By Cherie Weinstein
Looking for a dreamy, high-end incentive program or nature-inspired special interest trip?
In the small river and expedition cruise market, Aqua Expeditions is a unique brand offering voyages to the world’s most remote and pristine destinations. Their boutique luxury vessels have 15 to 20 identical suites and offer a 1:1 guest-to-guide ratio, personalized service, and authentic adventure experiences.
I was not familiar with Aqua Expeditions, but was interested in exploring the Amazon river and chose Aqua based on my travel agent’s recommendation. Initially scheduled for April 2020, I finally took this bucket list trip this month.
Discovering the Peruvian Amazon
Before considering this voyage, when I thought of the Amazon I thought of Brazil. I was not aware of the vast network of rivers in Peru that feed into and are considered a part of the Amazon. Aqua Expeditions cruises the “Peruvian Amazon.”
The Amazon Rainforest represents about half of the Earth’s remaining rainforest and houses the world’s largest and most diverse collection of plant and animal life. It is also often called the earth’s “lungs” for the way the trees and foliage draw in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. For travelers who want to bask in unspoiled nature and enjoy one of the world’s “7 Natural Wonders”, this is a fantastic destination to soak it all in!
Our Amazon Adventure Begins!
Most travelers will fly to Lima, Peru, and take a 2-hour connecting flight to Iquitos. The Aqua Expedition team meets all guests, collects their luggage, and sends it onto the ship. Guests are then taken to Casa di Fierro restaurant in Iquitos for a complimentary welcome lunch. After a 90-minute transfer from the restaurant, we arrived in Nauta to meet our vessel, the Aqua Nera.
Aqua uses 12-seat skiffs with a driver and expert naturalist guide for all exploration. The skiffs met us landside in Nauta, and we had our first skiff ride to board the ship. Entering and exiting the skiffs is a simple procedure with helping hands from the crew, however, those who are physically challenged may want to fully discuss their abilities with Aqua before traveling.
Aqua Nera: Life On Board
The Aqua Nera was our luxury boutique “hotel” on the Amazon. All 20 spacious Design Suites feature full-length windows for spectacular panoramic views. Life on board is slow and relaxing between the morning and afternoon excursions in the skiffs. As this is expedition travel, onboard attire is very casual. Expedition clothing is fully acceptable, even for dinner.
The ship has spacious indoor and outdoor lounges, an observation deck, a lounge with movie-screening facilities, a library and games room, and an outdoor plunge pool. A small, river-facing gym is equipped with 2 cardio machines, mats, a stability ball, and weights. Massages are the only “spa” service offered, and our massage therapist was in high demand.
There are daily briefings for curious guests who want to learn about the flora, fauna, peoples, culture, and geography of the region.
After early morning birdwatching, we rafted up one day for a warm breakfast of eggs, avocado, and fruit on a quiet creek. Another day we had a hot lunch in a mysterious but picturesque shaded creek. Some of our excursion highlights were late afternoon “sundowners” when the skiffs would raft up together and we would enjoy snacks and cocktails.
During my 7 day cruise, we took two “jungle walks” where we explored the rainforest (100% humidity!) with our naturalist assisted by local villager-guides. There are two seasons in the Amazon: “high water” runs from December – to May and “low water” from June to October. Routes and wildlife viewing will vary slightly depending on the season.
The skiffs are comfortable and capable of exploring some of the smallest creeks and waterways that make up the rivers. Aqua’s Amazon cruises explore around Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, primarily on the Maranon and Ucayali Rivers which meet up and flow into the Amazon.
The Aqua Expeditions cruises are fully inclusive of two excursions a day, all meals, sodas, mineral water, house wines and beer at all meals, and cappuccino/espresso. Wi-Fi is included, but connectivity and cell coverage are often weak due to the region’s remoteness.
The food is delicious with menus developed by renowned Peruvian chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino. Seafood is a staple of Peruvian cuisine and we enjoyed a wide range of offerings including excellent ceviches.
Daily laundry service is also included – a bonus for those who want to pack light and save weight for their camera lenses, good binoculars, wide-brimmed hats, sunscreen, and insect repellent!
Focus on Responsible Travel and Sustainability
Aqua Expeditions is committed to setting a standard in responsible travel in the destinations they visit. They are reducing their environmental impact by implementing innovative waste management and fuel efficiency, using eco-friendly products onboard, sourcing ethically-produced design materials for their ships, and introducing a rainforest/farm-to-table approach to food.
Exploring the daily lives and customs of local communities is an integral part of every Aqua journey, further enriching the guest experience. Travelers return home with a deeper understanding of the local culture and its challenges.
Aqua helps support the local economy by employing staff from the community and contributing to social and environmental projects. Programs they support include the repopulation of threatened species such as the paiche fish and taricaya turtles in the Amazon, conservation of Manta rays via The Manta Project, and conservation education in Indonesia.
Aqua Ship Charters for Exclusive Experiences
Aqua’s small river and expedition vessels are a great option for an exclusive charter/buy-out for high-end incentive programs, special occasion family/friends celebrations, or special interest groups. Voyages can be booked or ships chartered in 3, 4, or 7-day segments.
Another option in the Amazon is to charter both the Aqua Nera (20 suites) and the Aqua Amazon (16 suites) and cruise in tandem. Ship charters provide the option for additional customization to suit the interests and activity level of your group.
Exotic Destinations: What’s on Your Bucket List?
In addition to Aqua’s Amazon River vessels, the Aqua Mekong (20 suites) sails the Mekong river to explore Vietnam & Cambodia. Aqua also has small luxury ocean-going vessels in east Indonesia as well as the Galapagos.