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How to Choose an Amazon Cruise - Amazon Cruise Guide

by Todd Smith

There are more Amazon cruises than ever and if you are confused by all the options we are here to help.  AdventureSmith has long been an expert in Amazon cruises, Amazon lodges and Amazon travel with honest, unbiased opinions and expert advice to help you choose the right ship and trip (one that fits your interests, ability and budget) at the best price. We have recently revamped our website to include an Amazon region bringing together all Amazon small ship cruises and Amazon lodges in Ecuador, Peru and Brazil. The new design allows travelers to easily compare Amazon trips throughout these three countries.  Lear more about our Amazon Cruises & Tours

The Amazon is vast and there are now cruises in Ecuador, Peru and Brazil.  We visit the region frequently and offer travelers accurate up to date information and this helpful Amazon cruise comparison.  Our travel experts offer the following advice when choosing your next Amazon cruise.  We hope you enjoy our Amazon cruise guide. 

Why Cruise the Amazon?

Most nature travelers have an Amazon vacation on their bucket list.  The name conjures up images of exotic birds, playful monkeys, dizzying biodiversity and colorful indigenous cultures.  But many travelers are intimidated by the thought of bugs, mud, rain and tropical heat.  Small ship cruises make the Amazon more accessible to ordinary travelers with comfortable accommodations, delicious cuisine and air conditioning (aboard most vessels).  Each day explore off the ship with expert naturalist guides on small craft excursions, jungle hikes and village visits.  Watch for birds and wildlife at remote clay licks, explore the rainforest on jungle canopy towers, and meet local people in remote villages.  At the day's end retire back to the ship for a shower, a nice meal and an educational lecture while the ship moves on to the next wild location.  Ships are perfect for travelers who want to experience the wildness of the Amazon without sacrificing comfort and service.

Amazon Cruises vs Lodges

While this is primarily an Amazon cruise guide, we have outlined some Amazon lodges. In many cases travelers may be considering a cruise vs a lodge so in destinations like Peru and Ecuador we have made comparisons where there are competing options. It is outside the scope of this post to feature all Amazon lodges so call our experts and we'll add another post soon to compare Amazon lodges. 

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Plan Ahead

If you are planning an Amazon small ship cruise then plan your trip at least 4-8 months in advance.  Book 9-12 months out for holiday cruises.  Booking early will offer the best variety of ships, cabin categories and travel dates and can save with early booking discounts.  Many travelers combine their cruise with a tour of Machu Picchu in Peru or the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, which can require more advanced planning for the best combination of cruise and land options. A recent increase in capacity aboard Amazon cruises has made occasional last minute cruises available but don't count on it if you want your choice of cabins and dates.    

The rest of this Amazon cruise guide offers specific insights for Ecuador, Peru and Brazil in an attempt to compare and contrast cruises in each region.  Many travelers to Ecuador and Peru will combine their Amazon tour with travel to the rest of the country while Brazil cruises tend to be a standalone vacation.

Ecuador Amazon Cruises

In Ecuador you are really choosing between two ships and a selection of outstanding lodge all exploring a similar region of the Amazon. The 40 guest Anaconda launched in 2013 is the nicest ship and offers the most upscale experience with large suites, a modern styling, outstanding service and gourmet cuisine.  A more rustic and therefore more affordable cruise is available aboard the 30 guest Manatee with simple rooms, authentic service and hearty food.  We suggest the longer 4 night/5 day or 7 night/8 day cruise as these travel farther down river exploring national parks and wilderness areas. 

A critical difference for many travelers is that the small ships offer air conditioning, while jungle lodges do not.  Cruises can also offer a more diverse itinerary cruising from Coca to Yasuni National Park near the border of Peru.  Daily canoe explorations traverse many miles of shoreline in search of wildlife, then explore the jungle while the ship catches up. However sometimes in the Amazon less is more and more movement along the river exposes more development than one would encounter exploring from a lodge.  Choose an Ecuador cruise if you are seeking a diverse, upscale and more insulated experience where you can visit the jungle and villages on daily shore excursions but then return to the sanctuary service of the ship. 

Ecuador Amazon Lodges

There is an Ecuadorian Amazon lodge for every taste and budget.  All explore the rainforest up close and the lodges close contact with nature will immerse you in the sights, sounds and solitude of the jungle in a way that a small ship cannot.  Lodges are accessed from Coca by motorized and dugout canoes and canoes are often used on the daily shore excursions.  When exploring from an Amazon lodge in Ecuador you experience a smaller geographic area in greater detail getting to know the rhythms and spirit of the rainforest with greater opportunities to experience wildlife since it is all around you.  Accommodations and service are outstanding with amenities varying by price.   All the lodges in our guide are clean, comfortable and come highly recommended. Choose an Ecuador Amazon Lodge Adventure if you are seeking a nature experience surrounded by wilderness and jungle. 

