Cruise with Aqua Expeditions
For those who love wildlife and nature, the Amazon River may just be the most fascinating place in the world. It is filled with biodiversity rich beyond imagination where you’ll see a Harper’s Eagle zooming through the air to snatch the day’s meal while others, such as the three-toed sloth, live their life stuck in the slowest of slow motion. In its waters, you’ll find rare pink dolphins, lumbering manatees, and ferocious piranha. An expedition into this world is a Godsend to nature lovers and curious travelers. The ultimate way to see the Peruvian Amazon river and rainforest is with a luxury river cruise such as you’ll find with Aqua Expeditions.
The ultra-luxurious Aqua Nera is Aqua Expeditions’ boutique riverboat and the ideal platform to witness the wonders of the Peruvian Amazon. On the journey, guests travel through isolated parts of the river and deep into the jungle on river safaris to see a rich variety of birds, and wildlife, and also have a chance to visit indigenous people. Back on board, guests are pampered with an array of creature comforts with posh communal areas, five-star accommodations, exquisite meals, and attentive service.
About the Amazing Amazon
The Amazon River is the Earth’s cradle of life and the largest rainforest in the world. It covers 40% of South America and parts of nine countries. The river originates in Peru’s Andes mountains and flows 4,000 miles to its end in Brazil and the Atlantic Ocean. It is the longest river in the world, even longer than the Nile.
This abundant rainforest offers unfathomable biodiversity and is home to one-third of all recorded animal species. Over 40,000 plants, 427 mammals, 778 reptiles and amphibians, and 3,000 freshwater fish species live in the Amazon. The Amazon offers nirvana to bird watchers with 1300 species or 20% of all recorded birdkind.
Aqua Expeditions has several naturalists on board that accompany guests on intimate excursions to see this animal and plant life up close. They are there to spot the sloths, find the pink dolphins, and even catch a caiman at night to give guests a very close-up view. Beyond just spotting them, they are wildlife experts and share a wealth of interesting insights about the exotic animals encountered.
River Cruising with Aqua Expedition
Aqua Expeditions is a fairly new company that only began in 2007. It was the brainchild of its founder and CEO Francesco Galli Zugaro who had previously worked as a tour operator in the Galapagos. His vision was for a new type of expedition cruise that focused on an intimate experience that allowed guests to get close and interact with nature. The ships had to be at the zenith of luxury yet unpretentious, with a high staff-to-guest ratio to ensure the service was exceptional.
His vision included ships that were built from the ground up to follow optimal sustainability practices and have a minimal impact on the pristine environments they chose to explore. Beyond this, his company would also give back to the communities they intersect with tangible and meaningful support that actually makes a difference. Well, Aqua Expeditions has achieved all of that and now has five specialized expedition ships with itineraries in Peru as well as on the Mekong River, through the islands of Indonesia and the Galapagos.
Aqua Expeditions Cruise ship, The Aqua Nera
The Aqua Nera is one of two ships operating by Aqua Expedition in the Amazon along with its sister ship, Aria Amazon. The Aqua Nera is new, built in 2020, and put into operation a year later. It is 205 feet long and cruises at a maximum of 12 knots. Forget what you think of when you consider a river cruise ship with tired wood surfaces and porthole windows. This ship is the antithesis of that, modern sleek, and contemporary with deep chocolate-colored surfaces, light-colored furnishings, and fabulous artwork.
The Aqua Nera is a boutique river cruising ship with only 20 cabins and a maximum capacity of 40 guests. The ship never feels crowded as there are plenty of places to spread out in the indoor and outdoor lounges. And guests always feel pampered and taken care of with their friendly staff and a 1:1 staff-to-guest ratio.
