Is Delfin the Best Luxury Amazon River Cruise in Peru?

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The Amazon Rainforest is one of our favorite places on Earth. Sure, we know this sounds strange but once you’ve been it’s hard to stop thinking about it. We’ve explored the rainforest on six previous trips but they were always lodge-based.

This time, we would embark on a luxury Amazon River cruise for a different perspective.

Journeying to Northern Peru, we arrived in Iquitos to join a trip with Delfin Amazon Cruises. Our primary goal? To see Amazon pink river dolphins. Our secondary goal? To explore a new region of the rainforest in a completely different way.

At the end of this trip we not only met our goals but also realized we had just expereinced one of the best Amazon river cruises in Peru.

Delfin Luxury Amazon River Cruise Overview

The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve & The Amazon River

Entrance sign to Pacaya Samiria National Reserve in Peru

First, it is important to establish where our trip took place. From an obvious standpoint, the main attraction of this cruise is that it explores the Amazon Rainforest. More specifically, the massive and beautiful Pacaya Samiria National Reserve.

This expansive reserve was established in 1982 and spans over 2 million hectares. It is the second-largest protected area in Peru and one of the largest in the Amazon basin.

Its creation was a pivotal step towards preserving the region’s biodiverse ecosystems. The reserve houses a diversity of wildlife, including over 1,000 animal species and more than 1,000 plant species.

Pacaya Samiria also supports the Indigenous communities living within and around its boundaries. These communities maintain a deep connection with the land, relying on it for sustenance, medicine, and cultural practices, all while contributing to the reserve’s conservation efforts.

Delfin Amazon Cruises focuses on exploring the beauty of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve from the water. This is done by cruising on the Ucayali or Maranon Rivers and the various rivers and creeks that expand off these rivers.

These two rivers border the reserve before meeting and becoming the mighty Amazon River that runs across Peru and Brazil before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. With that said, you are not technically cruising the Amazon River. But I must point out that this doesn’t diminish how incredible it is to explore the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve by boat.

You will, however, spend some time on the Amazon River and the Delfin Amazon Cruises experience includes a skiff ride beyond the convergence for a celebration at the geographical birthplace of this mighty river.

Why did we choose Delfin Amazon Cruises?

David Stock on a skiff in Pacaya Samiria National Reserve with Delfin Amazon cruises

Delfin Amazon Cruises is one of the longest-operating river cruise companies in Northern Peru. The company was launched in 2006 with the dream of becoming a top boutique company specializing in sustainable travel to the Amazon region near Iquitos, Peru.

Their trips are expedition style with a focus on immersing you in the Amazon Rainforest during your visit. Every touchpoint that they have with you incorporates the colors and ambiance of the rainforest.

They are an eco-conscious company that puts sustainability and social responsibility at the forefront of their operations. Due to their special relationship with the local communities along the rivers where they operate, they have helped start and support several initiatives. These programs provide a strong contribution to the local economy.  

This includes starting a women’s handicraft program, employing local naturalists to work onboard their ships, employing local jungle guides to maintain the trails that are used for hiking, and purchasing much of the food served onboard from local communities.

Truth be told, it is one of the most beautiful integrations between tourism and local communities we have seen in our travels.

Full disclosure: We traveled on this itinerary with Delfin Amazon Cruises as hosted media so that we could share more about their company, and our experiences with them. All opinions, and insane love for the Amazon Rainforest are 100% ours, as always!

Our Ship: The Delfin III

Delfin Luxury Amazon River Cruise - Delfin III sailing on the Amazon River in Iquitos, Peru
Our ship, Delfin III, sailing on the Amazon River at sunset

The Delfin III is a purpose-built ship for Amazon basin river exploration. It is the newest member of the fleet in addition to the company’s other two vessels. Delfin has taken the very best of the previous ships and combined it, with many upgrades, to make the Delfin III its most luxurious offering.

The ship has 22 suites for up to 44 passengers, keeping all adventures to an intimate size. Every suite features gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows. It features a dedicated dining room, a top deck lobby with a bar, outdoor lounge areas, and a sundeck with a plunge pool.

The décor of the ship is natural to the Amazon environment, featuring beautiful dark woods. Each space is tastefully decorated with arts and crafts from the communities along the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve.

We found everything about the ship to be inviting and relaxing. We stayed in their standard suite and found the room very spacious and comfortable. Even the bathroom was huge, with a large walk-in shower.

On the top deck, there was plenty of space to hang out and watch the world go by. Every public space offered the same floor-to-ceiling windows as the suites, so we rarely missed a moment. We even had some dolphin sightings during meals in the dining room!

All the suites, hallways, dining room, and lounge were climate-controlled. This was a nice reprieve from the humidity.

