By Nicholas Gill
Arrival and pick up from airport or a hotel in Iquitos, included in price. Transfer to the boat at Aqua’s launch in Nauta, about two hours south of Iquitos. After getting situated and listening to the necessary safety drills the group moved to dinner and then bed to prepare for the early morning.
The ship arrived within the borders of Pacaya Samiria reserve by traveling along the Yanayacu River before we woke up at 6am. After breakfast we made a quick stop at the park reserve office for paperwork and we motored off for a short hiking excursion into the jungle. Almost immediately after departing the boat on the skiffs to reach the trail, several grey and pink river dolphins appeared for a ten-minute display before we took off. On the hike, the experienced Aqua guides, most of which have been in the profession for many years, described the bird and plant life. Returning to the skiffs we searched trees and shorelines for birdlife. A few macaws and toucans flew overhead. Kingfishers, egrets, and herons were abundant.
In the afternoon, after lunch and a siesta, we set off for a lengthy trip up a narrow river in search of more wildlife. We mostly caught glimpses of birds, many of which we hadn’t seen, as well as two sloths high up in the trees. When the sun set more creatures began to appear. We saw the glowing eyes of caimans on the riverbanks. My skiff’s guide grabbed one small one, which happened to be a rare black caiman, and held it for photos before releasing it back out into the water. Fruit eating bats flew overhead and we saw a Great Patoo perched on a tree.
After breakfast we set off along the Tahuayo black water river on the skiffs, looking for monkeys, birds, and a spot to go piranha fishing. Almost immediately our guide caught a yellow-bellied piranha. He noticed a hawk sitting on a branch and decided we could get a good shot of the bird grabbing the fish from the water. He jammed a stick through the fish and tossed it in the river. Within a few moments the hawk swooped down and grabbed the piranha and flew off. Our skiff was on the lower end of the tallies, but we still caught several catfish and piranhas each. Several troops of monkeys appeared while changing fishing locations and on the return to the Aqua.
In the evening we rode in the skiff toward the headwaters of the Amazon River, where the Ucayali, Marañon, and Amazon Rivers merge. The sun was setting and pink river dolphins, about six of them, jumped in and out of the water around us for at least thirty minutes. The bartender, on board one of the skiffs, brought out champagne and snacks.
On our last morning we traveled by skiff to a native village – one that the crew had never visited before (they change up the stops frequently) – and met with school children there. We also had the chance to buy local handicrafts. After disembarking at Nauta we stopped by the Manatee Rescue Center, which the Aqua helps fund and where biologists and volunteers care for endangered Amazon manatees that conservation authorities have seized from local people and fishermen. After the resident biologists gave a short presentation about the project, we were allowed to bottle feed several of the young rescued manatees.
While the three night itinerary does a good job of giving you the best experience with the time allotted, the four and seven day trips are recommended for the best chances of seeing wildlife and getting deeper into the reserve. Deeper in, your chances of seeing wildlife increase. Spotting wildlife in the Amazon or in jungle areas is unlike the Galapagos or Serengeti. There is no guarantee and many of the most interesting creatures are tiny and camouflaged to hide in the vegetation. Creatures such as jaguars and tapirs are generally unheard of near jungle lodges, though rare sightings have occurred on the Aqua. In all likelihood you’ll see dolphins, monkeys, and spectacular bird life, which you could likely find at less expensive, rustic lodges. However, the MV Aqua gives you a better chance of seeing other rare creatures than any other tour operator in the northern Peruvian Amazon. The ship is specifically designed for this type of excursion. It brings you to the far off natural reserves where wildlife is abundant, but also provides the element of luxury that no other riverboat ever has.
Text and Photos by Nicholas Gill