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Voyage to the Amazon Headwaters

Explore the Depths of the Peruvian Amazon in Unrivaled Comfort
Important Note: The following is the “High Water” itinerary for the Aqua Amazon, applicable from December through May. From June through November, the “Low Water” itinerary will be followed. Please call our office for more details. 

Day 1: Iquitos, Peru / Board Ship 
Fly from Lima across the spine of the Andes to Iquitos in Peru’s remote Amazon Basin. Iquitos, once a booming rubber town, is isolated in a vast tract of jungle and can only be reached by air or water. Our Amazon River expedition begins as we transfer to the wharf where we board the Aqua Amazon. We settle into our oversized suites, and soon our ship is gliding into the broad expanse of the river, turbid with silt and the color of milk chocolate. In the week ahead, we will sail up the two largest tributaries of the Amazon, the Ucayali and the Marañón, as well as various smaller side rivers and creeks. After a briefing by our cruise director and guides, we sit down to an elegant dinner with the mighty river in view outside the picture windows. The ship’s chef is schooled in the creative preparation of Peruvian cuisine accented with a European touch, and each meal is a memorable new discovery.

Day 2: Tahuayo River / Charo Lake / Yacapana Island 
This morning we board comfortable excursion skiffs for our first adventure, traveling from the Amazon through the Huaysi shortcut canal to explore the blackwater Tahuayo River, dark with tannins. As we float down the Tahuayo, we greet occasional fishermen paddling in traditional dugout canoes. Keep your binoculars ready to spot a vast variety of wildlife: terns, orioles, blackbirds, black collared hawks, monkeys, and sloth share this wonderful environment with us. Upon arrival at Charo Lake, you can bait your hooks to try to catch one of Amazonia’s fearsome piranhas while our guides tell us the story of the lake and its inhabitants. When we return to the ship, we’re greeted with chilled towels to take the edge off the jungle heat, before gathering in the air-conditioned dining room for lunch.

After lunch we head out to explore the Yacapana Islands. Locals call the Yacapana Islands the “Iguana Islands,” because of the huge population of these reptiles—like tiny dinosaurs—crawling over the ground and resting in the tree tops. As the sun sets, you will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see and photograph both gray and pink freshwater dolphins. The people of the Amazon believe that these dolphins turn into humans to steal handsome men or pretty women from their villages during celebrations. Back aboard our ship we return to a more refined world, in time to enjoy a cocktail beneath the stars on the upper deck before dinner is served. As we sleep, the Aqua continues upstream toward the birthplace of the Amazon: the dramatic point at which the Ucayali and Marañón rivers unite in a rush to form the mother river itself.

Day 3: Maranon River / Pacaya Samiria National Reserve
Two choices are offered for today’s activities. Option 1 is a full-day excursion deep into the jungle by skiff and on foot. We travel up Yanayacu Creek to remote Yarina. Along the way we keep a sharp eye out for howler and capuchin monkeys, tamarins, pink and gray river dolphins, and a vast display of birds. We’ll learn about the important medical value of jungle plants, and crane our necks as we peer up the convoluted trunks of the massive Kapok trees, the tallest in the Amazon Basin. Our outing includes a picnic lunch at the park ranger station.

Option 2 is a morning jungle walk and afternoon expedition in search of river dolphins and monkeys. On our guided excursion, a park ranger tells us about a host of sustainable resource management projects in Amazonia, and we visit one such project where villagers are planting palms for oil. Lunch is served back aboard ship, with time afterward to relax. In the late afternoon we set out in search of freshwater dolphins, including the distinctive pink ones frequently seen in this region. Alligators are often visible along the banks, too. Then, we aim our gaze high into the treetops, looking for the 13 species of monkeys that reside in the park. We might glimpse tamarins, dusky titis, pygmy marmosets and howler monkeys, whose eerie wail resounds throughout the forest like a gale wind. A frenzy of tropical birds also camps among the canopy – more than 200 species in all – so we keep our binoculars close at hand. After dinner, an optional night skiff excursion provides a chance to look for caiman, fishing bats, tree boas and tarantulas.

Day 4: Birthplace of the Amazon / Puerto Miguel / Marayali River
As day breaks, we arrive at the edge of the vast Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, a flooded forest covering nearly five million acres at the headwaters of the Amazon basin. We wake early to view a moving natural spectacle: the sun rising over the genesis of the Amazon River. Here at the confluence of two major tributaries, the Ucayali and the Marañón, the world’s greatest water artery is born. Our dawn outing is accompanied by abundant bird song, as we glide in small boats past large-billed terns, laughing falcons, gray tanagers, sandpipers, short-tailed parrots, five kinds of parakeets, and a host of other birds.

