The Amazon River and rainforest are massive, covering several countries spanning across South America. Planning a cruise can be a challenge. There are more cruise options than ever in Ecuador, Peru and Brazil. If you are confused by all the options, our experts are here to help. This Amazon cruise guide outlines everything you need to know about how to choose your Amazon River cruise.
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Amazon Cruising Regions – Peru, Ecuador and Brazil
The first thing to consider is where to go. Cruises are available in Peru, Ecuador and Brazil. Each country has a variety of Amazon rainforest attractions and highlights. Each also have different options for boats, itineraries and cruise lengths. When considering where to go you may also consider if you want to combine your cruise with a land tour. Find details on each region below.
Rainforest Cruises vs. Amazon Lodges
How do you get around in the Amazon Rainforest? The two most popular ways to explore the amazon are by staying at a jungle lodge or taking a cruise along the Amazon River. So, the second consideration is whether to choose a rainforest cruise or a lodge. Each has its benefits with a primary difference being that cruises are more expensive than lodges.
Cruises are ideal for exploring one section of rainforest then retreating to your luxury and air-conditioned vessel for meals and relaxation while the ship travels to the next area of exploration. Cruises can cover many miles each day, exploring a wide variety of locations and attractions along the river. Many travelers consider cruises to be the most comfortable and luxurious way to explore the Amazon rainforest.
Amazon lodges don’t have air conditioning, but they do have their own allure: you are in the rainforest the entire time. On a ship, when you are not on your daily shore excursions, you are on the edge of the rainforest looking in. From a lodge, you are sleeping, eating and enjoying the canopy of rainforest where birds, monkeys and other creatures spend time. Being in a fixed location, lodges enable Amazon travelers to explore one region in depth.
The Peruvian Amazon has two distinct regions: Northern Peru and Southern Peru. Peru cruises occur in Northern Peru on the Marañón River, the Ucayali River and where they join to become the Amazon River.
Peru cruises begin and end in Iquitos, which is accessible only by water or air. The best Peru cruises begin in Nauta, upstream from Iquitos, and visit the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. Cruises from Iquitos must pass some areas of development to reach the unspoiled Amazon. Many travelers will combine a shorter cruise with a longer tour of Machu Picchu and other parts of Peru.
Cruises in Peru range from the simple and affordable 31-guest Amatista and 43-guest Delfin III, to the modern luxury of 32-guest Aria and the intimate 8-guest Delfin I, to the authentic 28-guest 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 Upper Amazon Adventure Cruise. Cruises in Peru are unique because they explore pristine rainforest sections and boast the excitement of fishing for piranhas and swimming with the famous pink Amazon River dolphins.
Peru Amazon Lodges
Lodges are located in the Southern Peru rainforest regions of Manu and Tambopata. They 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 a canoe trip.
There is a lodge choice for every budget with experience and amenities commensurate with their price. Peru land tour packages range from only 1 night up to a full week. We recommend 3- or 4-night tours for most travelers. If you know you are a rainforest enthusiast and you want to spend more time, 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.
Peru Cruise vs. Lodge
Cruises in Peru are among the premiere rainforest cruises in the world and are highly recommended by our experts. The section of river beyond Nauta is protected by massive nature reserves and remains untouched. This area of southern Peru is a bit harder to get to but worth the extra effort and price.
It’s not worth flying to Iquitos to stay at a lodge. If you are going all this way then take the cruise. We recommend the more accessible lodges in northern Peru. These are easily combined with a larger tour of Machu Picchu and Peru.
A new flight direct from Iquitos to Cusco makes Peru cruises more accessible. Whether you choose a lodge or a cruise, our experts will help you arrange a seamless Peru itinerary.
Best time for Peru Cruises: High Water vs. Low Water Season
Peru’s Amazon is distinct in that there is a high-water and low-water season. High-water season is typically from November to May and may allow for more extensive exploration and access via water.
Anywhere from 60 to 180 inches of rain can be expected between November and May, so most riparian plants fruit and flower during this period. This is one of the best times to see birds and monkeys at the river’s edge or in the jungle canopy.
