Could you see yourself cruising the Amazon River, sleeping in a hammock, enjoying the sunsets and sunrises, while the pink dolphins show their face every once in a while? Well, it might be time to read this blog. This has been one of my favourite travel experiences ever and it costed less than $100 for a 5-day trip, including all my shoppings and snacks. Let’s go!
I had a hard time to find useful information about the boat journey from Leticia in Colombia to Manaus in Brazil, so I decided to write this step-by-step guide myself. It’s probably one of the reasons that it isn’t discovered by mass tourism yet, and that’s exactly why I was excited to try it. Another reason is that the boat officially doesn’t leave in Leticia, but in the neighbouring Brazilian town Tabatinga.
In this blog I’ll give you all the information I have about taking this boat and I’ll tell you the things I wish I knew before. Next to the Tabatinga – Manaus route, there are countless other options for cruising the Amazonas. You could start in Macapá or Santarém, or do a little stop there. What about Peru? The Amazon river could lead you to Iquitos as well! Even though I focus on the journey I made, I’m sure you can find some useful information for your journey on this page as well. If you have any questions, feel free to comment or send me a DM on Instagram.
This is part 2 of my blog about this boat journey. The first part was about the preparation and in this second part I’ll take you on board!
In This Post
At the port
The boat was supposed to leave at 4pm. When they told me I had to be at the port at 1pm, I thought it was to be in time to get a good spot on the boat. I was running late and arrived around 1.45pm but it seemed like I didn’t miss a lot. The hall was filled with people and the luggage carefully stocked in rows. The ticket counter checks your ticket and gives you a wristband about your final destination, so they know exactly what you paid for. There are guys walking around to sell snacks and some other essentials. I considered to buy the whole snack tray but ended up buying just another package of crisps to add to my, already huge, collection. After some waiting time and a fingerprint + document check, it was finally time to board the boat.
Tips for finding the best location on board
I was lucky enough to meet an Italian and an English guy and we teamed up to find a good spot together. It was very likely that the three of us would be the only English-speaking people on board. They checked our luggage manually right before boarding and the English guy claimed a spot next to a big pole on the top deck. Poles are convenient to store your luggage against and these places are known for electricity outlets. It is possible to charge your phone, your laptop, your e-reader or whatever you bring with you.
Do’s for finding your spot: Stay close to a pole and electricity outlets, go to the top deck as it’s less crowded than the middle deck, claim a bit of extra space if it’s not super busy. It’s easy to re-hang your hammock, if it gets crowded you can give up some of your space.
Don’t’s for finding your spot: Don’t stay close to the television, the bar, the potable water, the sanitary facilities, the exit and the stairs. This will disturb you more than you expect. Finding a spot in the middle of the deck is usually the best. Less traffic, more rest.
Once you’re happy with your spot, you claim it by hanging your hammock. This is a straight forward process and the boat is filled with hooks to connect your hammock too. Don’t expect a lot of private space and you might have to sleep above your luggage. It’s common that these boats are packed, which means you have about 40cm space between your hook and the hook of your neighbour. Our boat wasn’t very packed and there were way more people on the middle deck compared to the top deck, another reason why I’d always pick the top deck. With the top deck, I mean the upper floor. There’s still a roof above your head so you won’t get wet.
Safety on board
I personally felt extremely safe on board and I didn’t worry too much about my luggage. We were with the three of us and I stored my laptop, my camera + additional lenses, my drone and my phone under my hammock. I didn’t use a padlock and nothing happened during the journey. Most of the time one of us would be at our hammocks, but even during food hours I didn’t worry about someone taking my stuff. That I did it this way, doesn’t mean that it’s always safe. I’d always recommend using a padlock to secure your items. Try to find another gringo (foreigner) to team up with or make a team with some Brazilians, so you can look after each other’s stuff. Some people like to connect their bags around the pole and close it with a padlock after. This way your bags won’t go anywhere without your permission.
Can I buy additional snacks on board of an Amazon boat?
There’s a little snack corner on the boat where you can get some snacks and more. I didn’t know if there would be much supply, so I decided to bring as much snacks as I could carry. Some items they sold: cold drinks, hamburgers, razors, shampoo, toothpaste, candies and more. Expect to pay a little bit more as you’re on a boat, but it’s good to know that there’s some supply.
How does the food on board work?
The food will be served at given times and there’s no option to change that. If you’re too late, you’ll probably be fasting for a couple of hours. The canteen is on the middle deck and once the bell rings, it’s time to head there and get your food. For our boat the times were like this:
Breakfast: 06:30 – 07:30
Lunch: 11:00 – 12:00
Dinner 17:00 – 18:00
Probably not the times you’re used to eat, and that’s why I recommended to bring Tupperware boxes. You can close these and wait an extra hour or two to eat whenever you feel like eating. All meals are served like it’s a school canteen. Someone will ring a bell when the food is ready, you line up and the kitchen staff will fill your plate. If you’re smiling, you’re likely to get a bit more. Been there, done that. 😏 There’s a shared space to eat your food and it’s a great place to interact with some fellow passengers as well. They serve big portions and most of the times there’s even enough for a second round. Another pro tip: if you don’t like dry bread, bring something to put on your bread. I wish I brought some jam or Nutella to add some taste to my bread.
Next to the food, you can get some drinks during the food hours. For lunch and dinner there’s water and lemonade. During breakfast there’s coffee and milk. Don’t expect good coffee, or sugar must be your thing. I’ve never had coffee as sweet as this one and I’ll leave it with that.
