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Jungle cruise: Exploring the Amazon rainforest aboard the luxury Aqua Nera

Secondary Categories: PeruCruisesTravel StoryGuide

As a team of explorers first, our Destination Experts are constantly on the move, discovering our featured destinations, accommodations, and exclusive activities first-hand. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to get up-close and personal on their journey with them as they share their experiences live over SA Expeditions’ social media platforms – no filter. Follow along with our Destination Experts Emily Richards and Megan McKenna as they explore the Peruvian Amazon aboard the luxury Aqua Nera …

Greetings from the Peruvian Amazon!

We're Megan and Emily, two of SA's Destination Experts. We just got back from a jungle cruise aboard the state-of-the-art luxurious Aqua Nera boat, so follow along to see what luxury adventure cruising is really like.

Day 1: From the bustling city to sunset on the Amazon

After a 2-hour flight from Lima, we arrived to Iquitos in the Northern Peruvian Amazon. Iquitos is surrounded by water, so the only way to arrive is by boat or air, and the city's main transportation is by moto-taxi. After collecting our bags and exchanging excited introductions with other cruisers, we set out via air-conditioned shuttle to the Iquitos Plaza de Armas, or main square, where we enjoyed lunch at a top local restaurant and visited the local market.

Emily: “Iquitos reminds me of a mix of Brazil and Portugal. Many buildings use similar designs to the ‘inside out bathroom’ style that you find in Portuguese architecture (my silly way to explain using tiles on the outside of buildings!).”

Cool off in the jungle

The bright colors found on street vendors’ carts in Iquitos were perfectly mirrored during our first Amazon River sunset. (Photos: Emily Richards)

While walking to the local “Anaconda Market” there were stands selling traditional sweet treats known as raspadillas (shaved ice with various flavors) and other goodies, but the true highlight was the low-water season views of the sprawling greenery.

Eager to get to the boat, we patiently rode 2.5 hours to Nauta, a small, rustic village where the Aqua Nera docks. Here, we boarded small skiffs which carried us to the Agua Nera (your luggage will be waiting for you in your cabin when you arrive), and it was magical!  We arrived at sunset and the soft glow in the air was truly unforgettable. Between the welcome song from the crew and the golden sunset, there wasn’t anything that could have made us more excited for our adventure to come.

Day 2: Anaconda sighting!

Did you know that Amazonian anacondas can weigh up to 500 pounds (227kg), and are non-venomous? This means they kill their prey by constriction, then swallow them whole! In the next photo, a massive anaconda is seen constricting its next, scaly meal.

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An unfortunate caiman (left) will soon be a feast for this larger-than-life anaconda. (Photo: Megan McKenna)

Megan: “I never expected to be able to get this close with nature, let alone see one of the world's largest species of snakes eating a caiman (similar to an alligator) in front of my own eyes!”

The guides on-board the Aqua Nera went above and beyond. We were separated into three motorized boats, and our guides worked together to get us as close as possible to this snake. The guides' own excitement, paired with their hard work to get us close to view this reptile action, sparked more excitement in the passengers making this a truly unique and memorable adventure.

The perks of traveling during low water season (we went in early September) include seeing more land along the river, and higher chances of glimpsing certain types of wildlife (caimans, pink dolphins, anacondas, sloths, etc.). And, if you are a bird person, there are all types of birds too!

Day 3: Incorporating local cultures and community

On the third day, our guides stopped for a local fisherman, introducing us to the different types of fish he sells. Fishermen like this work all day long from morning to dusk to provide for their families. Our driver even bought a hefty bag of fish to help support this fisherman and his family.

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Taking a break from our regularly-scheduled programming to learn about – and support – the local economy. (Photo: Megan McKenna)

We also stopped in a community to visit with families and learn about their customs and livelihoods. Pre-cruise we were encouraged to bring useful items for the families (such as school kits, paper, crayons, etc.), and the families were extremely appreciative when our guides presented the bags of goodies,

Amazonian residents live a humble and simple lifestyle, yet anytime they would pass us in their boats, they'd always greet us with a wave and warm smile. These communities around Iquitos are extremely welcoming, and full of happy people.