The roughly 23-feet-higher waterline usually allows access by canoe deeper into the flooded forests and is ideal for travelers who prefer to duck into otherwise isolated corners of the Amazon rainforest. Temperatures are cooler, averaging around 86 degrees (learn more about Amazon climate).
Low-water season is typically June through October and may allow for more trail walks on solid ground or terra firma. Anywhere from 30 to 100 inches of rain falls between June and October, allowing the river to recede slightly.
Travelers may enjoy sandy river beaches, hikes on terra firma, more birds in flight overhead and opportunities to meander through the rainforest with expert guides in search of flora and fauna. Temperatures average around 98 degrees, there are fewer mosquitoes and good fishing opportunities are guaranteed.
Many Peru Amazon small ship operators no longer distinguish itineraries based on high water and low water but instead sail a set course regardless of season. Expert guides then choose activities that reveal the most wildlife on each particular day.
With an average of 200 days of rain annually, departures in either season will experience some rain, and both will feature spectacular wildlife and plant life. Discuss what season suits your ability and preferences best with an Amazon Adventure Specialist.
Cruises in Ecuador explore the Napo River and its tributaries. This area is considered the upper Amazon. To maximize wilderness, these cruises originate with a motorized canoe trip from Coca. The town of Coca is a short 30-minute flight from Quito.
Ecuador cruises are available aboard two sister ships: the 40-guest Anakonda and the 30-guest Manatee. Each modern vessel was specifically designed and purpose built to navigate on the Napo River in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The Anakonda is more luxurious while the Manatee appeals to budget-minded travelers.
They offer 4-day, 5-day and 8-day itineraries. The 4-day voyage explores the upper Napo including the Panacocha Biological Corridor and Kichwa community and is perfect for a quick foray into the rainforest. The popular 5-day itinerary travels farther downriver to the wild Yasuni National Park at the border of Ecuador and Peru. The 8-day itinerary offers an extensive exploration that combines the two.
Ecuador Amazon Lodges
Lodges immerse you in the sights, sounds and solitude of the rainforest in a way small ships cannot. The rhythms and spirit of the rainforest permeate every moment with daily nature walks, canopy walks and shore excursions by canoe. Lodges are accessed from Coca by motorized and dugout canoes and allow you to experience a smaller geographic area in greater detail. Accommodations and services are outstanding with amenities varying by price. The most popular Amazon Lodges in Ecuador include La Selva Jungle Lodge, Sacha Lodge and the Napo Wildlife Center. Many travelers will incorporate their Amazon lodge visit with a larger Ecuador land tour or Galapagos Cruise.
Ecuador Cruise vs. Lodge
The benefit of a cruise in Ecuador is that you travel downriver, exploring many sections of the Amazon and its diverse ecosystems, including and most notably, the Yasuni National Park: rare virgin rainforest that has never been developed and is without human inhabitants.
Some of the cruise excursions overlap excursions from lodges such as canopy towers, clay licks and local villages. Other cruise landings are extremely remote and not accessible by any other means.
Experiencing the rainforest firsthand is so desirable, in fact, that the Anakonda small ship added the optional activity of glamping to her itinerary, so cruise guests can experience sleeping one night amongst the sights, sounds and smells of the rainforest.
Best Time for Ecuador Cruises
Ecuador cruises are not affected by high-water and low-water seasons. Instead the river fluctuates slightly day to day, depending on recent rainfall conditions. There is a cooler dry season June through September and a warmer wet season October through May. But the nature of the river is not affected by these slight differences. Plan your Ecuador cruise based on your own scheduling considerations.
A Brazil 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 the river is considerably larger. This region is known as the Lower Amazon River.
The river is so large it is difficult to see the opposite shore 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 dreaming of an Amazon nature vacation.
Best Time for Brazil Cruises
Brazil cruises are available year-round. This region of the lower Amazon is hot and humid all year round and seasons can be difficult to distinguish. The rainy season runs from about mid-December through mid-May. During this time, many tropical plants fruit and flower which attracts birds and mammals, making the wet season the best time to view jungle wildlife.
The driest months are July through September. Receding water levels reveal sandy beaches and nesting birds and crocodiles. Migratory fish may gather by the millions to lay eggs in the shallows, attracting countless birds. Marine mammals such as pink river dolphins and giant otters gather to gorge on the abundance.
A Word About Amazon 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 at the upscale lodges and aboard the nicest ships. Nicer ships and lodges have higher prices, which translates into more tips for the best guides.
Lindblad Expeditions employs guides from National Geographic aboard 10-day cruise expeditions, appealing to travelers willing to pay a premium for an intellectual and educational experience. All guides aboard the Amazon small cruise ships with which AdventureSmith Explorations works, offer the highest quality of expertise. Many guides were born and raised in the Amazon.
What do You See in the Amazon Rainforest?
A jungle walk through the Amazon Rainforest is a nature traveler’s dream come true. You’ll not only view incredible wildlife, but also learn about medicinal plants traditionally used for generations. Expert guides will explain the complex cycle of life unique to rainforest environments.
Viewing wildlife is one of the main reasons to visit the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon is home to an astounding diversity of wildlife. Amazon wildlife on travelers’ bucket lists include monkeys, sloths and capybara. Rarely viewed are jaguars and ocelots, but a good guide might find tracks.
Amazon Birding Cruises
A cruise to the Amazon is a paradise for birders. More than 1,500 species of birds can be seen in the Amazon, and an avid birder can easily add a 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 experienced 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.
More than 1,500 species of birds can be seen in the Amazon, and an avid birder can easily add a hundred species to their life list on the right trip.
Cruise Lines on the Amazon River
We work with only the top small ship operators on the Amazon known for comfortable accommodations and incredible overall experience. These partners have the top-rated crew and guides along with a track record of safety and security. Aqua Expeditions and Delfin Amazon Cruises are among the most luxurious cruise lines in the Amazon. Lindblad Expeditions operates seasonally and is known for their top-rated expedition leaders associated with National Geographic. Amazon Nature Tours pioneered authentic jungle cruising in the early 1980’s and Advantage Travel Ecuador has operated award-winning cruises for over 25 years. Contact our cruise experts to find the right trip at the best price.
Cost to Cruise the Amazon
How much does it cost to cruise the Amazon River? Cruises start at about $2,000 for shorter itineraries of 4 or 5 days. Luxury cruises can cost up to $1,000 per person per day, or up to $8,000 for an 8-day cruise, for the most upscale ships. There are a variety of price levels and styles for every budget throughout Ecuador, Peru and Brazil.
Longest Amazon River Cruise
Some travelers really want to immerse themselves in the Amazon rainforest. Right off the bat they ask us “What is the longest cruise on the Amazon River?” There are a number of week-long cruises but the longest cruise available is the 10-day National Geographic Upper Amazon aboard the 28-guest Delfin III. This comprehensive cruise package includes overnights in Lima and ventures deep into the diverse birthplace of the Amazon River. Explore the Amazon with National Geographic guides and a fleet of kayaks.
A Word About Online Reviews
There are no shortage of 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 cruised to the Amazon aboard the small ship you are inquiring about. Reputable agencies will refer their past clients.
Amazon Cruising Advice
Most importantly, speak with an experienced Amazon expert. We are award-winning Amazon small ship cruise specialists with a focus on guided nature tours and custom travel for individuals, couples, families and small groups. Our staff has decades of experience guiding, arranging and selling wilderness adventures. We offer firsthand knowledge, personal service, sustainable practices and unbeatable prices, including a continually updated selection of Amazon cruise deals. Contact us today to begin planning your cruise to the Amazon River.
This Amazon small ship cruise guide is updated periodically by our experts. If you have any questions or comments about this guide please reach out in the comments below. For more articles, advice and inspiration visit our comprehensive small ship cruise guide.