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Imagine the Amazon, and you probably picture dense jungles, colorful birds, chattering monkeys and remote villages. Sound enticing? There are two main ways to explore this region of the world: staying in an ecolodge or taking a river cruise.

exploring the amazon river


I recently opted for a four-night Amazon cruise aboard the 32-passenger Aria Amazon, part of the Aqua Expeditions fleet. This small luxury ship explores the waters of the Pacaya Samiria Reserve near Iquitos, Peru. Itineraries range from three to seven nights, with many travelers opting for one of the shorter options in order to combine their Amazon excursion with a few days in Cuzco and Machu Picchu.

Below are several things I loved about my Peru Amazon experience, as well as a few aspects of the trip that weren’t as satisfying.

What We Loved
Wildlife: An Amazon cruise is all about birds and animals, and I saw plenty of them during my four days on the river. Memorable moments included fishing for (and catching!) piranha, seeing monkeys dart from branch to branch and watching hundreds of egrets and cormorants take flight at once during an excursion at dawn. Tip: For the best wildlife viewing, consider traveling in the rainy season (December through May), when the higher level of the river brings you closer to the treetops where many animals spend their time.

sloth in amazon peru


Cabins: Aria Amazon’s spacious, air-conditioned suites were always a pleasure to return to after excursions in the humid jungle. Creature comforts included king-size beds, rainfall showers and carafes of water refilled by the housekeeping staff, but my favorite part of the cabin was the floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows, offering a mesmerizing 24/7 view of the rainforest slipping by.

Service and Staff: The Aria Amazon staff were uniformly friendly and eager to please, from the knowledgeable naturalist guides (with their uncanny ability to spot sloths and monkeys high in the trees) to the servers in the dining room, who quickly learned passengers’ names and dietary restrictions.

Food: A top Lima chef, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, developed Aria Amazon’s creative menus, which draw on locally sourced ingredients from the Amazon region such as passionfruit, yucca, hearts of palm and paiche, a freshwater fish that can grow up to seven or eight feet long.

Iquitos: I arrived a day early to explore Iquitos, a city that can only be reached by plane or boat. There aren’t any blockbuster sights to see, but the city is refreshingly low on tourists, and the Belen district — with its colorful market and houses that are submerged during the rainy season — is a fascinating place to explore.

What We Didn’t Like
Not Much Hiking: Because it was the rainy season, the river had submerged most of the jungle trails, leaving us few real opportunities to get off the skiffs. During four days we only set foot onshore twice — once for a village visit and once for a short jungle hike. Those hoping to stay active by hiking should cruise during the low-water season (June through November) instead.

hiking in the jungle peru


Bugs: You can douse yourself in DEET and treat your clothes with permethrin, but during late afternoon and evening excursions you’ll almost certainly get bitten by a mosquito or three. And these are hardly the only insects you’ll encounter in the Amazon. On one evening outing several passengers had black bees burrow into their hair. An Amazon cruise isn’t for the squeamish, even on a luxury line like Aqua Expeditions.

Enrichment: On most expedition cruises it’s common to have daily talks on the local culture, flora and fauna. On Aqua Expeditions the guides offer plenty of information during excursions, but onboard there’s less of a focus on education and more of a focus on relaxing. (We only had a single lecture during our four days onboard.) This suited some passengers very well, but if you’re seeking an in-depth learning experience, you might want to try a different line.

Staying in Touch: Given the remoteness of the region, you shouldn’t expect to keep up with your email or to text family and friends during your cruise. There’s no onboard Wi-Fi, and cell phone reception is only available when the ship passes near a local community.

10 Best Peru Experiences
9 Best Destinations to See from the Water

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Editor’s Note: I traveled as a guest of Aqua Expeditions, with the understanding that I would cover the trip in a way that honestly reflected my experience — good, bad or indifferent. You can read our full editorial disclosure on our About Us page.

Check out what’s worth reading in the travel world from the past week.

woman with phone on plane


The U.S. Government May Allow In-Flight Phone Calls, and People Are Freaking Out
Business Insider reports on a recent proposal from the U.S. Department of Transportation that would require airlines and booking agents to state in advance whether passengers are allowed to make voice calls on flights. Passengers are currently not allowed to make voice calls via their cell phones on certain radio frequencies, but there are no rules against chatting via Wi-Fi using services such as Skype.

