This Amazon River Cruise Will Make You Yearn to be on the Water

Sunset on the Amazon River Cruise Peru -International Expeditions-0830

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

The Zafiro - Amazon_International Expeditions

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 on the main deck , #5 | Amazon River Cruise Peru -International Expeditions Amazon River Crusie
My suite on the main deck, #5

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 Zafiro observation deck - Amazon_International Expeditions  Amazon River Crusie

The large canopied observation deck was a perfect getaway for a good book, a snooze or a relaxing soak in the communal jacuzzi.

The dining Room on the Zafiro | Amazon River Cruise Peru -International Expeditions-16

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 on the Zafiro | Amazon River Cruise Peru -International Expeditions-16

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

Daniel Vasquez and Juan Tejada, Peruvian naturalists | Amazon River Cruise Peru -International Expeditions-01-2
Daniel Vasquez and Juan Tejada, our two Peruvian naturalists

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.

Guests and crew check out a bird in the canopy | Amazon River Cruise Peru -International Expeditions-05

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.

Wooly Monkey in a tree | Amazon River Cruise Peru -International Expeditions-07

A woolly monkey. It dangled over our heads as if asked to do so.

A black-tailed trogon in a tree | Amazon River Cruise Peru -International Expeditions-24

A beautiful black-tailed trogon.

Fer-de-lance under a tree | Amazon River Cruise Peru -International Expeditions-36

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.

Spider monkey in a tree | Amazon River Cruise Peru -International Expeditions-42

A sprite squirrel monkey flitting through the trees in search of the perfect leaf.

Black-and-white marsh tyrant | Amazon River Cruise Peru -International Expeditions-04

A black-and-white marsh tyrant

A Three-toed sloth in a tree | Amazon River Cruise Peru -International Expeditions-06

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.

Polkadot tree frog in a person's hand | Amazon River Cruise Peru -International Expeditions-19

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.

Hoatzim sitting in a tree | Amazon River Cruise Peru -International Expeditions-43

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.

An adorable Owl Monkey | Amazon River Cruise Peru -International Expeditions-08

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 in a tree | Amazon River Cruise Peru -International Expeditions-04

Black-capped donacobeous looking mighty dapper against the green and yellow rainforest.

Black-collared Hawk | Amazon River Cruise Peru -International Expeditions-0280
A black-collared hawk. We saw a lot of these raptors during our cruise.
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59 replies »

  1. How cool and amazing the Amazon has ever sounded. I have never felt an excitement to want to go visit. This article definitely gave it a look that shows a side that makes someone like me interested. Loved the photos and how informative it all was.

    • Hi Roman, I love that my work has revealed a part of the world you hadn’t considered before and that you like it. That’s my goal, to inspire folks to travel and try new things. Thank you so much for your kind words.

  2. WOW WOW WOW!!! I have been on river safaris in Africa, and in Borneo but I still get goosebumps at the thought of getting to the Amazon next year!! Your photos are absolutely gorgeous, and although I’m not a big bird person like you either, I could watch the monkeys and small mammals all day! I’m also convinced I will need a much better lens for this one. Doing it as a cruise looks absolutely incredible, and your room so luxurious! We will be on a tight budget, so hoping I can find a similar experience on a budget!

  3. Your photography is amazing. Great job! I had looked at this cruise before when we were looking at going to brazil for the world cup. It looks amazing.

  4. What an amazing adventure and such beautiful pictures. I really enjoyed the different monkey pictures. The room looked amazing and I can imagine how cool it would be to wake up each morning to a new view and adventure. Thank you for sharing and the great pictures.

  5. Love your travels I read a old post where you used zaditor and systan for your eyes while traveling and at home does this still work for you? We are getting ready to travel and I’d love to know.

  6. Amazing review Susan! Katherine and I loved being with you on this adventure, which we are fond of characterizing as a floating safari. Calling this a cruise just doesn’t seem to do the experience justice.

    • Thank you, and back at ya Jim! I had a great time with you two. I think you’re right.. floating safari is perfect for what we did. Love it. 🙂

  7. That looks like an amazing journey you went on. I lived in South America for a while when I was young and remember seeing so many beautiful birds and animals. Thank you for including me in sending this beautiful reminder of a place I hold dear in my heart. I lived in Sao Paulo and was there before they opened up the Amazon as it is today. I was there in the early 1970’s. It has changed a great deal. It is wonderful to see your adventures.

  8. Ahhhh! How have I never heard of this? An Amazon River cruise! The Amazons have always been on my bucket list and this has just made me dream of it even more. Thank you for your insights and wonderful photos, as always!

    • My pleasure! I’m so glad I could bring the possibility to your attention. And thank you for the kind words about the post.

    • Thank you so much Bianca! You’re so right it was an amazing trip. It’s a shame we can’t be back in the jungle right now, enjoying the sounds of the wild and a giant Pisco Sour!

  9. I have never before considered a cruise, for exactly the three questions you asked yourself at the outset. But you’ve changed my mind, Susan! You’ve also captured the Amazon in all its splendor. I visited Iquitos as a kid and your gorgeous images have brought the memories flooding back. (If it’s of any consolation, I never managed to hook a piranha either.)

    • Ha! They are slippery little devils.

      Thanks for the kind words. I’m thinking you should consider a little trip back to Peru! 😉

      • I did indeed make note of their name when I read your post, Susan. It seems they’re really found the balance between offering some creature comforts while still being respectful of the environment and providing an authentic experience as well. Thank you so much! Now if only you can help me convince my husband … 😉

    • You know, I really didn’t think I was in to cruising either. And I guess what I really meant was a particular type of cruising. You’ll never find me on a 4,000 passenger ship. It’s too big with too many people in my face. A river cruise, however, I really liked because it was far more intimate then I thought and a lovely balance between having my own space, but getting to know other travelers as well.

  10. You are an amazing traveler. I know I cannot go to some of these exotic places in person but your pictures take me there E.V.E.R.Y.T.I.M.E thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

  11. Wow…. Such amazing photos you captured of the wildlife…. Seems. Like they put on quite a show for you! Oh and that ship looks divine! See you at salsa class!

    • Thank you! The wildlife is amazing there. The whole trip was like out of Nat Geo doc. Very different than what I’ve done before.

  12. What an amazing cruise. The wildlife photos are stunning and to have seen so much variety too. And getting up close with the locals is always so interesting to learn a little of their daily life.

    • It really was. It was very well balanced in terms of giving us a taste of everything the Amazon has to offer. Wildlife, culture, food .. It was very very special.

    • Thank you very much, Ron. It was definitely a great adventure and I appreciate the kind words about the photographs. Thank you!

    • Thank you about the wildlife photos. I was thrilled to see such a nice mix of animals.
      The trip was exceptional. I’d never been on a cruise before and I really loved it.

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