The River Less Traveled

Riverboat adventure on Peru’s upper Amazon

By: Ginger Dingus

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La Amatista offers such creature comforts
as air-conditioning and hot showers.
On Peru’s little-traveled upper Amazon the dolphins are pink, tiny owl monkeys venture out only at night and lizards walk on water. What’s considered natural on the world’s mightiest river is the stuff of a supernatural cruise adventure.

One of the best ways to see the remote reaches of the Peruvian Amazon is by riverboat. So, I set out this spring for the 31-passenger La Amatista (meaning amethyst), one of three riverboats operated year-round by Alabama-based International Expeditions. My 10-day package began in Lima, Peru. After a city tour and two-night stay at the first-class Swissotel, we flew to Iquitos in northeastern Peru. At 2,300 miles from the mouth of the Amazon on the Atlantic Ocean, the once-booming town is the world’s most inland seaport and can only be reached by plane or boat.

We boarded La Amatista in Iquitos and headed another 300 miles up the Amazon, Ucayali and Maranon rivers, far off any beaten tourist path. While the larger ships of such lines as Princess, Oceania and Holland America cruise the lower Amazon between the Atlantic Ocean and Manaus, Brazil, during winter months, Peru’s upper Amazon is only accessible to shallow draft riverboats.

Our cabins onboard La Amatista were small, yet comfortable. There were no TVs or phones, though cell phones worked for brief periods when the boat passed larger villages. All cabins featured a private bathroom with a shower supplied with water filtered from the Amazon. For drinking, there was plenty of complimentary bottled water. Thoughtful amenities included robes, hiking sticks and leather gators (ankle protection for jungle walks). Cabin attendants did guests’ laundry at no charge and cleaned muddy shoes as needed.

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Guestrooms Daily shore excursions
include village visits and dancing
with locals.
Meals were casual buffets in a dining room with a panoramic river view. The menu was hearty, healthy fare such as catfish, chicken, rice, fresh veggies and exotic tropical fruits. One night, the chef cooked the piranhas we caught on our afternoon excursion.

For the six-night cruise, we followed a routine similar to an African safari. Days began with breakfast around 7:00 a.m., followed by a motorboat ride on the river or a small creek in search of wildlife. We were back on board around 11:00, in time for a naturalist briefing before lunch.

During the hot midday hours (the area lies about four degrees south of the Equator), we enjoyed siestas. We climbed back in the motorboat around 4:00 p.m. for more wildlife spotting or to visit a secluded village, an unexpected highlight of the voyage. At sunset, we enjoyed cocktails on the top deck accompanied by musical selections by the talented crew. Dinner and stargazing or caiman (crocodile) hunting in the dark rounded out the day. On the last full cruising day, we had the opportunity to look down on the jungle from the vantage point of an extensive canopy walk. The swinging walkway was built in eight sections at a research lodge and wildlife sanctuary on the Maranon River. On the two-hour hike, we added sightings of wild pigs, capybaras (dog-sized rodents), river otters, tiny poison arrow frogs, anacondas (thankfully confined in a pen) and woolly monkeys to the long list of animals we felt fortunate to observe on our Amazon odyssey.


International Expeditions operates 10-day Amazon tours on a year-round basis. The fully escorted trips begin in Lima, Peru.

In addition to La Amatista, the International Expeditions fleet includes La Turmalina and La Turquesa, accommodating 28 and 47 passengers, respectively. All the vessels are crafted of beautiful native hardwoods. Fares for the three riverboats are identical, with two category options upper or lower deck. Agents should advise clients that there are no elevators on board and no easily accessible medical facilities while on the river.


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