One of the most enjoyable trips that I have taken in recent years was a cruise aboard the Aqua Mekong riverboat, on a voyage between Vietnam and Cambodia. It was idyllic to sit in comfort watching the rural life of Southeast Asia smoothly unfold.
For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, the popularity of luxury river cruises seems to be increasing exponentially. Trips along the Danube, the Rhine and the Nile (prior to the current instability in the Middle East) have long been classic travel experiences. But French rivers such as the Garonne, Dordogne, Rhône and Saône now provide attractive alternatives. While farther afield, riverboats proliferate on the Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar, and there is even a luxury riverboat, the Zambezi Queen, on the Chobe River in Botswana.
Riverboats tend to be more intimate than regular seagoing cruise ships — the Aqua Mekong has just 20 suites, while the boats operated by the outstanding Uniworld typically have about 80 staterooms — so their atmosphere is more akin to that of a boutique property than a grand hotel. On a river cruise, there is always something to look at, and despite traveling in a secure and privileged cocoon, you do feel somehow part of the landscape as it scrolls gracefully past.
Watch video from Mr. Harper's stay aboard the Aqua Mekong
For whatever combination of reasons, riverboats are clearly in accord with the zeitgeist. It was therefore with particular interest that I learned of the construction of a third Aqua vessel to sail on the Peruvian Amazon, scheduled to launch in late 2017. Like the Mekong, the new boat will have just 20 suites — its sister vessel, the Aria Amazon, has 16 — and it will provide a spa and pool, as well as gourmet cuisine.
I intend to report on the new Aqua vessel shortly after its maiden voyage into the pristine Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. (Of course, 90 percent of the Amazon falls within the boundaries of Brazil, so why no Brazilian company has yet launched an equivalent boat remains a considerable mystery. I currently recommend the journeys aboard private yachts organized by the excellent São Paolo-based company Matueté, but these are more adventurous and less luxurious than the Aqua cruises.) In the meanwhile, however, I have decided to indulge with a spring cruise along Portugal’s serpentine and gloriously scenic Douro River.