AdventureSmith Specialist Leslie Camacho reviews her Amatista Amazon Cruise aboard the 30-guest Amatista riverboat in the Peruvian Amazon. Learn why taking a river cruise through the Amazon can offer daily delights and comfortable travels.
After weeks of anticipation I arrived to Peru, one my favorite South American countries, for a 7-day Amazon cruise aboard the Amatista. Unfortunately, my luggage did not arrive with me. Although this was not how I was expecting to start my trip, I remained calm because I had an extra day before my cruise and I had purchased trip insurance. As I walked out of the airport, the cool ocean air of Lima took all my frustrations away. I quickly became appreciative that after 10 hours of travel, I had made it safely to a place I often visit and continues to bring me elation upon each arrival.
After the 45-minute transfer from the airport to my hotel, I dropped my limited luggage off and quickly set out to retrace my habitual footsteps when in Miraflores, an upscale suburb of Lima. The rushing morning traffic of vehicles and pedestrians along with the impatient honking of buses can be overwhelming to many, but to me the energy of the capital gets that pep in my step that I lose living in a mellow California mountain town.
The advantage of staying in Miraflores pre-cruise is that you can walk one direction to some of the best restaurants in all of Peru or the other direction to the Pacific Ocean.
I found a coffee shop across from the infamous Parque Kennedy and enjoyed my cappuccino while taking in the sights and sounds. Miraflores is a lot like any other big city, but the advantage of staying here is that you can walk one direction to some of the best restaurants in all of Peru or walk the other direction to the Pacific Ocean and the Malecon de la Reserva. Here is where the freshest fish and seafood are caught daily, hailing Lima as the city with the best ceviche in all of South America.
Lima to Iquitos to Embark the Amatista
Later that evening the onset of my Amazon cruise began. Our group met with the ship’s tour coordinator who energetically and cheerfully gave us all the details we needed to prepare for tomorrow morning’s adventure. After the important details were out of the way, we introduced ourselves to one another and the night was ours to explore. 6:00am came quickly and I gathered my belongings, had breakfast and met the group in the lobby by 6:45am as was instructed the night before. Our coordinator was there to assist us with getting our luggage to the bus out front of the hotel for an included transfer to the airport for our departing flight to Iquitos, the gateway to the Peruvian Amazon.
Given that the airport was extremely crowded and most of us were still waking up, it was incredibly helpful to have someone take care of the overwhelming logistics.
At the Lima airport our coordinator took care of everything, including boarding passes, baggage tags and directing us along in the check-in process. Given that the airport was extremely crowded and most of us were still waking up, it was incredibly helpful to have someone take care of the overwhelming logistics. We were bid farewell at the security gate and were off on our own, but not for long. After a short 2-hour flight, we deplaned onto the tarmac and instantly embraced the warm and humid temperature of Iquitos, a welcome change from the cold and overcast weather in Lima.
Our driver was awaiting our arrival by the luggage carousel with signage in hand and assisted us with our baggage outside to the bus where our Amazon guide, Neil, was waiting with a much-appreciated cooler full of ice-cold sodas and water. During the 90-minute ride to the port of Nauta, Neil gave us a short introduction to himself and what to expect on the cruise that our group of 14 were now eagerly anticipating. Arriving in Nauta, we loaded into skiffs on the Marañon River, a tributary of the Amazon River, and set off to our awaiting vessel. Embarking the ship, we were greeted by the crew and the additional guests that were already aboard on the extended 9-day Amazon itinerary.
My Review of the Amatista Ship
The Amatista is an intimate 30-passenger wooden vessel that has been cruising the Amazon for 10+ years. While she is not luxurious in her style and amenities, she has ample space and is a comfortable home for a week in the Amazon. After a quick safety drill, we were presented with a lunch buffet and a welcome cocktail of pisco sour.
All our meals were served buffet style in the fully windowed dining room, where we were periodically greeted by pink dolphins popping up their dorsal fins and snouts for a quick hello. Each morning and afternoon fresh juice was made from local fruits such as star fruit, papaya and tomate de arbol. The meals were all tasty and beautifully presented; highlights were the local Amazonian dishes, which I personally wished were more frequently served.
The cabins aboard the Amatista are identical to one another, offering two large windows so that no matter if you’re on the Upper or Lower Deck, the views are spectacular. All cabins come with two twin beds that can easily be configured as a double and each cabin includes a decently sized bathroom with shower.
The boat is docked every evening, making for a peaceful night sleep with no running motor.
While the ship is not the newest vessel on the river and needed some touch-ups (which she was expected to have soon in dry-dock), she’s beautiful in her own unique way. The Upper Deck lounge area is a great place to take in the natural scenery and was where most guests spent their time while sipping on an ice-cold beer or pisco sour. The boat is docked every evening, making for a peaceful night sleep with no running motor, and the generator is turned off once all the guests are back in their cabins.