After a hearty breakfast, we set out for Puerto Miguel, a native village where we have the opportunity to meet the local people, learn about their culture and customs, and purchase traditional handicrafts. This evening, another nocturnal marvel is unveiled on a skiff cruise to see the Giant Amazon Water Lilies, the world’s largest aquatic plant. The pure white flowers, a foot in diameter, bloom at night, gracing the six-foot-wide spiny green platters on which they rest.

Day 5: Ucayali – Yanallpa – Dorado Rivers / Pacaya Samiria Reserve
After breakfast we board the skiffs to explore the Ucayali River, a fascinating black water stream. Our guides interpret its dynamic life as we enter a “gallery forest,” so named because of the dense vegetation arching over the narrow channel, creating a tunnel of leaves. As we float through the verdant corridor, it is easy to spot parrots, macaws, and fluffy monk saki monkeys at close range. Late this afternoon we encounter yet another riverine environment on the Dorado River. Cruising through the “Mirrored Forest,” we are enchanted by images of towering trees reflected in the still black water, while parrots, macaws and monkeys animate the scene. Dusk envelops us as we return to our ship, watching along the way for caiman, frogs, and fishing bats zooming overhead.

Day 6: Puinahua River / Hatum Posa Lake / Pacaya River
Our day begins early as we discover the lively world of an oxbow lake at dawn. Following the shoreline of Hatum Posa Lake, we are likely to spy several kinds of monkeys and a spectrum of birds, including terns, neo-tropic cormorants, egrets, herons, hawks and horned screamers. Other black water lakes are linked like a chain in this vast flooded forest, and we explore them by skiff as well. After breakfast aboard the Aqua, we walk though the jungle walk to the village of Hatum Posa. Our guides introduce us to native people who are using subsistence farming to make a living from the cultivation of indigenous plants and trees. They also show us the wealth of fruit trees and medicinal plants hidden deep within the primary rainforest, many unknown to outsiders.

After lunch aboard, we set out for the Pacaya River, with a night excursion to Yanayacu Lake. The late afternoon, when the heat of the day abates, is ideal for observing rainforest animals as they become more active. The trees are aflutter with monkeys, and we may see monk sakis, capuchins and large howler monkeys leaping among the branches. As the sun sets, the howler monkeys become more vocal, marking their territories with an aggressive roar audible a mile away. With nightfall, the second movement of the forest symphony takes the stage as a whole new set of creatures lends its collective voice to the dark, humid air. On the way back to the boat, our guides will again use spotlight torches to illumine the banks and trees in search of nighttime denizens.

Day 7: Puinahua and Pacaya Rivers / Carocurahuayte Lake
Sunrise beckons again as the best time of day to see the river’s treasure of wildlife. Birds are especially animated in the early morning, and we’ll hope to see the rainbow of species that thrives against the green backdrop -- parrots, macaws, toucans – as well as an active complement of monkeys. We take a ‘sack breakfast’ with us so that we may venture farther this morning, stopping near a popular dolphin feeding spot before returning to the ship for lunch. From this point forward, we start sailing downriver again toward Iquitos. En route, we break for a fishing trip on Carocurahuayte Lake. An aquatic biodiversity “hot spot,” the lake teems with fish, and we’re sure to catch some of the 3,000 species that live in the Amazon basin. Our focus will be on carnivorous piranhas, which are surprisingly small given their infamous reputation. Back aboard ship we continue downstream, marveling that the Atlantic Ocean is still more than 2,000 miles away. This evening we enjoy a festive farewell dinner, exchanging stories and reflecting on the cache of memories we have collected during our week amid the wild wonders of the Amazon rainforest.

Day 8: Iquitos / City Tour / Manatee Rescue Center / Flights Home
For those who yearn to linger a few more moments on this most storied of rivers, our guides offer an optional skiff ride after breakfast, with a chance for some final photos of the Amazon and its wildlife. Lunch is served aboard before disembarking. En route to the airport, we discover the colonial ambiance of Iquitos on a city tour. Once an opulent city during the height of the late 19th-century rubber boom, Iquitos is still proud of its impressive monuments and mansions. The city’s considerable charm is preserved by a relative lack of cars; most transport is by motorcycle rickshaw. We will visit the Manatee Rescue Center, where biologists and volunteers care for endangered Amazon manatees that conservation authorities have seized from local people and fishermen. Next, our tour includes a stop at the San Juan Amazonian Indian Market, for a last chance to pick up some local crafts. Our guides assist us with check-in for our flight back to Lima, which departs late this afternoon.

Physical Rating: Easy / Flexible

Please note: Itineraries are subject to change due to weather conditions and time of year. River and tributary levels may also vary, and thus navigation times and excursions may need to be modified at the captain's discretion.

We also have 3- or 4-day itineraries if you prefer a shorter trip. Please call an Adventure Specialist at 1-800-543-8917 for more details.

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