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Day by Day Itinerary

Small Groups: Never more than 10-24 travelers—guaranteed!

Travel into Peru's rain forest on this Amazon River cruise and explore a region with an amazing diversity of plant and animal life. Pink and gray dolphins may swim alongside our skiff as we explore the Amazon and its tributaries. Colorful birds like macaws and toucans, together with mammals including monkeys, may create a beautiful rain forest cacophony with their cries. And we'll witness the remarkable way of of life of the ribereños—the Amazon's river people—who have sustained themselves with the resources of the rain forest and its waterways for many generations.

Lima Iquitos Expand All
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    Depart the U.S. for Lima, Peru.

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    See the Plaza de Armas of Lima during a tour of Peru

    We arrive at the airport in Lima early in the morning and transfer to our hotel. Here, you’ll get acquainted with our Trip Leader and fellow travelers—including those joining us from our optional Before the Incas: Peru's Pyramids & the Lord of Sipan pre-trip extension.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll take an orientation walk through the boulevards and plazas around our hotel—situated in the stylish Miraflores district, which is a cultural and artistic center full of small cafés, fine shops, and art galleries. After our walk, we’ll return to the hotel. Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    After breakfast at our hotel, we’ll explore Lima in greater depth on a colonial tour, where we’ll see some of the city’s most interesting sites. Founded by the conquistadors in 1535, Lima became Spain’s largest and wealthiest city in the New World. The city has a proud history, including the founding of one of the first universities in South America, the Universidad de San Marcos, in the middle of the 16th century. Today, Lima’s historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We begin with a guided visit to Lima’s National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology, and History at Bolivar Square, where we can view the eras of Peru’s history through art, from pre-Incan turquoise figurines to Incan textiles and Spanish paintings. The museum contains an impressive collection of ceramics, gold and silver items, and textiles from the ancient cultures of Chavin, Mochica, Chimu, Tiahuanaco, Pucara, Paracas, Nazca, and Inca. A local guide will then join us as we explore Lima’s colonial streets and architecture—evidence of the city’s Spanish heritage—concluding with a private tour of San Francisco Church, a distinctive yellow building constructed in the Baroque style. Lunch is on your own and you have the afternoon free. We gather for a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant this evening.

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    Explore local markets in Iquitos

    Today we rise before dawn for breakfast and to catch our early morning flight to Iquitos. This is Peru’s main river port, established in 1864 in the heart of rubber country on the Amazon’s deep waters. Like any port, it has a hustle-bustle feel, yet it is not without its places of quiet and shaded retreats.

    When we arrive, we’ll check in to our hotel and enjoy an included lunch at a local restaurant. Then we’ll explore the city with our Trip Leader. Much of the architecture we see is a 19th-century vestige of the era when European commercial barons held sway over life and culture here. And while Iquitos has seen many fortunes rise and fall, its isolation has remained constant: Access to the city is by air or river only.

    Dinner is on your own tonight.

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    After breakfast, we’ll board our ship and begin our Amazon River cruise. Once aboard, you can just relax and let the wild rain forest surround you. Step out on deck to watch the riverbanks go by—but keep your eyes peeled for wildlife such as gray and pink dolphins.

    Explore the Amazon on a small ship river cruise

    Our ship casts off and winds its way to the confluence of the Marañon and Ucayali rivers, considered to be the point where the main stem of the mighty Amazon begins. For this first part of our cruise, we are truly traveling on the waters of the Amazon River itself, not just its tributaries. As we cruise today, we'll meet the ship's crew and enjoy a discussion of tropical fruits of the Amazon. We'll also take our first open boat tour today, the first of many rides we take in the smaller skiff used for excursions from our river ship.

    The Amazon Basin is a fragile environment, constantly under threat from industrial development and population growth. Some 60 miles from Iquitos, however, the Peruvian government has established the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve, encompassing five million acres and accessible only by water. During our cruise, we'll explore this area by skiff with an expert guide. Watch for a phenomenal range of wild species in Peru’s largest national park.

    Late this afternoon aboard ship, we'll have a demonstration of how to make a favorite Peruvian drink—the pisco sour. Then we'll enjoy our first dinner onboard. Please note: Due to weather or river conditions, the activities described in this cruise itinerary may take place on different days or at different times from what is shown here. You will still enjoy all the included features mentioned, but the order in which they occur may vary.

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    View diverse wildlife during your Amazon river cruise

    Today we'll begin exploring the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. Started in 1940, this reserve now has an area of 7,700 square miles and is the largest protected area in Peru. The reserve harbors 539 species of birds, 101 mammal species, 256 kinds of fish, and 22 species of orchids.

    Early in the morning, you can enjoy a small-boat excursion before breakfast to observe wildlife at a time of day when many birds and animals are active. After breakfast, we'll take a half-hour boat ride and one-hour walk through the jungle to see water lilies on the Ucuyali River. Following lunch back aboard ship, we'll ride in the skiff along the Marañon River to take in more of the Amazon's flora and fauna. We return to our ship in time to have dinner onboard.

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    Early this morning, you can join an elective jungle walk for another chance to experience the rain forest while the wildlife is most active. We return to the ship for breakfast, then have a Spanish lesson onboard. We'll take a canoe ride on San Regis Creek, then head for San Regis Village to  meet a local shaman and learn how he communicates with the spirits of the forest as he prepares remedies with rain forest plants long known to the spiritual healers of the Amazon. After lunch aboard ship, we have some time to relax before heading out for an afternoon boat excursion on the Choroyacu River. We return to our ship with some time for relaxation before dinner onboard.

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    Explore the Amazon and fish for pirhana

    This morning during our Amazon River cruise, we'll have an early picnic breakfast as we explore part of the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve by boat. Afterwards, we’ll try our hand at fishing for piranha—the notorious predatory fish, which turns out to be a staple of the local diet since they’re quite tasty. Later in the morning, we'll visit a ranger station in the reserve where a project is underway for the region's freshwater turtles. We rejoin our ship on the Marañon River in time for lunch onboard. In the afternoon, we'll swim in the blackwater Nauhapa River, where dolphins may swim close to us. We'll return to our ship with time to relax before dinner on board. In the evening, we’ll board our skiff again for a nocturnal excursion to look for caiman and other wildlife that is most active after dark.

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    We continue our Amazon River cruise today with a a rewarding day of discoveries that immerses us in the local culture of the Amazon Basin. After breakfast, we travel by skiff to the village of Las Palmas to share A Day in the Life of this Amazon Basin community. As we walk through the village, the ribereños (river people) who live here will introduce us to their way of life, which relies on the resources of the rain forest and the crops that they cultivate. We’ll visit the Las Palmas School, supported by Grand Circle Foundation as part of the World Classroom initiative, where meet the young students. Then we'll be the guests of a local family for a Home-Hosted Lunch, including a cooking lesson.
    After returning to our ship in the afternoon, we'll head out for a walk of about 90 minutes on high ground in the jungle. Dinner is back onboard ship this evening.

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    Discover Nauta town during a tour of Peru

    Early this morning, as we cruise back toward Iquitos, we stop at the town of Nauta. We'll stroll through the local market, where local people from the villages along the Amazon come to sell their crops. We'll also visit Sapi Sapi Lake to look for turtles and the arapaima fish (also known as piracu or paiche fish)—one of the largest freshwater fish in the world. After breakfast aboard ship, we take a small-boat excursion on the Yarapa River. We return to our ship for lunch onboard, and then in the afternoon, we’ll have time to relax and enjoy a cooking lesson. This evening, we’ll bid goodbye to our captain and crew at a Farewell Dinner aboard ship.

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    Explore Lima after your Amazon small ship river cruise

    After breakfast, we disembark our ship very early this morning in Iquitos and board our flight to Lima. We've arranged a day room at a city hotel in Lima for our entire small group. Stretch out and relax, catch up on your travel journal and postcards, or go into Lima to explore a bit more. We fly home just after midnight tonight. Dinner is on your own, after which main trip travelers transfer to the airport for an overnight flight to the U.S. If you are taking the optional post-trip extension to Machu Picchu & Cuzco, Peru, you remain overnight in Lima and fly to Cuzco tomorrow morning.

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Ratings based on percentage of travelers who rated these features "Excellent".

Overall Trip Excellence
79%
Trip Leader Excellence
100%
Ship Excellence
74%
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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 3 locations in 10 days
  • Most of this trip is spent aboard our Amazon river ship
  • International flights to Peru arrive late in the evening or very early in the morning, and internal flights are scheduled early

Physical Requirements

  • Not appropriate for travelers using wheelchairs, walkers, or other mobility aids
  • You must be able to walk 3 miles unassisted in hot, humid weather and participate in 4 hours of physical activities each day

Climate

  • Lima is warmest between December-March, with daily highs of 80°F
  • The Amazon Basin has a tropical climate with high temperatures and humidity and frequent rain year-round

Terrain

  • Explore outdoors even when it’s raining and hike on uneven trails that can be wet, muddy, or slippery
  • Agility and balance are required for embarking and disembarking small boats and canoes

