6 Ways to Travel the Amazon by Boat

By Andreas Ambarchian
November 21, 2013
Traveling the Amazon by boat
Courtesy Andreas Ambarchian

This article was written by Andreas Ambarchian, a freelance journalist from England who writes about a variety of subjects including travel, wildlife and sports. This article was written on behalf of the Tambo Blanquillo, a family-owned lodge offering a home-away-from-home in the Peruvian Amazon.

The dense jungles of the Peruvian rainforest make boat travel the most common form of transport in the region. The final frontier before the Amazon in Peru is the city of Iquitos, unreachable by road and often the starting point for river trips in the area.

Long Distance Travel
While there are regular flights between international Amazonian cities, the cheapest way to traverse long distances is by river. Boat services are available on a regular basis from the Bellavista Nanay Port. Although departure times should be treated as little more than approximations, most services leave within an hour of the advertised schedule. Booking is not necessary—and not possible—while payment is usually made upon reaching a passenger's chosen destination.

In the main, collectivos are used by locals transporting rainforest goods around the area. Raw materials such as coal and wood can often be seen stowed up on the roof of such a vessel. The boats also take general passengers and, although they travel slowly, are very reasonably priced. From Nanay Port, as well as several other smaller departure points in Iquitos, the boats travel throughout the northern rainforest region, making a number of stops at various, obscure ports along the way. When attempting to confirm a route, it is a good idea to enquire on consecutive days, just to cross check the information. The best part: $2 is enough for almost all trips, even for the longer journeys, which can last several days.

These high powered boats travel the more popular river routes in the region, such as the one-hour trip upstream to the town of Tamshiyacu, located roughly 19 miles from Iquitos. The ride is quite loud and bumpy but, owing to the extra rate of knots, travel need only be endured for around a quarter of the time as would be necessary on a collectivo: in a rapido, the Brazilian border is only a matter of hours away, rather than days. On the flipside, the cost per ride in a rapido is around three times that of a collectivo, yet even that is still less than $10 for speedy transportation to your next destination.

Lanchas travel to the neighbouring areas of rainforests in Brazil, Ecuador, and Colombia. The larger ferries make slower progress, particularly when they travel against the current, meaning that the journey from Iquitos to the Brazilian border takes about three days at a cost of around $20. For this price, passengers are given hammocks and small meals, and can find cleaning facilities onboard. Private cabins are also available at an extra cost. Plug sockets can be found to connect electrical equipment but, while security is not a major issue, it is wise to keep an eye on your valuables.

Day Excursions
Hiring a boat out for the day is a great way to get to know the Amazon and its tributaries. Boat hire for a day costs around $100 per vessel (including the services of a driver) from the Bellavista Nanay Port. If no overhead shelter is present on the boat, then sunscreen is a very good idea as the Iquitos sun can be relentless. Picnics also make a very pleasant accompaniment.

Other than a leisurely jaunt along the various rivers in the region, there are a few areas of interest that can be visited to give a trip a bit of direction. Monkey Island is a wildlife sanctuary located on the island of Timicurillo, about a 45-minute boat ride from Nanay Port, while day-time beach parties can be also found on many islands, improbably as it may seem in such an thinly populated region of the world—unless on a private beach, it is perfectly possible to moor and step on land for a drink. The area's famous pink dolphins can be found where the Nanay and Amazon rivers meet.

Cruises offer a mixture of short distance and long distance trips with standard and custom itineraries. Tour companies can be found in Iquitos, but bookings should be made in advance online as organization can take some time. From the Nanay Port, day trips can be taken down the river while longer voyages can last over a week and will take passengers deep into the jungle to visit some of the region's most treasured natural reserves. Costs can be quite high, upwards of $1,000, but, in general, passengers are travelling in relative luxury, with expert guides for company.

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