Amazon Vacation: Cruising the Amazon River from Iquitos to Manaus
The Amazon River is known as “the lung of South America” It is the second longest river in the world (after the Nile), and it is the river with the most volume of water. On a Peru vacation, traveling ...
The Amazon River is known as “the lung of South America” It is the second longest river in the world (after the Nile), and it is the river with the most volume of water. On a Peru vacation, traveling along this river between the Peruvian city of Iquitos and the Brazilian city of Manaus is a matchless way to explore the Amazon and the trip can be accomplished in 5 or 6 days.
Iquitos and Manaus, the start and end points on this journey, both have interesting histories which converge at some points. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, both cities swelled in population and wealth as a result of the rubber boom in the Amazon. Immigrants flocked to these towns, attracted by labor and financial opportunities and immense wealth was generated, and then conspicuously spent.
The decadence of the rubber barons is still evident in both cities. In Iquitos, ornate buildings constructed during this period, most notably the Gustave Eiffel-designed Casa de Fierro, are still standing. Meanwhile, in Manaus, the Teatro Amazonas opera house was constructed from imported European bricks, French glass, and Italian marble. In the early 20th century, rubber seeds were smuggled out of Brazil and planted successfully in Asia. With the bust of the rubber economy, both Iquitos and Manaus were reduced to poverty.
Today, Iquitos, in the northern Peruvian Amazon, has a population of about 400,000 and is the fifth largest city in Peru; its main industries are lumber and oil. It can be reached only by air or boat, as there are no roads. Manuas has a similar economy, in addition to some industrial manufacturing. However, it is also much bigger than Iquitos, with a metropolitan area of over 1 million inhabitants and over 50% of the population of the Amazon region.
How to do it
From Iquitos, the first step is to get to Santa Rosa, the border town on the Peruvian side. There are two options, slow and fast boats. The slow boat is obviously less expensive, takes about 2 or 3 days, and stops at every river town along the way. Here, you will sling a hammock among other passengers and their belongings, which frequently include chickens and other small farm animals. The other option is that fast boast, which makes the same journey in 9 to 10 hours; these boats usually depart at 6am, but departure and arrival are subject to the vagaries and last minute scheduling changes typical of the jungle.
Once at the border, travelers must cross the border to Tabatinga, with an option to go to Leticia, Colombia. Note that the border closes at 6pm on both sides. From Tabatinga, there are 2 or 3 weekly departures down the river and the journey to Manaus takes about 3 to 4 day. There are a range of boat options here, all the way from luxury river boats back to the sling-up-your-hammock variety. The luxury or adventure cruises include excursions into the rainforest and frequently have naturalists on boards who give daily lectures. The other options feature leisurely travel with the locals and not many other activities. You’ll definitely need a hammock or sleeping bag, reading material, and food to snack on.
Just before arrival to Manaus, travelers will be rewarded by the sight of the confluence of the Negro and Solimoes rivers, which run side by side for 6km without mixing due to different densities and water flow speeds.
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