Traveling across the jungles of the Amazon on a cargo ship is a great idea for those who are on a budget. It’s also an opportunity to experience authentic jungle life while living lazily in a hammock.
Yes, this is not the sort of trip that will appeal to all travelers. But for those of you who want to really understand what life is like along the banks of the biggest Amazonian rivers, this might be trip you’ll be interested in.
Since there are no roads leading to Iquitos, the only way is by the river, and by air. It’s for this reason that so many people choose to travel by barge. And for almost every local whose traveling to or from Iquitos, this is their chosen way of travel. If you book yourself a space on one of these boats, make sure to bring a hammock. All meals are provided, but if you’re a vegetarian, bring your own food. Bring your camera and take lots of photos, but keep your valuables close to you.
Between Yurimaguas and Iquitos
If you are traveling from Tarapoto, you’re going to need to go to the jungle town of Yurimaguas in order to catch a boat. There are usually about half-a-dozen ships that leave every day. They’re usually scheduled to depart in the late afternoon, but don’t expect promptness. Sometimes the ship you’re sailing on can be delayed for a half a day, or more.
Before you get aboard the ship, make sure that you pack-up on extra foods, water, and that you have a comfortable hammock. You can find all of these things at the local market.
The trip will take you 2 or 3 days, depending on if you are in the rainy season, or in the dry season.
Between Iquitos and Pucallpa
Things get pretty wild at the port in Iquitos because there hundreds of ships that come and go every day. Be ready for chaos. If you want to avoid the madness, book yourself a space aboard one of the classic “Henry” boats. There are several that leave every day for Pucallpa. The trip will take you between 4 and 5 days, depending on the water currents.
Yes, meals are provided for your entire trip. But don’t expect anything more than basic foods. For breakfast, you’ll be served a watery mixture of rice, milk, and sugar. For lunch and dinner, expect nothing more than rice and fish. Sometimes you might get a piece of meat.
Even if you’re not vegetarian, we recommend at the very least, that you stock up on fruits and vegetables before you depart.
Photo: Scott Montgomery
If you don’t want to sleep in a hammock, you’ll usually find an option to rent one of several small rooms that most boats have. You can inquire about these by asking for a cabana. The rooms are more basic than basic. Lots of travelers choose to rent them simply in order to use for storing their luggage.
Open yourself to connect with your neighbors
One of the best parts of traveling across the jungles by barge is the experiences you’re bound to have by meeting new people and visiting unexpected places. One great way to pass the time while traveling along the river is to bring lots of art supplies with you, and share them with others on the ship, especially with children. It can open the way for many great interactions, and it will bring joy to children who are on the ship.
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Cover art: Scott Montgomery