Cruise through history in the Peruvian Amazon
SHERYL NANCE-NASH | 3/12/2020, midnight
If you want an adventure worthy of what you see in movies, take Jungle Experience’s 5-star luxury river cruise aboard the Zafiro through the Peruvian Amazon. It’s as good as it gets.
Fly into Iquitos where the journey begins. It’s vibrant. Tuk-tuks jockey for position in the streets. Your eyes feast on the action, the dilapidated buildings alongside modern restaurants, cafes, bars, shops. The vibe is funky, hip. You’ll likely spend a day there before making your way to the port of Nauta City to board the Zafiro. The Hotel DoubleTree by Hilton Iquitos is located on the town’s main square, convenient and comfy with its wellness center, pool and array of amenities. You can walk to historic buildings like the Cathedral of Iquitos, Plaza de Armas, Tarapaca boardwalk, the Iron House, Belen Market, and much more. The metropolitan area is home to more than 400,000 people. It’s a fascinating contrast to what comes next––a trek through ancient civilization.
You know you’re in for a good time. As you come aboard crew members on flute, drums and guitar are playing lively Peruvian music that makes you want to dance all the way to your suite. And when you get there and open the door, you find panoramic windows from floor ceiling giving you a front row seat to Mother Nature’s beauty. Suites on the second of three decks also have a private balcony. There are just 19 suites, so the mood is warm and intimate.
While you came to rough it in the jungle and on the river, you’re no doubt happy about being in the lap of luxury in between those escapades. Don’t however expect Wi-Fi or flat screen TVs, nature is the star of this show, and what a show.
In addition to the dining room, there is more than enough to keep you occupied when you’re afloat. Settle yourself in a seat in the indoor reading lounge, or hang out up top at the outdoor bar, hop in the jacuzzi or lay back in a lounger and enjoy the view with a Pisco Sour, it’s up to you. If the temperature is a bit too hot for you, cool off in the indoor bar and lounge. No worries about missing exercise, there’s a small gym and for pampering, a massage room with river views.
For sure, one thing you’ll talk about is the food. Think variety, BBQ pork ribs, oriental duck, stewed hen and quinoa, grilled chicken breast with buffalo cheese and greens. Or, Peruvian dishes like Patarashca, pieces of fish seasoned with Amazonian chalaquita made from regional cilantro, regional tomato, onion, garlic and sweet pepper, cooked on the grill in bijao leaves to aromatize. Then there’s Camu Tiradito, fine slices of fresh fish covered in camu sauce flavored with regional cilantro and a touch of charapita pepper, accompanied by parboiled yucca and Amazonian corn and many more such dishes to indulge yourself and explore the culture.
But what you came for is a walk on the wild side. You won’t be disappointed. Itineraries vary and much depends on Mother Nature. No matter what, you’re going to make memories. There’s nothing quite like an expedition to the Amazon Natural Park. Walk through a forest with nothing in sight but miles and miles of trees, the only noise is your footsteps, perhaps something rustling in the bush or the songs of the colorful birds. It is magical. You spot a tiny frog, a lizard, and maybe, heaven help you, a boa. If you’re feeling adventurous, head straight for the hanging bridge. Your guide will assure you it’s safe, just take your time. Right! Go for it. Those pictures will be worth the palpitations.
Chances are, you’ll get to meet with a shaman, to learn how they use complementary medicine and hear about ancestral traditions. Don’t be shy when it comes time to ask questions, have no regrets later. The shaman will do a blessing ceremony and offer some remedies for ailments if you’re open to trying try them. Before you leave the jungle, one of the coolest things you’ll do is participate in a tree planting ceremony. Dig a hole and plant a tiny tree. You’ll feel chuffed to do your part to help sustain the rainforest.
During your journey you’ll visit Amazonian communities. Guides will interpret for you. Watch a cooking demonstration and shop, there’s no shortage of arts and crafts to buy. The villages are remarkable, as they are much like they’ve always been. Forget modern conveniences. Who needs a car? Transportation is by boat. A teenage boy is excited the day he’s commandeering one, better still when he has one of his own.
Afterall, life is all about the river. As gorgeous as it by day, by night, it is eerily exciting. Jump in the skiff and go on the hunt for black caimans, fireflies, tarantulas and snakes. But if that’s more thrill than you’re up for, no worries, there’s plenty of day action, be it swimming next to pink dolphins if your timing is right, kayaking, or catching a piranha with a measly little stick and fishing line. Mostly, they’re just little guys, but they still have teeth.
The best part after a day on the water is the sunset that’s so unreal it makes you think you really are in a movie. Top it off with a Sundowner, champagne of course. Head back to the Zafiro for live music. The crew members are the band, Juan and the Dolphins. They’re fun and talented, as some are also professional musicians and one of the singers could give the Three Sopranos a run for their money. Don’t expect to sit down. Crew members will get you up and have you dancing with them on the floor. They clown, you clown, everybody is showing off their moves. Speaking of the crew, it’s special that they all are from the Amazon or have ties to the community. During excursions and at mealtime, they casually share their life stories and give you a glimpse of what their world was and is. When you disembark, you’ll miss the crew as much as the river that for good reason is the stuff of legends.