From Belem, Atlantic to Iquitos, Peru , on the Amazon River. January – February 2010.

Belem, Brazil to Iquitos, Peru on the Amazon River. Cost and duration.

I started the journey on January 4th, 2010. I gave myself 6 weeks to reach Iquitos. I wanted to take my time and rest here and there. I stayed over a week near Santarem in Alter do Chao and two weeks in Sao Domingo, near Maguari, on the Tapajos River (highly recommended!). I stayed 3 mights in Manaus and one night in Tabatinga. My 3 months visa was expiring so I had to leave Brazil.

Before you start the journey, you´ve got to get your own hammock. You can buy nice ones in Belem for 25 to 45 reales. Many shops in Belem sell them downtown. There is no need to get a mosquito net. I did not get bothered at all by the little blood suckers. Get also a light blanket as the night can be very humid and feel a bit cold.

At this time, one euro was about 2.5 reales and 3.90 soles.

Belem to Santarem:

140 reales. Can be bought for 120 to 160 according to salesmen. 4 nights on the boat. Food not included. Meals are sold for 5 or 6 reales.

The boat was really packed. Hammocks all over the two lower bridges, all on top of each other. Very little place to move. The best place to stay is the bar on the upper level, but there is little space at the shade. And it can get really hot very early. I brought plenty of fruits, and bread, but most of the fruits got damaged after 2 days. I got stomach sick on the last day due to some food poisoning or amebas. The only other foreigner on board, an Italian woman, also got sick, much worth than I.

Santarem is not a very nice place to stay. It’s noisy, hot and dirty. It’s best to immediately take a bus, near the port, and for 5 or 6 reales reach Alter do Chao. But the best place is the Forest Reserve on the Tapajos River. There are three small communities there, Sao Domingo, Maguari and the third one which name I forgot. There is a bus leaving from Santarem around mid day every day. In Sao Domingo, I paid 15 reales a night to hand my hammock (food not included). I was travelling with 2 friends and we got a guide for 30 reales per day, plus 5 reales each for a local tax to stay in the Reserve. Caution: hosts and guides can be a bit greedy after a week or two. But the place is just marvelous.

Santarem to Manaus:

80 to 100 reales, 2 or 3 nights according to boat and agency. Food not included. Meals are available for 5 or 6 reales each. The boad was also totally packed. A Spanish girl who joined me for 10 day in Alter do Chao and I were the only foreigners on board. The food once again was a problem, but we brought some fruits, bread and a few veggies to make salads and vegan sandwiches.

Manaus is a heavily industrial city. Lots of mosquitoes at sunset. I was told that there is plenty of malaria. A man that we met on the boat invited us to stay at his house for 3 day. He left us with the key the next day and returned to Santarem. Very nice!

Manaus to Tabatinga – Border with Columbia and Peru

340 reales. Food included. 5 to 6 nights. Very packed. Once again, the boat were ok, but far too many people. Hammocks were all packed one on top of each other. If you eat meat, you’ll be fine with the food. But vegetarians and vegans like me are in trouble! I ate rice and spaghettis with farinha every meal… and nothing else. We were 8 or 9 foreigners on board. It’s recommended to make friends with locals and spend some money buying a few beers. 2.50 reales a canned beer. The trip can be long and boring or a lot of fun depending on one’s attitude. I made a lot of friends and have plenty of fun. Music on the upper level from 8 am to 11 pm on all boats. All the same music all day!

I saw lots of birds and dolphins on this trip, but I also spent lots of time observing the nature all day long.

Tabatinga – Iquitos

Fast boat:  $ US 50 or 150 Peruvian soles. 14 to 16 hours, food included. There are about 25 passengers on board. It’s like a bus on water.

Slow boat:  50 soles, 3 nights. The boat is extremely old and ugly. It’s a miracle it still floats. They bring cows from Iquitos on the lower deck and there is a strong smell of stable. Passengers stay on the upper two decks. The kitchen looked just awful. I decided to take the fast boat.

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The trip is an adventure (see my short reflection on this blog). As a vegan, it’s a nightmare! On long journeys it’s impossible to bring fruits. They get damaged very fast. For meat eater, it should not be a problem if you have a strong stomach. It gets very hot on the boats during the day although the night can be a bit fresh. The boats are mainly clean, but not very comfortable. We are not taking about your cruise boat neither your European ferry. This is a cargo boat that carries 150 to 200 passengers on the upper two levels. You can rent one of the few cabins but all sleep in hammocks.

In Tabatinga the situation is really stange. To but the ticket for the fast boat which leave from Santa Rosa, Peru, across the Amazon River, in front of Tabatinga, you’ve got to pay with US dollars or Soles, although you are still in Brazil. I only had a few reales and Euros. You only can change money in Leticia, Columbia, which is attached to Tabatinga. You take a taxi, cross the border without stopping or realizing and then get to the main street and change money on the street with a man sitting behind a small wooden table on the pavement ¡ can carrying a lot of money in a cardboard box (US dollars, Brazilian reales, Columbian pesos and Peruvian soles). You are in the country without immigration entry stamp exchanging money in the street in Columbia! I could not find anyone who would change Euros. A few businesses offered the services but they were all closed for lunch. To make things more confusing, there is an hour difference between the 2 twin cities. I had to withdraw Columbian pesos from a national Columbian ATM and then return to the main street to exchange them for soles. The small city of Santa Rosa, Peru, does not have a bank so I did not have another choice! With my Peruvian soles, I returned to Brazil, a few blocks from there, and went to buy my fast boat ticket, paying in soles, since they did not accept reales! From there, I went to the Brazilian immigration office to get my exit stamp and finally return to the port to get a small boat for 3 reales to cross the river and land in Santa Rosa, Peru, a very small city with no electricity after 10 pm. I got my 90 days entry stamp at the small immigration office and a room next door for 15 soles. The boat leaves at 4:00 am, so the night can be short.

From Iquitos, you can get 2 boats to reach the Peruvian land. It takes 3 or 5 nights depending on your destination and costs about 50 soles. You can also get a flight at the local airport or on the Internet for 100 to 120 US dollars. I flew out.

Iquitos is a nice city, very clean and very hot, like an island between two huge rivers. I took a 4 days jungle trip for 40 Euros including 3 meals a day, one hour taxi ride to a small town, and one hour and half boat ride. As a vegan, the food was acceptable, but not excellent. The guides were very friendly. I saw many birds, three types of monkeys and many pink dolphins. The nature is absolutely gorgeous with many rivers and small lakes. A very nice way to lay back and enjoy the planet.

Finally, although it’s rainy season on the equator between December and the end of march, I saw very little rain. The rivers were 2 to 3 meters below normal level for this time of the year. To truly enjoy the trip, it’s recommended to speak some Portuguese and/or Spanish.

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