He looked at us with a mischievous grin and then said it, the phrase we’d learn to finish for him. The phrase that Juan—one of two local naturalists on our Amazon River Cruise in Peru with International Expeditions’ —would say every time we began a new adventure.
“My friends, you’re not going to like this … (his smile growing slyer as he let the words hang in the air) …You’re going to LOVE it.”
He was right.
My First Amazon River Cruise
It was my first Amazon River cruise and first cruise in general. I was glad to be on a small boat not a floating city with water slides and casinos and the Zafiro seemed to be the ticket. If I was going to venture into a new type of travel I didn’t want to share it with a cast of thousands. I wanted something intimate.
But I had my concerns: Would I get bored? Would I feel trapped? Would I get along with the other guests? The answers came quickly: No. No. And yes.
I quickly fell in love with the panorama of the Amazon glide by with its lush flora, jungle canopy, remote fishing villages, and tropical birds aplenty. It was as if a National Geographic documentary was unfolding in front of my eyes. Every day we saw something new and I couldn’t wait to see what we would find next.
During our ten-days, nine-nights adventure, we navigated over 600 miles, our course focusing on the Peruvian Amazon and one of its largest tributaries, the Ucayali River within the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. Yet, delightfully, my undies stayed in one place. No need to pack and unpack.
It was divine.
Here’s a look at my adventure in pictures..
The Zafiro, a sleek three-story vessel was the perfect size for me and the 19 other travelers on the trip. Large enough to provide ample space but small enough so I didn’t feel as if I’d boarded a town. (The Zafiro can accommodate up to 40 guests).
My suite (as were all the main guest areas) was blessedly air-conditioned (as one might expect it’s rather muggy on an Amazon River cruise, and stylishly set with a desk and a large California King facing floor-to-ceiling windows. There was something wonderfully decadent about waking up to find a new world waiting outside every morning.
The large canopied observation deck was a perfect getaway for a good book, a snooze or a relaxing soak in the communal jacuzzi.
A large, comfy living room, the lounge was our headquarters for lectures and evening cocktails as well as serenades and salsa lessons from the crew band.
The room was decorated with locally sourced objets d’art—handmade baskets, masks, oars and other items reflecting the Amazon’s lively culture—and lined with windows, guaranteeing not a second of the regions was missed.
The dining room was casual yet elegant and served regional and contemporary dishes infused with rainforest ingredients. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style, while in the evening we sat down to yummy 5-course meals. The dress was casual which I appreciated. While it can be fun to dress up for dinner, after a long hot day, I liked being able to wear something comfortable and relax.
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Amazon River Cruise Wildlife
Wildlife excursions aboard the Zafiro’s 12-guest aluminum skiffs were the foundation of our Amazon River cruise and led by our naturalists, Daniel Vasquez, and Juan Tejada. We went on one to two boat rides a day, in the early morning and the late afternoon, when it was cooler and the animals were active, focusing on the narrower rivers where spotting wildlife was easier to see.
When it comes to wildlife, sightings are always a gamble and that’s why a naturalist with years of experience is the best bet for success.
Juan and Daniel were exceptional.
The Amazon isn’t easy. It’s overgrown, often overcast ( it rains 250 days out of the year), and much of it is in shadow. I rarely saw anything without them showing it to me first. They had a sixth sense for finding birds and sloths and everything in between as if they’d planted them in the jungle beforehand.
Here are just a few of the wonders they spotted.
A woolly monkey. It dangled over our heads as if asked to do so.
A beautiful black-tailed trogon.
A nocturnal species, it was unusual to find this fer-de-lance pit viper relatively out in the open coiled under the shade of a large tree. They’re considered volatile and will defend themselves. Bites often lead to necropsy, gangrene, amputation, and death.
A sprite squirrel monkey flitting through the trees in search of the perfect leaf.
A black-and-white marsh tyrant
A brown-throated three-toed sloth, the slowest moving animal on the planet and so named for its three long claws on each paw. I love how their facial markings make them look like furry bandits.
A polka dot tree frog, one of a thousand species of frogs known to inhabit the Amazon basin, found at the edge of a river attached to some reeds.
I am not a birder, per se, but I love animals and seeing beauties like this hoatzin made my day as much as those who were hardcore enthusiasts. I asked a few birders how they felt it was going and without fail a huge grin crept over their faces like kids eating ice cream. The Amazon is a birder’s paradise with over 1500 bird species calling it home. By the end of our cruise, we saw 136.
A night monkey (or owl monkey) peeks out of a tree cavity. I wanted to hug this little guy until he popped!
Black-capped donacobeous looking mighty dapper against the green and yellow rainforest.