Peter Orsel

A Step-by-Step Guide for the Amazing Amazon Cruise from Leticia/Tabatinga to Manaus – Preparation

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. 

Done reading? Excited about the journey? Head over to my post where I share all my experience of the trip itself. You can find it by clicking on this link. If you have any questions, feel free to comment or send me a DM on Instagram.

Last update: December 2023

Detailed Summary

💵 Price: 240 Brazilian Reals, about $46 USD. Food, potable drinking water and showers included. Going upstream is more expensive as it takes longer.

Duration: Usually 4 days / 3 nights.

📅 Starting days: Head over to the Instagram account of the boat I took, to find their current departure days! There are more companies/boats available, but I don’t have their names or information at the moment. 

📝 What unusual stuff do you need to bring? Hammock, extension rope, blanket, plate, cutleries, cup and towel.

🎫 When and where to buy your ticket: Preferably a day before at the port. There’s no need to book months in advance or using a travel agency.

👮 How to leave Colombia and enter Brazil? Go to Leticia Airport and then Federal Police of Tabatinga for both of your stamps.

In This Post

Introduction to the Amazon Cargo Boats

Travelling by boat has never been my favorite kind of transportation. I’m easily suffering from motion sickness and I don’t like the feeling without hard ground beneath my feet. If you asked me one year ago if I would go on a four-day boat trip, sleeping in a hammock and being disconnected from the world, I would probably have called you crazy. But here I am, I did it and it was amazing!

The first time I heard about these kind of Amazon cruises, was when Anna did this trip. We’ve been following each other on Instagram for a while and she’s known for travelling to the most beautiful but uncommon places in the world. You can find her website here and you should check it out. When the World Cup started, I decided to try to go to Brazil to watch some of the matches from there. I love football, I love the football culture and I could only imagine how amazing the atmosphere in Brazil would be. The seed was planted and I was about to make this happen!

Getting to Leticia

If you want to start your journey in Leticia, like I did, you have to get to this jungle town first. There are daily flights from Bogotá straight to Leticia. I came from Medellín and had to do a small transfer in Bogotá, before heading to the Amazon region. Leticia is an amazing town in the midst of the jungle where you could easily spend a couple of days to get some good jungle vibes. There’s no need to arrange tours beforehand as there are countless tourist shops in town, or you could simply walk to the port and arrange it there for a better price.

If you’re looking for a flight, you could use the tool below to get great deals with Kiwi.com!

Where to stay in Leticia or Tabatinga

There are countless options for accommodations in Leticia, but not that much in Tabatinga. During my trip I stayed in Hostel Tambo, it has a good rating on Hostelworld, they have cheap rooms with a personal fan and an amazing common kitchen. More options for any budget are available at Booking.com. If you decide to go to this area, I’d recommend to stay in Leticia, even when you formally already left the country. Tabatinga just doesn’t have that much accommodations and staying in Leticia while having a Brazil stamp is possible because of the open border! Open border? Yes, read on to learn more about that! 

The open border

Something really interesting about the border area of Leticia and Tabatinga, is that the towns share an open border. You can cross as many times as you want, there are no checkpoints and if you stay in the area, there’s no need to get stamps done yet. From one moment to the other you’ll see the difference. Pesos become Reals, gracias becomes obrigado and the empanadas make space for feijoadas. Good to know is that both towns accept Pesos and Reals. If you want to exchange money, it’s possible at the border cross point, but expect high commission rates up to 12%.

Talking about money, there are not a lot of ATM’s in Tabatinga and the locals use them for transferring money and making payments as well. Expect some waiting time and just hope that the machines don’t run out of money. In Leticia the BBVA bank didn’t charge me any fees. In Tabatinga I used Bradesco and they didn’t charge any fees as well. Always press ‘continue without conversion’ as the conversion rates of the ATM’s are likely to be higher than the rates of your own bank.

Getting around in Leticia and Tabatinga

Transportation is easy due to the friendly people in both Leticia and Tabatinga. A common form of transportation in Leticia is the Tuktuk. In Tabatinga they mainly use motorbikes. People don’t always wear a helmet, so if you want to be safe, you could ask the driver to arrange a helmet for you. You can always negotiate with your driver to get the best price. I didn’t do this a lot as I tried to be nice to them for some extra stops. I stopped for example at a local shop, at an ATM or I asked the driver to wait for me to take his bike again after I got my stamps at immigration done. There are taxi cars as well, but I personally didn’t use them. The last kind of transport I took, was a motorbike hitchhike coming back from Parque Mundo Amazónico. To get there, I took a Tuktuk with a girl from my hostel, but there were no transportation options from the park back to the hostel. We stopped one of the first bikes we saw and got a 7km ride with the three of us on one bike.  