Around the ship are nicely styled lounge areas to gather with other guests. On the third deck is the main salon which is quite large and has numerous couches and chairs with interesting coffee table books about the Amazon. It feels more like the living room of a luxurious home than your typical cruise ship lounge. The room offers floor-to-ceiling windows with chairs next to the widows to take in the panoramic river views along the way. At the rear of the space is the long bar with barmen at the ready to whip up a pisco sour in the evening or a cappuccino to start the day. Throughout this room and around the ship is a wonderful collection of paintings and sculptures to admire, created by Peru’s most acclaimed artists.
Beyond the main lounge is a movie screening room although it doesn’t seem to get much use. Time is spent on excursions, dinner, chatting with other guests, or resting to do it all again the next day. There’s also a recreation room with a billiards table that also didn’t seem to get much use as well. The ship also has a gym facility for those who want to keep up their workout schedule while on the river.
Guests will also spend time outdoors on the observation deck with their binoculars looking to catch a glimpse of some elusive wildlife. Other guests spend time in a canopy-covered outdoor lounge to chill out, read a book or snooze off as there are plenty of couches to stretch out on. After a day of traipsing through the jungle or river exploration, guests enjoy taking a dip in the plunge pool or the jacuzzi in the lounge area as well.
State Rooms Aboard the Aqua Nera
As far as the guest cabins are concerned, forget what you may think of on a typical river cruise ship. The guest cabins are sophisticated, contemporary, overly spacious, and, what you would expect in a five-star hotel vs. a cruise ship. The color palate is sultry with dark finishes, polished timber flooring, with local artwork and textiles to compliment the décor. The cabins include a comfy California King bed as well as a window-side daybed. Yet as beautiful as the room’s interior, the highlight of the room is the floor-to-ceiling windows that give an unobstructed view of the scenery and landscapes along the river. Hours are spent just looking out of your window at the jungles, riverboats, or children at play in the river which is all in full view as you pass by.
The bathrooms are luxurious as well, beautifully designed with mosaic tile work, rain shower, and organic bath amenities. There are no TVs in the room nor is there reliable WiFi which seems to fit well as one’s focus should be on the moment and the surrounding nature as your entertainment.
The guest rooms provide a personal sanctuary for resting and downtime to relax in private. The cabins are cleaned three times per day by stewards who seem to know when you are away to tidy up. Laundry service is also included with dirty clothes returned fresh and clean the next day. Rooms are kept immaculate with thoughtful touches such as small keepsake gifts at night as well as refilling water bottles with each service.
Authentic Peruvian Cuisine on the Aqua Nera
Meals aboard the Aqua Nera are a key part of the overall experience with an authentic menu created by a celebrated Peruvian chef. In fact, 70 percent of all ingredients used are grown in the rainforests of the Amazon.
The cuisine is as interesting as it is delicious with dishes such as roasted pumpkin, hearts of palm soufflé, plantain, and yucca gnocchi, and grilled paiche fish with huatia potatoes. Guests will love the Peruvian ceviche with fresh-from-the-river fish spiced with onions, cilantro, and coriander. Meals are gourmet yet unpretentious, without any over-the-top presentations, and are served family style. There are several house wines offered with premium wines and spirits available for an additional rate. Guests can dine as they wish; some choose to dine with others met during the day’s excursions or as couples on their own.
Excursions into the Amazon River and Rainforest
Guests on the Aqua Expeditions’ Aqua Nera get a chance to hear, see and even touch some of the most exotic animals found anywhere. Each day there are one or two excursions to explore the Marañon, the Amazon River’s largest tributary, as well as other neighboring waterways, the Yarapa and Yanayacu-Puca. The excursions are led by guides who are well-trained naturalists from the Amazon communities who have a wealth of knowledge and passion for the rainforest.
There are four skiffs or small boats that will take up to 10 persons on the river safaris. With the small ratio, it feels personalized and not as if you are in a large group following a tour guide with a flag. The skiffs can navigate shallow parts of the river and even go deep into the hidden parts of the river.