Transportation

  • Travel by 24-passenger minibus, 24-passenger river ship, skiffs (small, motorized excursion boats), and canoes
  • 1.5-3 hour drives and 2 internal flights of 1.5 hours each

Accommodations & Facilities

  • Hotel rooms are smaller than U.S. and offer simple amenities
  • All accommodations feature private baths

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary:

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then you may need a visa. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your adventure, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Trip Leaders and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • Amazon river ship

    On the Amazon, you'll cruise aboard a privately chartered river ship that carries just 24 OAT travelers exclusively. All cabins are air-conditioned and have a window and bath with shower. In the air-conditioned dining room, we’ll enjoy continental breakfasts, light lunches, and dinners prepared with fresh local ingredients. A partially canopied, open-air top deck is available for viewing wildlife or relaxing. Facilities aboard ship are comfortable, but not luxurious. The great benefit this small ship provides is a truly adventurous vantage point for experiencing the Amazon River watershed. Pink and gray river dolphins sometimes leap right next to the ship; a variety of tropical birds perch and fly along the river; and because the river is also the main transportation route for local people, we’ll be cruising right beside them as they ply the waters in craft ranging from traditional dugout canoes to more modern motorized boats.

Main Trip

  • José Antonio Lima Hotel

    Lima, Peru

    In Lima, we stay at the 84-room José Antonio Lima Hotel, located in the heart of the vibrant Miraflores District. Walk from your hotel to nearby shops, restaurants, and cultural sites, as well as the Pacific Ocean only three blocks away. Your air-conditioned room offers cable TV, minibar, telephone, and private bath with shower, and the hotel restaurant features Peruvian fare.

    Please Note: Select departures feature similar accommodations.

  • Victoria Regia Hotel

    Iquitos, Peru

    The Victoria Regia Hotel is just a two-minute walk from the main boulevard and city square in Iquitos. Each of the 62 rooms is air-conditioned and features wireless Internet access, a telephone, cable TV, safe, and minibar. The hotel has a restaurant and bar on site.

Extensions

  • Hotel Paraiso

    Trujillo, Peru

    Located in the historic center of Trujillo, this 30-room hotel is just two blocks from the Plaza de Armas. It has a restaurant, 24-hour cafe, and a currency exchange on-site. Each air-conditioned room features direct-dial telephone, cable TV, wireless Internet access, and private bath. 

    Please Note: Our accommodations in Peru are the best available in the region, offering basic amenities. Rooms provide simple comforts and clean accommodation for adventure travelers.

  • José Antonio Lima Hotel

    Lima, Peru

    In Lima, we stay at the 84-room José Antonio Lima Hotel, located in the heart of the vibrant Miraflores District. Walk from your hotel to nearby shops, restaurants, and cultural sites, as well as the Pacific Ocean only three blocks away. Your air-conditioned room offers cable TV, minibar, telephone, and private bath with shower, and the hotel restaurant features Peruvian fare.

    Please Note: Select departures feature similar accommodations.

  • José Antonio Cuzco Hotel

    Cuzco, Peru

    The 126-room José Antonio Cuzco Hotel is situated in the historic center of Cuzco, just a short walk from the Plaza de Armas. Services available on-site include a restaurant serving Peruvian cuisine, a currency exchange, a souvenir shop, and a hairdresser. Each air-conditioned room features a minibar, cable TV with DVD player, direct-dial phone, safe and Internet access.

  • Hanaqpacha Inn

    Aguas Calientes, Peru

    To explore Machu Picchu over two days, we stay overnight at this inn in Aguas Calientes, a very small town near the site. This location facilitates our discoveries; however, all accommodations here are located near railroad tracks and a river that create significant noise day and night. The Hanaqpacha Inn’s 18 rooms are simply appointed and each has a private bath and telephone.

    Please Note: Select departures feature similar accommodations.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two adventures to maximize your value. Here are more ways to create the OAT adventure that’s right for you:

  • Extend your adventure and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip extensions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your adventure
  • Choose to “break away” before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of OAT adventures to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium economy class
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent traveler miles

The air options listed above will involve an additional fee of $100 per person for confirmed requests (as well as incremental airfare costs based on your specific choice).

Or, when you make your reservation, you can choose our standard air routing, for which approximate travel times are shown below.

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $2195
w/ standard air $3195

Partner since: 2005
Total donated: $395,205

Supporting a World Classroom: the Amazon

By seeing how children are educated all over the world, we gain a rare understanding of different cultural values—as well as the common values that unite us all. That’s why your Amazon River Cruise & Rain Forest adventure features a visit to a local school supported by Grand Circle Foundation.

