A unique and adventurous way to cross the Colombia/ Peru border…
Time constraints mean some unlucky backpackers have to skip Ecuador. If this is the case there’s only two options for getting directly from Colombia to Peru – fly direct or take a boat along the Amazon River.
Taking a slow boat up the Amazon River was one of the most adventurous, trialling and surreal experiences of our journey. Its not for the faint hearted but offers a glimpse into the most important rainforest in the world. Flying into Leticia (the starting point) gives you a chance to comprehend the scale of this amazing rainforest but you can only begin to imagine the importance of what lies within. The slow boats will give you an unforgettable first hand view of the Amazon, its river, its size, its people and wildlife within. Be warned: the slow boats roar, chug and splutter their way along the river scaring a lot of wildlife away. Despite that, we were lucky enough to see the pink dolphins and an abundance of birdlife.
How to take a slow boat from Colombia to Peru:
• From Bogota fly LAN airlines to Leticia, taking in some amazing scenery.
• Once in Leticia catch a taxi (COP8,000) into the town. Alternatively we estimate the walk to be about 20 to 30 minutes.
• In Leticia be sure to stock up on goods for on the boat (see tips below). Also exchange some money in the street that leads to the river docks.
• Boats leave at 7pm but locals suggest getting there at 4pm just to be on the safe side.La Casa del Kurupira Hostel was able to give us good information on departure days and times.
• Walk down to the port. You’ll most likely be approached by people offering you a boat ride to Santa Rosa (COP3,000 per person).
• At Santa Rosa you will need to get off and complete immigration procedures. Immigration is a house and you’ll likely have to wade through shin deep water to get there. Part of the fun, right? Ask for 90 days to enter Peru. You don’t have to stay 90 days but its better than wanting to stay 90 and only having 30 days.
• Return to your boat and the driver will take you to the large slow boat which will take you to Iquitos, Peru.
• Board the boat (80 Peruvian Sols per person). Each boat should have 2 levels. Stay on the top deck that is not enclosed. The enclosed level is cheaper, hot and fills up to bursting point. The more expensive level is still cheap and gets the cool breeze which offsets the muggy air.
• The boat stops frequently along the way loading and unloading goods at river side villages, taking 2.5 days depending on river levels.
• The boats arrive in the middle of the night. For safety stay on the boat until morning.
• Take a motor taxi to your accommodation as its a fair walk to town.
• Upon leaving Iquitos, a bus to the airport should cost around S10 and leave from Tacna between Ricardo Palma and Brasil.
• Enjoy the beautiful flight from Iquitos to Lima.
NB: there is another option to take another slow boat from Iquitos to Pucallpa and then bus or fly from Pucallpa to Lima. The boats through here are heavily dependent on river levels and are therefore less frequent. Busing could save you $. We recommend not committing to this stretch until you’ve got a taste for the boats from Leticia to Iquitos.
Total Cost: US$194.36 per person
∗ Includes flights from Bogota – Leticia and Iquitos to Lima, 1 nights accommodation in Leticia and Iquitos, taxis or motorcabs, slow boat fare, food for on boat, entrance tax to Leticia.
∗ Flying direct Bogota to Lima: Flights with Vivacolmbia start at around US$190 but vary considerably. Unlike the slow boat option, flying gets you to your destination in less than a day. This is great but means you skip an amazing part of the world and have the added cost of hostels, food, entertainment etc for 2 more days than the boat option.
Although we don’t regret do the slow boat, we cannot lie and say it was the safest experience of our lives. If we ignore the fact that the toilets may give you some weird tropical disease, there were a couple of other things that weren’t exactly comfortable. At night, we would recommend putting a mosquito net over your packs or tying your packs together. That way if someone tries to take something, they’ll probably wake up the whole boat in the process. Also, we would recommend sleeping with your valuables in your hammock, out of sight. Don’t flash iPhones etc. around, you’ll make yourself a target.
The boat arrives in Iquitos in the middle of the night. Iquitos is not somewhere you want to be walking at 2am. Stay on the boat until the morning.
Be cautious but try to enjoy the “experience” as much as possible.
These low cost slow boats don’t treat the river kindly. Plain and simple. Litter and water pollution being the main problems. So are you contributing to an environmental disaster?
Yes, but we’re not going to talk you out of the slow boats. There is more than one bad guy in this equation.
Cheap slow boats, expensive tourist boats and local residents up and down the river are treating the river with equal disrespect. Firstly, if you think that a more expensive boat will be kinder to the river, you must be naive. Sure an expensive boat might not throw the garbage overboard directly in front of you but you can bet your waste will end up in the river. Secondly, education and the financial means to dispose of waste responsibly is beyond many local resident’s means. River side villages freely dispose of their waste through the river. This is their normal.
We are not downplaying our impact on the ecological disaster that is happening everyday in the Amazon. It is estimated that 30 tonnes of garbage is collected from the Amazon daily. There’s nothing insignificant about that. However one thing is especially true, the problem will be there with or without tourists. Our advice is to keep your garbage in a supermarket bag and dispose of it responsibly once you have disembarked.
Overall we say take the slow boat. If you can see for yourself the incredible danger the Amazon River is in, you’ll surely take the opportunity to educate yourself and use it for good.
• Leticia – La Casa del Kurupira Hostel (COP25,000 6 bed dorm). Clean facilities, kitchen, no breakfast included.
• Iquitos – Green Track Hostel (S25, 6 bed dorm). Passable hostel, great breakfast included (bread and jam, egg, banana, pineapple and papaya). Kitchen available for use.
• Leticia has one of the craziest daily bird migrations we have ever seen. If you’re spending a night in the town, be sure to head down to Parque Santander at 5pm. Wait and watch as the skies fill with birds who nest in the parks trees overnight. It takes until 5.30 for things to really ramp up but the show is quite something and like nothing you’ll see anywhere else.
• Leticia and Iquitos are both huge tourist destinations for people wanting to explore the river and rainforest more. Either by hiking or kayaking. We hate to say it, but you really need a guide for this. But if you have the money and the time, we are sure there’s some amazing adventures to be had.
• Leticia has an entrance tax of COP20,000 per person payable at the airport upon arrival.
• Food: we ate most of the meals on board. They aren’t pretty but they are bearable. Its best to pack some snacks if you think you won’t be able to stomach it. Given that we lay in hammocks for 3 days straight we didn’t need a huge amount. We took: 5L water per person, muesli bars and chocolates.
• Bring your own hammock and mosquito net (if you want one). We got 1 mosquito bite however we have heard of people getting multiple bites. This is largely dependent on recent rain fall.
• Pack a pen, crossword book, novel, something to keep you entertained.
• Ladies, I’m a great advocate for the shewee and this is probably the best time to have one! You can avoid showering but you can’t avoid using the toilet. A Shewee mean you don’t have to touch the toilet. When you see the toilet for the first time you’ll thank me.
• Be sure to factor in seasonal river levels. The dry season can cause huge delays on the river. A lot of other websites go into detail about this so we won’t but do check it out. We travelled in late June with no issues.