Our senior marketing manager, Amanda Mallard, recently boarded the brand-new Aqua Expeditions’ Aqua Nera “expeditionary vessel” for a four-day itinerary along the Peruvian Amazon. She spent her days enjoying wildlife encounters, searching for pink dolphins, fishing for piranha, kayaking and swimming along the river’s tributaries and getting to know the staff and naturalist guides. Here, she tells us the highlights of her trip.
How did you get there: I flew into Lima, then transferred to Iquitos and took the Aqua Expeditions’ shuttle to Nauta, where we boarded the skiff to the boat.
Overall impressions: We were among the first handful of groups to board the Aqua Nera, and it’s an amazing boat. The 20 air-conditioned suites are modern and spacious, with floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase jaw-dropping views. The staff were so welcoming and attentive, it felt like being on a private yacht.
Favorite moment: As we approached the Aqua Nera from the skiff, the staff band was performing a traditional Peruvian song for us from the top deck. We arrived right at sunset, so it was an unforgettable moment.
You can’t stop thinking about: On one of our wildlife expeditions, our guides pulled a baby anaconda out of the river so we could get an up-close look (then put it back, of course)! The guides were one of the best parts of the trip. They are so respectful of the land, the wildlife and the local people. Over the course of four days, we ended up spending so much time with them that we developed a real bond of friendship. They love their jobs and the community, and it shows in everything they do.
Favorite meal: The Peruvian dishes, which were conceived by the Peruvian celebrity chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino. I especially enjoyed the ceviche of paiche, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish. We learned to make the recipe in a cooking class.
What to drink: The Pisco sour, of course, is considered Peru’s signature drink. We were treated to a cocktail class to learn how to make those, too.
Day-trip suggestions: Whether you choose the three-, four- or seven-night itinerary, you’ll enjoy a variety of daily excursions. All are optional, but the skiffs venture out twice a day, and activities include wildlife spotting, picnic lunches, jungle walks, piranha fishing and canoeing and swimming the Amazon River — just downstream from where we’d caught piranha! I didn’t skip one excursion.
Surprising fact or tidbit: You have everything you could possibly need on the Aqua Nera. You can enjoy the onboard cinema and game room, spa and fitness center, pool and plenty of indoor and outdoor bars and lounge spaces for you to socialize with the other quests or find a quiet spot to read a book. Plus, you’ll get a wake-up call every morning. There is nothing like a greeting from your favorite guide to start the day!
Souvenir: We were gifted a beautiful handmade beaded bracelet from the locals — left for me during turndown service — and it’s one of my all-time favorite souvenirs. But the well-curated gift shop on the Aqua Nera sells a variety of jewelry and other locally sourced items that makes it hard to choose what to bring back.
What to pack: Layers! And an abundance of sunscreen and bug spray.
Insider tip: Ask the captain for a tour of the boat, and if you’re lucky you’ll get to see the kitchen, the staff quarters, how they process the water — essentially how the whole experience comes together.
Anything else? On the last day of our trip, at sunset, the team surprised us with a really special treat. I’d hate to ruin it for our members who are planning to experience it themselves so I’ll leave it at that. But the Aqua Nera staff are one-of-a-kind, and my time there was definitely life-changing.