Beyond Europe, small river operators increasingly offer the exotic

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Amazon Nature Tours’ expedition boat the Tucano, the only boat offering multi-day cruises into the least inhabited region of the Amazon Basin, the Rio Negro.
Amazon Nature Tours’ expedition boat the Tucano, the only boat offering multi-day cruises into the least inhabited region of the Amazon Basin, the Rio Negro.

To most people, river cruising is synonymous with Europe. And while rivers like the Mekong, Ganges and the Nile are also becoming increasingly mainstream, there are still a few lesser-known options from the Amazon to Africa that offer travelers small-ship expeditions on exotic rivers.

In Africa, Beyond Cruises has expanded its small-ship itineraries along the coastal waterways of Sengal and the Gambia, Africa's smallest country.

The route, the company says, is especially poignant this year as 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of the Middle Passage, when the first slaves -- many from the villages along the route -- arrived in the U.S.

The Rivers of West Africa itinerary is sailed by the 25-cabin Harmony V yacht, which  travels roundtrip from Dakar, Senegal, with stops at coastal villages, nature reserves, fishing villages to offer a deep dive into traditional West Africa.

On the Amazon, where most multi-day cruises operate from Iquitos, Peru, there is also a  lesser-known option, Amazon Nature Tours, which sails from Manaus, Brazil.

Amazon Nature Tours is the only line to offer four- and six-day sailings in the Brazilian Amazon basin, exploring the least inhabited major river in the Amazon basin, the Rio Negro. The expeditions are led by trained naturalists and include kayak and excursions into the flooded forests, rainforest hikes, visits to native villages and fishing for piranhas.

Guests on an excursion during a sailing from Manaus, Brazil, deep into the Amazon basin.
Guests on an excursion during a sailing from Manaus, Brazil, deep into the Amazon basin.

Guests sail on the 18-passenger Motor Yacht Tucano, which has been completely refitted to make it one of the most sustainable vessels in the region, according to the company, which last year received the Latin American Travel Association Sustainability Achievement Award for Latin America's most sustainable tour operator.

The company is also committed to environmental education, managing The Projeto Escolar Natureza!, which provides  materials and curricular support about the Amazon environment to small schools deep in the Amazon interior. For new bookings made for select six-day expeditions cruises in December, the company said it will donate 10% of the proceeds to the project.

"Our mission for the past 30 years that we've been in business is to do what we can to encourage a deeper understanding of the beauties of the tropical rainforest and the fundamental need to preserve this wild forest," said Mark Baker, president of Amazon Nature Tours.  "While our sailings are unaffected by the fires in the Brazilian Amazon and are located nearly 600 miles away, we are critically aware of the need to not just protect this unique region, but also to raise awareness of it around the world."

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