50 Reasons to #LovetheWorld
Clicking through this gallery from BBC will spark your wanderlust all over again. The site has reached out to dozens of contributers and travelers for anecdotes from incredible journeys around the world.

Conquering Choquequirao: The Long Walk to Peru’s Lesser-Known ‘Lost City’
Lonely Planet takes us on a hike to the long-hidden Incan citadel of Choquequirao, which currently only gets about a dozen visitors a day but may become more accessible in the near future.

Next Year Is Shaping Up to Be Another Good One for Airlines — and Travelers
How about some good news for your holiday season via NBC News? Among the findings in this report: Fares are falling, traveler satisfaction with airlines in North America has reached a 10-year high and a couple of airlines have brought back free in-flight snacks.

Cuba’s Young Artists Embrace a New World
This National Geographic feature offers fascinating photos and stories from the young people of Cuba, where “individualism is creeping out into the open” after the recent death of Fidel Castro.

‘Basic Economy’ Fares Make Sense: Opposing View
When United recently announced that its new Basic Economy fares would not include overhead bin access, many travelers and news outlets responded with outrage. But this piece on USA Today makes the case for these bargain-basement fares, arguing that while they won’t suit everyone, they fill a niche for price-sensitive travelers who don’t need many amenities.

Rome’s Sad Christmas Tree Gets a Makeover After Residents Complain
When in Rome … you’d better not have a skimpy Christmas tree. Conde Nast Traveler reports on a recent controversy over the tree in the Italian capital, which was dubbed the “Austerity Tree” by disgruntled locals. Its decorations have since been, er, spruced up.

This week’s video offers an intimate look at everyday life in Bali.


How to Get the Best Airplane Seat
11 Things Not to Do on a Plane

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Catch up with the stories you may have missed over the past seven days.

dubai at night


Top 20 Post-Election Travel Destinations
USA Today reports that TripAdvisor experienced a surge of booking activity from midnight on Election Day to 1 p.m. the day after. The site released the 10 most-booked countries and 10 most-booked cities during that time period. You might find some of them surprising. (The most-booked city? Dubai.)

The Roof of America
Your travel eye candy for the week is this photo essay from Maptia, offering stunning shots of trekking in the mountains of Peru.

Italy’s New ‘Scattered Hotel’ Trend May Save Its Historic Towns
Conde Nast Traveler reports on a fascinating trend in Italy called the albergo diffuso, or “scattered hotel.” This involves turning abandoned historic villages into a resort of sorts, with guestrooms and apartments surrounding a central lobby.

Kris Tompkins: ‘Fighter by Trade,’ Wild at Heart
CNN profiles a woman who has spent more than two decades preserving the Patagonian wilderness in Chile and Argentina by purchasing land and turning it into national parks.

Europe’s Mosquito-Free Island Paradise: Iceland
There are few places on Earth where you won’t be bitten by mosquitoes, but Iceland is one of them, reports the New York Times. This may be thanks to its climate, but global warming could change that in the future.

The Modern Rebirth of the ‘Golden Rule’
BBC explores the state of Penang, Malaysia, where the locals are coping with their multicultural identity with an emphasis on mutual tolerance of different religions and cultures.

Antitrust Suit Against Airlines Can Move Ahead, Judge Says
A lawsuit accusing major U.S. airlines of colluding to set high airfares has been given the go-ahead by a federal judge, who rejected a motion to dismiss it, reports the Los Angeles Times.

This week’s video features a sweet in-flight proposal aboard a Qantas flight from Sydney, Australia to Santiago, Chile.


The 9 Best Places to Travel Alone
10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.

Last month, we gave our readers a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card by submitting a review of a recent trip. We loved reading their submissions, which inspired us with tales of hiking the Inca Trail in Peru and flying a historic plane in Santa Fe.

running of the bulls pamplona


Deciding on the winner was hard, but in the end we chose The Running of the Bulls by vagabondginger. Here’s an excerpt from her winning review:

“The best bulls from various ranches throughout Spain are brought to Pamplona to make for an exciting event. Certain ranches breed bulls with characteristics to make them brave and aggressive,” writes vagabondginger. “These Spanish Fighting Bulls get to a weight of at least 1,300 pounds and have longer horns than other breeds. Bullfights have a lot of pomp and pageantry, but also passion and drama with protesters. We do not condone or condemn but feel much like Hemingway did in his book ‘Death in the Afternoon’ that it’s part of Spain’s tradition. Someday it may be outlawed.” Read the rest!

