A Mother-Daughter Trip to the Peruvian Amazon (from the daughter point of view)! Written by Maile Cowell


Our Amazon Voyage

• LA, California – Lima, Peru – Iquitos, Peru – Pacaya-Samiria Reserve, Amazon River

One of our last sunset cruises on the Amazon River!

As opposed to my friends on the beaches of various island resorts, my mom and I experienced the spring break of a lifetime on the Amazon River in Peru – onboard International Expeditions’ Zafiro!

Our river cruiser – The Zafiro (Google Images)

After a 10-hour flight from Los Angeles to Lima, Peru and a quick hop over to the port city of Iquitos, my mom and I arrived at our first stop in our jungly river spring break adventure.

Town center of Iquitos, Peru (port city where we boarded the Zafiro)

After a rest in Swisshôtel, we explored the city of Iquitos, and thanks to International Expeditions’ knowledgable, accommodating and organized staff we experienced Iquitos alongside the best tour guides. We took a short drive to the Manatee Rescue Center – definitely the highlight of our first day – where there were rescued baby manatees!

Me – with my favorite rescued baby manatee (Iquitos, Peru)

Upon our arrival to the luxury riverboat, the Zafiro, we were warmly welcomed by a group of singing and dancing crew members. Our room was perfect for the two of us, with two beds, floor-to-ceiling windows and even a petite private balcony from which we could watch the colorful and changing landscape of the Amazon.

The breathtaking view from our bedroom balcony!

The 6:30 AM wake-up call definitely took me by surprise the first morning, but I quickly learned that being up early in the Amazon is the key to spotting some of the best animals. So, much to my chagrin, I pulled myself out of bed. The delicious and extensive breakfast that was waiting for us in the dining room woke me right up. Eggs and sausage were served, as well as native options, an assortment of fruits, and pile of pastries from the onboard pastry chef. Our first full day of exploring was off to a great (and delicious) start, and we hadn’t even stepped off of the boat yet!

One of the many delicious plates of food served 

Then came the monkeys! After we were graced with the presence of our first set of swinging monkeys I knew each early morning was going to be more than worth it in the Amazon.

Swinging monkey!

Seeing animals in this way, unprotected by fences or cages, sharing the environment with them, makes the experience intimate and exciting, like you are part of the jungle. The genuine excitement of our entire group was undeniable. Me, a 19 year old, my mom, two 13 year olds, grandparents, a young married couple and solo travelers alike all had smiles painted across their faces.

Michelle – gazing at our first Amazon sunset 

Making our way down the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, the second largest protected area in the Amazon region (8,000 sq. miles!), we uncovered and observed countless species with the help of our expert naturalists and expedition leaders.

Me – helping point out wildlife

The Pacaya-Samiria is home to 450 bird species, 102 mammal species, over 130 reptile and amphibian species, and countless plant species. Our daily excursions into this wetland reserve were filled with diverse animal sightings. My favorites, only a small fraction of what we saw, include: monk saki and squirrel monkeys, pink river dolphins, sloths, horned screamers (mostly because of their name), black-collared hawks and the rainbow-colored macaws & parakeets that flew above us.

Amazonian Frog!

Sleepy Mr. Sloth (PC: Expedition Leader Freddy)

Baby Cayman found on one of our night excursions! (PC: Expedition Leader Freddy)

One of the hundreds of birds we spotted (PC: Expedition Leader Freddy)

In addition to the beautiful excursions, we were lucky enough to visit two remote river villages along our journey. In these villages we met the local leaders and families, visited their homes, visited their schools, supported local handicraft makers, received blessing and cleanses from a local shaman, learned about ancient jungle stories, traditions and healing techniques – all the while led by our courteous leaders, who each visit made sure to appropriately welcome and introduce us to the village leaders. These unique village visits were my favorite part of the trip.

Village teacher and his students 

 Shaman demonstration in one village, giving a cleansing ritual to each guest

Local produce and spices 

My other favorite and most memorable moment was our farewell skiff ride before the last night on Zafiro. It was a scene out of a movie. We were whisked off Zafiro on the excursion skiffs into the middle of the Amazon River, a rainstorm brewing behind us, we geared up in our rain ponchos, and just as the crew pulled out the surprise champagne the sky let loose. And when I say let loose I mean absolutely down pour – so there we were, absolutely soaked, huddled together in our ponchos, sipping champagne as our boat drivers hurried us through the powerful Amazonian rainstorm. “We are in a rainforest…” one leader jokingly pointed out.

Champagne surprise in a rainforest downpour!

Learning about a culture so so different from my own was beyond eye-opening. It was incredible to see the villagers, girls my age, fathers, mothers, babies, who are in so many ways the same as my family and I exist in such a contrasting environment. The unforgettable images I keep from these experiences will never fade from my memory. Often, I reflect on my time visiting these humble village oases deep in the Amazon.

Local children with new toys we all brought for the villages


I am so grateful for my incredible travel-tastic momma and our unforgettable Amazon adventure! Cannot wait for the next trip!

xo, Maile


• More Trip Highlights •

  • Swimming alongside pink river dolphins in the Amazon
  • My mom *almost* catching a piranha on our piranha fishing excursion
  • Morning kayak excursion
  • The pre-dinner entertainment provided by the ship’s staff and crew! Got to see a lot of my mom’s dance moves…
  • Exploring Lima before our flight home with our friends we made on the boat
  • The delicious food onboard
  • A special morning breakfast on the skiffs under the Amazon fauna
  • The big hot tub on the deck, great after a day of exploring or during an Amazon rainshower!
  • The complimentary Pisco Sours (made with Peruvian Pisco) from our boat’s bartender
  • The huge smile and energizing spirit of our boat’s masseuse, who gave great massages during the afternoon and had even better dance moves at night!


• A Couple More Awesome Moments •

Swimming alongside pink river dolphins (they hide from cameras)!

Piranha fishing (I was unsuccessful despite my double rod approach)

Morning kayak excursion

The luxurious hot tub and outdoor entertainment deck onboard Zafiro!

Now go call my mom and book your adventure to the Peruvian Amazon! 



Author: Michelle Cowell

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