From Yurimaguas to Iquitos
The Amazon river… Lush green, wide rivers, millions of animals, unfamiliar sounds, isolated villages, heat and a lot of rain pouring down. This was the picture we had in our minds when we planned our trip to the Amazon Basin in Peru. And what should we say? It was exactly like this!
But we didn’t just want to do a “normal” Amazon trip for one or two days. We wanted to start with something special. And thanks to a traveler we met in Quito, the idea was suddenly born: a ride onboard a cargo boat that supplies the villages along the river. Sleeping in hammocks and getting to know the life of the people living in the rainforest. That sounded so exciting and adventurous! We had to do it!
Our cargo boat to Iquitos started from the port town of Yurimaguas which is located at the Huallaga River. There are different cargo boats going to Iquitos every day. There is no real schedule. Boats leave when they are full. The best is to go directly to the port and to ask for the next boat.
Did you know that Iquitos is said to be the biggest isolated city in the world that can only be reached by boat or plane? It’s incredible! Officially 500,000 people live there but including the neighboring villages there are almost 900,000 people living on a place that is completely surrounded by rainforest.
When we arrived at the small dirty port in Yurimaguas many men were running around and were very busy with loading the boat. It was impressive to observe these hard working people and how they carried all that heavy stuff on their shoulders. The boat was loaded with almost everything… food, building material, clothes, cars and much more. Every hour our cargo boat the “Gilmer V” became fuller.
Meanwhile we rented our hammocks and looked for a nice place to sleep. A guy from the boat helped us putting them on.
The boat had three levels. The lower one is for cargo, the middle is used by local travelers and the upper level is usually used by international tourists. Here it’s a bit quieter but also more expensive. That’s why there are much less locals on this level. The ticket for the trip from Yurimaguas to Iquitos, including 3 meals per day, costs 100 soles (33 dollars) per person on the upper level. When you want to safe more money and you don’t care about where to sleep the middle level for 40 soles might be an option. We bought the tickets onboard.
The trip on a cargo boat is a special experience. It’s definitively not a luxury trip. But when you are well prepared you spend three unforgettable days in the Amazon Basin. We put together the 10 most important things you need to know for a perfect trip.
10 TIPS FOR YOUR BOAT RIDE
1. Drinking water
2. Bring your own food
The boat has a kitchen that serves three meals a day. On our boat we got some kind of oat meal for breakfast which we could not eat. It tasted terrible. For lunch and dinner we got a typical dish with meat and rice. The taste was good but when you have a sensitive stomach we recommend bringing your own food with you. Buy some crackers and cookies and you will be on the safe side. You don’t need a lot of food as you hardly move. So it’s not necessary to bring a backpack full of cookies (although it sounds very yummy :).
3. Your hammock
Sleeping in a hammock? You’ve never done it? Then it’s now time for it! It’s fantastic! You don’t necessarily have to buy a hammock. It depends on you. If you think you can use it after your trip then it might make sense to buy a new hammock. When you just want to use it for the few nights onboard you can easily rent one. A new hammock costs between 30 to 40 soles. A rented one from the boat costs 20 soles. When you are good you can negotiate 15 soles. To be sure that your hammock is comfortable try it before you buy it.
But the best hammock doesn’t help when your spot on the boat is terrible. Get a spot in the front of the boat far away from the engine and the toilets. It’s much quieter here. And, when possible, put your hammock in the middle row. Here passing passengers don’t disturb you that much. In the beginning we were happy to even have power plugs close to our hammocks.But then we realized that we don’t want them. Here, on a boat in the rainforest? NO! Okay, we have to admit that we used our electronic stuff but YES, when the batteries where empty we didn’t charge them.
4. Bring mosquito repellent
When we planned to go on the boat we thought of millions of mosquitoes. But we were surprised. It wasn’t as bad as expected. As we love our mosquito net we put it around both our hammocks. But it’s really not necessary. However this doesn’t mean that there are no mosquitoes at all. You definitively have to bring mosquito repellent. When you don’t want to have repellent on your skin all the time or when you attract mosquitoes easily and are afraid that the repellent won’t last long enough during the night then you should use a net.
5. Bring Earplugs
At night we enjoy silence. When you also have difficulties to sleep in noisy places then bring earplugs. Onboard it’s very different at what time the passengers go to sleep. Some fall asleep right after dinner others play cards and others enjoy talking. Snuggle down in your blanket and hammock and you will have a wonderful night.
6. Bring toilet paper
There is no toilet paper on the boat!
And you can’t buy it anywhere!
So it’s definitively better to bring one or two roles.
When you are a bit more sensitive we also recommend bringing disinfectant gel for your hands.
7. Bring a plate and a spoon
When you decide to eat the food onboard you have to bring your own plate or Tupperware or whatever you have to put food into. If you forget it it’s also no problem because the locals sell plastic containers at the beginning of the trip. And when you don’t want to eat with your hands you should also bring a spoon.
8. Bring a blanket or spleeping bag
The weather in the Amazon basin changes very quickly. In one moment the sky is blue and the sun is strong and hot. In the next moment you see a dark weather front on the horizon that’s coming closer very quickly. The sky gets very dark and within seconds it’s pouring down. Go outside and enjoy the refreshing raindrops on your skin. It’s a fantastic feeling!
As soon as the sun sets the air becomes chilly and some of us put a sweater on. For the night you should definitively bring linen or a sleeping bag.
9. Your backpack and valuables
Like always, you have to keep an eye on your things. We had the feeling that it was quite relaxed but you never know… Put your backpack under your hammock so that it’s a bit more difficult for others to reach it. At night you should take your valuables into your hammock. When you want to be very safe and you some money left then you can rent one the cabins. They are equipped with a bunk bed and they can be locked.
When you travel in a group then a cabin might be an option as you can share the costs. A cabin costs roughly 300 soles. The cabins didn’t look very comfortable so if you want you can only use it as a storage room and you can sleep outside in the fresh air in your hammock.
10. Have FUN and ENJOY!
The most important thing… ENJOY this very special boat ride!
Listen to your favorite music or read a good book and lean back and take a deep breath. Feel the movement of the boat, observe the passing rainforest and the spectacular formations of the clouds.
For us it was another once-in-a-lifetime adventure and we are happy if we can help you a bit with the preparation of your journey through the Amazon Basin.
Thanks for reading and safe travels!
Liane, Lars and BoB