This week’s travel dream: Exploring the Amazon

The 24-passenger Aqua is one of only a few large vessels running trips down the river’s Peruvian section.

There’s nothing on earth quite like the Amazon, said Keith Bellows in National Geographic Traveler. The world’s largest river, South America’s great waterway is 28 miles wide on average, and its basin is equivalent in size to the entire continental U.S. Long stretches of it are enveloped by thick rain forest that hides ancient, isolated tribes and supposedly harbors legendary creatures like Sach’amama, a giant black boa. While most visitors explore the region from landlocked lodges, I arrange to travel aboard the 24-passenger Aqua, a luxury cruise ship that’s one of only a few large vessels running trips down the river’s Peruvian section.

The Aqua is soon motoring through Pacaya Samiria, the “second-largest rain-forest reserve in Peru and one of the world’s most diverse.” Accessible only by air or water, the reserve is home to anacondas, manatees, anteaters, jaguars, pink dolphins, and more than 500 bird species. We board one of the Aqua’s 24-foot-long skiffs to nose deeper into the “wall of jungle.” Minutes later, “clouds of ani birds, with their shiny blue-black feathers,” emerge from the brush, and saddleback tamarin monkeys are “vaulting and dancing on tiny boughs in search of insects.” We cut the engines, “soaking in the soundtrack of the Amazon”—deafening “layers and layers of hoots, warbles, grunts, yelps,” and buzzes.

As we move downriver, the Amazon reveals itself one level at a time. Our guide points out hanging vines from which Amazon tribes create poison for their arrows. We encounter a villager coiling an 8-foot-long baby anaconda around his arm. But mostly we forge through cascades of green in so many variations that even the “most masterly painter would be defeated trying to capture them.” As the sun dips lower, our captain positions the Aqua to catch the dying rays. The colors of the horizon seem “straight from the paint box of the gods.” We’ve entered Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World: “The scene is truly primordial.”

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