Aqua Expeditions: 5 Stars On The Amazon. One does not often associate the Amazon River with non-stop luxury, but I experienced 7 nights of unadulterated extravagance on Aqua Expedition’s Aria. The Aria is an ultra-luxury river boat cruise that holds 32 guests. I was fortunate enough to be one. And this is an incredible way to witness the beauty of the Peruvian Amazon.
I have been on several cruises, but this one instance really stood out for their attention to detail and service. When entering my room, there were two stainless steel water bottles (one for me and my Dad). A nice touch I thought and ecologically minded. But then I was quick to critique. The bottles were identical, how would I know whose bottle was whose? It wasn’t until the next day, that I realized the staff has written our names on the back. Impressive attention to detail.
The Aria was built in 2011 and is incredibly well appointed and perfectly suited for Amazonian expeditions. It is a very intimate boat with 32 passengers and a crew of 24.
Typically, the rooms I have seen on cruise ships encourage me to depart as soon as possible to avoid the cramped quarters. Aria’s rooms were spacious, comfortable, and modern. In fact, I enjoyed relaxing in the room and gazing through the floor to ceiling windows. The shower was equipped with a rain shower head which was perfect to wash the humidity away with its strong water pressure.
On the third floor was the handsomely appointed lounge and bar. It was too easy to sink into one of the plush couches, read my book, and sip a Pisco Sour. The lounge was also fashioned with floor to ceiling windows. You could easily pass hours watching the Amazon pass by.
The Dining Room
The dining room was found at the stern of the ship on the second floor. White linens and gourmet food were on the menu three times a day. I was continually surprised at the range and level of the food for the multi-course meals. The wait staff (Billy, Percy, and Carlos) were omnipresent yet discreet.
The Aria was equipped with four skiffs to take the passengers out for excursions. With a draft of only three feet, these boats were highly maneuverable to explore the Amazon. Every day, the guests were treated to 2 – 3 outings each day. We were out as early sunrise and sometimes arrived after sunset. The Aria created a diverse set of outings.
I was extremely impressed with Aria. Even though our skiff held ten passengers, our skiff only had four passengers. One of the other skiffs only two passengers. Aria was more concerned about the level of service for their customers, not maximizing revenue. I think the vast majority of ships would be limiting the number of skiffs and maximizing the number of people on each skiff to minimize cost.
The guides were amazing. Personable, knowledgeable, enthusiastic. Roland, George, Daniel, and Neycer also went the extra mile. These guys were committed to ensuring a rewarding experience.
The wildlife was diverse and plentiful. I saw monkeys, caimans, dolphins, three-toed sloths, frogs, spiders, and more species of birds that I can track. I had an opportunity to fish for piranhas (I caught four). I went swimming in the Amazon, and also paddled a dugout canoe with some of the locals.
The staff of the Aria was always surprising me. On a small creek, the pilots tied the four skiffs together and broke out champagne and orange juice for impromptu mimosas. On another outing, the skiffs were tied together and we had breakfast relaxing in the early morning sun. And for a fitting climax, on our last evening, we stopped on a secluded piece of land to watch the sunset while sipping drinks from the bar that had been set up.
The Amazon River is an isolated jewel of South America. Aqua Expeditions provides a memorable and unique platform to witness this beauty.
George Davila Flores is one of the incredible guides that brings in the Amazon River alive. The charismatic and garrulous, George has been working for Aqua Expeditions on the ship, Aria, for five years.
George grew up in a small village of 20 families, named Buenos Aires. At least three generations called this village home, living a traditional life in the Peruvian Amazon. His family is part of the Cocama Indians, and George used their native tongue in the family’s home. His parents live off the land, fishing and farming for yucca and plantains. There was no electricity, just kerosene lamps.
Despite the fact that he grew up sans modern conveniences, he can trace the lineage of his given name to “a galaxy far, far away”. In 1978, George’s father visited the nearby Amazonian town of Indiana. On TV was a mind-blowing film. As the credits rolled a name caught his attention. George Lucas. And that is how he earned his name.
There is no right answer. Living off the land, in your village. Carrying on the traditions as your father, and your father’s father did. Or, embrace a Western lifestyle. Everything from electricity to consumerism. George ended up following the latter path.
George pointed to two influences that propelled him down the path of modernity. While there was a small school to educate the children of Buenos Aires; for many, schooling ended at primary school. While his father was a traditionalist; George’s mother had a strong commitment to see her children become educated. She encouraged and helped her husband to save money to send George and his other siblings to a high school in the neighboring village of Indiana. Indiana was a larger town, and he became familiarized with radio and TV; two things he did not have growing up in his village. This 90 minute dugout ride was accomplished solely by the children. And this was not an outlier. Responsibility was learned at an early age. As young as five years old, when the sun rose George would man the dugout canoe to go fishing on behalf of the family.
George also mentioned an impromptu meeting with another guide when he was just six years old. The guide, Lucio, brought some western tourists to his small village. George recalled being mesmerized with the different looking tourists and watching Lucio speak English to this foreign looking people. Lucio imparted the simple advice to George: keep studying.
George remembered these words and with the further encouragement of his mother; he focused and exceled at high school. George was fortunate during school, on his summer vacation he picked up a job as a trail cutter, working with an Amazonian education center. This provided him with additional exposure to scientists and naturalists who were doing research in the Amazon.
Upon completion of high school, he moved to Iquitos to study at the university, where he lived with his relatives. Iquitos is the largest landlocked city in the world with over 500,000 people. There is no road that leads to this city. This dense and hectic city was a culture shock to George who grew up with only 20 families. The masses of people, noise, and pollution was an antonym to his upbringing. At university, George studied the environment and the ecology of the region, and also further learned and perfected his English. George also randomly reconnected with Lucio who was still working as a guide based in Iquitos.
While in university, he continued his work with tourism and the environment. He freelanced working with tourists who made their way through Iquitos. He eventually began work with small cruise ships plying the Amazon in 2000. In 2011, he began work with Aqua Expeditions.
George also has tourism to thank for his marriage. On picking up a client at the diminutive Iquitos airport he met his current wife, Jessica, who worked at the airport. Today, they call Iquitos their home with their two daughters.
George has a passion for his job and the environment. He wears his enthusiasm on his sleeve as he shares the Amazon with his guests. George’s smile is mile-wide whether it is spying a three-toed sloth in a distant tree or introducing a small traditional village.
Aqua Expeditions is highly involved in sustainable tourism and supporting the Peruvian Amazon. Aqua Expeditions supports ecology education to the children of the Amazon, medical care in the villages, and sustainable fishing. George is appreciative that he is involved in these efforts.
As a guide, George works two weeks on and one week off. His week off is spent with his family in Iquitos. But George still has one foot in his traditional life. During his week off, he always takes one day to visit his parents who still live in their village. There, his parents still converse with him in his native Indian tongue of Cocama. Still testing him to ensure he is remaining true to his roots.
Check out the awesome wildlife in the Amazon!
I booked my cruise through Jay at Elite Cruises and Travel. Check him out!