An Amazon River Cruise is an amazing adventure that can be done in many different ways and on just about any budget. In this article we look at how we traveled on the Amazon on a backpacker’s budget and at some more options for exploring this mighty river. The Amazon river cuts across South America making its way through three different countries; Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. A massive variety of animal species live in the Amazon rainforest surrounding the river. Cruising on the Amazon you may have a chance to see tamarin monkeys, three-toed sloths, scarlet macaws, Amazon River dolphins, caimans, giant otters, and much more. Go on a cruise that will take you to explore the jungle and visit villages deep in the heart of the forest seen by few others.
Different Ways to do a Cruise on the Amazon River.
Slow boat on the Amazon
A slow boat is a big ferry that can transport both passengers and cargo on the river. Since there are no roads connecting many parts of the Amazon jungle these boats are the common public transport used in these parts. Slow boats on the Amazon cover various routes and are fairly cheap. Most people sleep in their own hammocks on the deck, some have a couple of cabins available. Taking a slow boat for a couple of days on the river is a popular backpacking adventure in South America. We loved traveling this way, but it is public transport not a tour for tourists so seeing animals is pure luck.
- Includes Hotel pickup in Manaus
- Digital ticket
- Sleep options – AC Cabin with bathroom or hammock on deck
A small to medium sized riverboat tour, experience the Amazon in style. Tour to explore the river and surrounding jungle for a couple of days, usually includes daily excursions by motorized skiff to explore the rainforest home and awesome wildlife that lives here expect to encounter sloths, toucans, caymands, pink dolphins and more, experience the jungle up close. Food on most tours is high quality. Meet indiginous people and get a glimpse of how they live.
Small-ship adventure – explore the Amazon River and some of its tributaries in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve from Iquitos via Nauta. Includes excursions, trips to the jungle in a little skiff, educational lectures, a visit to a local shaman, an indigenous village, and the incredible wildlife. 7 Days, Lima to Lima, including flights.
Amazon River Cruises
Explore the Amazon on a large luxury purpose-built riverboat with comfortable cabins, excellent cuisine and expert naturalists and well qualified staff. On many cruise you get to meet indigenous communities and learn about their way of life, kayak down Amazon Tributaries, go on day & Night Hikes through the the rainforest with expert naturalists and a chance to spot wildlife including sloths, otters, capybaras, and maybe even a jaguar fish for piranhas, see and maybe even interact with pink river dolphins, learn about the conservation efforts on the river. Expect to pay a premium price for a luxury cruise.
Luxury Amazon River Cruise – Explore the Amazon in luxury aboard the Aria, a 16-suite luxury river boat that offers the ultimate in style and comfort. Experience the amazing diversity of wildlife, including, dolphins, exotic birds, monkeys, piranhas, giant water lilies, and many more during day excursions. Relax on board with fine dining, wine and a luxury cabin at night. Tour departs and ends C.F. Secada Airport, Iquitos Peru.
Amazon Jungle Tours
Stay in a lodge in the Amazon Jungle, enjoy an amazing adventure with plenty of awesome day trips such as observing the unique pink and grey river dolphins, a fishing expedition for piranha and peacock bass, visit the native families and learn about their culture, go cayman spotting at dusk and stay overnight on floating guest houses or jungle adventures like camping in the Amazon.
Explore the Amazon river and jungle on a 2, 3 or 4-day tour including highlights like Piranha fishing and spotting Caymans Anaconda Jungle Lodge Pickup and drop off in Manaus.
Amazon River Day Tour
Explore the Amazon Rainforest on a daytrip. Swim with river dolphins, visit an indigenous village to interact with the Dessanos and Tucanos ethnic groups, visit Januari Ecological Park and head to the Meeting of the Waters.
Amazon Slow Boat Trips
There are a couple of routes commonly done by travellers on the Amazon by slow boat
- Leticia, Colombia to Iquitos, Peru (3 days)
- Yurimaguas to Iquitos, Peru (3 days)
- Leticia, Colombia (Tabatinga, Brazil) to Manaus, Brazil (4 days)
- Manaus to Puerto Velho (7 days) Brazil
- Manaus to Belém (5 days) Brazil
Accommodation before a Amazon Cruise
- Backpacker Budget – Hospedaje Neydita
- Midrange – Boulevard 251 Riverside Apartments
- Luxury –Doubletree By Hilton Iquitos
Our Amazon Boat Trip Experience
We did two trips by slow boat; Leticia to Manaus downriver for 4 days and Manaus to Porto Velho upriver for 7 days. Doing research before going on the river we heard about trips with terrible/little food, dirty toilets and so many tourists there was a section jokingly referred to as ‘Little Europe’. According to Lonely Planet; ‘boats are always slow and crowded, often wet and smelly, sometimes dull and never comfortable.’ Our experience was great, we had two amazing trips. We were the only tourists on both our trips, receiving good food with big servings and the toilets were clean. We did see some animals. Basically we were lying in our hammocks for two weeks, reading, writing and looking at the jungle.
Tabatinga to Manaus taking a slow boat
Our first trip was from Tabatinga to Manaus in Brazil on a brand new boat called ‘The Mun M Fernandez’. Manaus is deep in the Amazon Jungle and can only be reached by plane or boat.
Flying into the Amazon
We flew to Leticia in Colombia from Bogota. We stayed in Leticia and walked to Tabatinga in Brazil, it is basically one town with a border that you cross somewhere in town.
