On Board the Aqua Nera

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Launched in 2020, the Aqua Nera is the newest by a decade of the roughly half-dozen commercial river boats that cruise the Peruvian Amazon River. The ship is operated by Aqua Expeditions, who have branched out from their beginnings on the Amazon River to operate small-boat cruises in the Galapagos, Indonesia, and the Mekong River.  

The other two major cruise companies that operate along the Peruvian Amazon are Delfin and Jungle Experiences. The latter had a disconnected phone and didn’t answer email, so we expect they are are no longer a going concern. Aqua Expeditions seemed to have a slight edge in the reviews over Delfin, which is one of the reasons we booked the Aqua Nera. The four-cabin Delfin I is the only vessel of the group with balconies, something we place high value on. But they only had availability for a four-night cruise, and we wanted to book a week. Also, meals on the Delfin I were taken communally, and we prefer to have multiple different tables available to us each meal. Tipping the balance, the Aqua Nera was the only available vessel with high-speed internet service (via Starlink), and James really needs to be connected for work. We do have a portable Iridium GO! exec, but its bandwidth is pretty limited.

The Aqua Nera is 205 ft (62.4 m) long with a 38-ft (11.5m) beam and 3 decks. The 20 guest staterooms are on decks 1 and 2, and the topmost third deck is dedicated to public spaces including a plunge pool, bar, lounge, game room, screening room, spa and gym. Deck 2 also includes the main dining room and a boutique at the stern, and the helm forward.

The staterooms aboard the Aqua Nera are spacious, modern and comfortable, with floor-to-ceiling windows. On several of their ships, Aqua Adventures offers the option to purchase two adjoining suites for the price of a single supplement each, where one of the suites is setup as a living room. We opted for this arrangement, and the living room made a wonderful office for us throughout the cruise.

We drink a lot of water and had brought our own travel water filter bottles since drinking water quality is an issue in Peru. But the Aqua Nera had unlimited filtered water on board, so we instead just brought the supplied bottles from Aqua Expeditions on excursions and used ours to keep extra in the room.

The food throughout the cruise was abundant and excellent. Meals were at a fixed time with open seating. We would prefer a little more flexibility on the timing, but that is one of the constraints of small-boat cruising. We had no trouble getting a table for two, but the ship wasn’t fully-booked on our cruise and this might be a bit more challenging with a full passenger load.

Breakfast was mostly buffet-style in the dining room aft, with a cook-to-order station, and twice we had a special breakfast underway on the aft upper deck.

Lunch and dinner were served family-style at the table. Most meals had an international theme, with emphasis on Peruvian dishes, using locally-sourced ingredients. A “comfort menu” also was available for those wanting something a little more familiar.

The staff and/or chef often came by to explain the ingredients for and preparation of a particular dish. Our cruise was over Thanksgiving, and we were delighted when the Thursday evening dinner featured a delicious roast turkey breast with gravy.

Each meal also featured a selection from Aqua Expeditions extensive collection of whimsical handwoven napkin rings, starting with their restaurant in Iquitos where we had lunch on arrival.

Off-ship excursions (see Amazon River Cruise) filled most of our time, but any gaps in the schedule were filled by slide-show presentations and movies covering the Amazon River, plus several cooking demonstrations by the chef. We particularly enjoyed learning more about the Amazon River ecosystem.

The Aqua Nera’s expedition guides were knowledgeable and personal, and the rest of the staff were friendly and helpful. With a 1:1 crew-to-guest ratio, the overall service on and off the ship was excellent, and included small extras that we appreciated. Refreshing cold towels and drinks were offered after sweaty shore excursions, and we often were met back at the boat with a special drink. We also were impressed that the ship’s doctor accompanied the group on any jungle excursions.

Twice we also had meals in the launch boats while moored at the river’s edge, and cocktails while drifting in the boats with the current. These were wonderful treats, and we were impressed with the organization taken to pull it off, particularly the meals.

On the final night of the cruise, we attended a cocktail part on the pool deck aft. Members of the crew played and sung as we slowly cruised along the Amazon River at dusk. It was a fabulous ending to an excellent cruise.

We very much enjoyed our time aboard the Aqua Nera. The service, food, extras, and overall organization of the cruise was very well done, so much so that we are considering booking with Aqua Expeditions again on one of their other destinations such as the Mekong River.


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10 comments on “On Board the Aqua Nera
  1. Farit says:

    An amazingly friendly ship, with everything for the comfort of the traveler. But how could James not take a photo of the wheelhouse?)) The sea soul also breaks through in the vacationer on board this ship))

  2. Michael (N40 Coracle) says:

    Great review, I enjoyed reading it.
    I’m trying to figure out where the crew quarters are. 20 Guest staterooms and 1:1 ratio – does that mean 40 crew?. You didn’t mention the draft, is there a fourth deck below the waterline? I guess not because this is presumably a shallow draft vessel.
    The helm is interesting, looks like it follows the trend for no wheel, and I know on Dirona you preferred the jog lever to the wheel – personally I would feel kind of vulnerable without the hand pump (wheel) for our Hynautic steering gear.
    I don’t see any davits – do the launches travel rafted to the big boat?
    No pictures of the engine room? I can’t believe James spent a week on a boat without a visit to the engine room!

    • Hi Michael! Yes, I suspect the crew quarters are a bit cramped. The first and second decks have guest cabins in forward half. The second deck has the restaurant aft and the third deck is all guest areas. That leaves the aft end of deck one and the full below the waterline deck for mechanical spaces and crew cabins.

      The tenders are stacked at the aft end of the boat and installed there by a hydraulic davit similar to a gantry crane. Most of the time the tenders are towed close behind the boat to allow for faster launch and recovery but there is space at the eft end of the boat for all of them to be stacked out of the water. There probably are some crew cabins at the aft end of deck one but the majority will be below the waterline. It would seem like their wouldn’t be room for a deck below the deck one but the first deck is 3′ or 4′ above the waterline and the boat draws 5′ so there is space for a lower deck although I suspect it’ll be tight quarters given the size of the crew.

  3. John Schieffelin says:

    Once again thank you for a thoughtfully described and beautifully photographed description of a fascinating trip to a remote region of the world.

  4. Tom White says:

    You two are the busiest travelers I’ve ever seen. Congrats. We spent time working and living in Peru and were very impressed with the culinary expertise. World renown chefs abound in Lima.

  5. Gary says:

    You both along with your experiences make the most stunning example of freedom with respect and intelligent appreciation of your lives and more important, other people you come across in your travels.

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