Aqua Nera Adventures | Amazon River Cruise

Neo Noir: A Look at the Design Elements of Aqua Nera

If you weren’t one of the 37 lucky guests who joined the newly launched river ship Aqua Nera on July 3 2021, then you missed out on a truly exciting event, one that has been many months in the making. Built over the course of 2020, Aqua Nera has truly been a labor of love, culminating in an epic 12,350-nautical mile journey across the globe from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to her final destination of Iquitos, Peru.


But that is just her beginning. The 20-suite luxury vessel, setting a new design standard on the Amazon river, was finally able to embark on her inaugural voyage exploring the depths of the Peruvian Amazon’s biodiverse rainforest over three, four, and seven-night itineraries led by CEO and founder of Aqua Expeditions, Francesco Galli Zugaro.


Guests onboard were the first to feast their eyes on Aqua Nera’s cutting-edge concept, which was custom-designed by Vietnam-based architect and design firm Noor Studio. Pulling in influences from the distinctive nature of the mythical Amazon rainforest as well as elements of local Peruvian culture, the ship is a story of contrasts.


Follow us on a virtual design tour of the brand new Aqua Nera here:


Dark Knight

Aqua Nera’s design is a story of embracing the beautiful juxtapositions of the past and the present, colonial and contemporary, color and darkness. By creating a dark and sensorial atmosphere, Studio Noor ensured that while each element or texture may be in opposition, they are bound together by a masterful and cohesive narrative.


This extends to the masterly control of spaces – the sensation of moving through dark and light spaces is translated via the ambiances in smaller and larger rooms. This creates a process of different experiences – an important element of its design.



The lobby lounge is a perfect example of this progression. A seven-meter slow window offers framed views of the stunning rainforest landscape outside before bringing back the focus inside to the dramatic cantilevered sculptural staircase which guides guests up to the observation deck where guests are taken on an experiential journey of light and dark, moving from the games room, screening room, into the main lounge and bar, then outside to the sun deck and plunge pool.



It isn’t just the juxtaposition of light and shade that play an important role but the notion of bringing the outdoors inside as well, albeit in a subtle way. The dining room gives this idea life, with its challenging and daring ceiling louvers and slats that accentuate the ceiling height and brings a sense of continuity with the outside environment.


David Hodkinson, the Design Director at Studio Noor explains the reasoning behind this choice, “When guests leave the vessel, the step into an incredibly colorful environment, in which there is so much happening, so much rich life, flora, and fauna. We want them to come back to a little bit of a haven and feel comfort and calm, but at the same time keep this connection to the place so we’ve incorporated touches of what’s outside.”


Space and Time


Inspired by the black water lagoons of the Peruvian Amazon, which gives Aqua Nera its name, the interiors feature rich, dark-stained wood elements, with colored accents typical of Peruvian décor. Whether it is the custom-made bathroom tiles evoking the Shipibo tribes’ Amazon prints or the soft furnishings that recall motifs from the turn-of-the-century rubber boom era, the design honors Amazonian cultures and traditions, incorporating intricate accents as well as the amalgamation Portuguese, Spanish, and Peruvian cultures.


This strong sense of Latin American design, in its handicrafts and contemporary design is something that guests will be able to observe and connect with. “It is something that is very current, but also very timeless,” says Hodkinson. “A large part of the design inspiration for Aqua Nera came from wanting to give our guests a sense of the place and sensual connections, through the art pieces, colors, and little touches.”



In terms of facilities, guests can indulge in the ultrachic and luxurious amenities that Aqua Nera has to offer, including spacious and elegant indoor and outdoor lounges, a river-facing gym with the region’s first designer boxing corner, an observation deck, a billiards room, private lounge with movie screening facilities, spa, and an outdoor plunge pool conveniently located at the bow of the ship for panoramic rainforest views.



It is however the exquisite detail of design and décor that truly sets Aqua Nera in a league of her own. Tastefully blending modern and classic elements, Aqua Nera’s indoor lounge showcases refined elegance with a touch of drama. Immaculate attention to detail combined with luxurious lounge sofas makes this area the focal point for social activities and relaxation.