Some prices I’ve paid for Tuktuk transportation in Leticia:

Leticia Airport – Leticia Town 7.000 Pesosnegotiated
Leticia Town – Tabatinga Port 15.000 Pesosnon negotiated
Leticia Town – Parque Mundo Amazónico 15.000 Pesosnon negotiated

And for motorbikes in Tabatinga:

Tabatinga Port – Leticia Airport 20 Realsnon negotiated
Leticia Airport – Tabatinga Federal Police 20 Reals non negotiated

Leaving Colombia and entering Brazil

It’s pretty straight forward to leave Colombia and enter Brazil, but it requires some traveling between the towns. You can get your exit stamp at the migration office at the airport in Leticia. After exiting the country, you have 24 hours to register in your next country. Brazil in this case. It’s best to get the stamps first and buy the boat tickets after. Sometimes the ticket office at the port doesn’t want to sell a ticket yet if you can’t prove that you’re allowed to get your Brazil stamp. In my case they gave my ticket anyway, probably because of my Dutch passport that doesn’t require any visa for Brazil.

My journey to arrange all of it went like this:

15:00 Leaving Leticia by Tuktuk, stop at ATM for some Reals
15:15 Arrival at port Tabatinga to buy my ticket
15:30 Taking a motorbike from Tabatinga Port to Leticia Airport to get my stamps done
16:00 Leaving Leticia Airport for Tabatinga Federal Police to get my entry stamps for Brazil
16:15 Formal entry to Brazil done and ready for the boat trip!

If you decide to do it yourself, I’d suggest to do it as follows:

  1. Go to Leticia Airport to arrange your exit stamp, most efficient to do it straight after arrival.

  2. Go to Federal Police Tabatinga for your entry stamp, do this within 24 hours.

  3. Go to Tabatinga port to arrange your ticket

Where is the port of Tabatinga?

The location of the port can be a bit confusing and thanks to one of the readers of this blog, I add this piece of advice. There are two ports and these are on about a 30 minute walking distance from each other. The right office to buy your ticket and to leave for Leticia is here (click). If you’re taking a tuktuk or motorbike, be sure to state that you plan to travel to Manaus, as the driver usually knows where to drop you off. 

When does the boat from Leticia/Tabatinga to Manaus leave?

When I took the boat in December 2022, the boats left on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The times vary, but departure time will usually be around 4pm and they asked me to be at the port at 1pm for final checks. Even though it’s not required to buy your ticket in advance, I preferred to have my spot secured and ask some final questions about the trip. There are fast boats and slow boats. I didn’t consider a fast boat as I’m going mainly for the experience and not for a quick way of traveling. The fast boat takes about 36 hours and will be in a closed cabin that looks like a bus. There are no beds or spots for hammocks and you won’t see much of the scenery as you go too fast or won’t sit close to the window.

Update December 2023: While reading the comments (thanks everyone who takes the time to comment or ask questions), someone asked me for the boat company name. I checked my photos to find out if there was a name written down on any of my photos. I took the Navegação Reis Monteiro, and I also found out that they have an Instagram account! Since 2023, they update the page monthly with departure days in both Tabatinga as Manaus. Keep in mind that there are multiple boat companies, but it’s good to have fixed dates of at least one of the boats. Through their Instagram, you can contact the company to request more information. I’d suggest to do this in (Brazilian) Portuguese, as knowledge of the English language is usually limited. 

What’s the price of the slow boat from Leticia/Tabatinga to Manaus?

Expect to pay about 240 Reals for the journey from Tabatinga to Manaus. This is a whopping total of $46 USD for a full board boat ticket for four days. You read that right, full board. In this ticket price, you get three courses a day, unlimited potable water and your daily showers. You’ll sleep by putting a hammock on the hooks. It’s a very unique experience and I’m not sure if you’ll get that anywhere else in the world. If you do the trip the other way around, from Manaus to Tabatinga, the price is higher. Going upstream means a longer journey, more petrol and more meals. The price for Manaus to Tabatinga on this boat would have been 425 Reals or $81 USD.

If you prefer to have a real bed, you could consider paying for an airconditioned cabin. There are limited spots, you get a small private balcony and your meals delivered to your room. It might be your thing, but it wasn’t mine. You pay 5 times as much and you won’t get the atmosphere you’ll get on the big deck. I didn’t even consider taking a cabin and I’m super happy with the experience I had!

How long does the journey take?

