windowless buses and canopied motorcycle trishaws whoosh past brightly painted shops and sidewalk cafes while coffee-skinned children shriek in high-pitched excitement when spotting the tourist buses.
Other sights in the former rubber town include a statue by French sculptor Auguste Rodin, a cream-coloured gothic cathedral with lancet windows and turrets, grand art-nouveau buildings such as the former Palace Hotel and a house built from iron designed by Eiffel Tower architect Gustav Eiffel.
The most popular section of the river for cruise ships is in Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, which is about 100 miles (160 km) southwest of Iquitos.
The reserve’s three river basins (Pacaya, Samiria and Yanayacu-Pucate) is a stunning area with lakes, canals and a diverse array of flora and fauna.
Peru is a land of mystery and one of the best countries to visit in South America for history lovers. Things to do in Peru include hiking Machu Picchu and the Cusco Valley. The capital of Peru, Lima, has an exciting culinary scene.
Best Time To Cruise The Amazon
The Amazon has two seasons: high water (December to May) and low water (June to November).
During the high water season, most of the forest is underwater and the skiffs carry you deep into the jungle and closer to the treetops than if you were on foot.
Amazon River Cruise Ships
Delfin l, II and III
Delfin II has 14 cabins, four of them are four Master Suites with 180° panoramic windows and the 10 ordinary suites with large windows that allow you to watch the view as you float along the river.
Cabins are roomy and frolicking dolphins can be seen from its big windows.
Delphin has three and four-night itineraries from the headwaters of the Amazon in Iquitos to the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Center of River Mammals (ACOBIA).
Meals are an upscale sampling of Peruvian-style food and daily lectures include ecology, indigenous foods and even towel topiary.
The small ship size allows Dolphin II’s 30 passengers and friendly crew become one big family.
Delfin I, II and III offer three and four-night itineraries. Here’s a sample itinerary:
Day 1 – Arrive in Iquitos and transfer to the ship, night safari in Nauta Cano.
Day 2 – Kayaking in Yanayacu Pucate and jungle walk in the Amazon Natural Park
Day 3 – Skiff excursion in Palm Forest and wildlife spotting on the Samiria River
Day 4 – Picnic breakfast and piranha fishing on the Samiria River and a visit to San Francisco village.
Day 5 – Disembark and visit the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Center of River Mammals (ACOBIA).
By Roberta Sotonoff
Our first excursion is bird-watching in a creek.
The water is like glass but the silence is broken by squawking parrots and squirrel monkeys jumping from tree to tree.
One rainforest walk traverses the Fundo Casual, part of Pacaya Samira National Reserve.
My travelling mate, Gail Goldman, is not very outdoorsy and insists on putting on makeup before the trip. In no time, it drips away into a sweat.
The reserve’s ground undulates.
A giant kapok tree spreads its roots before us.
Birds entertain us with a jungle symphony and our guide, Juan Luis, explains that each jungle has its own ecosystem.
Then, he goes about finding jungle animals.
He picks up a giant tarantula.
I hate those hairy things.
He finds a poisonous, vermillion-coloured great back frog.
Locals use their venom as ammunition in their blowguns.
He points out at a red-tail boa snake and an anaconda.
I am ecstatic to leave these creatures.
Back abroad the Delphin II, Juan Luis lectures us about the ecology, geology, flora and fauna.
“The Amazon is like a spider,” he says. “It has many legs or tributaries.”
Pink dolphins appear near the swimmers at one of the “spider legs,” Rio Yanayacu.
Later, kayakers return looking to see them.
Gail has never kayaked.
Her instruction consists of, “This is the paddle. If you want to go left, paddle right and vice versa.”
She is doing okay until it starts to rain; not a drizzle but a downpour.
This is life in the Amazon.
The rain is overbearing.
I put my paddle perpendicular so someone will throw us a rope.
Later that evening, we visit a woman shaman, Carola, in her open thatch-roofed house and through an interpreter, she explains her potions.
They are made from bark, trees and plants.
Her patients come to see her and describe their problem and she gives them the proper medicine, sings, prays and shakes some leaves over them.
In some cases, she imbibes a hallucinogen and gets a vision on how to cure them.
Some patients also get to drink the hallucinogen.
Its effects last three to four hours and after a while, they get a vision on how to cure themselves.
Carola gets on her knees and prays for all of us.
After lighting a cigarette, she moves from person to person putting powder in our hands and blowing it away with cigarette smoke.
Besides the powder and smoke, I get a lot of spit!
On the last day, a skiff takes us to flood plains.
The short, muddy walk is slippery.
I fall on my butt but it is worth it to see the Victorian lily pods, which are about six feet wide and look like they are on steroids.
Our day is topped off with a visit to Puerto Miguel, a native village.
As we arrive, kids are jumping off trees like monkeys.
Woolly monkeys are also pets here as well as adorable three-toed sloths.
There is a table laid out with local foods and tastings including grub worms.
The ride back to Iquitos is broken up with a visit to the Amazon Rescue Center to see endangered manatees.
This Amazon Peru trip has flown by.
Each day was unique and filled with something interesting and exciting.
I have learned so much.
Aria Amazon and Aqua Nera
By Christina Pfeiffer
An Amazon cruise aboard Aria Amazon (and sister ship Aqua Nera) is a luxurious way to experience the treasures of the Amazon.