Devilish Details

“We want guests who come aboard to feel like they are entering our private home,” states Birgit Galli Zugaro, Director of Aqua Expeditions, who had a strong vision in designing the Aqua Nera. In fact, no feature is spared, whether it is the design suites that are finished with locally sourced fabrics, wall treatments, and wood paneling, or the use of innovative materials such as woven vinyl flooring, aluminium cladding, and bespoke stone composite sinks and showers to give that additional luxurious touch.



Local elements are an important characteristic of the ship’s design language. “It was important to embody the exceptional sense of place, as well as our ability to push boundaries and redefine luxury cruising on the Amazon,” says Galli Zugaro. As an example, guests will find indigenous textile patterns from the native Shipibo-Conibo tribes woven into the iconography of the ship, whether it is in the custom-tiled bathrooms or soft furnishings. The distinctive geometric motifs are characterized by patterns that symbolize their cosmology, as well as the ancient techniques and rituals used to interpret and express the world around them. By reinterpreting a design specific to textiles on tile, Aqua Nera brings a fresh perspective to, and evocation of, the exotic location.


The use of tiles also highlights the Portuguese influence from the Rubber Boom era, bringing in the significance of European history and culture of Iquitos. The bar in the main indoor lounge gives thanks to “The Iron House of Iquitos” mirroring its emblematic colonial wrought iron architecture. Built at the end of the nineteenth century with imported pieces from Paris, The Iron House was originally attributed to a design by Gustave Eiffel, the architect renowned for the famous Eiffel Tower, and still stands today as a symbol of Historic-Cultural Patrimony of the Nation in Peru.



Aqua Nera also pays tribute to her sister ships, incorporating area rugs made from recycled fishing nets selected at Maison & Object in Paris, Bangkok-sourced Jim Thompson animal and plant-inspired fabrics to adorn the suites and public spaces, as well as Amazonia-inspired gold leaf plate ware designed by Gaya Ceramic in Bali with Galli Zugaro. Guests will immediately feel a sense of familiarity across the Aqua Expeditions fleet, thanks to the sense of comfort in continuity, and delight in these details.


Sustainability in Design

In keeping with Aqua Expeditions’ focus on nature and its conservation, Aqua Nera pushes the boundaries of what sustainable tourism means in expedition cruising with its construction and design. The use of efficient energy sources and recyclable innovative materials across the vessel is not a first for the company but certainly in terms of scope and scale.


Founder Francesco Galli Zugaro explains, “With the introduction of a second expedition vessel in the Peruvian Amazon, our consolidation in the region is accompanied by an even stronger commitment to the precious Amazon River ecosystem. From its conceptualization, elements such as sustainably sourced wood and large solar panels are integrated harmoniously into Aqua Nera’s design, ensuring we use materials that are not only beautiful and function, but also respectful to the environment, a continuation of our brand philosophy.”



With 25m2 high-performing solar panels with German technology fitted out on the roof of the vessel capable of powering internal and external illumination of the Aqua Nera’s entire top deck, it certainly is a good start in driving new standards in renewable energy for cruises. Recyclable materials are used for the decking, external flooring, cladding, and handrails, in a material made from approximately 60 percent rice husk. As an agricultural waste product, this means it makes a sustainable alternative to wood and PVC as no trees are cut down for its production, and is durable, versatile, 100 percent water-resistant, and UV-resistant.


Aqua Nera also boasts environmentally-friendly indoor flooring, with woven vinyl floors for the cabin bathrooms made from recycled materials that are free from hazardous chemicals low in fossil content manufacture using 100 percent renewable energy. The Design Suites and social spaces are also furnished with eco-friendly premium quality carpets from Spain made from 100 percent recycled PET plastic bottles and other pre-consumer fiber waste and post-consumer plastic.


Together with responsible operations, wildlife conservation, and community engagement projects, Aqua Expeditions continues its key drivers of sustainable development in travel with Aqua Nera, prioritizing the social and environmental impacts of operating in a culturally rich and pristine natural destination such as the Amazon.


Rates on Aqua Nera start from USD 4,125 per person, including all meals and beverages (non-alcoholic, premium wines, and national beer), all excursions, transfers to/from the vessel on recommended flights, laundry service, and Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve entrance fee. Aqua Nera is also available for private hire, starting from USD 153,000 for 40 guests.


Find out more about the resumption of our voyages and Peruvian entry requirements or email us at for more information.