Of all the wonders of the world, the Amazon Rainforest remains one of the most breathtaking, untouched wildlife habitat. As mysterious as it is breathtaking, few places inspire such awe as this immensely biodiverse region, home to one in ten known species on earth.
The best way to experience all that it has to offer is through an Amazon river expedition, deep into Peru’s Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. Nicknamed the ‘Mirrored Forest’ due to the glassy reflections in its peaceful waters, this large and remote protected area covering 8,000 square miles (20,800 square kilometers), is the ideal venue for exploring the region’s abundant biodiversity.
This is where Aqua Expeditions started 13 years ago with Peru’s first luxury boutique expedition and where in just a month’s time, we will be unveiling our newest vessel, the Aqua Nera!
Prepare to navigate Amazon’s mystical black water lagoons and get ready for up-close wildlife encounters. Read on for your guide to marching to the beat of the jungle, Aqua style!
Whether you are exploring the Amazon’s snaking tributaries aboard Aqua’s custom private skiffs or walking deep into the rich Amazonian rainforest, you can expect a rendezvous with exotic wildlife. The forests are home to three-toed sloths, caimans, capybaras, capuchin, tamarind and howler monkeys, anacondas… to name just a few! There are in fact 102 species of mammals inhabiting the Pacaya Samiria Reserve, as well as 69 species of reptiles. Once you are there, be still and keep a watchful eye to see them in their natural habitat. We recommend always having your binoculars and camera ready as the journey will be packed with unexpected moments.
A crowd favorite in every Aqua Expeditions’ voyage is spotting the legendary pink river dolphins. Regarded as a mythical creature amongst the locals, this intelligent and charismatic dolphin is the protagonist of various folkloric tales – it is believed that causing any harm to them will result in terrible bad luck. You will have the pleasure of witnessing them closely as they play joyfully in the river showcasing their agility.
When thinking of thrilling river adventures, piranhas are probably the first to pop into your mind. While their reputation may be fearsome, these red-bellied fish are actually fairly harmless and said to have inhabited the Amazon for 3 million years. You can go fishing for them aboard our expeditions, making it a truly entertaining experience — just be sure to keep your fingers far away from their razor-sharp teeth!
The calm black water lagoons and tributaries of the Amazon river are also perfect for kayaking, canoeing, and swimming excursions. Lakes such as Lake Clavero offer a remote location for a refreshing swim accompanied by magnificent natural landscapes in the backdrop. Experience the local way of fishing and transportation by jumping into dugout canoes carved by hand from Amazonian trees or grab your paddles and kayak as villagers in their traditional canoes pass you by.
Over 500 different species of birds grace the skies of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve with their majestic colors, shapes, and sounds. As a top bird-watching destination, the Peruvian Amazon is home to some of the most enigmatic birds including the strange-looking Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin), the Capped Heron (Pilherodius pileatus), the Black-collared Hawk (Busarellus nigricollis) the noisy Horned Screamer (Anhima cornuta), and of course the beloved and colorful toucans and macaws.
Birdwatching adventures with Aqua Expeditions start early in the morning, as we rise with the sun and board our skiffs to glide along the Marañon river. This is the time of day when we have a better chance of spotting our feathered friends as they forage for food. The rainforest is also the quietest at this time, enabling us to listen attentively and, with the help of Aqua’s knowledgeable guides, recognize each bird species via their distinctive call. We can say this is almost a meditative experience as with patience, tranquility, and observation we enter a state of peacefulness and appreciation for our surroundings. Followed by a hearty breakfast on our skiffs, this is truly a perfect way to start our day.
Naturally on a river expedition, a lot of time is dedicated to exploring the aquatic. But once you land in the muddy riverbanks and start to walk your way through the jungle paths, a whole new world awaits discovery. One of the most incredible sights you will come across is the colossal Ceiba pentandra tree, also known as the Kapok tree or locally as Lupuna. Growing up to 240 feet (72 meters), with trucks of up to 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter and tall buttress roots, this is one of the biggest and most fascinating trees you will find in the Amazon and an important member of the Amazon basin ecosystem. Indigenous people have also traditionally used the tree’s bark, seeds and leaves for medicinal purposes to treat maladies such as fever, dysentery, asthma, and kidney problems.
As we continue discovering the region’s captivating flora and fauna, there is another larger-than-life plant species that is sure to catch our attention: the majestic giant water lilies floating in the surface of the Amazon waters. Named after Queen Victoria, the Victoria Amazonicas are the largest of the Nymphaeaceae family of flowering plants. They can measure up to 10 feet (3 meters) wide and are colossally strong, holding up to 65 pounds.
A big part of traveling and discovering new places, especially those that are far away from home is immersing in local culture and getting to know how their inhabitants live. One of the best ways to obtain a deep understanding is by learning from the true dwellers or the rainforest. Although the truly remote indigenous tribes of the Amazon Rainforest are protected and inaccessible to visitors, there are stilted villages and riverside settlements that you can visit where you’ll get a glimpse of the Amazonian way of life, customs and traditions. Aqua’s expert local guides who have grown up in this region and are familiar with these communities, will make of this experience a truly authentic and meaningful one.
Another great way to observe life along the river is to hop on one of Aqua’s bikes and explore the larger riverside community of Nauta, one of the main hubs of the region, where villagers from all around Amazonia gather to sell their harvests.
Over 70 percent of the produce used for the menus on board Aria Amazon and Aqua Nera are sourced locally, translated in one of the freshest and most exotic meals you will ever have. The culinary offering it is a true testament to what makes the Amazon rainforest the “world’s largest pantry”.
From immune-boosting superfoods such as camu-camu, açai and sacha inchi seeds to the flavor boosting ingredients like the super spicy charapita chili and aromatic sachaculantro herb, the dining experience will be a feast for the senses. As consulting chef for Aqua Expeditions, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, the Peruvian ambassador for Amazonian gastronomic innovation, transforms these unique ingredients into unexpected dishes.
As you visit local markets with our guides, you will be able to identify and sample, in their purest form, the colorful products that make up for those indescribable flavors you savored onboard. If you want to connect with Peruvians and Peruvian culture, there is no better way than doing so than through their incredibly delicious and diverse cuisine.
While in Iquitos, be sure not to miss a visit to the Manatee Rescue Centre, where orphan manatees and other endangered species are rehabilitated for their safe release back into the wild. The vulnerable Amazonian Manatee has suffered a population decline over the past years due to being heavily hunted by humans for its meat and entangled in fish nets. This centre not only rescues and takes care of these creatures, but also educates and encourages local communities to become advocates of their conservation.
Aqua Expeditions also actively supports the Taricaya Turles Project in the Pacaya Samiria Reserve, another species that has become endangered in the Amazon due to illegal poaching. To help restore their population size, Taricaya eggs are nested in artificial beaches to be released into the rivers upon hatching. Once a year guests of Aqua Expeditions are invited to participate in this memorable activity and can support year-round via the “Adopt a Taricaya” project.
The Aria Amazon and brand-new Aqua Nera offer three, four- and seven-night explorations that manage to fit all of the major highlights of the Peruvian Amazon and the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve in an action-packed itinerary.