Traveling around South America can be done through many different transportation options within one country, but the distances are long when traveling between separate countries. The most viable option is to take flights, but this can be expensive! When traveling between Colombia, Peru, and Brazil, there is a cheaper and more unique option – and that is to take a boat along the Amazon River. I just got into Manaus, Brazil, by taking this method and not only ended up saving money but also got off the beaten track to see some smaller towns and do an Amazon jungle tour this week. Below is some general information on how to do this.
There are three main hubs along the Amazon that these boats run through: Iquitos, Peru; Manaus, Brazil; and Tabatinga, Brazil. Tabatinga shares a border with Leticia, Colombia, and that was my starting point.
How to get to Leticia:
Leticia is in the very southwest corner of Colombia. To get here, you have to take a flight. The cheapest (and shortest) route is from Bogotá. I was in Cartagena on the Caribbean coast, so my flight was both longer and more expensive ($100) but still cheaper than flying directly into Brazil ($500).
Once you land at the airport, you will have to pay a tourist fee. There is no way to avoid this. It was COP 35,000, so roughly $11. Some essential steps need to be followed for legal purposes. Because Leticia and Tabatinga share a border, you can walk overland between Colombia and Brazil. Due to this, you NEED to get your passport stamped correctly or have a lot of trouble in Brazil. For Colombia, you need to get your exit stamp at Leticia’s airport. Do not leave the airport without doing this.
Once you get stamped, you can walk outside and get a moto-taxi or tuk-tuk into the city center. You can tell them to stop in Tabatinga to get your Brazil entry stamp while you do this. To do this, your driver will need to take you over the border to the Federal Police building on the main street. They can wait outside while you do this. After you get the entry stamp, you can either head back to your accommodation in Leticia or have the driver bring you to the port to get your boat ticket – more on this below. For the roundtrip, it should be COP 20,000-30,000 COP ($7 – $10).
Staying in Leticia:
There are a couple of small hostels and hotels around the city center. When you arrive at the airport, there will be a horde of cab drivers trying to promote certain stops. I recommend booking a place in advance and just moving past these folks. I stayed at Hostel Leticia, which I booked through Airbnb for $11/night. Victor was a good host, and the house was nice. Some things to know about Leticia: WiFi everywhere is trash, and phone service is minimal. Also, the city is only a couple of blocks. It’s a cool place to explore, but you won’t want to spend a full week here. I stayed for 2 nights. Also, A/C is scarce. Remember you’re in the jungle so expect to sweat. There will be random pockets of rain throughout the days and nights as well. There is an opportunity to book a tour in the jungle, but I am doing that in Manaus, so I didn’t book it. You can find some here.
Getting the boat:
The port in Tabatinga is Porto Voyage. Here there are two types of boats to Manaus, a slow ferry and an express speed boat. The ferry is a 4-5 trip where you sleep on hammocks. This is probably the more comfortable option, and definitely, the cheaper one costing BRL 200 ($46). The ferry only leaves Saturdays and Sundays at 11:00 AM, so be sure to plan accordingly. I recommend buying your ticket a day in advance (you could buy it during your ride to get your passport stamped, as mentioned above). The option I took was the express speed boat. This was more expensive, BRL 550 ($130), but it’s only a 30-hour trip and is airconditioned. With that said, you are sleeping upright like on an airplane…so there are pros and cons to both. This boat also only leaves on weekends at 8:00 AM. You will need to get a name tag for your bags and have the police check your passport. After that, you can hop on.
On the boat:
Don’t get too excited about all the empty seats. The boat makes several stops to Manaus, and by the end, it will be jam-packed. The good thing about the boat is it is spacious enough to get up and walk around. I spent a lot of time in the back area, getting fresh air.
The Amazon River itself is pretty uneventful. It’s brown! The sky is huge, though, and really nice to look at.
As far as meals go, a lot of rice, pasta, and meat – nothing spectacular, but it could be worse.
During some stops, the Federal Police will get on and check bags, this can take a while, but it is pretty straightforward. This happened during two of our stops, but I don’t know if that’s standard.
You’ll get into Manaus around 2:00 PM at Terminal Ajato. You will disembark, and they will call out your name when they pull your bag out for you. Manaus has some Amazon tours and an airport, so you explore the jungle and get to some other cities from here. I’ll be flying to São Paulo from here this weekend.
Pretty easy, right?
- Fly to Leticia.
- Get an exit stamp at the airport.
- Get a taxi to take you to Tabatinga for an entry stamp at the Federal Police building.
- Buy a boat ticket.
- Enjoy the ride.