What kind of food do they serve on board of the Tabatinga to Manaus boat?
Tuesday dinner: Beef soup (best meal of the trip!!)
Wednesday breakfast: Bread, cake and rice pudding with corn
Wednesday lunch: Rice, dry pasta, beans, chicken and a small salad
Wednesday dinner: Rice, dry pasta, leftover beans, beef
Thursday breakfast: Bread, rice pudding and a local fruit
Thursday lunch: Rice, dry pasta, beans, fish and some salad
Thursday dinner: Rice, dry pasta, beans and beef (small candy as a treat!)
Friday breakfast: Bread and rice pudding
Friday lunch: Rice, dry pasta, beans and beef
Friday dinner: Beef soup
There’s no need to bring loads of water on board, as there’s an unlimited (I guess) amount of drinking water on board. No strange taste and it’s even cold!
After a full day on a boat, in the heat, you’re probably looking forward to your shower. At least I did. Try to pick your times carefully. Most of the people will take their shower after sunset and this has a high impact on the water pressure. I once tried to take my shower at this peak hour and I won’t recommend. I got a powerful supply of water for 2 seconds, then a minute without water followed with one second of water. After all it worked out, but during less busy hours you’re able to get a decent shower and you’ll feel super clean after. Oh, the showers are cold, but don’t tell me you were expecting a hot shower on an Amazon public boat, were you? I think I wouldn’t have even liked a hot shower in the heat.
The toilets were pretty clean and could get a bit smelly over time, but there was always a good amount of toilet paper. I brought a spare toilet roll just in case I’d need it, but I brought it the same way off the boat as I brought it on board.
Entertainment on board
There’s actually a lot of entertainment on board and I never felt bored during this five-day journey. Something I absolutely didn’t expect, was being able to watch the World Cup on the boat. We could watch several matches on some huge flatscreens on the boat. At night, the locals will gather together and watch Portuguese series or listen to music.
Another form of entertainment are the stops you make along the way. I think the boat made about 8 stops between Tabatinga and Manaus and at every stop there will be some new people on board, some people going off board and there will be a LOT of cargo movements. The lower deck of the boat is filled with cargo supplies and it was so nice to see all the movement during the stops. You’ll see that most of the passengers will head to the sides of the boats to see what’s going on at the pier. After all we got more than 2000 empty water gallons on board (I counted), loads of recyclable waste, some cars, brand new motor bikes, a lifetime supply of onions, soft drinks and so much more. Imagine that this area doesn’t have paved roads and the river is still connecting the towns. You won’t get any better entertainment, I guess! My favourite stop was at Santo Antônio do Içá. The town was beautiful and there was a lot going on. We stopped there at sunset, I flew my drone and took loads of photos!
Animals during the trip
Something I was wondering beforehand; can you see animals while cruising the Amazon River? During the early morning and late afternoon, you have a good chance on spotting dolphins. The pink dolphins are everywhere in the Amazon River, but they won’t jump as high as their relatives living in the sea. The pink dolphins are swimming slow but they will show themselves every now and then. Just keep your eyes open and try to spot them. They are likely to swim in small groups of 2 or 3 dolphins and we only saw them at the beginning and the end of the day. The last day some of my fellow passengers saw an alligator. I didn’t see them myself, but the crew said there are hundreds of them in that particular area. Lastly, I saw a lot of mosquitoes, but I guess that doesn’t count, does it?
I totally get it if you’re a bit worried about sleeping in a hammock for three or even four nights in a row. I was a bit worried as well, but it’s amazing! Try to have a look at the locals and see how they sleep. You’ll find out that they’re all laying diagonal in their hammocks and this way you’ll be as flat as possible. Be aware that there will always be some lights on and you’ll hear the noise of the motors all night long, so if you’re sensitive for that, I’d bring an eye mask and some earplugs. I personally didn’t really notice the sound at night, and I used my towel to block most of the light coming from the lamps. The only bad night I had was when the lightning and thunder was all around us. It took over 2 hours and I had a hard time getting sleep.
Being in the Amazonas, means that the weather can be unpredictable. We’ve had sunny days, rainy days and always hot days. Being in the midst of lightning and thunder at night can be a little bit overwhelming. The boat drivers know what they do and it’s not their first storm they’re facing. If you feel scared, have a small talk with someone, make a little walk on the boat or tell yourself that it will be over within an hour.
If you’re having problems with motion sickness, I got you covered. I’ve had this problem before and I’m always a bit worried when taking a boat. I prefer fast boats as they’re less shaky, but somehow I wasn’t too worried about this trip. You’re cruising the Amazon River and if you do the route eastbound, you’ll always be going downstream. We had one night of stormy weather and the boat could get a bit shaky. Being in your hammock means that the movement reduces and you’ll just end up swinging on your spot. I brought motion sickness tablets, but didn’t use them during my trip.
Arriving in Manaus
Manaus is a big city and it’s strange to see so many buildings, after cruising 5 days in absolute peace. We arrived in Manaus 84 hours after leaving Tabatinga. Initially we were supposed to arrive on Friday night, but we arrived on Saturday morning at 5.30am. After that, I walked to my hostel I booked before. After all I regretted that, as I paid for this night and won’t get to use the bed. I stayed at Local Hostel Manaus and I really liked it. The beds have curtains, there is a hot shower and they provide lockers. The common area is great and they serve a good breakfast. The people in Manaus are very friendly too. You can walk to the hostel or take an Uber. I walked to the hostel and took an Uber when I left for the airport.