A culinary treat: Feasting like royalty in the Amazon

We did not go hungry on the Aqua Nera! Every morning we enjoyed al fresco dining complete with freshly prepared juices, coffee, and local dishes, like "boudin," a sweet, bread pudding and a personal favorite! Each evening on the cruise we were given 5-course dinners, and our lunches were impeccable as well. Ceviche from the coast, Amazonian "juane" (fried rice wrapped in banana leaves), stuffed potatoes, and more! Each region of Peru has typical dishes, and we sampled them all.

One morning, we fished for piranha off a tributary of the Amazon River. We caught several and brought them back to the Aqua Nera, where the chef prepared them for lunch. It was exciting to try piranha, especially when it’s one you caught!

Successful fishing

Before and after: a farm-to-fork meal, in the truest sense of the phrase. (Photos: Emily Richards)

We felt especially spoiled by the dining staff who were very attentive, with domestic beer and wine being served generously! The best part: if you have specific dietary restrictions, the chefs can make anything work. Vegetarian, gluten-free, allergies - you name it and they can accommodate it.

Emily: “My favorite meal by far was my freshly-caught Piranha. However, what really put the service over the top was after asking for a side of aji (a Peruvian hot pepper) with every meal, our server Max made me feel especially at home when he started automatically bringing me a side without me even asking. It’s this level of service that really sets the Aqua Nera apart!”

Day 4: Luxury touches in the Amazon rainforest

On last day of our cruise, the crew surprised us with cocktails and snacks on an island along the Amazon river. Picture this: we watched the colorful sunset while listening to birds chirping in the background, with our feet barefoot in the soft white sand, munching on delicious food, and sipping on delightful drinks handcrafted by the chefs.

When we returned to the Nera on motorized boats, we enjoyed a spectacular view on the top deck right by the pool. We sat on the sun deck watching the sun go away until the staff presented a video slide show for us guests, followed by a performance with their own musical instruments.  The crew did an amazing job throughout the entire cruise, and this was the icing on the cake!

After an exciting, eventful last day in the jungle, it was so nice to shut out the bugs and noise and have a well-deserved cold cocktail in air-conditioning that night. It was definitely a night to remember.

Aqua Nera cruise

Basking on the Sun Deck during the day, and marveling at nature’s beauty from the plunge pool at dusk. (Photos: Emily Richards & Megan McKenna)

Day 5: Conservation, education, and bidding farewell to the Amazon

The last morning on board the Nera was bittersweet. It was so nice to completely disconnect for a few days, and the other passengers on board started to become friends. The boat's smaller capacity allows you to connect with other passengers and really get to know the staff, which truly puts the experience above just feeling like “another person on board” - and the staff even knew our names.

After disembarking the Nera one last time, we drove through town to the Amazon Rescue Center. Although it may feel a bit odd to see animals in this context after being immersed in nature, this was an informative and educational experience. We saw a variety of wildlife and learned more about each species, like their diets, preferred natural habitat, and the important role of the rescue center.

For example, manatees were being rehabilitated to be set free, while a number of Macaws and monkeys were permanent residents of the center, since these individuals aren’t able to survive in the wild on their own. It’s not uncommon for exotic birds and small monkeys to be kept as pets in the region, and the Rescue Center educates the community through school visits on the importance of keeping animals in their natural habitat. Our guide even shared with us that after visiting the center with their schools, many children return to the center with their parents and surrender animals from their homes.

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One of the beautiful long-term residents who greeted us at the rescue center. (Photo: Emily Richards)

Now it’s your turn!

Thanks for following along our 5-day luxury cruise on the Aqua Nera. If you’re ready to experience the Peruvian Amazon in luxury and comfort, contact us to start planning your cruise today. Alternately, sign up for our newsletter for more first-look adventures and travel tips.

About the author: Hailing from New Hampshire, Emily has traveled extensively through the Americas and called various parts of South America home. 

About the author: A true expert on all things South America, Megan currently resides in Colombia but makes a point to hop around to new destinations as much as possible!

Destination experts and guide in the rainforest

Destination Experts Megan and Emily, together with their Aqua Nera guide, in front of a giant Amazonian ceiba tree.

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