While some might like it hot and steamy, there’s really only one way to get up close to life on the Amazon – and that’s in airconditioned comfort.
It’s sweltering hot and muggy as the Aqua Expeditions’ bus pulls into its private embarkation port in Nauta, Peru. As we step off the bus after a two-hour trip we are all exhausted and eager to see the Amazon River and the Aria Amazon ship, which is to be our home for the next three days.
The plan is to discover the creatures of the Amazon in five-star luxury comfort on Aqua Expeditions’ Amazon Discovery Cruise. Without the mosquitos, tents and rucksacks – definitely no complaints here.
While the Aria sails all year round, it’s advisable to try and catch the low-water season – you’ll see more wildlife and fewer mosquitos.
Built in 2011, the Aria Amazon is the newest of the Aqua Expedition fleet in South America. It accommodates 32 passengers plus a crew of 27.
Each 21-square-metre room has an outward-facing window with an uninterrupted view of the river. The rooms, which are all airconditioned, are minimal but spacious. The beds are large and comfortable with duck down pillows and blankets. The bathrooms are minimal but the ship has beautiful local skin-care products.
It has three levels, two of which house the rooms. The dining room is at the rear of the ship on the second level, and on the top deck are a massage room, gym, Jacuzzi, and most importantly, bar and lounge area – a breathtaking space with rattan chairs, linen chaises, and vases of fresh flowers, big silk lamps and an extensive library.
The bar is stocked with every type of liquor and our bartender and everyone’s favourite person on the ship, Alberto, whips up anything that our hearts desire. The Peruvian Pisco Sour is a big hit.
Itinerary – The Amazon
Our guides/naturalists are the go-to people for everything. All guides, waiters and our cruise director, Gabriela, speak impeccable English. Some of the naturalists grew up on the banks of the Amazon but all studied tourism at university.
Jasmine, the masseuse, is a burly, busty Peruvian lady with extremely strong hands. After an excursion, it is nice to know that she is always waiting for you back on the boat.
Each day there are three sets of optional activities. Our four naturalists, Roland, Nacer, George and Riccardo, tell us the best times to see the wildlife are early in the morning and late at night.
So at 6am on the dot, our chirpy and enthusiastic guides call each room. Don’t think you’ll be seeing exotic specimens like jaguars and anteaters – none of our naturalists had seen these elusive animals in months. Even years.
But there is still plenty to see. To get around, we are taken out in army-like skiffs wearing camouflaged lifejackets. So it really does feel like we are embarking on a wild exploration.
In the first five minutes, we met Pedro, a local fisherman who shows us his catch of the morning – a giant catfish.
Our naturalists are fun, knowledgeable and helpful. Every activity centres around looking for different animals, birds or reptiles. Over the three days, we manage to tick many off from our wildlife checklist – pink dolphins, caimans, monkeys, dozens of different birds, snakes, frogs and a mother capybara and her cub.
The birds are a twitchers’ delight – black-collared hawks, macaws, parrots and turkey vultures, to name a few.
A highlight is piranha fishing off the skiff, and the group gets pretty competitive. My uncle takes the title of “piranha king” after catching eight and a sardine.
The main river of the Amazon is quite acidic, so not great for swimming. But there are pockets of lakes where you can swim, and if you’re game, there’s an opportunity to dive in with the piranhas.
The naturalists also take us to a river community where we mingle with the locals and visit the local school. We give out colouring books and pencils, and dance and sing with the kids before being escorted to the village medicine man.
It feels like something out of a National Geographic photograph as the kids hang out of the window waving goodbye to us.
Back on board, local fish is a predominant feature on the menu, which was designed by award-winning chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino. Dinner is three-courses while breakfast and lunch are buffet style.
Dinner may be difficult for picky eaters as there are some oddities on the menu – catfish carpaccio, for example, which reminded me of Pedro’s catch from the morning. Some of the dishes are hit and miss but the chef always seems to come up with creative new ways for us to try fruits and vegetables like yucus and aguaje.
Needless to say, we never go hungry.
Everything is provided on Aria – from hiking boots and insect repellent to the cocktails on arrival back from the afternoon excursion.
And it’s the little details that count – the guides always have snacks, cold drinks and a cold towel on board ready to cool us down from the humidity.
Expect to pay at least $1,068 a night for the three-day Amazon Discovery Cruise. But when you are floating on your back in the middle of a glorious Amazon lake while that orange sun slowly sets over you, it’s worth every cent.