It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. Or so goes the saying by Sir Edmund Hillary. Aqua Expeditions does not offer the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to climb the snowy peaks of Everest, yet each of our exploration tours offers a chance to conquer an insurmountable summit within.
But how does a river cruise or yacht expedition offer thus? An Adventure experience, of course. Combined with a cultural immersion into each destination’s rich heritage and traditions, our perfectly safe yet action-packed adventure cruises result in meaningful experiences that will have you exploring more like a traveler, and less like a tourist. Here is just a sampling of Aqua Expeditions’ most exciting exploration cruise destinations and excursions.
Razor Sharp Piranha – Aria Amazon
As our Aria Amazon cruise guides lead guests through the snaking tributaries and enigmatic black waters of the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, there is always an element of danger. It is, after all, the rainforest, with plenty of wild creatures lurking in the shadows. But none have captured the imagination more so than the red-bellied piranhas of the Amazon river. This notorious creature, thanks to its somewhat false representation in Hollywood films, is far tamer than you have been led to believe but dangerous enough to get the blood pumping, as our guides will show you on a piranha-fishing excursion. Make no mistake however; while the red-bellied piranha is known to be an omnivorous scavenger, some of the species can grow to about two feet long and possess powerful jaws as well as razor-sharp triangular teeth.
It is blessedly an optional activity, but why would you miss checking it off your bucket list? Join in a small group of guests, no more than 10 maximum per private skiff, to catch these ferocious fish with fresh bait at the end of a long bamboo stick. Piranha like shallow water at the banks of the smaller tributaries, and our guides will show you how to cast and attract their attention. You will barely have to wait minutes before feeling the tugging of a hungry piranha. Once you have caught one, make sure to keep a safe distance from the piranha’s teeth and let your naturalist guide remove the fish from your hook.
Hiking up to Darwin Lake – Aqua Mare
The Galapagos Islands’ diversity extends beyond its wildlife to its landscapes too. On a single hike through Isabela Islands, explorers will find themselves walking through both lava fields and mangrove forests. While these are remarkable sights by themselves, the island’s main attraction is Darwin Lake.
Named after Charles Darwin — the renowned biologist who used his experiences in the Galapagos Islands as inspiration for his theory of evolution — Darwin Lake is a saltwater lagoon situated inside a tuff cone. It’s believed that the lake’s water was deposited from the ocean as a result of earthquakes and tsunamis.
Darwin Lake is situated at Tagus Cove, an infamous site frequented by pirates in the 1800s. Aboard Aqua Mare, guests traveling through West Galapagos will spend an afternoon exploring this historically significant site. Apart from hiking, there will also be opportunities to go kayaking, snorkeling, or exploring the cove via a tender ride.
Birds of Paradise and Blue Rivers – Aqua Blu
You might think that an ocean-exploring yacht cruise speaks of cocktails and sun-drenched beaches, and you would be right in the case of Aqua Blu. But you would also be in for a surprise thanks to the adventure-filled itinerary our crew has in store for you! One of the highlights on our Raja Ampat itinerary is the quest to seek out the endemic yet elusive Birds of Paradise.
It requires an early wake-up call, but once you are in the tender with hot drinks and pastries, the 45-minute boat ride into Mayabilit Bay up to the mouth of the freshwater river will pass quickly. Once arrived, guests will transfer into local wooden canoes, which will transport them up the shallow river. It is only the beginning of the adventure, but already it feels like something out of a dream. As the sun rises over the primary jungle, surrounded by the awakening of the forest, it recalls somewhat an aura of the Lost World. There is a steep climb awaiting, led by a village elder 30 minutes up into the canopy, but you will be rewarded by a view like no other – here is where guests will have the highest probability of catching the red Birds of Paradise during their mating display.
As if that was not magical enough, once descended, the legendary Kali Biru river is only a short stroll away. Guests may cool down in the crystal clear cold waters of the river, swim in its cerulean lagoon, or allow the gentle current to simply guide them downstream. In accordance with local practice, guests are gifted a woven necklace pouch, in which they are asked to pick a stone from the river, so that they may take a part of the power of the river with them.
Swimming With Penguins – Aqua Mare
The Galapagos Islands are one of the only places in the world which offer the opportunity to swim with penguins in the wild. The endemic Galapagos penguins are the only tropical penguins in the world, and are known to be one of the smallest of their kind.
While sailing on Aqua Mare, guests will have a chance to get up close with these web-footed wonders on a number of occasions. Those traveling through West Galapagos will find themselves on Fernandina Island, which boasts one of the largest colonies of penguins in the archipelago. Those in the East might have encounters while visiting Sombrero Chino Island or snorkeling near Bartolome Island.
Galapagos penguins usually spend their days hunting for small fish in the water. Watching them in action is truly a magical sight to witness. The penguins usually hunt in groups, diving deep into the water and forcing their prey to the surface. They nab the fish on their way back up, and that’s their meal for the day.
Along with penguins, the Galapagos Islands also offer a host of other marine encounters. The surrounding waters are also home to reef sharks, seals, sea lions, and a variety of tropical fish.
Kayaking Through Floating Villages – Aqua Mekong
Follow in the path of the ancients as you travel along the largest river in South East Asia, discovering the heritage and traditions enriched by 2,000 years of human history, from the flourishing of the Khmer empire from the 9th to 15th century to the prominence of Theravada Buddhism in present-day Cambodia and Vietnam.
When traveling with us on the Aqua Mekong, it is clear that the Mekong river along with the interconnected Tonle Sap lake is a source of natural abundance for its many riverside and lake-dwelling communities. Not only does it provide excellent breeding and feeding grounds for fish during high season, but the overflow of the retreating river also irrigates crops, enabling farmers to harvest up to three times a year instead of only one. In a past age, the unusual phenomenon of upstream river flow was harnessed to transport quarried stone in order to build Angkor’s great temples.
