As European rivers become overcrowded, luxury travelers are looking to escape the masses. They are finding the isolation they seek in Peru's Amazon region.
UNESCO World Heritage sites like Machu Picchu and Cusco have long been on the list of the world’s must-see sites, and Peru’s food scene has entered the international spotlight more recently. But aside from exploring the country’s historic haunts and visiting its restaurants, luxury travelers are now coming for a helping of the Amazon.
The Amazon region covers about 60 percent of Peru. The area is home to dense rain forest, wildlife gone amok and riverside villages. Much of the area is inaccessible, except via river transport. Hence, the development of the Amazon river cruise.
For those wanting to visit Peru on a Jimmy Choo-string budget, there are two operators from which to choose. Both Delfin Amazon Cruises and Aqua Expeditions are home-grown and both offer three- and four-day cruises. While other river cruise companies, like Avalon Waterways, do offer Peru cruise options, they generally charter space from one of these operators.
Delfin Amazon Cruises is owned by Peru native Aldo Macchiavello and his wife, Lissy Urteaga. Prior to launching the line in 2006, Macchiavello worked in international finance, but came back home to Peru to help pioneer luxury cruising on the Amazon. Delfin has three boats. The Delfin I has four guestrooms, and trips average $1,200 per person, per night. The Delfin II has 14 cabins ($1,000 per night) and the Delfin III has 22 cabins ($800 per person).
According to Ines Rodriguez, marketing and sales director, “The boats are designed to be an extension of the rain forest. They are built with local know-how and indigenous materials, with strong attention to design elements and sustainability.” The vessels also feature artwork by Peru’s leading artists, as well as by local folk artists. That artwork is available for purchase, just one of the ways Delfin carries out its mission of supporting local communities along the river. According to Rodriguez, Delfin has built marketplaces for the locals to sell their wares to tourists as part of a strategy to provide economic alternatives to illegal hunting in the rain forest.
Aqua Expeditions started cruising on Peru’s Amazon in 2008. American/Italian hybrid and global nomad Francesco Galli Zugaro worked in the cruise industry in Ecuador for many years before establishing his own company in neighboring Peru in 2007.
His concept focuses on soft adventure. “It was my dream to bring the adventure of a great African safari to the Amazon River,” says Galli Zugaro. While the ships do visit villages, “the wildlife component is the key selling point. We frequently walk through forests in search of medicinal plants, and spend time looking for birds and primates, sloths and pink dolphins.” Galli Zugaro says the line is adding more themed departures that will “add new layers of interpretation,” including a few featuring Jean Michel Cousteau.
For many years, Aqua Expeditions ran two ships in Peru. But an explosion in 2016 sunk the Aqua Amazon between sailings. One boat remains in Peru (the company also has ships in the Mekong Delta). The Aria Amazon has 16 cabins with an average daily price of $1,250 per person.
Other river cruise operators book cabins from both lines, but only as part of larger Peru touring packages. According to Galli Zugaro, “The advantage for us is that it extends our marketing reach. But it’s also important that we don’t compete against ourselves.” Since they are given bulk rates, says Galli Zugaro, “in order to keep to our rate integrity, we won’t sell to other lines unless they package the trip so that the cruise is just one component.”
Avalon Waterways does just that. The company has its own ships in Europe, but purchases cabins on 20 Delfin III sailings a year. According to Pam Hoffee, chief product and operations officer, “The best option for us is to buy inventory from local companies and then build extensive land programs around them, made up of the highlights of Peru.”
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Photo credit: Delfin III river cruise ship along the Amazon in Peru. Luxury travelers are increasingly looking to the Amazon. Delfin Amazon Cruises