Activities offered to our group of 24 by our two expert naturalist guides included 2- to 3-hour afternoon and evening skiff rides down canas, which means “creeks” in English, and took place in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. Afternoon rides greeted us with a plethora of birds: kingfishers, cormorants, macaws, parrots, herons, hawks and toucans. Evenings had us on the hunt for the red glowing eyes of caiman and other nocturnal animals such as bats and night hawks. Our guides were great at mimicking bird and monkey calls and their eyes were keen to quickly spotting animals blending into their natural elements.
Animals of the Amazon
One morning walk was led by a guide from one of the local communities, who was knowledgeable of the area and quick to spot an array of creatures. During the walk he would disappear into the thick of the jungle, then excitedly pop out proudly showing us a poisonous dart frog or tarantula he had found on leaves; he even pointed out an anaconda and a sloth snoozing in a tree. Having been a translator in the Bolivian jungle years ago, I can attest that this was a glorious day of wildlife encounters and all in a span of under three hours! The jungle is a Pandora’s box of constant surprises; you never know what you’ll find.
Early-morning skiff rides allowed us to encounter the sights and sounds of the jungle’s morning risers: monkeys, birds and a few sloths poking their heads out ever so slowly.
Early-morning skiff rides allowed us to encounter the sights and sounds of the jungle’s morning risers: monkeys, birds and a few sloths poking their heads out ever so slowly. One of these early adventures also afforded us an opportunity to swim with pink and gray dolphins, the only dolphins found in freshwater rivers, at a bend in the river dubbed “Dolphin Corner” by our guides. Everyone was a bit hesitant, but once one of the guides and a few braver individuals jumped in, those a little more skeptical slowly but surely also jumped in. The water was safe, cool and refreshing on an extremely hot day. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves and all agreed we would have regretted having not done it.
A trip to the Amazon would not be complete without fishing for piranha. The guide and skiff driver were there to assist us with our catches, which most of us quickly released back into the river. The largest were taken back to the chef aboard the Amatista who kindly cooked them for us for dinner. In the evenings before dinner we were serenaded with live music from the crew band, the Chunky Monkeys. The band consisted of a guitar, mandolin, wooden flutes, maracas and a drum, captivating everyone’s attention and hearts. Before too long we were all up and dancing. Music is such a huge part of the Peruvian culture and a great outlet for the crew to feel at home and connect with the extranjeros (foreigners).
Community Visits in the Amazon – Song, Food & Friends
I thought the most valuable activities were visiting the local communities. There is a plethora of indigenous communities found along the Marañon River, and the Captain and crew have relationships with many of them. These bonds provide an opportunity for the individuals aboard the cruise, as well as the locals (who for the most part don’t travel past Iquitos), to interact with one another, presenting a cultural experience for all.
There is a plethora of indigenous communities found along the Marañon River, and the Captain and crew have relationships with many of them.
The village activities included canoeing in handmade dugout canoes with a local community member and meeting a practicing shaman to learn about their role in their community and other surrounding villages. Our shaman happened to be female and enlightened our group about the multitude of medicinal plants found in the Amazon; we even got to witness her perform a basic ritual singing in her native language, Cocama Cocamilla.
Next, we got to spend half a day meeting an entire community where we were welcomed into homes to help harvest bananas and yucca. We were treated to a traditional Amazonian meal and drinks made by a few of the local women, all of which was quickly devoured by our group. It was by far the best meal I’d had since the cruise started. Before leaving each village, we were given the opportunity to view and purchase local crafts made within the community.
Our guides and staff aboard the Amatista treated us like family and made us feel welcome from start to end.
For our final farewell, we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset and surprised with champagne on the skiff. The guides toasted the group for a job well done and offered a thankful appreciation for coming to visit the Amazon, their home. Back on board we were introduced to the entire crew (stewards, chefs and all) and rewarded with a certificate for taking part in an outstanding adventure through the Amazon. Our guides and staff aboard the Amatista treated us like family and made us feel welcome from start to end. The guides were incredibly accommodating, knowledgeable and fun to interact with. Shared conversations and lots of laughs with guests during the cruise was an added highlight and helped make for a thoroughly enjoyable 7-day intimate Amazon cruise experience.
For more photos from this trip, including sloths and anacondas, view my Facebook album on AdventureSmith Explorations’ Facebook page.
This Amatista Amazon Cruise review was written by an AdventureSmith Explorations crew member. Read all AdventureSmith Expert Reviews for more trip reports. For dates, rates and booking information on this trip, see Amatista Amazon Cruise, or contact one of our Adventure Specialists to learn more about our small ship cruises and wilderness adventures: 1-800-728-2875.