The journey should take about 4 days. For us, we left Tabatinga on Tuesday at 5pm, but had some delay. We once got stuck on the river banks and some stops along the way took longer than expected. We ended up arriving on Saturday at 5.30am. One extra night in a hammock, but not another breakfast. My journey took about 87 hours, yours could be a bit less or more.

What do I need to buy before going on the boat from Tabatinga to Manaus?

As this is not just an ordinary boat, it takes some preparation ánd some shopping if you’re a light traveler like me. As mentioned before, you sleep in a hammock. Some people bring it while traveling, but I didn’t. It’s absolutely not necessary to bring them from home, as you can easily buy one in Tabatinga. Looking for an essentials shopping list for Tabatinga? I got you covered! There are numerous shops selling these items. The big ones are called Tabatinga Importados and Lojão Caruaru, but there are smaller ones as well. If you’re not sure where to look, you can ask literally any Tuktuk or Motortaxi and they’ll bring you to one of the shops they know.

  • Hammock

  • Hammock Extension Rope

  • Pillow

  • Blanket – it does get cold at night

  • Towel – I only had a small quick drying towel and decided to buy one

  • Plate, cutleries and a cup  
    Tip: take Tupperware, or any reusable box you can close, as you might not always be hungry at the given times for food.

Buying this whole shopping list has cost me about 200 Reals, so about $38 USD. I didn’t really save on the items as some of the hammocks were a bit smelly. If you’re on a tight budget, I’m sure you can manage to buy all these items for 100 Reals in total. If you buy a lot, try to ask for some desconto, it’s always possible to get a discount of about 10-20 Reals, even if they have fixed prices.

Some other items I brought are dependent on your needs. It didn’t cost me a lot and I just wanted to have them with me. I didn’t take malaria pills as anyone I asked said I probably won’t need it on the boat.

  • Mosquito repellent – Amazonic is a good option. You need it during stops as there will be quite some mosquitoes around.

  • Snacks. Lots of snacks.

  • Eventually some medicines. You can buy them at any pharmacy. I brought these items, but didn’t use any them:

    • Motion Sickness tablets – the boat is very stable, the river very calm
    • Loperamida – didn’t want to end up on an abandoned boat with diarrhoea
    • Cetirizina – For general allergic reactions

How long does the journey take?

If I’d prepare this journey again, there are some things I would surely keep in mind. These were my mistakes and I want to prevent you from making the same.

  • Make sure you download everything you want to use during your trip before flying to Leticia. You’ll be in the jungle and the internet coverage is bad. I checked the Claro Colombia coverage map and expected to have 4G coverage throughout town. Let me tell you one thing: 4G in the Amazonas is not the 4G you’re used to. As soon as you enter Brazil, your internet will be gone for the next couple of days. I recommend you to download these things before taking your flight to Leticia:

    1. E-books

    2. Music

    3. Movies/series

    4. Map of Brazil and Colombia on Maps.Me

    5. Google Translate dictionaries in English, Spanish and Portuguese

  • If you’re on a tight schedule and want to book a flight from Manaus or the destination you have in mind, do it beforehand as well. It took me about 3 hours to book a flight while staying in Leticia. Not because there weren’t many flights, but because the internet was terrible, again.

  • Get your passport stamps before buying your boat ticket. As mentioned before, there’s a chance that they won’t sell you a ticket if you didn’t get entrance to Brazil yet.

  • Buy something for the dry bread along the way and don’t bring too much water. As you’ll read in part 2 of this blog series about this trip, you’ll get some dry bread every day. If you don’t like butter, this gets pretty boring. I also brought about 2 or 3 liter water on board, but as soon as I arrived I knew I carried this weight for nothing. I would just use the same reusable bottle for the whole trip as the potable water was perfect.

If you read everything, it’s time to head to the harbour! They asked me to be there 3 hours in advance and from there, the journey will really begin. Excited? Come with me to part 2 of the blog. I’ll take you on board and tell you everything you have to know about the boat journey itself.  

22 Responses

  1. Thanks Peter, I am delighted to have found this information. It’s an excellent summary of the joy of the trip and a few things to watch out for.

  2. Heey! Thanks for the information! I’m going to Leticia in two weeks and would love to do the same trip as you did.
    Do you think it’s safe for a girl to go alone on that boat?
    And did you need to show proof of vaccination or PCR test before entering tabatinga or Manaus?

    Regards Linn

    1. Hi Linn, happy you’re so excited! I think it’s safe to go solo as there’s a lot of women on board. Just try to find an English speaking person to hang out with before you embark, so you can probably ‘hang’ next to each other. I didn’t need to show proof of vaccination or a test before entering Brazil. I don’t know about the rules right now, but I didn’t show it! Have a great trip!!