This was the first time, out of six previous visits, that we had been on an expedition into the Amazon and had A/C. While you do eventually get used to the humidity, it was nice.

The Culinary Experience Onboard

Cooking class onboard the Delfin III with Delfin Amazon Cruises
A cooking class with master chef Isaac Saavedra

I cannot say enough good things about the food on this trip. The menu is brilliantly planned, offering Peruvian and Amazonian infusions across both familiar and new dishes.

We had the extra special treat of having master chef Isaac Saavedra onboard for our sailing. He is responsible for creating the entire menu, for all the ships, for Delfin Amazon Cruises.

He is brilliant in his use of flavor, color, and fusion to produce a menu that takes you on a journey through Peru and the Amazon. Sourcing food from the communities along the rivers we visited, the dishes allowed us to try local fish, vegetables, and fruit presented to us in a variety of ways.

We are always saying that we’re not foodies, but I think we might be now! I have never eaten so much food on an expedition before. The flavors and combinations were irresistible. We finished every single plate that was put down in front of us.

Naturalist Guides

Lina Stock, David Stock and Denis Gonzales at the Amazon River convergence near Iquitos, Peru
Celebrating our visit to the Amazon Convergence with our guide, Denis

As these Amazon cruises are an expedition, we spent a lot of time off the ship exploring within the Amazon Rainforest. Every one of our excursions was led by a trained naturalist guide.

The Delfin III had three naturalist guides onboard during our visit. Each of them was local and trained in the area that Delfin operates within. These guides know the land, wildlife, plants, and behaviors of the area you’re exploring.

They were excellent. We spotted so many animals over our one-week trip. This was due to the eagle eyes of our guides and skiff drivers. We’d be cruising along a creek and one of them would spot something without hesitation!

Not only did they see everything, but they knew exactly what we were looking at, too. Having spent a lot of time traveling on expeditions and traversing into many wild places to see wildlife, we know the value of having a guide who knows the area intimately.

The naturalist guides deliver the uniqueness of the Delfin Amazon adventure. We had so much fun sharing travel stories and playing games with them to see who could spot more wildlife. Of course, they won!

Two Itinerary Options

Delfin Amazon Cruises route map

Delfin Amazon Cruises offers two itinerary options for exploring the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. Each one explores different areas of the reserve.

  • The Amazon Encounter itinerary is 5 days and 4 nights. This option sails along the Ucayali River on the southern side of the reserve.
  • The Amazon Discovery itinerary is 4 days and 3 nights. This option sails along the Maranon River on the northern side of the reserve.

We opted to combine the itineraries for 8 days and 7 nights. This enabled us to explore both routes, see different things, and compare the two options. Delfin does offer this option to all guests, however, we were the only ones that booked the longer option.

Of the two itineraries, we preferred the longer Amazon Encounter itinerary over the Amazon Discovery. Mainly because the areas you visit along the Ucayali River are much more remote when compared to the Maranon River. It is much quieter and there are fewer communities. We had more wildlife encounters.

That said, the Amazon Discovery itinerary is also very good. We visited the only woman shaman on this route – an option not available on the other route – and were also able to do a unique jungle hike with several canopy bridges.

Both itineraries offer a good program and opportunities for wildlife. You really cannot go wrong. If you want to experience it all, definitely consider booking the longer back-to-back option.  

High Water vs Low Water Seasons

Water line on trees in Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, Peru
Note the water line – this was from the week before we arrived

The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve is characterized by its flooded forest ecosystems, known locally as “várzea,” which undergo dramatic seasonal changes. Water levels can fluctuate up to 12 meters annually, transforming the landscape and influencing the life cycles of many species that call it home.

The area experiences a dry low water season and a rainy high water season. The rainy, high water, season is from November to May. The dry, low water, season is from June to October.

Is one better than the other? Honestly, no. They’re just different. During high water season, many small rivers and creeks are accessible that you can’t get to during low water season. With higher water, you’re closer to the tree canopy. This can make wildlife sightings a touch closer. While in low water season, you have more options for hiking.

We visited in the middle of the high water season during February and experienced very little rain. The weather was both hot and humid. The water levels were high and we explored plenty of areas that wouldn’t be accessible at other times of the year.

Delfin Amazon River Cruise Activities

While we were based on the Delfin III, we spent plenty of time off the ship on adventure. Our days were filled with a variety of activities that worked together to showcase the diversity of the Amazon Rainforest.

Skiff Rides

Skiff boat in Pacaya Samiria National Reserve near Iquitos, Peru

The Delfin III had several small skiffs onboard that were lowered each day and used as our primary form of exploration. These small boats could seat up to 16 people and offered comfortable forward-facing seats.

