It’s easy to see why South America is one of river cruising’s most popular destinations: you’ll get access to some of the continent’s hardest-to-reach areas and spot endemic species like pink river dolphins and golden-headed lion tamarins. (And let’s not forget the air-conditioned cabins or beds clad in fine Peruvian cotton.) Here’s how to choose the right ship for you.
Credit: Courtesy of Aqua Expeditions

You want total luxury

The ships from Aqua Expeditions (three nights from $3,195 per person) are like floating five-star hotels. Peruvian interior designer Jordi Puig has lent his crisp, minimal aesthetic to both the 12-suite Aqua Amazon and the newer, 16-suite Aria Amazon, which has a glass-walled fitness room and an outdoor Jacuzzi.

You want to get in the river

Stand-up paddleboarding, traversing an 85-foot-high canopy bridge in the rain forest, kayaking in Peru’s Pacaya Samiria: Delfin Amazon Cruises (three nights from $2,950 per person), owned by a local husband-and-wife team, is the go-to operator for athletic excursions.

You love meeting the locals

The Momon tributary in Peru is home to the indigenous Bora people, whose traditional dress includes body art, feather headdresses, and clothing made from bark. It’s one of three local tribes you’ll spend time with on the new Amazon Adventure cruise from Abercrombie & Kent (eight nights from $6,295 per person).

You’re an animal person

International Expeditions (nine nights from $4,498 per person) has upped the ante when it comes to spotting wildlife, with hydrophones for hearing dolphins underwater and scopes for bird-watching. The 31-person La Estrella Amazonica even offers Wi-Fi—an Amazon first.

You’re here to learn

Smithsonian Journeys (nine nights from $4,795 per person) also uses La Estrella Amazonica—and repurposes it as a floating classroom with lectures from Ed Smith, an Amazonian biologist at Washington, D.C.’s National Zoo, and James Karr, professor emeritus of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington.