Riverboat cruises are not exactly new, but tell us you’ve put one on the Amazon River and you’ve got our undivided attention. Aqua Expeditions, which specializes in “luxury cruises on the world’s greatest rivers”, is doing that very thing, pushing the envelope of luxury and adventure with their ship, the Aria Amazon. The Aria — which shoved off from Iquitos, Peru, fondly dubbed the Capital of the Peruvian Amazon — was constructed in 2011 on the successful heels of her sister ship, the Aqua. At 147 feet in length, the grandeur of the Aria is a stark contrast to the rickety canoes and logging cargo ships otherwise found floating these waterways. She’s equipped with 16 well-manicured suites sporting California king-sized beds and luxurious Peruvian cotton, bathrooms with rainshowers, polished timber flooring, accent lighting, and panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows that face the forest.
As beautiful as the Aria is, your trip is about exploration and adventure of the singular Amazon rainforest. To that end, the ship is equipped with skiffs that take guests on various excursions and day-trips to leave the safe trappings of the Aria and embark on uncaged, unplanned adventure. Travel off the Amazon River and down the Marañon River to see animals in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve and villages near San Pedro de Tipishca. Whether you’re opting for the three, four, or seven day itinerary, each day presents the chance to see over 200 species of birds, 13 species of monkeys, crocodiles and caimans, tarantulas, poisonous dart frogs, pink and grey dolphins, tree boas and maybe even a jaguar. With ice-cold water or a Cusquena always at the ready, these skiff adventures make the trip worth every penny.
Back on board, founder Francesco Galli Zugaro’s passion for authentic, world-class dining is evident throughout the trip. Each morning, noon and night, the on-board chef and culinary team expand the boundaries of your taste buds with locally sourced ingredients that you’ve likely never heard of, much less tasted: aguaje fruit ice cream, giant Paiche, Sabalo and Patarashca fish, camu camu juice, and over 31 different kinds of plantains. We know what you’re thinking, and yes, there’s a wine for that — just ask the in-house sommelier. After dinner, consider partaking in the Achaval Ferrer Malbec, or the official drink of the Amazon — the Pisco Sour — as you number the innumerable stars on the observation deck.
The Aria comes with a full schedule, if you choose to participate. The excursions and festive meals are the main affair, but you’ll find the times in between marked with siestas, lounging on the observation deck or panoramic lounge, taking advantage of their exercise room or fulfilling an appointment with the on-board masseuse. At the end of the trip, you’ll be wished farewell by a group of gregarious crewmen who channel popular music through native Peruvian instruments. We dare you to sit silent as they outro with John Denver’s Country Road. It’s a beautiful thing, and a great bookend to what can easily be called the trip of a lifetime.