We spent many hours on the skiffs exploring the rivers and creeks from the water level. This was our primary mode of transportation and most of our activities during the high water season were conducted by skiff.  Both itineraries utilize skiffs for daily adventures.

Canopy Hike

Lina Stock on a canopy walkway near Iquitos, Peru

On the shorter Amazon Discovery itinerary, we visited a series of jungle canopy bridges that are maintained by a local community. The whole visit included a paddle boat ride across a giant paiche fish pond before reaching the trailhead of a jungle walk that led us to the canopy bridges.

The canopy bridges were rustic but gave us an elevated view of the forest. There were times we were close to primates, and they were easy to see. The photo opportunities here were great with thick jungle as a backdrop to the rope bridges.

Fundo Casual

We visited Fundo Casual twice, as both itineraries utilize this stop. Fundo Casual is a well-maintained loop trail that leads through the thick Amazonian rainforest. Delfin works with the local community to keep the trails maintained and cleared.

During our visits, a local guide accompanied our onboard naturalists to seek out various plants and wildlife during our hike through the forest. As a result, we saw many neat creatures including a green anaconda, parrot snake, giant tarantula, various lizards, and several different kinds of poison dart frogs.

One of the highlights was getting up close to a massive ceiba tree. At one point a group of seven held hands and stretched out to be bigger than the tree. They failed. That is how large the base of these trees can get.

Local Community Visit

On each itinerary, we visited a local community. These stops allowed an introduction to what life is like in the Amazon. We found both visits to be profoundly interesting and different. Delfin actively works to share the love, so they visit many communities on their routes.

During the first itinerary, we visited a very small community with few modern resources. The population was small, and all the buildings were rustic and simple. The people were very nice and openly shared their life on the river.

On the second itinerary, we visited a much larger community closer to Nauta. This community had a generator, electricity, bathrooms, concrete paths, and a much larger population. They were also incredibly welcoming and excited to talk with us.

Adding the human element to the trip was a special component. The rainforest is a harsh place, with many challenges. Yet many people live within it and find a way to thrive. Sure, their life is simple compared to ours, but they are just as fulfilled.  

Shaman Experience

Having the chance to meet the only Amazonian woman shaman in that region of the rainforest was a very special experience. We spent the better part of an hour with Carola, as she told us about various medicinal practices.

She told us the story of how she was chosen to become a shaman, the first female shaman in the region. The stories of her training were intriguing, as they are required to spend months in the rainforest learning from the other shamans and subsisting on a very basic diet to stay pure.

Afterward, she handed out red seeds to all of us and proceeded with a traditional protection blessing ceremony. She came around and blessed each of us. After the ceremony, everyone started heading back down the trail to the skiffs.

We were looking at a table of handicrafts she had brought from the village when she approached me. She stared at me for a while before tying a handmade bracelet on my arm. The bracelet was made with plant fibers, and seed beads with a small piece of ayahuasca plant at the center.

She then blessed the bracelet and squeezed my hand. I attempted to pay for the bracelet, but she would not let me. This was my 7th visit to the Amazon Rainforest and this connection with her did not feel like a coincidence.


David and Lina Stock kayaking in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve near Iquitos, Peru

During the 8 days we spent onboard the ship, we were offered to kayak three times. Twice on the longer itinerary and once on the shorter itinerary. As we have paddled in many places around the world, we always jump at the chance to kayak.

It offers an opportunity to get a different perspective and exist in a space without the sound of motors. If you want to move, you must move your body and there is a bliss in that.

The day we paddled the naturalist guides took us deep into one of the black water creek systems with the skiff before off-loading the kayaks and setting us off with the current. It is always such a different experience to be in the Amazon Rainforest without any noise or distraction.

Kayaking allows you to feel the rainforest and hear the sounds clearly. I highly recommend you do it at least once. The kayaking activity lasted for about an hour, as we paddled along the edges of the black water creek looking for different plants and wildlife.


David Stock swiming in the Ucayali River in Iquitos, Peru
Look at the water color! It’s very clear but highly colored by tannins.

I know what you’re thinking when you read swimming. Is that safe to do in the Amazon Rainforest? Well, the locals have been swimming in these waters for centuries! So yes, it is safe. However, you do have to take some precautions.

I will highlight that the guides do a great job of taking you to a safe, open place in the calm black water system. There are numerous lagoons where it is safe to swim.

Most people enjoyed jumping in the water to cool off and they provided everyone with floating noodles to relax.

David even took a few giant leaps off the front of the skiff! My biggest piece of advice is to keep your mouth closed and don’t pee in the water.

Amazon River Convergence Celebration

At the end of each itinerary, the Capitan navigated the Delfin III to the place where the Ucayali and Maranon Rivers converge. This is the place where the mighty Amazon River officially starts and is known as the ‘birth of the Amazon River’.

