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Expanding to S. America, AmaWaterways plans two-ship Colombia river program

At the Barranquilla stop, a Carnaval celebration will be offered every call, AmaWaterways' Rudi Schreiner said
AmaWaterways now plans two custom-built vessels for its expansion into South America with culturally rich cruises on Colombia's Magdalena River.

The 60-passenger AmaMagdalena and AmaMelodia are to begin sailing in 2024 on seven-night cruises between Cartagena and Barranquilla. They'll explore a region that offers multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites, incredible biodiversity, wildlife, music, rich cuisine and some of the finest coffee, chocolate and rum anywhere.

Special cultural programs such as drumming, street jazz, a shoreside dinner and cumbia (the national dance) and, at Barranquilla, a Carnaval celebration, are featured.

Kristin Karst, EVP and co-founder, AmaWaterways, called the Magdalena a 'river of life,' with Camilo Duque, tourism representative, ProColombia, noting 'the history of the country is entwined with the Magdalena.' It originates in the Andes and flows 1,500 kilometers/932 miles to the Caribbean and supports 85% of Colombia's economy.

The cruises will operate year-round, apart from four weeks in September/October.

AmaMagdalena and AmaMelodia

Two triple-deck vessels with rich native woods, fabrics, ceramics and artworks are being built in Colombia. They're designed by the noted Colombian architect Camilo Restrepo, who created what 'The Architectural Review' called The 'astonishing Orquideorama' in the Botanical Garden of Medellín.

'The tropics are a mythical place for enchantment and surprises,' Restrepo said, adding that travelers will 'feel like explorers in a remote place no one has seen before.' The boats' public spaces will echo the region and the 30 cabins will provide a relaxing refuge to recharge for the next day's adventures.

At 225 feet long, AmaMagdalena and AmaMelodia are shorter than Ama's standard European riverboats, to fit through the channel to Mompox. But with a 42.6-foot beam, they are wider and accommodate cabins with the line's signature twin balcony configuration (French balcony and step-outside balcony).

Rudi Schreiner, president and co-founder, AmaWaterways, said 60 people is the perfect size to explore the towns and nature sites along the route. Each vessel will have 30 crew and carry local guides, similar Ama's Mekong River cruises.

Itinerary highlights

The two seven-night itineraries, 'Wonders of Colombia' from Cartagena to Barranquilla, and 'Magic of Colombia,' Barranquilla to Cartagena, provide the same port content.

AmaMagdalena's first trip is set for March 30, 2024, with AmaMelodia to begin June 19.

Day 1: For 'Wonders of Colombia,' passengers embark at Cartagena, where the port/fortresses are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They'll tour Gestsemani, a lively neighborhood with art and street food, before the vessel sails into Cartagena Bay at sundown with a celebration that includes a coffee and rum tasting.

Day 2: At Palenque de San Basilio, a walled community formed by escaped slaves as a refuge in the 17th century and a UNESCO Cultural Space, passengers will witness a colorful drumming performance and learn about traditional medicine. At Calamar, the vessel enters the Magdalena River at Canal del Dique. Passengers will tour the town by paolas (bicycle taxis).

Day 3: Following a morning walking tour at Santa Barbara de Pinto, the vessel will cruise a beautiful, winding section of the river, Schreiner said, en route to Mompox. This is where the Spaniards stored their gold, away from pirate attacks at Cartagena. Its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Simón Bolivar spent time there, and the traditional architecture, river walk, restaurants and five-star boutique hotels are a draw. AmaWaterways plans an exclusive street jazz performance.

Day 4: At Mompox, travelers can take a historic walking tour, explore by three-wheeled motor taxi or visit Ciénega Pijiño, a wetlands refuge that's home to howler monkeys and many bird species.

Day 5: The vessel will sail through the scenic La Mojana region to El Banco, a town founded by the freed slave Domingo Ortiz. There, AmaWaterways plans a walking tour and a dinner ashore with a cumbia performance where the dancers carry lighted candles. Schreiner called this 'absolutely amazing' and one of the journey's highlights.

Day 6: At Mangangué, known as 'capital of the rivers,' passengers can go birdwatching or hiking.

Day 7: Nueva Venecia is a fishing village with houses on stilts. After boat tours, passengers will sail to Barranquilla, known for its famous Carnaval, one of the world's biggest. 'We will celebrate Carnaval every [call],' Schreiner said.

Optional land packages

Travelers can pair their Magdalena cruise with a two-night pre-cruise stay in Cartagena ($900), a three-night post-cruise Medellín stay ($1,350) or a three-night stay in Panama's Panama City ($1,695).

In 2021, AmaWaterways had announced a partnership with Metropolitan Touring with plans to begin operating on the Magdalena with one vessel in December 2023. The project has been in the works for five years but was delayed by the pandemic, Schreiner said.

In a webinar for travel advisors on Wednesday, Ama detailed plans for two vessels to start in 2024 and said it would be running all operations and working closely with ProColombia to 'ensure authenticity and a great all-round experience.'

Long ties to South America

Schreiner's ties to South America go back to his youth when, as a 22-year-old, he trekked to the Amazon on a journalistic assignment and built a raft to explore with several friends.


Rudi Schreiner first traveled South American rivers with an Amazon trek when he was 22

Enthusiastic reception and 'a race for space'

The webinar drew more than 1,100 travel advisors from around the world who, judging by the live chat/Q&A, were highly enthusiastic about this new offering. Group bookings are open and Alex Pinelo, SVP sales, said 'It's going to be a race for space.'

AmaWaterways pays up to 18% commission for individual and group bookings, 12% for pre-/post-cruise programs, 10% on insurance and 5% for contract air packages. A minimum of five cabins (10 people) is required for a group to generate a $250 per person discount with one free tour conductor for every nine bookings (the credit applies to the 10th guest).