Peru Amazon Cruises

The Peruvian Amazon has two distinct regions: Northern Peru and Southern Peru. Peruvian Amazon cruises are located in Northern Peru on the lower Napo River while the lodges are located in the Southern Peru rainforest regions of Manu and Tambopata.   Peru Amazon Cruises range from the simple and affordable 31 guest Amatista, the modern luxury of 24 guest Aqua and 32 guest Aria, the intimate 8 guest Delfin I and authentic Delfin II.  If that's not enough choice National Geographic/Lindblad has chartered the Delfin II for several months each year bringing their unique style of intellectual and educational expedition cruising to an amazing 10 day Amazon Adventure

Cruises range from 3-9 nights with many combinations in between. These ships are very nice and the terrain is diverse enough warrant a week long Amazon exploration.  Meny travelers will combine a shorter cruise with a longer tour of Machu Picchu and Peru.  The best cruises begin in Nauta, downstream from Iquitos, and visit the Picaya Samaria reserve.  Cruises from Iquitos, similar to cruises from Coca, Ecuador, must pass some areas of development to reach the unspoiled Amazon.

 

Peru Amazon Lodges

Peru Amazon lodges range from very remote, rustic base camps to large upscale almost hotel like lodges.  Some are a short flight from Cusco in Puerto Maldonado while others require a flight and an canoe trip.  There is a choice for every budget with experience and amenities commensurate with their price.  Packages range from only 1 night up to a full week.  We recommend 3-4 night tours for most travelers.  If you know you are a rainforest enthusiast and you want to spend more time than that then consider one of the more remote wildlife camps available as an extension from even the farthest lodges. Choose a Peru Amazon Adventure if you are seeking an affordable Amazon tour easily accessed from Cusco. 

Brazil Amazon Cruises

A Brazil Amazon cruise tends to be a destination unto itself, rather than combined as part of a larger tour.  Cruises from Manaus, Brazil are longer and penetrate much farther into the wilderness than cruises in Peru and Ecuador.  This is a true Amazon expedition and as such takes longer and explores farther.  There are not as many cruise and lodge options because here the line between rainforest and civilization is much sharper.  Brazil's Amazon and Rio Negro are much farther downstream than cruises in Ecuador and Peru and as such the river is considerably larger.  So large it is difficult to see across in some places.  Innumerable islands and tributaries are spread across hundreds of miles in the Amazon's largest undisturbed rainforest. This is the Amazon most travelers envision when dream of an Amazon nature vacation.  

A Word About Guides

The experience and demeanor of your Amazon guide will have a profound impact on your overall experience. All guides aboard small ships are excellent and highly recommended while naturalist guides at lodges can vary considerably in their skills and experience. A guide's personality and ability to engage travelers is just as important as his or her level of knowledge. In general you will find that the most experienced guides work aboard at the most upscale lodges and aboard the nicest ships. Nicer ships and lodges have higher prices, which translates more tips for the best guides. Lindblad Expeditions employs guides from National Geographic aboard 10 day expeditions  and appeal to travelers willing to pay a premium for an intellectual and educational experience.

Amazon Birding Cruises

A cruise to the Amazon is a paradise for birders.  Over 1500 species of birds can by seen in the Amazon and an avid birder can easily add one hundred species to their life list on the right trip. Most guides aboard small ships and at lodges are excellent birders with more than enough knowledge and expertise for even the most avid bird watchers. Select departures will feature guest researchers or ornithologists on board. Serious birders should consider the longer 10 day expeditions. Many travelers interested in birds will consider a cruise and a lodge to maximize time in the rainforest and increase their chances of seeing particular species. In general the high water season is the best for bird watching. 

When to Go - High Water Season vs Low Water Season

Travel is markedly influenced by two seasons in the Amazon: the high water season and the low water season. We no longer say rainy season and dry season because it's always wet and the difference in terms of daily rain is nearly indistinguishable to the traveler.  The high water season runs roughly from late January to early May, and one can expect somewhere between 60 and 180 inches of rain. Since most riverine plants fruit and flower during this period, it is one of the best times to see birds and monkeys at the river's edge and makes for fun canoe explorations into flooded forests. Though it can rain slightly more in the high water season, it usually rains some every day in the dry season too. In the low water season, one can expect anywhere from 30 inches to 100 inches. During this time, the river recedes and travelers can expect to see sandy river beaches and to have more opportunities for hikes. Though keep in mind the Amazon basin is vast, so overall rainfall generalizations are not accurate. Generally, the north and south edges of the basin have less precipitation than the western edge. Read more about Amazon climate.

Amazon Cruise Reviews

There are no shortage of Amazon cruise reviews on the internet and some may offer honest, useful advice.  But don't rush to judgment if you read a bad review.  Often this can be the result of a mismatch between the style of the traveler and the type of cruise they were booked on.  The best Amazon cruise review is a personal referral so ask your agent if he/she can put you in touch with someone with similar interests who has traveled to the Amazon aboard the small ship you are inquiring about.  Reputable agencies will refer their past clients. 

Amazon Cruise Advice

Most important speak with an experienced Amazon cruise expert.  AdventureSmith Explorations employees are award-winning Amazon small ship cruise specialists with a focus on guided small group nature tours and custom travel for individuals, couples, families and small groups. Our founder and president Todd Smith helped pioneer expedition cruising and our staff has decades of experience guiding, arranging, and selling wilderness adventures. We offer firsthand knowledge, personal service, sustainable practices and unbeatable prices. Contact us today to begin planning your Amazon travel.

Download this Amazon Cruising Guide

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