Peruvian Amazon – Upper Amazon Basin, Peru

Embark Where the Amazon Begins

Never has so handsome a vessel plied the secluded waters beyond the confluence of the Ucayali and Marandn Rivers – the legendary inception of the mighty Amazon, 2,000 miles from the Atlantic. Originally built as a private yacht and renovated in 1997 in the style of a classic 19th-century riverboat, the 112-foot La Esmeralda features eight cabins and a spacious observation deck. Attentive naturalist guides point out the prolific wildlife of the primeval environs.

More species of pri­mates have been recorded in this region than anywhere else in the New World, and the Ucayali also boasts a large population of both gray and pink river dolphins. Small custom- built excursion boats take off for narrow pas­sages, flooded forest, and blackwater lakes, dropping passengers off for guided stops at lit­tle-visited riverside villages and hikes through virtually uninhabited portions of the Amazon jungle. On board, delicious meals are served in a dining area graced with floor-to- ceiling windows. Nighttime entertainment includes the spectacle of both southern and northern constellations.

Unpack on land at any of the five Explorama lodges in the 250,000-acre Amazon Biosphere Reserve, then head to the nonprofit Swiss Family Robinson-style camp called the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research (ACEER), a treetop system of ladders, cables, and netting. Visitors ascend some thirteen stories, or 125 feet, to experi­ence the rain forest’s diversity from an ingenious multilevel system of aerial plat­forms and hanging pathways. From here you might spy one of the estimated two-thirds of the rain forest species that live in (and never descend from) the canopy – many of which still remain to be identified.

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