My near-two-week study trip to Peru in April, toward the end of the rainy season, included a 3-night cruise on the Upper Amazon basin where the Amazon river is formed by the Ucayali and Maranon rivers - in the 8,000-square-mile-Pacaya Samiria reserve. For most of us this was the adventure part of our trip, after visiting Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley and iconic Machu Picchu. (I also had planned a side trip to Trujillo and the Chan Chan ruins, which I had to cancel due to the severe flooding and landslides Peru has been experiencing there.)
While there are many boats operating Amazon river cruises, the top two brands in the Upper Amazon are Aqua Expeditions and Delfin, which we took. Delfin has three boats, named I, II and III, each a different size. The largest, Delfin III, holds up to 46 guests and is the most luxurious in appointments. Delfin II, is a bit older and smaller, with a capacity of about 32 guests, and features a lot more wood paneling than the newer and more contemporary Delfin III.
The cruise occurred at the end of our Peru study trip, sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent, one of our premier supplier partners, and frankly, for most of us, turned out to be one of the more memorable highlights. Experiencing the beauty of the Amazon basin is a must for any traveler out to explore our wondrous planet, and won’t be a disappointment.
Flying into Iquitos from Lima, you can marvel at the the vastness of the Amazon River. To fathom this wide river stretches from here to the Atlantic Ocean was formidable.
The question becomes not whether to go, but for how long to cruise? Our three-night cruise was a good taste, and the crew and guides packed a lot into a very short time. Perhaps a 4-nighter would be an ideal trip length, and top out what I’d recommend someone to do who is not an avid birder. I’m not sure the longer 7-night itinerary would be compelling to many traveler, and how much more the longer itinerary would offer in sights and diversity. As time is a precious commodity for us all, however, my recommendation is to at least schedule the shorter itinerary on their Peru trip, in order to experience this important part of our planet.
For birders, this is a mecca. Armed with a good pair of powerful binoculars, there’s much avian life to see. Beyond birds, sloths, caimans, pink and gray dolphins, monkeys, tree rats and local village life – the absolutely spectacular flora predominated. I could not get enough being on the river and just taking in the magnificence of this place, referred to as the "Mirrored Forest".
Life onboard was quite comfortable. Showers offered hot water, beds were comfortable enough, and the food was excellent overall. This is not a reliving of Werner Herzog’s movie, “Aguirre, the Wrath of God,” which was filmed in this Ucayali river area. This is about experiencing one of the remote corners of our planet in about as much comfort as possible.
Each day we boarded the skiffs, seating up to 10 persons each with a guide and driver, to explore some of the nearby streams and tributaries. We’d go out for an hour or two, and do it up to three or four times a day: before breakfast, after breakfast, after lunch, and at dusk. If I could have but a fraction of the knowledge exhibited by our guides about this natural wonderscape!
At night we watched the full moon rise as we glided in our kayaks out in the middle of nowhere, or we looked for caimans and fish bats, which proliferated the night sky along with swarms of nocturnal insects. The citronella spray provided onboard worked quite well, I must admit – but, to give you an idea of the swarm part – we were all provided mandatory goggles to wear to make sure none flew into our eyes.
Delfin works to support one of the villages we visited in Puerto Miguel. We brought clothes to share, and toured the local school and met the children, who were eager to explore our cameras and iPhones, then enjoyed a craft market to support their local economy. The occasional Dish antennas indicated village life is not as removed from our reality as much as we may have thought.
Our three nights onboard Delfin was a remarkable and very special experience. I can only strongly encourage for any travelers to consider adding a cruise on the Amazon to their bucket list, especially when planning a trip to Peru. To forsake the visit would be to miss out on an important and worthwhile experience.