Sailing The Amazon

Written by Will on . Posted in Budget Travel, Living in South America, Tips, Travel, Travel in South America

I think it’s fairly common knowledge that the Amazon River and the surrounding drainage basin are both massive. Incomprehensibly so. Let me start with a few quick facts:





  • 40% of the entire continent of South America drains into the Amazon Basin
  • The river, at its narrowest, is 1.6KM (1 mile) wide
  • The flow of the Amazon is greater than the next 7 largest rivers COMBINED
  • For perspective on the last fact, by my math (may be flawed) the Amazon could fill Lake Michigan in 17 seconds!
  • 1/3 of all animal species on the face of the planet are found in the Amazon Basin
  • The Amazon accounts for 20% of the world’s river flow

These facts do little to reveal the true scope of the Amazon and its drainage basin. I am quite simply, awestruck, after realizing that I was in constant motion for 4 days and only saw a sliver of this massive ecosystem.

The journey WAS the destination

I feel quite fortunate that this is my life. Imagine, sitting around the house one day and simply deciding to go! With no real plan we left the next Tuesday. Transport in Peru can be somewhat challenging, long bus rides cover vast distances at a fairly slow pace. Bus rides are quite commonly nine hours at a minimum. We decided that we would get a bus from Trujillo to Chacapoyas and from there make our way to Tarapoto and finally Yurimaquas where we would arrange passage on the river to Iquitos. It ended up working out surprisingly well.

15 hours on a bus got us to our first stop. Chachapoyas turned out to be an incredible place with many natural wonders and archaeological sites on offer. The area is best known for the ancient ruins of Kuelap, but we opted instead to visit the Sarcophagi of Karajía(click to embiggen).

We also did a bit of spelunking ‘ghetto style’ where our guide was equipped with a car battery in a backpack which was connected to a homemade lamp with a couple strands of discarded baling wire.

From Chachapoyas we backtracked a little bit to the crossroads town of Pedro Ruiz to catch a bus onward to Tarapoto. At the bus terminal, a lady had called the police to report the theft of her cell phone. She was pointing fingers, making accusations and demanded that the police do something. Eventually they gave in and started searching all of the males for the cell phone. As people were done being searched and boarded the bus, someone came back from the bus with her cell phone that they had found in her seat. This incident set the tone for the next eight hours on the bus.

We overnighted in Tarapoto and the next morning arranged transport to Yurimaguas. We knew that the boat trips between Yurimaguas and Iquitos are fairly spartan, so we knew that we would need to be gathering supplies. We had originally planned on spending the night in Yurimaguas so that we would have time to procure everything we would need (hammocks, rain gear, eating utensils, water and wine) but that proved to be unnecessary as out moto-taxi driver was more than willing to earn a commission by taking us to a local outfitter. The few soles extra that we spent by going with him was well worth it!

Everything that we had read indicated that this trip would likely take three to five days, so with our supplies purchased and passage booked we settled in for the cruise. We left Yurimaguas at sunset and hadn’t even pulled out of port yet before our first river dolphin sighting.

We ended up only taking two days to get to Iquitos, but it was a very interesting two days with many stops made to load and unload cargo at remote Amazonian villages along the river. By mid-morning on the second day we had made it to the confluence of the rivers Marañón and Ucayali which come together to officially start the Amazon. From there it was only a few hours to Iquitos.

The largest city in the world inaccessible by road

Iquitos turned out to be very interesting. It’s quite a scene, to say the least. We were surprised by the expat community there with an English language newspaper! We met a very interesting character who happened to be the proprietor of a floating bar/restaurant/hostel. I visited the shantytown of Belen, and we HAD to visit Casa Fitzcarralldo (which turned out to be somewhat disappointing). All in all a very rewarding trip!

Support local business owners!

Iquitos is fairly heavily touristed. One thing that has always bothered me about places that get a lot of tourist traffic is the number of foreign business that spring up to cater to these tourists. Travel agencies, booking offices, tour companies, hotels and restaurants are nearly all foreign owned so the locals end up benefiting very little. Whenever possible, I prefer to support locals who are often freelancers. While in Iquitos, we happened to meet a jungle guide from a nearby village. He spoke very good English and was quite friendly and comes highly recommended by past clients. His name is Pedro, but he’s known as “Wolf”. If you ever need a jungle guide in Iquitos, and especially if you don’t want to take some pre-packaged tour, you should get in contact with Pedro. He can be reached by email at pedro_wildlife AT hotmail DOT com or on facebook (Pedro Peña) in Iquitos, Peru. Seriously, this guy can set you up with whatever, whether it’s an ayahuasca ceremony, hallucenogenic toad licking or remote wildlife viewing, he’s your guy.

And now, the photos:

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Will Brubaker has been roaming the world for over 20 years. He has been to all seven continents, has successfully landed lucrative contract jobs in international locations, spent two winters in Antarctica, recently lived in Taiwan and is currently enjoying sunsets with his wife from his ocean-view balcony in Huanchaco, Peru.