Delphin Cruises has two luxury river boats that cruise the Peruvian Amazon as well as Yacayali and Maranon tributaries, which embrace the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. This waterscape is a magical Garden of Eden where you’ll discover Amazonian exotica like pink dolphin, diminutive freshwater turtles, and the massive arapaima, which is a living fossil and one of the largest freshwater fishes in the world. And throughout the voyage through the jungle you enjoy gourmet meals and luxurious accommodations aboard these beautiful river boats.
How to get to the Peruvian Amazon and what to expect on board
I fly from Lima, Peru’s capital, to the former rubber boom town of Iquitos, accessible to the outside world only by plane or boat. I then travel 100 kilometers along its only road to the town of Nauta to board the beautifully appointed 14-cabin three-story river boat Delphin II.
My fellow passengers include a family of five Peruvian brothers and their spouses, a mother and her two adult daughters from Lima, three couples from Adelaide, two Americans, and two Brits.
We enjoy the first of our inspired Amazonian dinners: heart of palm salad and delicious doncella, a type of Amazonian catfish steamed with coriander, garlic, onion, and peppers in a parcel of jungle leaves. For dessert there is jungle fruit such as camu camu (like guava) and copoazu (a creamy melon with a citrus aftertaste) in delectable ice creams.
Amazon wildlife viewing
In the skiffs early next day, meandering along tannin-dark creeks overhung with freshwater mangroves, palms and ficus trees, we marvel at toucans and macaws, herons, hawks, kingfishers, and cormorants. We think we hear donkeys braying, until our guide Rudy identifies the calls of horned screamers, just some of the many bizarre creatures we encounter.
“One o’clock, high in the kapok tree, three-toed sloth”, says eagle-eyed Rudy and we marvel at the balancing skills of this solitary mammal, sound asleep, not unlike a koala, in the crook of a branch.
The guides tie together the three skiffs and, serenaded by parrots, we breakfast on tropical fruit skewers, passion fruit juice, and freshly baked ham and cheese yucca rolls, plus coffee from high in the Andes, where the Amazon starts its long journey.
We get up close to a gaggle of polygamous squirrel monkeys gamboling across a ficus tree, bunching together when predators approach to appear more fearsome. Over the next few days, we discover the world’s only nocturnal owl monkeys, saddleback tamarind monkeys and monsaki monkeys with their big bushy tails.
“Twenty years ago you’d find these tails on sale in markets as feather dusters,” says Rudy and we learn how tourism is helping to protect the Amazon, with companies like Delphin paying villagers for the right to visit as well as buying fish, produce and crafts. In the reserves, villagers are also hired to protect the turtle eggs and arapaima from poachers. As reward at the end of each season, they can take their own quotas.
Swimming with pink dolphins
One day we go swimming with elusive pink dolphins.
It is pouring with rain…not surprising in the world’s largest rainforest. The water is warm and I am swimming with pink dolphins above a flooded forest in the Peruvian Amazon. The dolphin are playing hide and seek, a pale pink dorsal fin on the left, a long tubular snout over to the right, skimming the surface everywhere I look.
The villagers on the shore watch in bemusement. For them the pink dolphin is an enchanted shape-shifter which appears as a gentle young man to bewitch single women and make them pregnant before taking mother and child to the underworld where the forest melts into the water….much like it does in real life every wet season.
Rhythm of the day
Our days develop a comfortable rhythm: total immersion in a waterscape of unbelievable fecundity then rest and relaxation during midday humidity. The airy top deck offers comfy couches and chairs, fascinating books, a couple of hammocks and a bar serving tropical fruit juices, beers and cocktails. One afternoon we learn how to make Pisco sours, sampling Peru’s famous grape brandy mixed with syrup, lime juice, egg white and bitters. Naps soon follow in our spacious wood-paneled, air-conditioned rooms with panoramic windows offering ringside views of the mighty riverscape.
One night we go spotlighting for caiman alligators. Another day we fish for pirhanas being careful to avoid getting cut by their vicious teeth. And most fascinating of all, we visit local villages to learn about their life and how they utilize a wide array of Amazon plants. We also play with their gorgeous kids and buy handcrafts including beautiful baskets colored with natural dyes.
The world’s largest waterlilies
Just before a storm, our skiffs navigate narrow channels meandering through wetlands, water lettuce lush up against the boats, yellow-flowered mimosa brushing our faces. As we skim across one lake, a cloud of snowy white egrets lifts into a bruised purple sky. We are surrounded by enormous lime green Victoria Amazonica, the largest water lily plants in the world. It seems as though we could step out on their huge leaves and walk on water, just like jicama birds.
One final afternoon we canoe across a glassy lake, its mirrored surface reflecting the surrounding forest. For a moment it feels like we have finally pierced that enchanted world where the forest melts into the water and pink dolphin swim through the trees.
There are a number of other ways to explore the Amazon including staying at some fascinating eco lodges. I’d love to hear about your adventures here.
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