My first impression of the ship is of a rectangular office block decked out with timber slats but inside, it’s like a plush city hotel with floor-to-ceiling glass windows in the lounge, dining area and cabins.
These glass windows are a portal to continually changing views of the Amazon rainforest.
On the top deck, a spacious lounge has comfy sofas, perfect for sinking into with a pisco sour in hand.
Beneath the canopy in the outdoor deck, there’s a relaxing nook with sunbeds and a spa.
The ship’s 16 cabins are luxurious, chic and roomy, furnished with sofas, polished floorboards, bathrooms with rain showers and comfortable king-size beds.
Meals are taken in the ship’s dining room, where chefs serve up a cornucopia of Peruvian cuisine prepared with ingredients from the rainforest.
Each day, there’s a buffet lunch, and the nightly multicourse tasting menu is sophisticated and creative, with exotic delights like catfish caviar, fresh muyaca berries and grilled paiche, which is a huge Amazonian fish.
Wine from Argentina and Chile flow freely at mealtimes.
Aria Amazon Itinerary
Aria Amazon has three, four and seven-night itineraries. Here’s a sample:
Day 1 – Iquitos and skiff excursion on the skiff excursion along the Marañon River
Day 2 – Yanallpa River skiff excursion
Day 3 – Cruising the Pacaya, Ucayali and Tapiche River
Day 4 – Jungle walking, kayaking, swimming on Yarapa or Clavero River and a visit to an Amazonian village.
Day 5 – Bellavista Nanay morning market and a visit to the Manatee Rescue Center.
Aria Amazon Excursions
The highlight of the cruise is the twice-daily skiff excursions led by knowledgeable riberenos (or river dwellers) who grew up on the banks of the Amazon.
Most of the cruise is in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, and excursions start early, often before breakfast.
On most days there’s a 6.30 am wakeup call.
Our first morning on the river brings us pink dolphins, squirrel monkeys, three-toed sloths and iguanas camouflaged on a low-hanging tree branch.
Blue and yellow macaws, caracaras and hawks glide above the treetops.
Our guides are humorous and informative.
We learn that iguanas taste like chicken and piranhas are not the vicious man-eating creatures portrayed in Hollywood movies.
At Moringo Lake, we anchor among the reeds to fish for red-bellied piranhas.
The fishing gear is a rudimentary stick with a piece of string, a hook and a tiny bit of meat.
Few of us visitors are successful at catching a piranha but the guides keep hooking them in.
As it’s high water season and most of the forest is underwater, the skiffs carry us deep into the jungle, closer to the treetops that if we had been on foot.
It gives us the chance to glimpse saddleback tamarinds with bushy moustaches, night monkeys and squirrel monkeys, which eat mosquitoes and cockroaches.
Even so, most sightings are from a fair distance and binoculars or a camera with a good zoom are essential.
One excursion that doesn’t require binoculars is a visit to San Francisco village on the banks of the Maranyon River, a tributary of the Amazon.
We gather in groups in the villagers’ homes.
I visit the home of 38-year-old Segundo and his 25-year-old wife Magale, who is frying fish for the evening’s meal while their three children stare at us curiously.
We learn that the villagers are fishermen and farmers, who grow corn, papaya and rice.
Segundo grows bananas, which he sells in Nauta, a town along the river and uses the money to purchase kerosene, sandstone and medicine.
The family collects rain and river water for drinking and bathing.
Each family contributes $US5 a month to buy diesel for the village electricity generator.
The villagers practise a form of Christianity, brought here by Franciscan monks, sprinkled with local mysticism.
I’m not surprised that the village shaman dispenses odd-smelling mixtures stored in old bottles for ailments that range from colds to cancer.
Still, I’m astonished to learn that Magale uses birth control pills provided cheaply by the government.
Day three brings us sightings of three more varieties of monkeys and a massive storm on the Yucahallee River.
Rain pelts our hooded ponchos and stings my face while water seeps onto my seat until my pants, socks and shoes are sopping wet.
Back on board, the storm rages around us as we gather in the lounge to watch a cooking demonstration, a cocktail-making class and a towel-folding lesson.
By late afternoon, the rain has eased, and we’re back in the skiffs cruising along the black water stream of the Dorado River, where the reflection of the forest is enchanting.
The guides throw anchor at a spot near the confluence of the Ucayali and Maranon rivers, known as the Birthplace of the Amazon, and break out the champagne.
We toast ourselves and watch the powdery blue dusk disappear into the night.
MV Amatista has 14 cabins, seven cabins on the upper deck and seven on the lower deck.
There’s a bar lounge, reading lounge, dining room and observation decks.
Excursions by skiff are led by naturalist guides who are knowledgeable about the history, wildlife and settlements in the Amazon.
The package includes some meals and complimentary tea and coffee are provided all day long and you can purchase drinks and snacks.
MV Amatista Itinerary
Day 1 – Lima
Day 2 – Travel to Iquitos
Day 3 – Pacaya Samiria Reserve
Day 4 – Nauta and Sapi Sapi Lake in Pacaya Samiria Reserve
Day 5 – Ucayali River Walking Excursion
Day 6 Choroyacu Wildlife Excursion and Amazonian Manatee Rescue Centre
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