Exciting discoveries are possible when guests kayak the caramel waters to unveil a fascinating façade of Cambodia’s culture brought to vivid life on the water. With the use of eight double-kayaks, guests are able to slow their pace down and get an even closer view of the Cambodian people throughout the duration of their daily activities. You might get the chance to paddle up close to see local silk-weavers at work or up the Mekong to Tonle Sap lake. Explore one of the many floating villages – stilted homes or houseboats accessible only by water – home to 3 million people living in and around the Tonle Sap lake. As your kayaking guide charts a path down waterways, you soon realize you can no longer anticipate what you might see next. It could be a floating church, a family with a dozen children, or an ice factory that you feel compelled to disembark to explore. Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised at every turn!
Out of this World Jellyfish Swimming – Aqua Blu
Hankering for something surreal? What about the opportunity to swim with jellyfish? Hop aboard Aqua Blu on our 12-night limited repositioning adventure cruise in order to drop by the mysterious island of Misool. Among many of this destinations rarely visited and recently discovered treasures, are two hidden marine lakes that have become the natural habitat of three species of stingless jellyfish. Misool is one of only three islands in the world that can claim such a rare experience, the other two being Palau and Kakaban island in East Kalimantan.
Lake Lenmakana, a turquoise lagoon isolated in the middle of the island, is one of the jellyfish lakes that can be reached by a short hike up a steep limestone cliffside. Despite the arduous journey, the view down onto the lake and its treasures within are worth the challenge. The moon, golden medusa, and Cassiopeia (the upside-down jellyfish) are the three different species that bob around the lake, trapped by long ago tides. The lake’s water consists of seawater, diluted with rain and groundwater, making it home to marine green algae which react photosynthetically with sunlight to produce food. Isolated from natural predators, the species no longer requires venom as self-defense. As such, a swim is in order – and what an adventure experience it is. The best time to go in for a dip is at sunrise; the sight of the morning light hitting the water with all the jellyfish swimming up to the surface is truly one to behold!
Never Forget the Past – Aqua Mekong
It might be one of the more sobering adventures tours on offer, but no visit to Phnom Penh would be complete without a visit to the S21 Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide and the Killing Fields for a glimpse into the darker side of Cambodia’s history.
Known as Cambodia’s most notorious prison, S21 began its existence innocently enough in the form of a school. At the height of the Khmer Rouge regime, it was converted into an interrogation center on the orders of Pol Pot – with at least 12,000 people tortured and murdered, and only 15 survivors. Two of those survivors return to the scene of their incarceration daily, to sell their tragic memoirs and more importantly, as living proof of what happened there. Their stories are heartbreaking yet crucial, a constant reminder of the country’s brutal past.
Most inmates at S21 were transported to Choeung Ek, what is now known as Killing Fields. It is an eerie and disturbing landmark, with mass graves and a large glass stupa filled with skulls of the dead found there. Both historic sites display a sad and cruel chapter during the Khmer Rouge regime and can be painful to witness but are simultaneously eye-opening and worth the visit for those interested in the historical context of the country.
Night Safari Spotting Caimans – Aria Amazon
There is something quite riveting about an Amazonian expedition in the dark. Day 5 of our 7-night Amazon tour offers just that – a stunning evening excursion that takes guests on a ride along the black waters of the Pacaya River at dusk, in search of the mysterious wildlife that come out after the sun sets.
The main event? Caiman spotting. These nocturnal reptiles are listed as ‘least concern’ according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), thanks to a decreased global demand for skins and protective actions, as well as the remote, inaccessible habitat of the Amazon basin. And feel the isolation you certainly will, as the sounds of the jungle after dark is in complete opposition to its diurnal symphonies. Although our naturalist guides tote torchlights in order to scour the river for caimans, the darkness is so thick that guests are able to absorb the sheer seclusion of being in the middle of the rainforest.
If you see eyes staring back at you, it might very well be a caiman. Their eyes have a membrane that reflects light, and this is how we can spot them. Sometimes, our guides will pick up a juvenile spectacled caiman from the river so as to show the guests onboard the skiff. Talk about a heart-stopping cruise adventure!
Swim with the Gentle Giants of the Sea – Aqua Blu
If you have ever wanted to feel the force of nature, we can think of no better way than to swim with whale sharks. As the world’s largest fish, and one of the most anticipated animal sightings in the world, an encounter with one of these gentle giants of the sea is sure to have you mesmerized. Measuring an average of 39 feet (12 m) long, whale sharks are friendly and docile creatures that filter feed off small organisms such as krill, plankton, and tiny shrimp, thus posing no threat to humans. Quite the opposite, their tranquil and slow motions make swimming or snorkeling with them a true joy – just make sure you stay a little further off while they are feeding as the suction of their colossal gaping mouths is powerful.
There are selected hotspots where encounters with the endangered whale sharks are possible in Indonesia. In fact, the Indo-Pacific region is home to three-fourths of the global whale shark population, and on our Komodo itinerary, it is quite possible to even swim with them! It is another early rising at 5 am, but oh-so-worth-it to go out on a tender journey guided by a local fisherman to a fishing pontoon somewhere in Saleh Bay. Imagine snorkeling with up to four whale sharks at a time, while the sun ascends over the high mountain ranges of Sembawa – it is without a doubt paradise found!
Learn more about our exotic destinations to pick your next adventure with Aqua Expeditions. Whether exploring the Peruvian Amazon, the Mekong River Basin, or seas of East Indonesia, countless adventures and rewarding discoveries await!