We hardly have to say it, but it’s the biggest river in the world and its delta stretches over six countries and several million square miles. It’s also home to the most insane collection of wildlife, birdlife and perhaps most irritatingly insect life.
We travelled through it from Leticia, Colombia, which can only be reached by plane or boat. Leticia is about the most southern point of Colombia possible, and is bordered by both Peru and Brazil, so if you like, you can visit all three countries in one day. We had to for administrative and immigration reasons, but it was also just really satisfying to do.
From there, you can travel, most commonly, in two directions – west to Peru or east to Brazil, although you can also go further into the Colombian Amazon, too.
First – the Colombian Amazon. For us, it just made sense geographically; we were coming from Colombia and didn’t want to go through Ecuador on this trip. Plus, it’s the Amazon. Why wouldn’t we?!
Second – the Peruvian Amazon. Continuing the theme, we’re headed south through South America and so this made sense, plus we’d heard really good things.
Third – the Brazilian Amazon. It’s not on our route, but if you want to travel into Brazil, you could do a lot worse than to head east to Manaus and see the Brazilian Amazon that way.
Getting to Leticia
Down to the nitty gritty. We flew, mostly because it’s really the only way to get to Leticia if you aren’t prepared to spend weeks and weeks on a boat travelling through the depths of the Amazon. It can also be done quite cheaply (see our post on top Colombia tips).
From there, the first thing to do is sort your immigration stamps for entering Peru (it’s a different deal for going to Brazil – sorry, we didn’t do it, so can’t advise). This is vital, and has to be done within the first 24 hours of arriving in Leticia. First thing to do, is pay the airport tax – it’s COP$21,000pp and is paid at a small desk just inside the airport. Next, your Colombian exit visa. This is also done at the airport. There’s an open-fronted building next to the arrivals, with a door marked Migracion – queue up, go in, tell them where you’re going (most likely Iquitos – and always tomorrow, regardless) and bam, you’re done.
Next, head into Leticia, dump your stuff at your hostel and then make your way over to Peru and take your passport. This involves walking down to the port in Leticia, which, depending on the season, will either look like a muddy creek crossed by some bridges, or (most likely – we were there during dry season so can’t be sure) a major river, possibly still crossed by some bridges. From there, walk across one of the bridges and onto the small island, follow the muddy track between some houses, out the other side and then down to the water on the other side of the island. From there, you’ll likely be approached by boatmen who will take you over to Peru. You’re headed for Santa Rosa. The boat journey should cost you COP$3,000pp. It’s a fixed fare, so don’t take any monkey business.
Then, you can either hop in a moto taxi, or take a short and not unpleasant walk up and to the right through the village of Santa Rosa to the Peruvian Migracion. Country number two! It’s a little way along through the village and is slightly set back from the road, so if you’re a bit dazed from a flight, like us, you might miss it first time, but just ask ‘Donde esta la Migracion?’ and someone will point you in the right direction. Same deal, where are you going, when and most likely a bit of friendly small talk about which boat you’re taking and the finer points of the difference in Spanish between lancha, barque and other types of boat.
All that done, you’re set and can relax and enjoy your time in Leticia.
Getting to Iquitos, and the Peruvian Amazon
If, however, you’re ready to head on into Peru and are planning to take the fast boat, this next bit is for you.
Booking your ticket to Peru the way we were told, seemed like a ridiculous process involving withdrawing Colombian Pesos, changing them to Peruvian Soles and then going to Brazil to pay for a boat to Peru. Fortunately, it’s a little simpler, although not much.
We found out that you can pay in Pesos, so that makes things easier. It’s approximately COP$180,000pp, or PEN200pp, whichever is easier for you. If you do want to pay in Soles, know that you can’t withdraw Soles in Colombia anywhere, there aren’t any cash machines in the accessible bit of Peru and the cash machines in Brazil dispense Reals, but you can change money pretty easily on the road down to the port in Leticia. The first guy we asked offered us a not terrible rate of exchange, but the second guy actually seemed to be offering us more than the official exchange rate, so, fairly obviously, we went with him. Go figure.
From there, take a moto taxi over the border (no need to show your passport, it’s an open border) into Tabatinga and Brazil. Ta dah! Country number three for the day. You’re headed for Calle des Cansados (or something that sounded a lot like that), although it was signposted Rua Marechal Mallet, but who are we to quibble?
It’s a pretty common place to go, we walked, but it was pretty warm and pretty far, so I’d recommend taking a moto taxi. They’re not expensive and will make life a lot less dusty and sweaty for you. Also, it’s strongly not recommended to wander around Tabatinga at night.
Wander down the Calle til you see signs for places selling tickets for boats to Iquitos. It’s worth having a look at a couple as there are a bunch of different companies that do it. I’d highly recommend the one we took – Transamazonas S.A.S., although was a little sad not to be accompanied by grizzled hardnuts from Hereford. The boat was comfortable, spacious, quick and the ticket included breakfast and a good lunch, as well as plenty of drink and some decent toilet facilities. Truthfully, we hadn’t realised there were different companies that do it, but on discussion with people in Iquitos, there clearly are. Evidently Flipper is a company to be avoided as their boats have a tendency to, well, flip. We also heard horror stories about the slow boat breaking down and taking five days, instead of the expected three days, just in case you’re considering it.
That’s pretty much it. You pay your money, get your receipt and then turn up at Tabatinga dock at 3:30am, for a 10-12 hour boat journey down the Amazon and into Peru.