"I have been on many school visits, but this one was special because we brought a generator to the town of Las Palmas ... we were surrounded by villagers celebrating the Grand Circle Foundation gift that could open many doors to their children."

Victoria Bergesen
Rockbridge, Ohio

Las Palmas Primary School

Partner since: 2005 • Total donated: $8,150

Las Palmas Primary School

Grand Circle Foundation is committed to helping better the future of students in the Amazon Rain Forest, where facilities are often basic and lacking supplies. Situated on the banks of the Marañon River, the Las Palmas Primary School is attended by children from several nearby communities. Foundation funds have been used to to purchase a generator and provide school supplies.

School in session:

Mid-April through July 25 and August 5 through January

Gifts to bring if you're visiting:

  • Pens or pencils
  • Toys
  • Geography books in spanish
  • World maps
  • T-shirts and shorts
  • Deflated soccer balls
  • Flip-flops (sandals)
  • Math and Science books in Spanish
  • Toothbrushes
  • Illustrated English dictionaries
  • Athletic equipment
  • Caps

Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.


Read More

Romeos of the River

Dolphins of the Amazon

by Pamela Schweppe

Many Amazon tribes tell stories of humans being approached by these creatures and gently herded back to shore.

Pink river dolphins, also known as botos, are the source of many legends in their home waters of the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers—the primary one being that of the shape-shifter who seduces women, impregnates them, and returns to the river before dawn to resume life as a dolphin.

When you see a pink river dolphin, you might not be surprised that they attract so much attention. After all, there’s that color. Not all pink river dolphins are pink. Some can be light gray, white, brown, or even black. Among those that live up to their name, however, coloration can range from dull pink to the hue of a flamingo, and when they’re excited, they can blush like a human.

In fact, the legend of the river dolphin shape-shifter derives from a belief that these creatures once were human and can assume human form at will. With a brain capacity 40% larger than that of humans, they are the most intelligent of the five species of river dolphins, and the ends of their flippers even resemble fingers.

The pink variety is considered prime mating material—and among males, the pinker the better. They bear gifts in their mouths to their loved ones. Because they are considered the most attractive among their peers, males are more apt to be attacked by rival males than other dolphin species.

Unique characteristics of river dolphins

The largest of the river dolphins, pink river dolphins are only distant cousins of the dolphins you see in the ocean, and they have many characteristics that are unique, such as a ridged back instead of a dorsal fin. Unfused vertebrae allow pink river dolphins to swivel their heads 180 degrees. This enhanced flexibility, plus the ability to paddle forward with one flipper while paddling backward with the other, allows them to navigate through marshes and around trees when the rivers are flooded, retreating back to the shallows as the waters recede.

Living in murky waters means these animals don’t rely on vision to survive, so, although they see better than other river dolphins, which are virtually blind, their eyesight is poor. Instead, they rely on sonar—including an intricate communication system of clicks and whistles. Long snouts with bristled tips help them search for prey in the mud.

The curious, friendly, and fun-loving nature of Amazon pink dolphins may have contributed to their legendary ability to seduce. Many Amazon tribes tell stories of humans being approached by these creatures and gently herded back to shore. Amazon pink dolphins are also the only river dolphin species that has not become virtually extinct—though that is changing.

The most endangered marine mammal

Unfortunately, river dolphins are now an endangered species, and many factors have contributed to this situation. Deforestation and the construction of hydroelectric dams and other river development and irrigation projects have impinged on the dolphins’ habitat. Contaminants in the river waters are rising, especially around gold mines, where mercury is a part of the refining process. And with the increase in river traffic, pink river dolphins have suffered more injuries and sometimes become disoriented by the competing sounds.

Sadly, too, many locals no longer see the animals as having the magical powers that have helped them survive over the centuries. In small, isolated communities along the river, it once was considered bad luck to kill a pink river dolphin, but now these graceful creatures are more likely to be seen as competition for food. Not only do they deplete stocks as they hunt for fish, crustaceans, shrimp, crabs, and even turtles, pink river dolphins have also been known to tear a hole in fishing in nets to steal the catch—an act they now may pay for with their lives.

Many river dolphins die each year, despite strict environmental laws protecting them. It's a sad state of affairs for a creature that is, by nature, so very seductive. Fortunately, in some places like the Peruvian Amazon, these amazing cetaceans continue to flourish, and are often seen by travelers cruising the waterways.