We set off on an evening skiff ride to look for wildlife before making our way beyond the convergence into the official waters of the Amazon River just before sunset. Here, our guides surprised us with a celebration!

In honor of having visited the Amazon Rainforest, and now officially sitting within the waters of the Amazon River, we shared a toast of champagne to our great adventure. This was a great time to reflect on everything we had done during our trip. The people we met and the nature we had experienced.

Peru Amazon River Cruise Wildlife

If I named every animal we saw throughout our 8-day trip, you’d probably stop reading this! Instead, I wanted to share some of the highlights that we spotted.

While all of these animals reside in the Amazon Rainforest, know that there is never a guarantee that you will see them when you visit. The guides always make the best efforts, but it can never be promised. They are wild, after all.

Amazon Pink River Dolphins

Amazon Pink River dolphin in Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, Peru
Amazon Pink River Dolphins are very hard to photograph!

The main reason we wanted to visit this part of the Amazon Rainforest was to see the famed Amazon pink river dolphins. For the best chances to see them, you should visit during high water season and stay as many days as you can manage.

So, did we see them? Yes! We saw them every single day of our trip! Surreal, yes, I know. Oddly enough, on the first day, our guide told me that we would see the pink dolphins if an emerald dragonfly landed on our boat. This happened no more than an hour later and was shortly followed by our first pink dolphin encounter.

I kid you not when I say an emerald dragonfly landed on our boat every day of the trip and we always saw the dolphins shortly after. Crazy, I know, but you can’t make this stuff up!

In addition to the pink river dolphins, we saw many grey river dolphins. Often, we even saw them from the ship. Both are extremely hard to photograph as they do not linger when they come up for air, but we did have some great sightings.


Monkeys are always a highlight when visiting the Amazon Rainforest and we were lucky enough to see six different species. This included the Isabela Saki, Saddleback Tamarin, Red Howler, Dusky Titi, Squirrel, and Capuchin.


There are many great birding spots in the Amazon Rainforest and the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve is no exception to this. We saw hundreds of birds! This is not an exaggeration. If you are a birder, this region is one to add to your list.

Some of our highlights included blue and yellow macaws, chestnut earred toucan, masked crimson tanager, bat hawk, pygmy owl, amazon kingfisher, green kingfisher, pygmy kingfisher, glittering emerald hummingbird, fork tail flycatcher, swallow tail kite, hooded tanager, and tui parakeet.


Contrary to popular beliefs about the Amazon rainforest, seeing sloths is not easy or guaranteed! That said, we saw five three-toed sloths on the Ucayali River during the longer itinerary. They prefer quieter areas with fewer people.

Our best sighting was on the transition day between the long and short itinerary when we went out on a private skiff ride up the Amazon River to the Yanayaco River for the day. We spotted one just above the tree line in clear view which lent itself to some spectacular photo opportunities.


Juvenile green Anaconda in Pacaya Samiria National Reserve in Peru
Gorgeous juvenile green Anaconda we saw at Fundo Casual during our hike

While seeing a snake is something that most visitors to the Amazon fear, it’s actually rare that you will see one. This makes seeing one a very special event!

So, you can imagine our excitement when we came across a juvenile green anaconda during our jungle walk at Fundo Casual.

Later during that hike we also came across a beautiful green whip snake. It was right next to the trail and let us observe it from a safe distance. Other than these two sightings we never saw another snake on this trip.

Other Wildlife

Giant bird eater tarantula near Iquitos, Peru
Giant Bird Eater Tarantula

In addition to the above-mentioned wildlife, there were a few other things that stood out as highlights on our trip too.

At Fundo Casual we were treated to a sighting of a giant bird eater tarantula on both visits. This is the largest species of tarantula on the planet. The one we saw the first time was massive, measuring roughly the size of my head. While the second one was young and about half the size.

Still, incredibly cool to see.

We also enjoyed observing three different species of poison dart frogs during these walks. On the skiffs, we saw countless random things like leaf frogs, golden-crowned tree rats, bats that look like sticks, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, and the list goes on and on.

Final Thoughts on Our Amazon River Cruise

There are several different places and ways to experience the Amazon Rainforest in South America. We’ve been lucky to experience many of them in Ecuador, Brazil, and now two places in Peru.

They are all amazing. However, taking a luxury Amazon river cruise is a unique way to do it. The Delfin experience is beautiful, from the well-appointed ship to the people you will meet along the way. Would we recommend it? Absolutely.

How to Book Your Own Luxury Amazon River Cruise

Our trip was booked and organized by the amazing team at Adventure Life. They work closely with many operators in the Amazon River cruising space, including Delfin Amazon Cruises. They are Expert Trip Planners who help streamline the trip planning process and save you hours researching the best options.

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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA

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