  3. Thanks so much for your highly detailed and informative blog! My family and I are making the trip in July. Someone mentioned to me that they heard that during the dry season (when we will be traveling) they got stuck for weeks along the trip due to the barge getting stuck in the shallow bed. Did you hear of such stories on your trip?

    1. Thank you for reaching out and sorry for my late reply! I think getting stuck on a shallow bed can happen all the time. It happened to us after being just one hour on the river. It took a couple of hours to get out and after all we arrived in Manaus in the early morning instead of the evening as we were supposed to. Again, I don’t have any experiences with this, but I can’t imagine that they would leave you on that boat for weeks. If that happened, it would be somewhere on the internet I guess.

  4. Hey Peter! Thanks so much for this excellent guide!

    Three friends of mine and I are planning to make this trek soon. We really appreciate your help–you’ve provided the only planning resource out there!

    1) is it predictable at all how many days the boat will take? Is it predictable enough to book a flight from Manaus to Sao Paolo on that day?

    2) Is there any interruption to the boat schedule during the holidays? We are hoping to board a boat on December 29.

    Thanks so much for any assistance you can provide!

    1. Hey Taylor, I’m so sorry for my late reply. I haven’t been to active on my website lately and been travelling a lot.

      1. I wouldn’t book the flight on the estimated day of arrival. Take at least a spare day in Manaus before you move on. But book your flight before you go to Leticia, as internet signal (even wifi) is very bad in Leticia.
      2. I have no idea about the holidays. It’s actually regular transport to supply the local towns with for example water, fruit and vegetables, so I think they take place year round! That’s why I advice to take it easy in Leticia and take it easy in Manaus, as traveling like this isn’t really possible on a very tight schedule. If you have the time, there’s enough to do in Leticia and in Manaus to cover a couple of days. Have fun preparing your trip!

  5. Hi Peter
    We are a retired ‘mature aged’ couple and are planning to do the trip from Tabatinga to Manaus in August.
    As you mention in your very informative blog some of the boats do have a few very basic cabins. Do you have any knowledge of which boats have cabins?
    Thanks

    1. Hi Carol and Bob, sorry for my late reply. ‘Mature aged’, love it! I don’t know what boats have cabins, but I do know that this Instagram account provides information and the year round schedule as well. This is new information for me too! These boats have cabins, so maybe you can even book one in advance if you contact them through WhatsApp. Have fun preparing your trip!

      1. Thanks for your reply and advice.
        We finally discovered another blog: https://yellowvandays.com/2016/09/03/april-down-the-amazon-ii-down-river-to-manaus/. It mentioned the boat N/M Montiero, they had a small cabin that even had a little private verandah (which sounded much nicer than other reports of small dark dirty cabins).
        The website http://www.navegam.com.br gives you the schedules of boats when you type in the date you want to go.
        After more google searching we found a link to a WhatsApp phone number for the N/M Montiero: Whatsapp +55 92 99122-1591.
        The gentleman at the other end has been very helpful and was willing to book us a cabin on a suitable date. They wanted payment upfront. To pay someone from overseas however is a real problem. They first wanted a Brazilian CNPJ (sort of tax-file number) and a Brazilian phone number, he provided these for us, but when we finally got through the payment section it wouldn’t accept our Australian phone number.
        The helpful guy has now confirmed our booking without prepayment and we’ll go to the harbour and pay a few days before it sails. They also have a facebook site: http://www.facebook.com/navegacaomonteiro.
        Apologies for the longwinded reply, but I thought the info might help someone else, as you say it is hard to get any information on the river trip.

        1. Wow, this is useful information. Thanks for taking the time to provide this information and describing it so precisely here. Gonna see how I will add this to the blog itself as well. Enjoy your trip!

  6. Hi, Peter.

    Thanks for this beautiful story, really helped me a lot. <3
    Do you know name of cargo boat company you were travelling?
    My plan is to start from Manaus, or even from Santarem, so I am curious to find
    that cargo company online to check timetable and prices.

    Wish you all the best.

    Zoran

    1. Hi Zoran, I just checked my photos to see if I could find any company names, and I found something + an Instagram account! Check this Instagram page for the boat I took with the departure days from Tabatinga or Manaus! Will update the blog post too. 🙂

  7. I got my exit stamp from Leticia at the river port. There is an immigration office. Also the price now is 290BRL. By the way, wifi was good in two hostels I stayed in Leticia. Tigo signal virtually inexistent. Claro is better.

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