What to Expect on an Amazon River Cruise

by  Sheryl Nance-Nash | Sep 10, 2019
Amazon Rainforest, South America
Amazon Rainforest, South America / gustavofrazao/iStock

There are movies, and then there’s real life. If lucky, you'll get a few days of vacation where you can’t even tell the difference. Our advice: Book a blockbuster-worthy adventure on Jungle Experience’s 5-star luxury river cruise through the Peruvian Amazon.

The journey begins in the vibrant city of Iquitos, Peru, where you'll spend a day in before making your way to the Nauta cruise port to board the Zafiro. Here, tuk-tuks jockey for position in the streets, where dilapidated buildings sit alongside modern restaurants, cafés, bars, and shops. The city is home to more than 400,000 people, and it's a fascinating contrast to what comes next — a trek through ancient civilization.  

When in town, consider a stay at The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Iquitos, which is located just steps away from the city's main square, Plaza de Armas. The property features a wellness center, a pool, and an array of other amenities. It's also within walking distance of historic buildings like the Cathedral of Iquitos, Plaza de Armas, Tarapaca Boardwalk, the Iron House (also known as La Casa de Fierro), and Belén Market.

The Zafiro

You know you’re in for a good time as soon as you embark: Crew members on flute, drums, and guitar play lively Peruvian music that makes you want to dance all the way to your suite. The staterooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows, which offer sweeping views, and suites on the second of three decks are outfitted with private balconies. Don't expect wifi or flat screen TVs — here, nature is the star of this show. However, there's still plenty to do on-board: relax in the reading lounge, hang out at the outdoor bar, soak in the Jacuzzi, or lay back in lounger and enjoy the view with a Pisco Sour. The ship has a small gym and several massage rooms, all of which offer breathtaking river views. 

The Food 

On board, you'll find everything from barbecued pork ribs to stewed hen with quinoa. You can also enjoy Peruvian dishes like patarashca (fish seasoned with cilantro, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and sweet peppers wrapped in a bijao leaf) and Tiradito (fine slices of fresh fish covered in camu sauce, flavored with cilantro and a touch of spicy aji charapita pepper).

The Experience

Guided excursions are all included in your cruise fare. Consider taking an expedition to the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve where you'll walk among miles of trees. Here, you may even spot a tiny frog, a lizard, or a boa. If you’re feeling adventurous, head straight for the hanging bridge. 

Chances are, you’ll get to meet with a shaman to learn how they use alternative medicine inspired by ancestral traditions. This excursion includes a blessing ceremony and herbal remedies for ailments. Before leaving the jungle, you’ll participate in a tree-planting ceremony.

You'll also visit Amazonian communities, where a guide interprets communication with the locals. Here, you can watch a cooking demonstration or shop — there’s no shortage of arts and crafts to buy. 

This cruise is largely focused on experiencing the river. As gorgeous as it by day, it's eerily exciting by night. Jump in the skiff to hunt for black caimans, fireflies, tarantulas, and snakes. If you're not up for the thrills, there's still plenty of fun to be had, whether it's swimming next to pink dolphins (if your timing is right), kayaking, or catching a piranha with a small stick and fishing line. 

Come evening, the magnificent sunset is best experienced from the deck with a glass of champagne. Then, head back to the vessel for live music. The talented and fun crew members (some who double as professional musicians) make up the band, Juan and the Dolphins. The staff experience feels authentic and personal, as all members are from the Amazon or have direct ties to the community. During excursions and at mealtime, they'll share their life stories and give you a glimpse of what their world was (and still is). 

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