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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 Aria Amazon “High Water” itinerary, 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 over the Andes to Iquitos, the largest city in Peru’s remote Amazon basin. Once a booming rubber town, Iquitos is isolated in a vast tract of jungle and can only be reached by air or water. We transfer to the wharf and board our luxury cruise vessel, settling in to our oversized suites. Soon, we cast off, and the Aria glides 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 through the panoramic windows. The Aria’s executive chef, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, is one of Lima’s most celebrated. His recipes feature the imaginative use of local products – fruit, fish, spices and more – to make every meal aboard ship a memorable delight. After dinner, enjoy a nightcap on the Upper Deck under the stars before settling in for a peaceful night’s sleep as we make our way upriver.

Day 2: Yanayacu / Yacapana Islands / Yarapa
After breakfast aboard, we board comfortable excursion skiffs for our first adventure, a cruise among the Yacapana Islands. Locals call Yacapana the “the Isles of the Iguana,” given the large number of these reptiles that inhabit them. We’ll come very close the islands aboard the launches, providing an opportunity for good photos of the flora and fauna that we observe on shore. We’ll also have a chance to try our hand at fishing for piranhas with our naturalist guides. Though these feisty fish have an infamous reputation, they are a diet staple of the local people. We return to the Aria for lunch as the ship continues upstream.

Just before sunset, we make an expedition via skiff to the Yarapa River where we’ll have the opportunity to look for both gray and pink freshwater dolphins. As dusk falls and night settles over the jungle, we begin our search for caiman, frogs, and other nocturnal forest species, aided by our guides’ powerful spotlights. Back on board, you may wish to enjoy a refreshing Pisco sour – the national drink of Peru – as an aperitif on the top deck, before dinner.

Day 3: Yanallpa, Ucayali & Dorado Rivers — Pacaya Samiria National Reserve
Today we reach the vast protected reaches of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, one of the most pristine and biodiverse sectors of the Amazon covering five million acres at the headwaters of the great river basin. Our adventures begin with a morning visit to the seasonally flooded forests along the Yanallpa Stream where we’ll look for a variety of wildlife including the bald uakari monkey, squirrel monkeys, saddleback tamarin monkeys and sloths. It’s remarkable to see how trees flourish in this waterlogged area, and our guides explain the natural mechanisms through which the vegetation withstands the inundation.

 Head back to our ship for lunch and a siesta, then return to the skiffs late this afternoon to search again for monkeys and dolphins along the Ucayali and Dorado rivers. We’ll hope especially to see the rare pink dolphins found in the Ucayali—and don’t forget binoculars, as we may spot colorful macaws among the vibrant birdlife in the forest. Once the sun sets we’ll have another chance to watch for nocturnal wildlife along the Dorado River. Caiman are abundant here, revealed by the red glow of their eyes as our guides shine spotlights along the banks.

Day 4: Birthplace of the Amazon / Village Visit / Nauta Caño
This morning we rise early to witness one of the great spectacles of the Southern Hemisphere: the sun rising over the birthplace of the Amazon River. Here where the union of two major tributaries, the Ucayali and the Marañon, form the world’s greatest waterway, nature puts on a dramatic display. Our dawn excursion is accompanied by a chorus of bird songs as we glide in small boats past riverbanks populated by large-billed terns, laughing falcons, gray tanagers, sandpipers, five kinds of parakeets, the exotic short-tailed parrot, and dozens of other birds.

Later this morning we travel by skiff to Puerto Miguel village, where the local people extend a warm welcome. With our guides interpreting, we talk with them about their traditional way of life along the river. It is also an excellent opportunity to buy small handicrafts. On the way back to the Aria, we navigate on a small connector canal between the Ucayali and Marañon rivers where we have a chance to see the world’s largest aquatic plant, the giant water lilies or “Victoria Regias,” whose white flowers bloom from floating green platters that measure six feet in diameter!

This afternoon we visit Nauta Caño, known as the mirrored forest due to its glistening blackwater lagoons. Here we’ll observe iguanas and many different bird species such as toucans, parrots and macaws. On the way back to the ship, marvel at the sunset glow reflected in the glassy waters of the forest. This evening, as dinner is served we begin our journey along the Ucayali River.

 Day 5: Marañon River / Choroyacu / San Pedro de Tipishca

This morning we explore a “gallery forest” section of the vast flooded rainforest, so called because of its narrow corridors of vegetation that create a tunnel of leaves. As we float through the tunnel, it’s easy to spot parrots, macaws and fluffy monk saki monkeys at very close range.

