Rising in the Peruvian Andes and flowing 4,343 miles through six countries to the Atlantic Ocean, the Amazon is South America’s largest river and the second longest in the world. River cruises are available in Peru, mainly, and Ecuador, taking passengers deep into the lush rainforest and with options to spend time in the respective capitals of Lima and Quito.
Here are six food and drink specialities to try along the way.
A multi-purpose comfort food and drink all rolled into one, morocho – or morocho dulce – has been made in Ecuador for centuries with family recipes handed down through the generations. It is a sweet, warm and thick milk drink that doubles as a drinkable pudding and made with morocho cracked corn, milk, cinnamon, raisins and sugar. It can be enjoyed at any time of the day, from breakfast through to dessert at dinnertime, and is a great pick-me-up at the end of a day’s sightseeing.
Sunvil’s nine-night Ecuador Amazon to Andes land tour and cruise from £3,949pp for 2019 departures (020 8568 4499; sunvil.co.uk).
When the Spanish conquistadors landed in Peru in the 16th century, they shipped over grapes to make wine and distilled the leftover fruit into the fiery spirit pisco. It’s the base of the signature South American cocktail pisco sour which is credited to American businessman Victor Vaughen Morris who moved to Peru in 1903 and invented the drink as an alternative to whiskey sour. His original ingredients were lime juice and sugar and in the 1920s egg white and Angostura bitters were added to create today’s cocktail. The omnipresent tipple even has its own day, Día Nacional del Pisco Sour, an official holiday celebrated in Peru on the first Saturday of February.
Lindblad Expeditions’ nine-night Peruvian Upper Amazon itinerary from $7,290pp for 2019 departures and $7,410 for 2020 departures (001 212 261 9000; expeditions.com).
Another Peruvian speciality with its own national day of honour – June 28 – the origin of ceviche is attributed to Moorish women who brought the recipe over from Granada. The main ingredient is raw fish, traditionally sea bass, which is ‘cooked’ in a marinade of lemon and lime juice, onions and chillies; a process called denaturation which turns the fish opaque. Topped with coriander, this refreshingly light dish is served as a starter or main course with accompaniments such as sweet potatoes, lettuce, corn, avocados and plantains. In Ecuador the most popular ceviche is made with shrimps. And if you’ve had one pisco sour too many, locals swear by drinking ceviche marinade juice as a hangover cure.
Aqua Expeditions’ three-night Discovery Cruise in Peru from $4,050pp for 2019 and 2020 departures (0065 6270 4002; aquaexpeditions.com).
Giant Amazonian river snails
Part of the rainforest’s abundant natural larder, the huge aquatic churo snails – or pomacea maculata – have long provided substantial sustenance for ethnic Amazonian tribes. These mighty molluscs are up to six inches long and make French escargots look positively miniscule. They can be found on the menu in restaurants and are served with traditional garlic and butter, or zingy lime, coriander and chopped onion as a starter expect two to four on a plate – or in soups and stews. Visitors developing a taste for the tennis ball-sized snails can buy them in tins to take home.
G Adventures six-night Amazon River Adventure in Peru from £1,279pp for departures up to August 2020 (0344 272 2060; gadventures.co.uk).
When it comes to coffee, Peru might not be as well-known as its Brazilian neighbour but it delivers a considerable caffeine kick as the world’s biggest exporter of organic coffee. Cultivated in the Andes mountains, coffee – mainly Arabica – has been grown in Peru since the 1700s and a growing number small of producers are dedicated to producing Fair Trade beans and reintroducing a coffee culture after previous generations grew up drinking heavily sweetened coffee essence. Overall, there more than 110,000 coffee growers in the country and Chanchamayo, Norte and Cuzco are considered some of the best regions. On a lesser scale, Ecuador has been growing coffee since the 19th century and produces both Arabica and Robusta.
Jules Verne’s 10-night Amazing Amazonia cruise from £4,295pp for 2019 departures (020 3131 5658; vjv.com).
Sizzling spit-roasted pigs are a common sight in Ecuadorian markets, where queues quickly form for the succulent treat. Served in a bread roll, the melt-in-the-mouth pulled pork with super crispy irresistible crackling is the street food of choice. The restaurant option is hornado de chancho, fragrant slow-roasted pork cooked in a marinade of beer – or the local corn brew chicha – garlic and herbs, and served with potato cakes and slices of plantain. Most visitors find hornado eminently more palatable than the other popular Ecuador ‘pork’ dish of cuy – whole barbecued guinea pigs.
Audley Travel’s 12-night Ecuador by River and Rail land and cruise trip from £5,565pp for 2019 departures (01993 838 655; audleytravel.com).