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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
First Low-Cost Asian Airline Cleared for Flights to the U.S.
Cheaper fares to Asia could be in store for Americans. CNN reports that AirAsia, a budget airline based in Malaysia, has just been approved to fly to the United States. Though the fares might be cheap, passengers would have to pay extra for meals and bags.
How Airline Passenger Rights May Change in 2017
As the U.S. makes the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration, Conde Nast Traveler investigates which air traveler protections will likely stay in place and which might be on the chopping block.
On the Streets of San Telmo
This piece from the Globe and Mail is a funny and thoughtful personal essay about a tango lesson in Buenos Aires.
Inside the World’s First Year-Round Ice Hotel
Forbes offers gorgeous pictures from ICEHOTEL 365, located north of the Arctic Circle in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden. It’s the world’s first permanent snow and ice hotel. (Most are only open in the colder months.)
15 Tweets That Describe the Hilarious Hell of Holiday Travel
Have a laugh at this amusing roundup of holiday travel tweets from the Huffington Post. Our favorite: “If you put your bag in overhead bin near row 7 & you sit in row 20, I am putting you on Santa’s naughty list!! #Grinchmas #Holiday Travel” We couldn’t agree more.
This week’s video is the annual “Christmas Miracle” offering from Canadian airline WestJet, featuring a heartwarming gift to the community of Fort McMurray after it was devastated by wildfires earlier this year.
From amateur shoots by first-time travelers to travel company promos and professionally produced films, 2016 has been a stellar year for capturing the world in video. Below are the four best travel videos of the bunch (plus a bonus video that I simply can’t get out of my mind).
The Inspiring Story of Blind Surfer Derek Rabelo
Many travel company videos are straightforward commercials promoting their products. But Turkish Airlines took a different approach this year with a touching film about blind surfer Derek Rabelo. His perspective on the ocean, for example, forces you to reexamine yours. More than 9 million people have viewed the three-minute video, which is in Turkish with English subtitles.
New York City Drone Film Festival Montage
Drone videos are all the rage among amateur and professional videographers alike, and so many are stunning that it’s hard to pick one as the best of the year. The 2016 New York City Drone Film Festival released a 2.5-minute montage of the best scenes from its 2016 submissions. My favorite snippet was the volcano flyby.
China: A Skier’s Journey
Chad Sayers and Forrest Coots contrast two ski cultures in China — the emerging middle class that is starting to embrace skiing as a leisure sport, and peoples who have skied for thousands of years as a means of survival. The staff at Vimeo selected this 16.5-minute film as the top travel pick of 2016.
This Magic World
Mexican student Mariana Osorio won International Student.com’s annual travel video contest this year with a sweet and sad 4.5-minute video that’s part autobiography, part travelogue. Osorio wrote an original song about how her violin skills gave her the ticket out of her small Mexican village — which is plagued by drug cartel activity — and into New York City.
Bonus Video: Autumn Leaves
Here’s the bonus video. Admittedly, it was first shared in late 2015, but I didn’t have the opportunity to see it until 2016. It’s easily one of my favorite videos of all time. A polite Korean tourist visiting Florence surprised some local street musicians by asking if he could join them. He took up a spot next to the contrabass and led a peppy rendition of “Autumn Leaves.” Though the musicians don’t speak the same language, they communicate beautifully through music, and feed off each other’s energy in this impromptu jam session near the Florence Duomo. The video is pure joy, and captures the essence of what travel is all about.
Check out what’s worth reading in the travel world from the past week.
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.
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.
Catch up with the stories you may have missed over the past seven days.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
President Vladimir Putin moved Russia from year-round “summer time” to year-round “winter time” in 2014.
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).
Like most African nations, Madagascar does not observe Daylight Saving Time.
South Korea hasn’t observed Daylight Saving Time since the 1980s, according to historical info at TimeandDate.com.
Most of the world’s major industrialized nations observe Daylight Saving Time, but India is a prominent exception.
Peru hasn’t observed Daylight Saving Time since a couple of separate years in the 1990s, according to TimeandDate.com.
Since 1980, Barbados has fallen in line with most other Caribbean islands, which stay in the same time zone all year round.
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!
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.
Catch up on the week’s best reads from around the web.
Japanese “Naked Restaurant” to Ban Overweight Diners
A new nude restaurant will open in Tokyo next month, but overweight diners need not apply, reports Yahoo! The restaurant won’t let in anyone who’s more than 15 kilograms (33 pounds) over the average weight for their height. Also on the no-go list: anyone under 18 or over 60 years old.
Monique, the Hen Who Is Sailing Around the World
This BBC News story will brighten your day. It features a 24-year-old French sailor who’s traveling around the world with a chicken named Monique, who has learned to paddleboard and windsurf during their globetrotting adventures.
The Joy of Instagram
The Atlantic reports on a new study that suggests taking photos of our experiences actually helps us enjoy them more. “It’s not the act of photo-taking itself … that leads to that enjoyment,” says the article. “It’s the kind of mental curation that is required when you’re thinking about what is worth documenting in the first place.”
Airlines Race to Cuba, Overcoming Major Hurdles
With U.S. airlines recently being approved to run commercial flights to Cuba, the Associated Press takes a fascinating look at the work that goes into making those flights happen. The airlines are tackling challenges such as collecting baggage fees in a country where U.S. credit cards don’t work and moving people efficiently through a check-in process at airports without self-service kiosks.
FAA Rules Out Requiring Psychological Testing for Airline Pilots
After a mentally disturbed Germanwings pilot deliberately crashed a plane full of passengers last year, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has decided not to require psychological testing for airline pilots, reports CBS News. Instead, the agency advocates a number of other measures to help pilots with mental health.
Zika Fears and Political Chaos Keeping Rio Olympics Affordable
If you’re still considering a trip to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, it could be cheaper than you think, reports the New York Times. Thanks to political upheaval in the Brazilian government and the prevalence of the Zika virus, many people aren’t so sure they want to go to the Games — which means decent prices for those who do.
The maker of this week’s video describes his trip to Vietnam as “2 weeks, 5 friends, 1500 kilometers, 5 diarrheas, dozen cups of Vietnamese coffee, 1 mud bath, 2 overturned kayaks, 2 pairs of custom made shoes, 1 pair of custom made trousers.”