After lunch, take a walk through the jungle to an indigenous village. Our guides introduce us to local farmers as we learn about how the native people practice subsistence agriculture, cultivating wild plants and trees to earn income. Our journey on foot takes us deep into the primary rainforest, where our guides show us the wealth of fruit trees and medicinal plants hidden in the jungle’s depths, explaining some of their myriad uses. After our extended outing, we return to the Aria for dinner.

Day 6: Tacsha River / Pacaya Samiria Reserve / San Martin de Tipishca
Two options await today: a full-day excursion into primary rainforest with a picnic lunch, or a morning jungle walk followed by an afternoon monkey and dolphin expedition.

Option 1: Full-day excursion to primary forest with a picnic lunch
Board skiffs to travel deep into the Pacaya Samiria Reserve along the Samiria River. En route we’ll see various monkey species such as howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys and saddleback tamarin monkeys, as well as many different birds—likely including showy blue, yellow and scarlet macaws, toucans and river hawks. We’ll disembark to follow a path deep into the pristine rainforest, stopping to enjoy a hearty picnic lunch before returning to the Aria early this evening.

Option 2: Guided jungle walk, siesta, and afternoon monkey and dolphin expedition
Our naturalist guide hosts a walk in the primary forest during which we learn all about sustainable resource management projects in Amazonia. Along the way we visit a palm oil plantation, a project launched by local villagers. Our guide may also show us artificial nests built on the sand to protect turtle eggs. We then head deep into the jungle to observe wildlife, learn first-hand about the important medicinal value of many jungle plants, and see the famous kapok trees, tallest in the Amazon basin.

Following lunch and a siesta aboard ship, we depart again in the late afternoon on a skiff excursion focused on the busy forest canopy. With our eyes directed upward, we will likely spot several of the 13 species of primates found in the Pacaya Samiria Reserve, possibly sighting tamarins, dusky titi monkeys and charming pigmy marmosets. Keep binoculars handy to observe some of the 200 bird species resident here, and watch, too, for alligators along the banks. After sunset the searchlight comes on as we look for caimans, tree boas, tarantulas, and frogs. Return to the Aria in time for dinner.

Day 7: Yanayaquillo / Tahuayo / Charo Lake

We’re on the skiffs very early this morning to watch the sun rise over the Yanayaquillo River. A treasure trove of wildlife awaits, including parrots, macaws, toucans and many kinds of monkeys – as well as some ‘surprise’ species we haven’t seen before. A special highlight is a popular dolphin feeding spot. We’ll have a ‘box breakfast’ of light sandwiches and fruit juice as we travel.

Returning to our ship for lunch, we start sailing back downriver toward Iquitos. Our adventures aren’t over, though—this afternoon we journey to a fascinating “hot spot” lake where we’re virtually assured to catch some of the more than 3,000 species of tropical fish that live in the Amazon basin. Our main focus is piranhas, the small, sharp-teethed carnivorous fish with a scary reputation – though they are really not so daunting. This evening we’ll have a special briefing in the lounge to recap our itinerary and all the wildlife sightings we’ve had during our week on the river. As we sleep, our ship continues cruising downstream to Iquitos.

Day 8: Iquitos / City Tour / Fly to Lima
We awaken by the dock in Iquitos this morning, where a final excursion awaits after breakfast. Our exact plans will be determined by the water level of the river, but conditions permitting, we’ll have a last opportunity to see how people live along the Amazon as we float in skiffs through Iquitos’ lively riverside community of Belen. Here, the houses and shops actually float on the river during high-water months. Enjoy scenes of the bustling food market, a commercial center for the entire Peruvian Amazon, where local residents sell and purchase a wide variety of goods. Back on ship, finish packing before enjoying a last lunch aboard.

This afternoon, a city tour is in store. Iquitos, accessible only by river or air, was once the wealthy center of the Amazon rubber industry. Today it remains the hub of commerce for a vast region. Our tour includes a stop at the Manatee Rescue Center, where biologists and volunteers care for endangered Amazon manatees that conservation authorities have seized from people who have illegally removed them, including fishermen. Biologists tell us about the project, and we see how the manatees are cared for and prepared for re-introduction into their natural habitat. We make a final stop at the San Juan Amazonian Indian Market for a last chance to shop for local crafts. Once we arrive at the airport, our guides assist with check-in for our early evening flight back to Lima.

Physical Rating: Easy / Flexible



Please note: Itineraries are subject to change due to weather and other conditions. 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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