Note: This is part 4 of a comprehensive 5 part guide to the Amazon Rainforest (specifically the stretch between Leticia in Colombia and Iquitos in Peru). For the guide’s introduction, click here.
There are, really, three ways to get from Leticia to Iquitos. Under normal circumstances, flying is an option (the flight is about one hour). But I write this during the Coronavirus pandemic, and those flights have been canceled. As of this moment, there are two options: the slow boat (el bote lente) and the fast boat (el bote rapido). I'll outline both below, including pros and cons.
The slow boat (El bote lente)
That's how I did it. The slow boat lives up to its name: it really crawls up the river, moving slowly and stopping at isolated little villages along the way. It's a bizarre and beautiful experience. You'll sit on the bow of this ship and find yourself flabbergasted by nature. You'll meet all sorts of locals you'd never meet outside the context of this boat. And you'll be painfully, intensely bored for long stretches. It's a meditative, contemplative experience. It tends to last 3-5 days, depending on the currents, so plan for five - you never quite know what you're going to get.
I mentioned a few things you'll need for the boat in section 2, but I'll revisit those here:
- Buy a hammock in the city from which you depart. It should run you 50k-100k COP, ($15-30 US). That's because there simply is no place to sleep - the inside of the boat is hollow.
- Maybe 50 soles (less than $15 USD). There's a snack bar with a grill and a bar onboard.
- Snacks. The food on the boat will get old after a day or two.
- Pre-download a dozen episodes of your favorite podcasts (ahem) and lots of music. You're definitely not going to have the WiFi firepower to do so in either Leticia or Iquitos.
- Bring a portable charging station for your electronics. There is single wall socket on the boat, but it's in high demand throughout the day, and you likely won't get access to it very often.
- A neck pillow
- A few good books.
- Toilet paper. It's not provided.
Pros of the slow boat:
- It's crazy cheap - 70 soles ($20 USD), all meals included (though the meals get a little monotonous pretty quickly).
- It's beautiful and meditative.
- It's an adventure and you will never, ever forget it.
Cons of the slow boat:
- It's, eh, slow. Very slow. You'll often feel like you could have whacked through the jungle with a machete faster than the boat moves. You may be right.
- More than its slowness, its unpredictability is a burden if you're limited on time. It can take three, four or five days.
- It's going to get a little smelly. The shower is basically unusable.
Still, though, the slow boat is an unforgettable journey, and I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.
The fast boat (El bote rapido)
I didn't take the fast boat all the way from Leticia to Iquitos, but I did experience it for an hour or so at a time during my jungle tour in Leticia. The boat is, well, fast. But it's also loud and rocky and a bit bumpy. The ride from Leticia to Iquitos is 12-13 hours, and I truly can't imagine spending that much time on the boat. That said, if you're limited on time, this is your best bet. Also, others who have actually done it have better things to say about it than I do. This review is more comprehensive and positive, and it also includes logistical details you'll find important.
Pros of the fast boat:
- It's fast and predictable. You'll be where you need to be in 12-13 hours.
- It's still pretty - you experience the Amazon, sans the boredom and monotony.
Cons of the fast boat:
- It's much more expensive - 200 soles (roughly $55 USD). I believe they provide lunch.
- The slow boat is an experience in itself. It's meditative and beautiful and wonderful. That's certainly lost on the fast boat.
Alright, that's the weird world of transportation on a very specific stretch of the Amazon. If you're still with us, let's bring it home to the final section: Iquitos, Peru. It's the largest city in the world that's inaccessible by road. Isn't that weird? Let's learn more: