Boat tour on the Amazonas
I read very few information about the boat trip from Manaus to the Colombian border, mostly blog entries of people that experienced the adventure themselves. To help people having a better understanding of the trip I provide information about my experience in this blog entry:
Purchasing boat ticket and hammock
When I went to the pier in Manaus on Monday morning to book the boat heading to Tabatinga/Leticia (the bordering towns on the Brazilian/Colombian border) I was hoping to get a boat ticket for the next day, purchase a hammock and buy some mosquito spray. I thought that all would not be possible but I got convinced otherwise.
I knew the boat does not leave every day (in fact it leaves 3-4 times a week to Tabatinga; there are also much more expensive fast boats available) but at the crowded pier the first agent that saw me told me that there was a boat leaving for Tabatinga the next day. Perfect I thought. I bought the ticket from another agent who gave me a better price, who walked with me to the next store to buy a hammock and who took me on a small boat trip to the “M. Fernandes”, the boat that was supposed to leave next day towards Tabatinga. That was a perfect service, because I could already put up my hammock on a very convenient spot on the boat. Recommendation: Stay away from the toilets as it might smell and lights are on the whole night.
Boat prices vary a lot depending on where you buy the ticket and how good your negotiation skills are. The price range is 300-350 Reals when buying a ticket the day before the boat leaves. I believe if you buy the ticket directly on the boat the day the boat leaves it is even cheaper. Considering you are on a boat trip for 6 days, getting (hammock) accommodation and three meals a day the price is very good. It is so cheap because the slow boats are commercial boats as well that supply the Amazons region with goods, most importantly cerveja.
In the morning of the following day I went to the boat because I wanted to defend my good spot. When I got there around 10am (boat was supposed to leave at 1pm) it was already crowded, but my hammock was still at the same spot. I put down my stuff at a pole next to the hammock and waited a few hours for the boat to leave. Not happening. At three a clock the staff was still busy filling the first level of the boat with chairs and tons of cerveja. Everyone waited patiently and didn’t seem to be in a hurry. Finally, at 7:30pm the boat left the harbour. 6,5 hours late!
Life on the slow boat
The boat trip was as good as I hoped it to be. The atmosphere on the boat is very relaxed and you get to know a lot of people. You can either relax in the hammock or at the main deck of the boat and enjoy having a light breeze of wind and looking out to the Amazonas. Or you can be more active, talk to people, play cards or other simple games and do morning work-outs on the main deck. Time has no significance on the boat. Likely, after the third day you will not remember how many days you have been at the boat.
The Amazonas is a huge river, you sometimes have a feeling you are on the open water because you barely see the other side of the river. Going towards Tabatinga the boat always stays on one side of the river to avoid the strong current in the center of the river. The landscape doesn’t change much, green grass and trees everywhere. The only changes you get to see is if sometimes a boat passes, a dolphin comes to the surface for a second (you usually don’t see the front or the back of the dolphins) a small village is being passed, or the boat stops to drop off goods and people. At some of those stops you can leave the boat to buy some things in the villages or just see how they look like. It is recommended that meanwhile someone watches your stuff though, because there are quite a few people keen to have some extra cellphones. My bag was opened twice for example but luckily nothing got taken out. I know of two people whose cellphones got stolen. So really be aware of your luggage!
Same procedure as every day
Between 5-6am there is breakfast: two hot-dog breads with margarine and sweetened cafe. After that many people go back to sleep but I got so energised from the cafe that I went up to the top level of the boat to do some morning exercise and to work on my blog. Later people start to wake up and have some conversations at the second level where everyone sleeps and the top level (main deck) that partly had a roof. Between 11am – 12pm there is lunch, the best meal. Mainly it consisted of chicken, rice, spaghetti and salad. The salad is the valuable addition that does not exist at dinner (5-6pm), however for the last ones to eat usually there was no salad left. Unfortunately, therefore, dinner for vegetarians only consisted of rice and spaghetti. Yummy! After lunch I took a small nap before card gaming sessions would start on the top level of the boat until dinner. After dinner it usually got really quiet because at 7pm it was already dark.
All in all it is a great experience in one of the most unique places of the world. For me it was a very convenient way of traveling from Brazil to Colombia. Sleeping in a hammock is not as uncomfortable as I thought, especially if you have a hammock that suits two people (you can lay sideways and therefore don’t have such a big inclination). The days where not that boring, at least for me, because I enjoyed relaxing and not having to do anything at all. Meeting people, listening to music, playing cards and watching out to the river and its landscape was sufficient entertainment for that trip.
I can warmly recommend it to backpackers that are not in a hurry and don’t need the convenience of a comfortable bed or overly delicious food.
Basic Facts about the boat trip from Manaus to Tabatinga/Leticia
Duration: 5-7 days
Frequency: 3-4 days a week
Costs: 300-350 Reals
Meals: Included: hammock spot, basic food (all you can eat), water and cafe all day
Boat type: 3 deck boat (there are other types of boats as well, including one with a football field on the top level, AMAZING):
1. deck – goods
2. deck – dining room and sleeping area
3. Deck – kiosk (with TV), hangout area (partly with a rooftop)
Stops: ca. one stop every day starting the third day for 30 min – 2 hours