While we only had one prize to give away, we also wanted to recognize a few runners-up whose reviews are also well worth a read:

On the Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu by Carolyn Boyle: ” All the iconic photographs of Machu Picchu in the travel brochures are taken from the perspective of the Terrace of the Ceremonial Rock, with Una Picchu and Huayna Picchu in the background. Near the Guardhouse is a large carved stone, the Ceremonial Rock; some human burials were found near here. This area was about an hour from the Gate of the Sun. At this point we had trekked almost exactly 7 miles, including short detours for ruins and waterfalls. We were fortunate to see Machu Picchu in glorious sunlight at the end of our day.”

MiG 15 Pilot by Stephen Goch: “Larry started the engine, and we taxied out for takeoff. We had to stay below 200 knots (230 mph) until we reached 10,000 feet. Our rate of climb was absolutely amazing! The light aircraft I fly has a rate of climb of between 500 and 700 feet per minute. The jet was climbing at 4,000 feet per minute! It was a fantastic experience.”

Costa Rican Trip by Danielle Toland: “The Costa Rican saying is ‘Pura Vida’ which means pure life. They embody this motto by being happy with their lives, being gracious for what they have, and living slowly and relaxed. I learned to be a little more gracious from them.”

Three Days of Outdoor Activity in San Francisco’s Microclimate by Jen Lucas: “The following day was one that I’ll remember for this lifetime. Everyone recognizes the Golden Gate Bridge as the major landmark of the city which I’ve seen previously but when my friend mentioned us riding bikes across, I visualized myself with a huge Sharpie checking off a large box on my bucket list.”

Feeling inspired? Write a review of your latest trip!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

This weekend Americans and Canadians will “fall back,” turning their clocks back an hour to end Daylight Saving Time for another year. The U.S. and Canada are two countries out of dozens around the world that switch their clocks back and forth during the year to save energy and maximize sunlight. But which places don’t observe this practice? Below are a few you might want to visit.

st basils cathedral moscow


President Vladimir Putin moved Russia from year-round “summer time” to year-round “winter time” in 2014.

wailua falls kauai hawaii


Hawaii is one of two U.S. states that do not observe Daylight Saving Time. The other is Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Nation).

baobab trees madagascar


Like most African nations, Madagascar does not observe Daylight Saving Time.

yaksaam temple south korea


South Korea hasn’t observed Daylight Saving Time since the 1980s, according to historical info at TimeandDate.com.

new delhi india


Most of the world’s major industrialized nations observe Daylight Saving Time, but India is a prominent exception.

tourist and llama at machu picchu


Peru hasn’t observed Daylight Saving Time since a couple of separate years in the 1990s, according to TimeandDate.com.

bottom bay barbados


Since 1980, Barbados has fallen in line with most other Caribbean islands, which stay in the same time zone all year round.

The World’s Most Beautiful Waterfalls
The 9 Best Places to Travel Alone

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Each month, we’ll highlight one new trip review submitted by an IndependentTraveler.com reader. If your review is featured, you’ll win an IndependentTraveler.com logo item!

machu picchu traveler taking a picture


In this month’s winning review, a pair of travelers celebrate their anniversary with a trip to Peru: “Once inside [Machu Picchu] you ‘hike’ a rather steep path of cobblestone steps until you get to the overview (with our guide who was pretty proactive, it took us about 20 minutes),” writes cruisinbob. “Once at the vantage point, the view is simply awesome, much like the pictures you see.”

Read the rest of cruisinbob’s review here: Peru and Machu Picchu. This reader has won an IndependentTraveler.com sweatshirt.

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Seville may be romanticized as the vibrant jewel of southern Spain, but for me it’ll forever be remembered as a dusty, hot and overcrowded tourist trap. My only vivid memory is of being drenched in sweat walking up the never-ending ramps of the Giralda bell tower.

Ditto for Florence, Italy, which was overrun with American tour groups and so lacking in lodging when I visited that I had to sleep in a shabby hostel where the roaches congregated at night by the drain in the shower.

There are cities that you’re supposed to fall in love with, that you’re supposed to dream of visiting over and over again. Seville and Florence weren’t among them for me, and I don’t ever think I’ll go back. (To see more staff picks for cities not worth a second trip, see 12 Places You Only Need to See Once.)

Where will I return? Most certainly these five places:

lima peru


Lima, Peru: I must admit, I wasn’t impressed during my first visit to Lima nearly a decade ago. But the city has improved — traffic seems less frenetic and neighborhoods less run down. Lima is worth the trip for its foodie scene alone; some of the world’s most noteworthy restaurants are there.

10 Best Peru Experiences

golden gate bridge san francisco


San Francisco, California: I don’t think of the City by the Bay merely as a U.S. city. San Francisco belongs to the world. Of all the cities I’ve visited, San Francisco is, hands down, the most beautiful. I never tire of the view, especially if the Golden Gate Bridge is within sight.

vigeland park oslo norway


Oslo, Norway: The two days I spent after a cruise to Arctic Norway weren’t nearly enough time in the pristine and pretty Norwegian capital. Oslo is expensive ($12 for a cup of coffee? Seriously?), but worth another visit merely for an extra day strolling through the incredible sculpture garden in Vigeland Park.

The Best Cities to See Cool Public Art

toronto skyline


Toronto, Canada: This is where I first got hooked on traditional afternoon tea (at the Fairmont Royal York) and on ice hockey (at the Hockey Hall of Fame).

segovia spain


Segovia, Spain: I’ve visited several times, always visiting the cathedral and walking along the aqueduct walls. Segovia is the Spain you imagine. Sorry, Seville.

Which places could you visit over and over again?

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

peruvian woman


Population: 30.1 million

Currency: Peruvian nuevo sol

Phrase to Know: Buenos dias (good day or good morning)

Fun Fact: Peru has a unique New Year’s Eve tradition: everyone wears brand-new yellow underwear! It’s considered good luck for the coming year.

We Recommend: Learn to prepare ceviche, Peru’s national dish, during a cooking class in the capital city of Lima. Naturally, the best part of the class is tasting your creation at the end.

10 Best Peru Experiences

Have you been to Peru? What was your favorite spot?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two up-close animal encounters.

Would you rather…

… meet penguins in Antarctica, or …

penguin photographer antarctica



… come face to face with a llama in Peru?

arequipa peru llama child


Penguins can be seen by the thousands in Antarctica; the best way to visit is by cruise ship. In Peru, llamas are commonly seen near Machu Picchu and in other areas of the Andes Mountains.

Photos: Amazing, Up-Close Animal Encounters

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Machu Picchu, PeruWhen you work in travel, everywhere is somewhere you want to go at some point, and for that reason, Peru has been on my own must-visit list for a while. But it wasn’t until the photos, stories and travel plans of various friends began to pour in across social media recently that I realized I hadn’t given this destination its due: Peru is most certainly having a moment.

Machu Picchu was voted the top landmark in the world this year in TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice awards, and Conde Nast Traveler highlighted Peru among up-and-coming foodie hot spots in a round-up of 2014 travel trends. Chef-guided culinary market tours, Pisco distilleries, vineyards and the chocolate museum in Cuzco attract travelers looking to both see and taste the South American nation often called its gastronomic capital.

Slideshow: 10 Best Peru Experiences

Peru was on Jamey Bergman’s bucket list, the U.K. Production and River Section Editor of our sister site, Cruise Critic. He has since checked it off, and shared with us what it was like to experience one of his bucket list destinations:

“I had high expectations for my visit to Machu Picchu, and my experience there was totally unforgettable. We arranged local transport (train to Aguas Calientes from Cuzco and bus to the site), and arrived just before dawn. We had the place to ourselves for a couple of hours before all the tour groups arrived, and it was magical. We hiked up to the Sun Gate for sunrise, and spent the rest of the day exploring the ruins. It’s profound to visit a place that meant so much to an ancient culture that’s completely disappeared. “

Is Peru on your list? Do you have a story of a bucket list destination that you’ve been able to cross off? Share with us in the comments.

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.