You enter a different country, but there is no border post, just remember to go to the airport and get stamped out of Colombia and find the immigration office in Tabatinga to get stamped into Brazil. Do this the day before departure or you might miss your boat; we sat in front of a closed office for hours waiting for officials on lunch. It is your responsibility to get the correct exit and entrance stamps and the fine is $500 if you get caught without these.
Getting on to a boat
In Tabatinga we walked to the harbour and asked around for boats, there are smaller wooden boats and bigger boats that can take a hundred plus passengers, cars and cargo are on the bottom deck and passengers on the top two decks. We did both our trips on the bigger boats. It was easy to buy tickets directly on the boat; this also gives you a chance to check out the boat.
Manaus to Puerto Velho taking a slow boat
For the slow boat from Manaus to Puerto Velho we bought a ticket at our hostel in Manaus (Ocara Hostel), the price was the same as in the harbour and they organised a ride for us to the harbour.
Cost of taking a slow boat on the Amazon
Our experience and from what I heard from other travelers is that the price for a slowboat is about B$ 220 ($45); this includes 3 meals per day, unlimited cold drinking water and on our trip from Tabatinga to Manaus we had bottomless coffee, strong and already sweetened. The distance of our trips were about the same but going up river is much slower than down river.
People on our slow boat journeys
We were the only tourists on both boats, all other passengers were using the boats for public transport. There were a couple of cars being transported on both our trips. Other travelers told us they had produce and farm animals on boats they were traveling on. We made friends from Chile, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. The fact that Alya speaks fluent Spanish helped a lot. If you don’t remember to install Google Translate on your phone.
On the boat from Manaus to Puerto Velho we had about 15 Brazilian army officers traveling with us, they stayed on the top deck and were very friendly, the soldiers ate a lot, so our portions were a bit smaller on this boat. It was sometimes interesting watching other passengers; there was a lady with a small child, she was out of her hammock early every morning doing her make-up and getting all dressed up for a day of hanging around the army officers, smiling and flirting.
We always felt our things were very safe on the boat, but still always tried to keep an eye on our belongings and locked our backpacks. Another passenger’s phone got stolen. A passenger was suspected, we are not sure why. The police searched his bags at one of the stops and found the stolen phone and drugs in his bag!
Food on our River Cruise Trips
The food on our boats was good and enough. We packed noodles, big bottles of water and more supplies, it was definitely not necessary, we ended up giving it away. Snacks is a good idea, it is nice to lie in your hammock eating, chips, cookies and other snacks looking at the jungle. The food we had on board was bette than we often ate travelling through South America.
Breakfast in Brazil is not very big; breakfast is at 6 o’clock and is only bread rolls and margarine, so I can recommend that you bring some peanut butter or jam to help you wake up with a smile. I love coffee, but the way they drink it over here is something to get used to, black with a lot of sugar, so much it is almost syrup. You drink it like a shooter, pulling your face and everything. Lunch was at 12:00 and dinner at 18:00. We ate a lot of chicken and I was very tired of rice and chicken at the end of the trip.
Nature on our slow boat trip
RIVER DOLPHINS, I never knew that fresh water dolphins were so common in The Amazon; we saw many pink and grey river dolphins swimming, playing and jumping every day during our two weeks cruising on the river. Unfortunately we did not have a camera and lens good enough to take a good picture.
CAIMAN CROCODILES, we spent many hours scanning the river banks, during our trip from Tabatinga to Manaus we did not see any. During the seven days cruising from Manaus to Puerto Velho we saw three, all big crocodiles swimming on the surface. Apparently you can see many small caimans on guided tours from Manaus, especially at night when their eyes reflect and shine in torch light.
TURTLE, unfortunately we saw one, two locals guys came up to our boat with a small boat trying to sell a turtle to our boat for food, I am not sure what our chef shouted at them, but they drove of quickly.
MONSTER CATFISH, this thing was enormous maybe 50kgs, it was struggling on the surface and two of the army guys jumped into a small boat tied behind our boat and chased after this catfish doing all sorts of manoeuvres on the surface. I think it was a Piraiba catfish, they grow up to 180 kgs and apparently eat anything, even monkeys have been found inside these catfish! It was probably trying to dislodge something stuck in its throat that it tried to swallow.
BIRDS, we saw many birds from the boat, most significant was some large Macaw parrots that flew by, making their loud normal noise.
MEETING OF THE WATERS
About 15km before Manaus the white Solimoes River meets the black Rio Negro river. The “white” coffee colour is caused by mud and the more clear “black” colour is the result of tannins suspended in the water. The density of these two rivers is so different that they never mix and run next to each other for a couple of kilometres.
Things to Pack
- Buy a hammock, they sell them in the departing towns for about $10.
- Two pieces of rope (1.5m each) to tie the hammock
- Sleeping bag/Cheap blanket, it does sometimes get chilly at night.
- Books to read
- Adapter, European plug
- Locks for your bag
- Coffee if you don’t like sugar/tea
- Peanut butter/Jam
Related article – 29 Places not to miss in South America
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The strong half of Stingy Nomads, a nomadic aquaman that would be happy to spend all his life in the water diving, surfing and spearfishing but often has to compromise with Alya and go hiking instead. Campbell is responsible for all our marine adventures and following them with write-ups. He loves traveling, braai (BBQ in South Africa), red wine and spending the day in a wetsuit.