River Safaris with the Aqua Expeditions
Encounters include sightings of rare pink dolphins, as they bob up for air in a bay. For many, the most exciting this to see is a three toes sloth, that moves so slowly and deliberately, with its long arms and short little tail. Their much faster relatives are to be spotted as well including red howler and squirrel monkeys as well as bats, turtles, and pythons. The cruise is a twitchers fantasy come true and, with binoculars at the ready, will spot huge Jabiru, crown-headed hoatzin, black hawks, scarlet macaws, kingfishers, egrets and so many exotic birds in each outing.
A fun experience was learning how to fish like locals for the fiercest fish in the Amazon, the red-belly piranha. With a simple stick, fishing line, hook, and bait, anglers tried their luck at catching piranha. The little fish are only about four inches in length but with teeth like a pit bull.
Other adventures include to jungle walk into the depths of the San Jose de Sarapanga forest. A second guide from the jungle reserve joins the group and with his machete leads the group deep into the heart of the jungle in search of wildlife while on land.
One of the excursions goes deep into the rainforest through the jungle savannah to the Amazon’s mirror-like blackwater tributaries to see migrating birds and hear the sounds of the jungle as night begins to fall. At this point, the guides turn on their spotlights searching the trees and the river banks for ruby-colored eyes reflecting off their light. With a rush of excitement, they pull the boat over, scoop down into the marsh and lift an elusive animal. A three-foot-long caiman. For those daring a closer encounter, guests are advised how to carefully hold this little alligator of the Amazon so as not to lose a finger.
During your time watching life along the river, you’ll see indigenous people getting around in traditional dugout canoes with an oar. Guests get to try it out themselves with a local villager as they paddle together in the calm waters of a bay. Guests can even jump in and take a swim in the Amazon, surely something they’ll cherish for years to come.
One of the most fun surprises is when the four skiffs come together and tie up allowing guest to mix their river safari adventures with socializing with fellow passengers. The first was breakfast on the river, after sightseeing guests were treated to breakfast on the river complete with hot drinks, fresh juices, fruit, eggs, and avocado. The second tie-up took place after the jungle safari where the four skiffs tied up for sundowners with crispy yucca and plantain chips, local nuts wrapped in a palm leaf along with a tasty cocktail. It is at that moment you realized that it just doesn’t get much better than this.
Interacting with the Indigenous People of the Amazon Rainforest
Beyond wildlife, the journey offers the culturally curious traveler an enriching encounter to see the lives of the indigenous people. The tour leads to a village, where inquisitive children come to see the foreigners as we get to see their schools, and gathering places, and are welcomed into their homes.
The homes are quite simple, built of sticks in preparation for the annual high river season. In the rear of the home are the cooking and dining area. While the husband is away at work fishing or farming, the wife is there to tend to the children. She cooks fish and vegetables from her garden over a wood fire stove. It’s quite fascinating to see and to better understand the native residents of Amazonia and their simple but proud way of life.
Time On Board the Aqua Nera
Back on board, one of the pleasurable experiences is time spent getting to know other passengers. The fellow guests are often kindred spirits; curious about nature, learning about other cultures, and are all explorers at heart. Evenings are spent over dinner regaling the day’s activities or talking about other adventures of times past. Many friendships are formed that last long beyond the final night.
The staff is the other standout feature of time on board an Aqua Expeditions cruise. They are without exception, warm, professional and above all, friendly. Each day guests can expect a hearty smile, genuine conversation, and willingness to do what they can to make your trip enjoyable. Almost all of the staff are locals with many having family ties to the Amazon rainforest.
For those looking for an experience that enriches the soul, there’s nothing like taking in the wonders of one of the most exotic places on earth. The Amazonian rainforest is a beguiling place, filled with thrilling adventures, unforgettable wildlife, and memories to be always cherished. The Aqua Expeditions allows guests to explore it all in 5 stars luxury from the accommodations, to the service, meals, and most of all the excursions into this incredible wonder of the world.