Welcome to the jungle

TNT boards a slow boat for an adventure along 

the Amazon

credit: Kaye Holland

My journey through the astonishing Ecuadorian Amazon Basin, was one of lovely juxtaposition.

On board the ultra-modern, 40 passenger capacity, luxury MV Anakonda vessel, guests sipped Canelazo cocktails - a mixture of boiled water, sugarcane alcohol, lemon, sugar, and cinnamon typical of the Andean region - and listened carefully to lectures about the river’s history.

My fellow passengers were mostly fellow Europeans and wealthy Ecuadorians, exploring this small South American nation’s section of the Amazon Basin.

Despite the fact that indigenous people had been living in the Amazon for at least 10,000 years, the Amazon River itself was ‘discovered’ by a Spanish explorer and conquistador - step forward Don Francisco de Orellana.

The expedition left Quito - capital of Ecuador - in 1541, in search of gold, cinnamon and the elusive El Dorado (the lost city of gold).

Fast forward 12 months and Don Francisco de Orellana et al found neither cinnamon, nor gold. Rather they found the greatest river on earth, arriving at the junction of the Napo and the Amazon on 12th February 1542.

  • Anakonda cabin credit: Kaye Holland

  • Anakonda cabin credit: Kaye Holland

Back to the boat (although calling the Anakonda a boat is a serious understatement). The vessel employs an army of smiling staff (who easily outnumber the guests) and offers an expansive observation deck, outdoor jacuzzi, al fresco lounge - ideal for reading, relaxation or simply enjoying the spectacular vistas - plus a screening area for lectures on everything from the history and culture of the region to the Amazon’s bird, animal and plant life.

The food was an impressive mix of Ecuadorian dishes such as as empanadas (super South American pies), cuy (roasted guinea pig) and ceviche, as well as simpler seafood dishes, soups and salads for the less adventurous. A highlight was the final night’s barbecue dinner which was enjoyed outside on deck with the Anakonda’s captain - and washed down with copious copa de vinos, natch.

Elsewhere the Anakonda Amazon River Cruise features 18 cabins, all of which boast every conceivable amenity a twenty first century traveller could desire: think private balconies from which to watch the sun rise over the canopy of the rainforest and hear the forest come to life as dawn breaks, jacuzzis, full-frame panoramic windows and, astoundingly, Wifi.

  • credit: Kaye Holland

  • credit: Kaye Holland

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There were canoe trips downstream to the remote and pristine Pañayacu River Delta in search of squirrel monkeys, pink river dolphins, piranhas, water monkey fish (arawana) and white caiman, and hikes through the Panacocha Protected Forest with experienced guides which revealed all manner of extraordinary flowers, plants and creatures.

We were also rowed to shore to meet the local Kichwa tribe - who continue to resist contact with the outside world - and tour their traditional village in order to learn a little about Kichwa culture, customs, cuisine and everyday life.

Another magnificent memory was travelling upstream on a tributary of the Amazon to the Yasuni National Park - one of the most biodiverse places on earth - to gawp at hundreds of parrots, parakeets and amazons. (Ecuador happens to possess the highest density of bird species anywhere, with over 1,670 species in an astoundingly-reduced geographical area).

Yet the standout was sailing through the Amazon - a place that still shows its best self from the water - on the Anakonda, which made for a magical equation: immersion in the the thrill of the wilderness, followed by a retreat to cosseted comforts.

I wasn’t an intruder in the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin, but part of it. And this is the magic of arriving by water.

“If man doesn't learn to treat the oceans and the rainforest with respect, man will become extinct.”

Peter Benchley, American author

Name

credit: Kaye Holland

It’s a shore thing

A typical day on board the Anaconda (www.anakondaamazoncruises.com) runs as follows:

Morning

6am: wake up call

6.30am: breakfast

7.30am: disembark, morning excursion

12.00: return on board

12.30: lunch

Afternoon

1.30pm: optional lectures

4.30pm: disembark, afternoon visit

8pm: dinner

9pm: briefing for next day activities

9.30pm: optional movie or video presentation

Words by Kaye Holland