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About taste2travel!

Hi! My name is Darren McLean, the owner of taste2travel. I’ve been travelling the world for 33 years and, 209 countries and territories, and – seven continents later, I’m still on the road.

Taste2travel offers travel information for destinations around the world, specialising in those that are remote and seldom visited. I hope you enjoy my content!

Ever since I was a child, I have been obsessed with the idea of travel. I started planning my first overseas trip at the age of 19 and departed Australia soon after my 20th birthday. Many years later, I’m still on the road.

In 2016, I decided to document and share my journeys and photography with a wider audience and so, taste2travel.com was born.

My aim is to create useful, usable travel guides/ reports on destinations I have visited. My reports are very comprehensive and detailed as I believe more information is better than less. They are best suited to those planning a journey to a particular destination.

Many of the destinations featured on my website are far off the regular beaten tourist trail. Often, these countries are hidden gems which remain undiscovered, mostly because they are remote and difficult to reach. I enjoy exploring and showcasing these ‘off-the-radar’ destinations, which will, hopefully, inspire others to plan their own adventure to a far-flung corner of the planet.

I’m also a fan of travel trivia and if you are too, you’ll find plenty of travel quizzes on the site.

Photography has always been a passion and all the photos appearing in these galleries were taken by me.

If you have any questions or queries, please contact me via the contact page.

I hope you this gallery and my website.

Safe travels!

Darren


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Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1

A painting of the 'Tres Fronteras' (Three Frontiers) region, the tri-meeting point of Colombia, Peru and Brazil which lies deep in the Amazon jungle.

Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1

Welcome to the taste2travel Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1!

Forward

A 4,334 kilometre (2,693 mile) meander along the Amazon River from Iquitos, Peru to the Atlantic Ocean in Brazil is an epic voyage and, as such, this travel guide was always going to be monumental in size.

To make the guide more manageable, I have split it into two parts:

  • Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1: contains sections on History, Currency, Visa Requirements, Boat Travel and details on destinations in Peru (Iquitos/ Santa Rosa) and Colombia (Leticia).
  • Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 2: contains details on destinations in Brazil – TabatingaManausSantarém, Belém, Marajó Island and Macapá. 

Enjoy!

 

Exploring the Amazon river around Iquitos, Peru.

Exploring the Amazon river around Iquitos, Peru.

Introduction

Travelling for thousands of kilometres by boat along the Amazon River is one of the more interesting journeys I’ve made during my travel career. In total, I spent 150 hours on six different journeys, traveling by both fast and slow boat from Iquitos in Peru across the South American continent to the Atlantic Ocean – a distance of 4,334 kilometres.

Along the way I made stops in a number of riverside towns and cities, including the Colombian outpost of Leticia (the only Colombia town on the river), and the Brazilian cities of TabatingaManausSantarém and Belém. 

From Belém, I travelled to the sparsely populated island of Marajó – an island the size of Switzerland which is anchored in the mouth of the Amazon River.

Storm clouds over the Amazon River near Belém.

Storm clouds over the Amazon River near Belém.

From Marajó, I returned to Belém then joined my final boat for the 24-hour journey across the mouth of the Amazon River to the city of Macapá. From Macapá I then embarked on a 3,000 kilometre meander back to Manaus via French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana and Venezuela. For details on this journey, please refer to my other post – Macapá to Manaus via the Guiana’s.

My journey down the Amazon River was an incredible journey and one I will not forget any time soon! If you ever have the inclination to make such a journey I would encourage you to do so – at least once in your life!

Amazon Facts

Known as the "River Sea", the Amazon River inundates riverside villages, such as Santa Luzia, during the annual wet season.

Known as the “River Sea”, the Amazon River inundates riverside villages, such as Santa Luzia, during the annual wet season.

Some interesting Amazon facts:

  • With an average discharge of about 209,000 cubic metres per second (7,400,000 cu ft/s), the Amazon is the largest river by discharge volume of water in the world. The annual discharge volume is greater than the next seven largest rivers combined.
  • The Amazon discharges nearly 25% of all freshwater into the oceans.
  • At approximately 6,400 kilometres (4,000 miles) in length, the Amazon is the world’s second longest river.
  • In places, the river has a depth of 70 metres (250 feet).
  • The Amazon is known as the ‘river sea‘ and during the wet season, it can measure over 190 kilometres (120 miles) in width.
  • The mouth of the river is the widest in the world, measuring 325 kilometres (202 miles) across.
  • The largest city along the Amazon River is Manaus. Located in Brazil it is home to over 1.7 million people.
  • There are no bridges that cross the Amazon, mostly because there is no need since the river runs through rainforests rather than big cities.
  • There are over 3000 known species of fish that live in the Amazon River, including the Piranha.
  • A total of 1,294 birds, 427 mammals, 428 amphibians and 378 reptiles have been scientifically classified in the Amazon Rainforest.
  • The diversity of plants in the Amazon is the highest of anywhere on earth. There have been more than 40,000 plant species recorded that include bananas, mangoes, guava, yams, nuts and spices.

Location

The Amazon River, begins life high in the Andes Mountains of Peru, just 160 kilometres (100 miles) from the Pacific Ocean. From its source, the river meanders eastward across the South American continent for 6,400 kilometres (4,000 miles) until it enters the Atlantic Ocean east of Belém, Brazil.

The river and its many tributaries drain the Amazon Basin, which is the largest drainage basin in the world at approximately 7,050,000 square kilometres (2,720,000 sq miles). If the basin was a country, it would be the ninth largest in the world. Brazil accounts for 60% of the total basin area, with Peru comprising approximately 13% and the remainder spread between Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Suriname, French Guiana and Guyana.

History

A Portuguese cannon overlooks the Amazon river from Presepio Fort in Belem, Brazil.

A Portuguese cannon overlooks the Amazon river from Presepio Fort in Belem, Brazil.

Pre-Columbian Era

Archaeological finds, including pottery fragments and stone points, indicate that Native Indian tribes have inhabited the Amazon River area for at least 10,000-11,000 years.

Evidence indicates that the region was home to complex and large-scale indigenous societies, who developed large towns and cities. Archaeologists estimate that by the time the Spanish conquistador, Francisco De Orellana, travelled down the Amazon in 1541, more than 3 million indigenous people lived around the river.

European Era

Amazon River Travel Guide: A map showing Francisco de Orellana's Amazon Voyage. Source: Wikipedia.

A map showing Francisco de Orellana’s Amazon Voyage.
Source: Wikipedia.

The first European to fully explore the Amazon River was the Spanish explorer and conquistador, Francisco De Orellana. Born in Trujillo (Spain), Orellana never intended to explore the river.

Orellana initially served as a lieutenant on a larger expedition led from Quito (Ecuador) by his close friend and relative, Gonzalo Pizarro. As the newly appointed Governor of Quito, Pizarro organised an expedition to explore the lowlands of Ecuador where he believed he might find the lost city of gold – El Dorado.

While camped on the banks of the Coca River, a chronic food shortage prompted Pizarro to order Orellana to follow the river to it’s end and to gather food supplies and return as soon as possible. Upon reaching the end of the river (where it joins the Napo River), Orellana found a relatively friendly native village where he was given some food. Orellana intended to return to Pizarro with the food, but his men, not wishing to return upriver to their starved comrades, threatened him with a mutiny if he tried to force them to go.

Orellana and his men continued down the Napo River, eventually reaching the Amazon River on the 11th of February 1542. They sailed the length of the Amazon, reaching the Atlantic Ocean on the 26th of August 1542. Orellana eventually returned to Spain via Venezuela.

As they made their way along the river, Orellana and his men heard stories of fierce warrior women and occasionally encountered such women fighting alongside their men. Orellana named the River ‘Amazon‘ after the mythological Amazons – a kingdom of fierce warrior-women, who had fired European imaginations since the days of antiquity.

The opulent Teatro de Paz (Theatre of Peace) in Belem was built during the colonial era using proceeds from the Rubber boom.

The opulent Teatro de Paz (Theatre of Peace) in Belem was built during the colonial era using proceeds from the Rubber boom.

Although a complete commercial failure, this accidental journey of exploration provided a great deal of information on the Amazon basin and opened up the interior of South America for exploration. Within a century, European settlers had arrived in search of gold and other riches. The Spanish based their settlements on the Pacific and the Portuguese on the Atlantic, while the French, Dutch, and English built settlements in the Guyana region.

One of the biggest booms to occur in the Amazon during the colonial period involved the rubber tree, or Para rubber. Native to the Amazon, rubber had been used by indigenous tribes for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until Charles Goodyear invented the process of vulcanisation that demand for this raw material skyrocketed, especially from automobile manufacturers.

As a result of the boom, Manaus grew into a booming and opulent metropolis. It was during this epoch that the grand Manaus Opera House was constructed in Manaus and the Teatro de Paz constructed in Belem. The rubber boom however came at a price with the enslavement and near genocide of numerous groups of indigenous peoples.

Present Day

Despite government efforts to build a paved road through the Amazon Basin, the river remains the only means of transporting goods to isolated cities.

Despite government efforts to build a paved road through the Amazon Basin, the river remains the only means of transporting goods to isolated cities.

Since colonial times, the remote, and mostly impenetrable, Amazon basin has remained largely undeveloped by agriculture and continues to be occupied by indigenous people.

During the 20th century, the Brazilian government tried to open the region to development by constructing the Trans-Amazonian Highway (BR-230) which was intended to link the coastal city of João Pessoa with the Amazon town of Benjamin Constant. Funding difficulties meant the road could never be completed. The road currently ends in the town of Labrea (south of Manaus) but most of the road remains unpaved and impassable during the wet season.

One negative impact resulting from the construction of the road has been an increase in deforestation. Logging companies can now access areas which were previously inaccessible and the road makes it easier to transport timber.

Currencies

The official currency of Brazil - Brazilian Reals.

The official currency of Brazil – Brazilian Reals.

The following three currencies are used in this report:

  • The Brazilian Real (R$) is the official currency of Brazil. Click here to view the current exchange rate against USD$1.
  • The Colombian Peso (P) is the official currency of Colombia. Click here to view the current exchange rate against USD$1.
  • The Peruvian Sol (S/) is the official currency of Peru. Click here to view the current exchange rate against USD$1.

Voyages

Following is a summary of the six different voyages I made along the river. 

Voyage 1 – Iquitos (Peru) to Leticia (Colombia) via Santa Rosa (Peru)

Distance: 486 kilometres/ 302 miles
Duration: ~ 13 hours
Transport Operator: Golfinho (fast boat)
Cost: 200 Peruvian Soles (US$70)

Voyage 2 – Tabatinga (Brazil) to Manaus

Distance: 1,628 kilometres/ 1011 miles
Duration: ~ 30 hours
Transport OperatorLancha Glória De Deus lll (fast boat)
Cost: R$550 – R$600

Voyage 3 – Manaus to Santarém

Distance: 772 kilometres/ 480 miles
Duration: ~ 30 hours
Transport Operator: Slow Boat
Cost: I paid R$700 for a berth in a cabin. Hammock space is available for R$80. Food and drinks are available for purchase.

Voyage 4 – Santarém to Belém

Distance: 792 kilometres/ 492 miles
Duration: ~ 48 hours
Transport Operator: MV Amazonia (slow boat)
Cost: I paid R$700 for a berth in a cabin. Hammock space is available for R$200

Voyage 5 – Belém to Marajó Island (Return)

Distance: 174 kilometres/ 108 miles
Duration: ~ 3.5 hours (one way)
Transport Operator: Ferries depart daily from the Terminal Hidroviário (Pier 9) in downtown Belém.
Cost: R$20,00 in economy class; R$35,00 in 1st class

Voyage 6 – Belém to Macapá

Distance: 482 kilometres/ 300 miles
Duration: ~ 24 hours
Transport Operator: Sao Francisco de Paula (slow boat)
Cost: A shared berth cabin costs R$225(per bed) or you can pay R$60 to hang your hammock outside. As with all boats on the Amazon, you’ll need to provide your own hammock and rope to hang it from.

Amazon Boat Travel

Amazon River 'slow boats' docked in Manaus.

Amazon River ‘slow boats’ docked in Manaus.

It’s important to point out that the boats that travel along the Amazon are not meant for tourists – they are the default mode of transportation for goods and people from place A to place B.

The Amazon River is known as the ‘river sea‘ and for good reason – for most of its course, the river is incredibly wide and boats tend to travel down the centre of it, far from the nearest shore.

If you dream of sitting on the deck of a boat, observing passing wildlife and villages, then you need to find a smaller river upon which to travel.

However, most towns along the river (always located near the confluence of a tributary river) provide the opportunity to venture into the interior on smaller rivers where you can spot wildlife and have contact with local villagers.

The daily storm clouds gather over the Amazon River near Belem.

The daily storm clouds gather over the Amazon River near Belem.

There are two types of boats which travel along the river, fast boats and slow boats. While slow boats provide transportation along the entire length of the river, fast boats only operate on a couple of sections of the river. Slow boats are cheaper and provide both hammock and cabin space while fast boats provide seating only.

View from my fast boat traveling from Tabatinga to Manaus.

View from my fast boat traveling from Tabatinga to Manaus.

Fast Boats

Fast Boats are a great way of covering vast distances in a shorter space of time, unfortunately they were only available on two of my journeys – between Iquitos and Santa Rosa in Peru and between Tabatinga and Manaus in Brazil. Whereas a slow boat covers the 1,628 kilometre (1011 mile) journey from Tabatinga to Manaus in four days, a fast boat completes the journey in 30 hours.

The Brazilians, such as this girl on the Belem to Macapa slow boat, loved posing for photos.

The Brazilians, such as this girl on the Belem to Macapa slow boat, loved posing for photos.

Slow Boats

Slow boats are not built for comfort – they are noisy, dirty and don’t offer a lot of service. Their primary function is the transportation of goods along the river. Often you will spend hours in a remote port while goods are loaded (always by hand) on and off the boat.

Slow boats provide a crucial lifeline to remote communities who have no other connection to the outside world. Accommodation options on the slow boats include private cabins or communal hammock space.

The very crowded 'hammock-class', on my slow boat from Belem to Macapa.

The very crowded ‘hammock-class’, on my slow boat from Belem to Macapa.

As I travel with expensive camera equipment, I always paid extra for a berth in a lockable cabin and I normally had a cabin to myself. I appreciated that I could always lock my valuables in my cabin while I was showering or using the toilet.

The Brazilians are generally friendly, warm and kind. It's a pleasure spending time with them.

The Brazilians are generally friendly, warm and kind. It’s a pleasure spending time with them.

Those who travel in hammock class have nowhere secure to store valuables. You will also need to purchase your hammock (R$110) and some rope to hang it from prior to boarding your vessel. There are always vendors selling hammocks at the docks and if you’re unsure of how to hang a hammock, the locals will be more than willing to help you.

Hammock-class on the M/V Sao Francisco de Paula which connects Belem to Macapa.

Hammock-class on the M/V Sao Francisco de Paula which connects Belem to Macapa.

Meals are offered on-board with breakfast normally costing R$5 and a lunch/ dinner buffet costing R$10. The buffet’s almost always include rice, pasta, salad and some meat option. The one essential accompaniment to all meals served along the Amazon River is Farofa – a toasted cassava flour mixture.

Farofa

The staple of Amazonian cuisine, Farofa, being preparing at the 'Ver-O-Peso' market in Belem.

The staple of Amazonian cuisine, Farofa, being preparing at the ‘Ver-O-Peso’ market in Belem.

Farofa is a ubiquitous part of meals served in the Amazon region. Made by toasting cassava flour with butter, salt, garlic, onions, sausage and other savoury ingredients, Farofa has a salty/ smoky taste and is the condiment of choice for Brazilians at mealtimes.

Visa Requirements

A riverside border checkpoint in Leticia, Colombia.

A riverside border checkpoint in Leticia, Colombia.

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Peru provides visa-free access for a period of 183 days to 99 different nationalities. You can check your requirements here.

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Colombia provides visa-free access for a period of 90 days to 98 different nationalities. You can check your requirements here.

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Brazil provides visa-free access for a period of 90 days to 93 different nationalities, however this does not include Australian, Canadian or United States passport holders, who must apply for a visa in advance.

A new e-visa process is now available for holders of Australian, Canadian, Japanese and United States passports. The processing time for the e-visa is 5 days, with the visa valid for multiple visits (not exceeding 90 days per year) over a two year period.

More information, including a link to the online form, can be found here:

https://www.brazilevisas.com

Brazilian immigration does not issue visas upon arrival so if you find yourself in Leticia (without a visa) you will need to apply for one from the Brazilian vice-consulate who will require ten days to process your application.  You can check your requirements here.

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Destinations

During my voyage, I traveled from Iquitos to Leticia, then TabatingaManaus, Santarém, Belém, Marajó Island then Macapá. Information for Iquitos and Leticia is provided below, while information on the other destinations is provided in Part 2 of the guide.

Iquitos (Peru)

A rainbow forms over the Amazon river at Iquitos.

A rainbow forms over the Amazon river at Iquitos.

Introduction

Iquitos is one of the more interesting destinations on the Amazon River, offering a vast selection of activities not found elsewhere in Peru, most of them focused on the Amazon River and the surrounding rainforest.

With a population of 437,000 – Iquitos is considered the largest city in the world unreachable by road and because of this motorcycles and moto-taxis dominate the roads.

The daily afternoon downpour in steamy Iquitos.

The daily afternoon downpour in steamy Iquitos.

Largely cut-off from the outside world, the only way to reach Iquitos is by boat or plane (see the ‘Getting There‘ section below for more details).

Macaws are a common sight in Iquitos.

Macaws are a common sight in Iquitos.

Besides the Amazon attractions, Iquitos attracts a lot of travelers who come to learn about, and experience, Ayahuasca, a powerful psychedelic, plant-based brew that is gaining increasing popularity worldwide.

If you’re arriving from anywhere else in Peru, you can’t help but notice that Iquitos has a completely different feel to it. From it’s tropical, year-round climate to it’s diverse population (including lots of local indigenous Indians), to its remote location which gives it the air of a frontier town.

I’ve made two separate trips to the city and would happily return for a third. There is something charming and magical in the moist, jungle air which hangs over Iquitos.

Sightseeing

The numerous waterways around Iquitos are full of attractions.

The numerous waterways around Iquitos are full of attractions.

There are plenty of sights in and outside the city, including:

Casa de Fierro (The Iron House)

The iconic Casa de Fierro (Iron House), which Gustav Eiffel designed, in downtown Iquitos.

The iconic Casa de Fierro (Iron House), which Gustav Eiffel designed, in downtown Iquitos.

Located on the main square (Plaza de Armas) and designed by Gustav Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) – this is one of the more quirky sights in Iquitos.

Said to be the first pre-fabricated house installed in South America, the building was purchased at the International Exposition of Paris in 1889 by a local rubber baron who then had it shipped in pieces to Iquitos.

The many metal sheets, which comprise the walls, were apparently carried by hundreds of men through the jungle and re-assembled on the main square in 1890.

Amazonian Manatee Orphanage

Located 4.5 kilometres from Iquitos on the Nauta highway is this orphanage, which rescues baby Manatee’s (sea cows), whose mothers have been killed by local hunters. A moto-taxi from downtown will cost about S/15.

Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm & Amazon Animal Orphanage

One of the beautiful stars of the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm.

One of the beautiful stars of the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm.

The Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm & Amazon Animal Orphanage (Adult: S/20) is located near the village of Padre Cocha, a short boat ride from the rundown Bellavista-Nanay port in Iquitos.

Enthusiastic international volunteers will happily show you around the butterfly enclosure, where you learn about the life cycle of these fascinating insects. You are then free to wander around the orphanage to view animals that have been rescued, which includes one impressive Jaguar.

Yagua Indian Village

Indigenous dancers at the Yagua Indian Village.

Indigenous dancers at the Yagua Indian Village.

Something that is normally combined with a visit to the Butterfly farm is a visit to this remote, riverside Indian village.

Handwoven bags for sale at the Yagua Indian Village.

Handwoven bags for sale at the Yagua Indian Village.

Home to a group of Yagua Indians (there are an estimated 6,000 living in northern Peru and Colombia), the village is undoubtedly a tourism experience (especially the staged dancing), but does offer an opportunity to understand a little more about indigenous Amazonian culture

Accommodation

There are plenty of options in town, including larger hotels, and smaller family-run guest houses. Outside of town, there are a number of jungle eco-lodges which are accessible by boat. Booking.com currently lists 123 properties in the city.

Eating Out

This being Peru, there is no shortage of good food and fine restaurants in Iquitos. One of the joy’s of eating here is being able to sample the amazing and unique Amazonian produce. The best place to gain an understanding of this produce is the sprawling Belen Market, the largest in the Peruvian Amazon.

Camu Camu is an Amazonian super fruit and tastes amazing in a Pisco Sour.

Camu Camu is an Amazonian super fruit and tastes amazing in a Pisco Sour.

One of my favourite Amazonian fruits is Camu Camu, which is considered by health food aficionados as a ‘super fruit’. Famed for its antioxidant properties, proponents claim it’s anti-viral properties can help with cold sores, herpes, shingles, and the common cold. What I do know is that it tastes great in a Pisco Sour.

A very different dining experience is offered at 'Al Frio y Al Fuego', a floating restaurant barge in the middle of the Amazon river at Iquitos.

A different dining experience – Al Frio y Al Fuego floating restaurant in Iquitos.

Of all the restaurant options in town, the most unique has to be Al Frio y Al Fuego. Located on a floating pontoon in the middle of the Amazon River, you access the restaurant via a speedboat which leaves from the restaurant dock in downtown Iquitos.

The menu items are inspired by the Amazon and there’s a pool where you can swim and relax. Best time to come is late in the afternoon as the restaurant affords beautiful sunset views of Iquitos.

One of the many delicious meals served at 'Al Frio y Al Fuego' floating restaurant served with camu-camu sauce.

One of the many delicious meals served at ‘Al Frio y Al Fuego’ floating restaurant served with camu-camu sauce.

A great place for any meal and a popular meeting place for travelers and local expats is the riverside café – Dawn on the Amazon. Located off the Plaza de Armas, the café offers the best river views, great breakfast, good coffee and Ayahuasca-friendly items.

Getting There/ Away

Air

Iquitos is served by the Coronel FAP Francisco Secada Vignetta International Airport (IATA: IQT), which is located 11 kilometres south-west of downtown. Since the city is not linked to any road network, most visitors arrive by flight.

Both taxis and (three-wheel) moto-taxis can be found outside the arrivals hall with the former charging S/20 into the centre of town and the latter charging S/10.

The following airlines fly to/ from Iquitos:

Boat

Leticia/ Tabatinga

Transtur connect Iquitos (Peru) to Leticia (Colombia).

Transtur connect Iquitos (Peru) to Leticia (Colombia).

Travelling downriver from Iquitos to Leticia / Tabatinga, you have a choice of fast boat (13 hours) or slow boat (about 2.5 days). The latter are cargo boats and as such make frequent stops in small settlements along the river to take on and drop off passengers and cargo.

Boats travel downriver to the tiny Peruvian settlement of Santa Rosa, which is located across the river from Leticia and Tabatinga. Upon arrival in Santa Rosa, you get stamped out of Peru and take a taxi boat across the river to either Leticia or Tabatinga.

Update – This article in the Peru Telegraph suggests a newer, faster, full-size ferry is now operating from Iquitos to Santa Rosa, covering the distance in 8 hours. If you have taken this boat I would be interested in hearing about your experience. 

Fast boat

Two different companies, Transtur & Golfinho, operate fast boats (tickets cost 200 Peruvian Soles – US$70) five days a week from Iquitos to Santa Rosa, covering the 486 kilometre (302 mile) journey in 13 hours. The current timetable is:

  • Golfinho departs from the El Huequito dock on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 5:00 AM.
  • Transtur departs from the El Huequito dock on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 5:00 AM.

Boats arrive in the evening in Santa Rosa where you complete Peruvian immigration formalities before crossing the river to either Colombia (Leticia) or Brazil (Tabatinga).

Slow Boat

If you prefer to embark on a more enduring adventure, slow boats depart from Iquitos, reaching Santa Rosa 3 days later. Cabins cost 80 soles, which includes meals.

Puccallpa/ Yurimaguas

Slow boats travel further upriver from Iquitos to the towns of Puccallpa and Yurimaguas, where you can connect to the Peruvian road network.

Getting Around

Boat

Amazon River Travel Guide: Boats are the primary means of transportation around Iquitos.

Boats are the primary means of transportation around Iquitos.

There are many attractions hidden away in the waterways surrounding Iquitos and the only way of accessing them is via small speedboats which depart from the grimy and chaotic Bellavista Nanay port, which is located three kilometres km (1.5 miles) north of downtown Iquitos at the end of Avenida La Marina.

Road

Despite being cut-off from the rest of Peru, there is still plenty of traffic on the streets of Iquitos.  The most ubiquitous vehicle in town is the mototaxi  a three wheel motorcycle with a small, rickshaw-like passenger cabin in the back. Additionally, regular taxis are available too.

A great way to travel around steamy, hot Iquitos is by open-air bus. These charming antiques from a bygone era run on fixed routes, including to the airport.

Tres Fronteras

A painting of the 'Tres Fronteras' (Three Frontiers) region, which encompasses the point on the Amazon river where Colombia, Peru and Brazil converge.

A painting of the ‘Tres Fronteras’ (Three Frontiers) region, which encompasses the point on the Amazon river where Colombia, Peru and Brazil converge.

The Tres Fronteras (Three Borders) region is named for the tri-point where the borders of Brazil, Peru, and Colombia meet. While you are in the area, you are free to move unrestricted without visiting immigration each time but should always carry your passport.

When you are departing a country or moving onto the next country, you need to visit the respective immigration office to be processed.

Santa Rosa (Peru)

Introduction

There is nothing much to be said about tiny Santa Rosa de Yavarí  (pop: 1,000) – a muddy, damp, mosquito infested place, the town serves as a checkpoint and crossing point for the Brazil-Peru and the Brazil-Colombia borders. The only thing to do here is get your passport stamped and move on.

Formalities

The Peruvian Immigration office is next to the dock and is open during day-light hours.  If you’re arriving from Iquitos, you should get your exit stamp prior to taking a boat across the river to Leticia or Tabatinga.

If you’re entering Peru you need to ensure you have your entry stamp prior to boarding the boat to Iquitos. If you’re taking the 4:00 am fast boat to Iquitos, you’ll need to get your Peruvian entry stamp the day before departure as the immigration office will be closed at the time of your departure and you will not be allowed on the boat without a Peruvian entry stamp.  

Accommodation

There are a few options in Santa Rosa but much better accommodation options are available across the river in Leticia. The only reason you might stay here is if you’re taking the early morning fast boat to Iquitos which departs at 4 AM.

Getting There/ Away

Boat

Santa Rosa is connected to Iquitos by fast and slow boats. The following information is for upriver travel, for downriver travel – please refer to the Iquitos section.

Fast Boats to Iquitos:

Two different companies (Transtur  Golfinho), operate daily (except Monday) fast boats from Santa Rosa to Iquitos, covering the 486 kilometre (302 mile) journey in 13 hours. Tickets cost 200 Peruvian Soles (US$70) with the boats departing Santa Rosa at 4:00 AM. If you’re staying in Tabatinga or Leticia you’ll need to take a boat across to Santa Rosa at 3:00 AM. 

I made the journey downriver with Transporte Golfinho who have departures for Iquitos three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday). Tickets can be purchased from their office in Tabatinga:

Transporte Golfinho

Address: Av. Marechal Mallet N° 306
E-mail: jrcbra@hotmail.com

Slow Boats to Iquitos:

Slow boats crawl up the river to Iquitos, arriving 4 days later.

Getting Around

Boat

From Santa Rosa, water taxis make the 10 minute crossing to Leticia / Tabatinga for 2 Peruvian Soles.

Leticia (Colombia)

Introduction

With a population of 37,000, charming Leticia is Colombia’s southern-most town and the only Colombian town on the Amazon River. There are few sights in Leticia, however with it’s tree lined streets and leafy plaza’s, the town has a relaxed ambiance and is a pleasant place to spend time between boat journeys. It’s also an ideal launchpad for Eco-tourism activities in the surrounding rainforest, where you’ll find various Eco-lodges.

The Colombians are very hospitality-savvy, so it’s no surprise that Leticia is the place to stay when in the Tres Fronteras region. You’ll find lots of decent accommodation and dining options in town and lots of service companies catering to travelers. You’ll probably only venture across to ‘edgy’ Tabatinga to take a boat to Manaus.

Formalities

When arriving or departing Colombia, you will need to complete formalities at the Colombian Immigration office, which is located at the airport (3 km north of town).

Sightseeing

Around Town

While there are no real sights in Leticia, the town is a nice place to spend some time relaxing. Parque Santander and Parque Orellana are two municipal parks where you can relax and watch the world go by.

One interesting phenomenon that takes place each evening at sunset is the arrival at Parque Santander of thousands of parrots who roost in the trees for the night. The noise can be deafening.

Marasha Nature Reserve (Peru)

The kayak journey through an Amazon swamp to the Marasha Nature Reserve which lies in Peru opposite Leticia (Colombia).

The kayak journey through an Amazon swamp to the Marasha Nature Reserve which lies in Peru opposite Leticia (Colombia).

I spent time at the Marasha Nature Reserve which is an Eco-lodge located on the Peruvian side of the river (you can visit without getting stamped into Peru but must carry your passport) in the tiny settlement of Puerto Alegria.

To access the lodge, you first travel upriver from Leticia to Puerto Alegria where you disembark and, depending on the season either walk (dry season) or canoe (wet season) to the lodge.

A majestic Great White Heron at the Marasha Nature Reserve in Peru.

A majestic Great White Heron at the Marasha Nature Reserve in Peru.

I travelled during the wet season, so I got to sit back and relax while my Indigenous guide rowed myself and one other guest in a dug-out canoe through a flooded jungle forest. Along the way we passed Howler monkeys swinging through the trees, saw Caiman basking in the sun, Iguana’s and many different types of birds. After an hour of paddling, the jungle safari sadly ended as we reached the lodge, which is perched in a picturesque spot on the banks of a small lake.

While at the lodge you can fish for Piranha from the deck, feed giant Arapaima fish (one of the largest freshwater fishes in the world), make friends with the resident Macaws  and Toucans or spot the local Caiman who lurks around the deck (swimming is not recommended here!)

In the evening you have the opportunity to accompany the Indigenous guide for some Caiman spotting. We found several babies on our night safari and – while very cute – they still pack a nasty bite. Kayaks are also available and hiking trails around the lodge allow you to get close and personal with the wildlife.

Spending time at the Marasha Nature Reserve was one of the highlights of my meander down the Amazon River.

Accommodation

There are plenty of accommodation options in Leticia from hotels to guest houses, hostels and jungle lodges. Prices are very reasonable with a decent B&B charging US$20 per night (including breakfast).

Booking.com currently has 52 properties listed.

Eating Out

Leticia offers, by far, the best dining options in the Tres Fronteras area. The restaurants in town offer up a fusion of cuisines, blending Colombian, Brazilian and Peruvian influences.

If you wish to sample Colombian cuisine (one of the best in South America), the Tierras Amazonicas on Calle 8 is a standout choice. Also nearby on Calle 8 is El Cielo Fusion Amazonica, which as the name suggests, specialises in fusion cuisine using local Amazonian produce.

Getting There/ Away

Air

Flights into isolated Leticia arrive at Alfredo Vásquez Cobo International Airport (IATA: LET) which is located 3 kilometres north of downtown.

The following airlines provide regular services to/from Leticia:

Boat 

Being the only Colombian town on the Amazon River, no long distance boats call at Leticia. If traveling to Peru, you’ll need to take a boat from Santa Rosa and if traveling to Brazil you’ll need to take a boat from Tabatinga.

Road

You can easily walk across the border between Colombia and Brazil by following the Avenida da Amizade – or you can take one of the many taxis and moto-taxis which cross the border freely.

Getting Around

Boat

Water taxis connect Leticia with the Peruvian settlement of Santa Rosa from where you can board boats to Iquitos, Peru.

Road

There are plenty of regular taxis and motorbike taxis on the streets of Leticia.

Continuation

Amazon River Guide Part 2 Image

The journey continues in my Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 2.

 

You might also like…

Macapa to Manaus Guide Image

 

Travel Guide: Macapá to Manaus via the Guiana’s & Venezuela

A travel guide detailing an overland meander from Macapá to Manaus via French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana and Venezuela 


That’s the end of part 1 of my Amazon River Travel Guide.

Safe Travels!

Darren


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Further Reading

Other travel reports from the region include:

Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1 Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1 Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1 Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1

Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1 Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1 Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1 Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1

Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1 Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1 Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1 Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1

Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1 Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1 Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1 Amazon River Travel Guide – Part 1

Brazil and Guianas Travel Guide

The majestic and awe-inspiring, Kaieteur Falls - a truly spectacular sight.

Brazil and Guianas Travel Guide

Welcome to the taste2travel Brazil and Guianas Travel Guide!

 

Introduction

This Brazil and Guianas Travel Guide details a 3,000 kilometre (1,865 mile) overland journey between the Brazilian Amazonian cities of Macapá and Manaus via French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana and Venezuela.

After two years of meandering through most parts of South America, the one region I had yet to explore was the remote and little-visited north-eastern corner of the continent – home to the three Guianas; French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana.

In Cayenne, French Guiana, Carnival is celebrated from January to March each year.

In Cayenne, French Guiana, Carnival is celebrated from January to March each year.

In many respects, the three Guiana’s are an anomaly within South America. On a continent comprised mostly of Latino people who live in former Spanish colonies (and one Portuguese colony), this triumvirate is comprised of Guyana – a former British colonySuriname a former Dutch colony and French Guiana – a French territory (and a  distant outpost of the European Union).

The differences between the Guiana’s and the rest of South America are not only linguistic but cultural. With a combined population of less than 1.5 million (most of whom live along a narrow coastal corridor), the citizens of the Guiana’s face north to the Atlantic Ocean and look to their Caribbean neighbours for cultural references.

While Brazil and French Guiana are separated by the narrow Oyapok river, they are culturally worlds apart, with Cayenne having a distinctly Caribbean air.

Both Guyana and Suriname are members of Caricom (The Caribbean Community) with Guyana hosting the organisation’s headquarters in Georgetown.

The biggest mosque in Suriname is located on the Keizerstraat in Paramaribo.

The biggest mosque in Suriname is located on the Keizerstraat in Paramaribo.

Despite their small populations (Guyana: 773,000 / Suriname: 558,000), ethnic diversity is high due to the fact that the British and Dutch realised they couldn’t rely on the native Indian population as a labour force for their sugar plantations, so they imported African slaves. Once slavery had been abolished, imported indentured labourers from British India were introduced.

Christ Church in Georgetown, Guyana.

Christ Church in Georgetown, Guyana.

The Dutch also added Indonesian (Javanese) workers from the Dutch East Indies into the mix in Suriname. Through the centuries, the populations mixed, making for an interesting mélange. Walk the streets of Georgetown or Paramaribo and you’ll find churches, mosques, Hindu temples and (in the case of Paramaribo) a synagogue on the same street.

The biggest mosque in the country is located on the Keizerstraat in Paramaribo.

A map of the Guyana shield.
Source: Wikipedia

Adding to this feeling of ‘otherness’, the Guiana’s are isolated from their southern neighbours by a vast, dense rainforest. Development in the region has been hampered by the impossible terrain – created by the immense Guyana Shield – a series of mountain ranges and highlands punctuated by deep gorges and valley’s, seemingly designed to conserve the interior’s impenetrability. It’s due to this geographical feature that such spectacular waterfalls as Angel (Venezuela) and Kaieteur (Guyana) exist.

A rainbow over Kaieteur Falls, Guyana.

A rainbow over Kaieteur Falls, Guyana.

The difficult landscape has also hindered the development of road infrastructure in the region, with just one asphalt road connecting Brazil to French Guiana (along the coast) and one long, enduring gravel road connecting Guyana to Brazil through the remote and sparsely populated interior.

The 'highway' connecting Guyana with Brazil passes through the Iwokrama forest

The ‘highway’ connecting Guyana with Brazil passes through the Iwokrama forest in Guyana.

When borders were created in the region, the many wide rivers made for easy demarcation lines. If you follow the coastal route from Brazil to Venezuela, you’ll first cross the Oyapok River (the only one which has been bridged) into French Guyana, then the Maroni River into Suriname, then finally, the Corentyne River into Guyana.

Guyana and Venezuela share a remote and isolated land border but, for more than a century, Venezuela has disputed the present border, instead claiming all the territory as far east as the Essequibo River. You can read more about this dispute in my Essequibo Travel Guide.

Girls walking along the riverbank of the Essequibo in Bartica, Guyana.

Girls walking along the riverbank of the Essequibo in Bartica, Guyana.

Air services from the Guiana’s to other parts of South America are also limited. Despite billing itself as the ‘Gateway to South America‘, Cheddi Jagan International airport (Georgetown) only offers air connections (within South America) to neighbouring Suriname.

Services between Suriname (Paramaribo) and Brazil (Belém) are offered three times a week by Surinam Airways (via Cayenne) and once a week (Sunday) by the Brazilian carrier GOL. Azul Brazilian Airlines provides connections between Cayenne and Belém every Sunday and Cayenne and Fortaleza on Saturday.

If you wish to get off the well-beaten South American gringo trail, the three Guiana’s offer something completely different. From dramatic waterfalls, virgin rainforests, immense rivers, abundant wildlife and an ethnic potpourri, traveling here is a rewarding and fulfilling experience – and in most places you’ll encounter few, if any, other tourists. 

Location

A map showing the original five Guianas.

A map showing the original five Guianas.
Source: Wikipedia

 

The area covered by this report is known as the Guyana’s (also spelt: Guiana’s) – a vast tropical region in the North-East of South America which is bounded in the west by the Orinoco river (Venezuela) and in the east by the Amazon river (Brazil).

The name Guyana is derived from the Amerindian language, meaning “land of many waters” – a direct reference to the many large rivers which bisect the region, draining the Guyana Shield, eventually flowing into the Atlantic ocean.

Passenger speedboats on the Pomeroon River in the riverside town of Charity, Guyana. In the 'Land of Many Waters', many communities are accessible only by boat.

Passenger speedboats on the Pomeroon River in the riverside town of Charity, Guyana. In the ‘Land of Many Waters’, many communities are accessible only by boat.

In colonial times, every colonial power of importance had its own Guiana – these were (in geographical order from west to east):

  • Spanish Guiana – now the Guayana region of Venezuela
  • British Guiana – now the sovereign nation of Guyana
  • Dutch Guiana – now the sovereign nation of Suriname
  • French Guiana – now a French department known in French as ‘Guyane’
  • Portuguese Guiana – now the Brazilian state of Amapa

When Guyana declared independence, it changed its name from British Guiana to Guyana.

History

Pre-Columbian Era

Prior to European colonisation of the region, the Guiana’s were populated by native Arawak Indians. It was these Indians who immigrated from the Orinoco (Venezuela) and Essequibo (Guyana) river basin, establishing the first settlements throughout the Caribbean islands.

The Arawaks were eventually supplanted in the Caribbean by the more aggressive Carib Indians, who also originated from the Guiana’s.

European Era

The first European to discover the north-east coast of South America was Christopher Columbus in 1498. Columbus didn’t make any claims at the time and it wasn’t until the end of the 16th century when Sir Walter Raleigh published an account of his search for “Manoa“, the legendary city of the king known as El Dorado (the City of Gold), that interest in the region developed.

A world map showing the two hemispheres as defined by the Treaty of Tordesillas.

A world map showing the two hemispheres as defined by the Treaty of Tordesillas.
Source: The New York Times.

The 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas (a papal edict) divided the world into two spheres of control between Spain and Portugal. One of the dividing meridian lines passed through the Guiana’s, with Spain owning everything to the west and Portugal owning everything to the east.

While these two powers were busy developing their colonies to the south (and the Portuguese were busy expanding Brazil further west into the Spanish hemisphere), the protestant Dutch and English, who didn’t recognise the papal edict, established settlements along the fertile coast of the Guiana’s.

In the early 17th century, Protestant plantations sprang up along the fertile Guyanan coast-lands. Ironically, it was the Dutch who first settled Guyana (formerly British Guiana), while the British were the first to colonize Suriname (which would become Dutch Guiana).

France settled what was left, and the three powers proceeded to fight over and swap their Guyana territories like they did their nearby Caribbean possessions. The Spanish and Portuguese viewed settlement of the region as a violation of the treaty and repeatedly attacked and destroyed the settlements.

The Ministry of Finance building anchors one side of Independence Square in Paramaribo.

The Ministry of Finance building anchors one side of Independence Square in Paramaribo.

All the colonies along the Guiana coast were converted to profitable sugar plantations during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, war continued to be waged among the Dutch, French and British until a final peace agreement was signed in 1814 – the Convention of London – which heavily favoured the British.

Post-convention, the French retained French Guiana, while the Dutch retained Suriname but were forced to give up Berbice, Essequibo, and Demerara; these colonies were consolidated under a British administration and would be known after 1831 as British Guiana.

Entrance to prison cells at a former French penal colony on Îles du Salut, French Guiana.

Entrance to prison cells at a former French penal colony on Îles du Salut, French Guiana.

After 1814, the Guiana’s came to be recognized individually as British Guiana, French Guiana, and Dutch Guiana. British Guiana became independent of the United Kingdom on 26 May 1966, changing it’s name to Guyana.

In 1975, Suriname left the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1975, gaining its independence while French Guiana continues to remain a territory of France and is – by default – a part of the European Union.

Generous annual subsidies from Paris ensure that any calls for independence don’t ever gain traction, however residents occasionally protest against the high cost of prices in the territory (compared to France).

Currencies

The official currency of Brazil - Brazilian Reals.

The official currency of Brazil – Brazilian Reals.

The following currencies are mentioned in this guide:

  • The Brazilian Real (R$) is the official currency of Brazil. Click here to view the current exchange rate against USD$1.
  • The Euro (€) is the official currency of French Guyana. Click here to view the current exchange rate against USD$1.
  • The Suriname Dollar (S$) is the official currency of Suriname. Click here to view the current exchange rate against USD$1.
  • The Guyana Dollar (GYD$) is the official currency of Guyana. Click here to view the current exchange rate against USD$1.
  • The Venezuelan Bolívar (VEF) is the official currency of Venezuela. Click here to view the official government exchange rate against USD$1.

Note: Due to hyperinflation in Venezuela, the unofficial exchange rate is changing constantly. You can check the current rate at dolartoday.com

The Surinamese dollar.

The Surinamese dollar.

Journey Map

A 3,000 kilometre (1,865 mile) odyssey from one Amazon city to another, via the Guiana’s. 

Destinations

Macapá (Brazil) 

View of the Amazon River from Fortaleza de São José de Macapá.

View of the Amazon River from Fortaleza de São José de Macapá.

Introduction

It’s actually easier to reach Macapá from neighbouring  French Guiana than from the rest of Brazil, thanks to a highway that connects the city with Cayenne, the capital.

Macapá is strategically located on the northern channel of the Amazon River, near its mouth on the Atlantic ocean. At 325 kilometres (202 miles) across, the mouth is the widest in the world and effectively isolates Macapá from the rest of Brazil. The city has no land connections to other parts of Brazil, except other cities in Amapá state and French Guiana.

I arrived in the capital of Amapá state after spending a leisurely 24-hours crossing the mouth of the river on a slow boat from Belém (see the ‘Getting There – Boat‘ section below for details on the journey). During the colonial period the state was called Portuguese Guiana and so it was fitting that Macapá should serve as the launch pad for my foray into the other Guiana’s.

Macapá (pop: 500,000) is a relaxed, laid-back capital and, while not brimming with attractions, is a pleasant enough place to spend time recuperating between journeys. I spent two days in the city before boarding a night bus to Oiapoque on the French Guiana border.

Sightseeing

Fortalzeza de Sao Jose de Macapá.

Fortalzeza de Sao Jose de Macapá.

The main attraction in Macapá is the sprawling ruin of the fort – Fortalzeza de Sao Jose de Macapá. The fort was built at the mouth of the Amazon River by the Portuguese from 1764 to 1782 as a defence against the French who took control of what is now French Guiana in 1677. Entrance to the fort is free and while all information is in Portuguese, the sweeping views of the Amazon river require no translation.

The Marco Zero monument in Macapá indicates the Equatorial line.

The Marco Zero monument in Macapá indicates the Equatorial line.

Located 6 kilometres from downtown on Avenue Equatorial, the Marco Zero monument was built to mark the position of the equator, which cuts through the city.

Where else can you stand on the equator? Or stand in both hemispheres? Or hop/ skip over the equator?

The 30 metre tall tower has a large open circle at its top. Twice a year, at the spring and autumn equinoxes, the sun aligns with that circle, focusing a line of sunlight along the equator.

Accommodation

Macapá offers a good selection of accommodation catering to all budgets from hostels to 4-star hotels. While in town, I stayed at the 4-star Hotel Do Forte, which is one of the better hotels in town. Located downtown, this comfortable, clean and modern hotel is a short walk from restaurants, bars and attractions such as the fort and the river. You can book properties using booking.com

Eating Out

Sleepy Macapá offers a surprisingly good number of restaurants with the standout being the Amazonas Peixaria. Overlooking the Amazon river, this is a good place to eat local fish and sample Amazonian cuisine.

Getting There/ Away

Air

A slow boat from Belém to Macapá takes 24 hours, while a flight takes just 55 minutes (but is nowhere near as adventurous). Not surprisingly, many people choose to fly to Macapá, which is served by Alberto Alcolumbre International Airport (located 3 kilometres north-west of downtown).

The following airlines provide regular flights to/ from Macapá:

Boat
On-board the M/V Sao Francisco de Paula leaving Belém for Macapá, a journey of 24 hours.

On-board the M/V Sao Francisco de Paula leaving Belém for Macapá, a journey of 24 hours.

From Belém

Slow boats travel twice a week from Belém, departing every Wednesday and Saturday at 10:00 am, arriving 24 hours later in Macapá’s port neighbourhood of Santana.

I traveled on the M/V Sao Francisco de Paula, paying R$225 for a berth in a private cabin – hammock space is available for R$120. Food and drinks are available on board.

The very crowded 'hammock-class' on the M/V Sao Francisco de Paula which connects Macapá and Belém.

The very crowded ‘hammock-class’ on the M/V Sao Francisco de Paula which connects Macapá and Belém.

From Macapá

The M/V Sao Francisco de Paula, returns to Belém from Macapá (Santana) twice a week, completing the journey in 24 hours.  

Land

The road network in Amapá state is disconnected from the rest of Brazil, so long distance bus services are limited. The most useful connection for travelers are the two nightly Amazontur buses which make the 600-kilometre journey north along route BR156 to the border town of Oiapoque.

The town is located on the banks of the Oyapok river, slightly upstream from St. Georges (French Guiana). Buses depart from Macapá bus station at 5:00 pm and 6:00 pm.

My bus seemed to cover the distance in record time, arriving very early (5:00 am) at the tiny Oiapoque bus station. It was great to have arrived early but the Brazilian immigration office wouldn’t open until 8:00 am so I had no option but to sleep on a bench at the bus station until the border opened.

Built at a cost of US$50 million, the very grand Oiapoque bridge connects Brazil and French Guiana - the only land connection throughout the Guiana's.

Built at a cost of US$50 million, the very grand Oiapoque bridge connects Brazil and French Guiana – the only land connection throughout the Guiana’s.

The border crossing over the Oyapok river is the only one in the Guiana’s which can be made via a bridge. The Oiapoque bridge is a grand construction which was completed in 2011 at a cost of US$50 million but – due to politics between Brazil and France – was not opened until March of 2017. It’s the only land connection between Brazil and France – or Brazil and the European Union.

If you arrive at the border in the morning, it’s best to take breakfast in St. Georges (please refer to my French Guiana Travel Guide) where you’ll find French-style cafés, pâtisseries and boulangeries – much better than the standard Brazilian breakfast of chocolate cake.

French Guiana 

Located in downtown Cayenne, Place du Coq is named after the rooster which sits atop a column in the middle of the square.

Located in downtown Cayenne, Place du Coq is named after the rooster which sits atop a column in the middle of the square.

For all details on French Guiana – including Sightseeing, Accommodation, Eating Out, Getting There & Away, please refer to my French Guiana Travel Guide.

Cayenne Carnival

A Cayenne Carnival Participant.

A Cayenne Carnival Participant.

French Guiana is home to the world’s longest running Carnival celebration, which is held every year between Epiphany (early January) and Ash Wednesday (February or March).

The celebrations include a very photogenic parade, which is held every Sunday afternoon in Cayenne. For more on this, please refer to my Cayenne Carnival report.

Suriname

Dutch-style colonial buildings in the UNESCO-listed old town of Paramaribo.

Dutch-style colonial buildings in the UNESCO-listed old town of Paramaribo.

For all details on Suriname – including Sightseeing, Accommodation, Eating Out, Getting There & Away, please refer to my Suriname Travel Guide

Guyana

The majestic and awe-inspiring, Kaieteur Falls - a truly spectacular sight.

The majestic and awe-inspiring, Kaieteur Falls – a truly spectacular sight.

I am currently sitting in my favourite Georgetown cafe – The Oasis Café – writing this guide. I first came to Guyana a few years ago and have returned many times since.

While the capital of Georgetown is less-than-appealing, the real attractions of Guyana lie in the remote, unexplored interior – a vast pristine wilderness full of incredible, dramatic nature and abundant wildlife.

The country receives very few tourists but offers so much for those who are adventurous and don’t mind for-going their creature comforts.

All details detailing my journey across Guyana – from the border of Suriname to Georgetown then south through the vast, empty interior to Lethem and the Brazilian border are covered in my Guyana Travel GuideDetails on all border crossing are included in the guide.

Essequibo Region

Essequibo Region Guyana Travel Guide: Father and daughter swimming at Lake Capoey

Father and daughter swimming at Lake Capoey

There are plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten track in remote Guyana. One fascinating area worth exploring is the Essequibo region. Named after the mighty Essequibo river (the 2nd largest in South America), there are few roads in this part of the world, with most journeys being made in small wooden boats which bounce their way across the choppy surfaces of wide, tea-stained coloured rivers.

For more information on this little-visited part of the world, please refer to my Essequibo Travel Guide.   

Boa Vista (Brazil)

Introduction

Boa Vista is the capital of Roraima state, the northern-most state of Brazil and the only Brazilian state capital located entirely north of the Equator (Macapá is on the Equator).

Despite it’s size (pop: 300 000), this clean, green, planned city has a quiet, relaxed, orderly air about it and is a pleasant place to spend a couple of days. Founded more than a century ago, the city has the aspects of a planned capital, with wide modern streets and traffic circles.

Sightseeing

What Boa Vista lacks in historical sights, it makes up for with it’s many green, open spaces. The joy of spending time in the city comes from meandering around the relaxed downtown area or taking a sunset cruise on the Branco river.

Accommodation

There’s no shortage of accommodation options in this cosmopolitan metropolis, from budget hostels to fancy hotels. While in town I treated myself and stayed at the very comfortable Aipana Plaza Hotel which is located downtown and features modern, stylish rooms and a beautiful swimming pool (a perfect way to cool off in this normally hot town).

Eating Out

Brazilians know a thing or two about BBQ (Churrascaria) and Boa Vista is home to some great Churrascaria’s. My favourite is Churrascaria Bhuritys, where succulent meats are served in a semi-formal dining room by attentive, friendly staff.

Getting There/ Away

Air

Boa Vista is served by the Boa Vista International Airport, which has the distinction of being the northern-most Brazilian airport served by scheduled flights. The following airlines provide services:

Land

Boa Vista is an important transport junction, providing daily bus connections to ManausVenezuela and Guyana.

To/ From Manaus:

Frequent buses run between Boa Vista and Manaus with the 746 kilometre journey (along route BR174) taking approximately 12-13 hours. Three different companies offer multiple daily trips with fares ranging from R$157 – R$210. The first bus departs Boa Vista at 09:00, arriving in Manaus at 21:30. You can book tickets online here.

To Venezuela:

Asatur offer one daily bus between Boa Vista and the Brazilian border town of Pacaraima, 214 kilometres to the north. The bus departs Boa Vista at 07:30, and travels north along BR174, arriving at the border at 11:02. Tickets cost R$30 and can be purchased online here.

The bus station in Pacaraima is a short stroll from the border post. It’s best to walk across the border before taking a taxi the 12 kilometres into the Venezuelan town of Santa Elena. Please refer to my Venezuela (Gran Sabana) Travel Guide for more on this crossing.

If the bus isn’t convenient, there are plenty of (faster) shared taxis shuttling between Boa Vista and Pacaraima. Taxi’s depart from Terminal Coimbe, charging R$40 per person.

From Venezuela:

The same Asatur bus returns to Boa Vista, departing from Pacaraima bus station at 15:00, arriving in Boa Vista at 18:32. If you miss the bus there are plenty of shared taxis.

To/From Guyana:

At the end of BR401, 124 kilometres north-east of Boa Vista, is the sleepy Brazilian border town of Bonfim. This town of 12,000 lies on the Takutu River across from Lethem, Guyana. The Takutu River Bridge (open from 7 am to 7 pm) links Brazil and Guyana, with the immigration posts for each country being on opposite sides of the bridge. The bridge includes a neat lane-changing design to switch vehicles from the left side of the road onto the right side or vice-versa.

If you’re arriving in Brazil from Guyana (and have completed the grueling overnight journey through the rainforest from Georgetown to Lethem), you’ll be happy to know that the road from Bonfim to Boa Vista is a top class, fully paved, fast highway.

Amatur operate four buses a day between Boa Vista bus station and Bonfim bus station (with an extra stop at the Brazilian border post). Tickets for the 2 hour journey cost R$18. Current bus times are:

  • Boa Vista to Bonfim: 7:00AM, 10:00AM, 2:00PM, 4:30PM
  • Bonfim to Boa Vista: 7:00AM, 10:00AM, 2:00PM, 4:30PM

Shared taxis also run between Boa Vista and Bonfim, completing the journey in one hour and charging R$25 per person.

If you are traveling into Guyana, please refer to my Guyana Travel Guide.

Santa Elena (Venezuela)

Jasper Creek Waterfalls.

Jasper Creek Waterfalls.

While in Boa Vista, I decided to make a side trip to the north, crossing into Venezuela to visit the picturesque Gran Sabana (Grand Savannah) region. The border town of Santa Elena provides lots of services for travelers, making it an ideal base for exploring this remote corner of the country.

You can read more on the sights of the Gran Sabana in my Venezuela (Gran Sabana) Travel Guide.

Manaus (Brazil)  

Manaus Opera House

Manaus Opera House

Introduction

With 2.1 million inhabitants, Manaus is the largest city on the Amazon (the 2nd largest is Belém with 1.5 million) and it’s busiest port.

The city is located on the banks of the Rio Negro (the largest left tributary of the Amazon River and, the largest black-water river in the world) a few miles before it meets the Rio Solimões to form the Amazon River proper. The two rivers flow side by side for many miles, different in colour, mixing in eddies: the “Meeting of the Waters.”

Despite being situated 1,400 km (900 miles) upriver from the Atlantic Ocean, the Amazon is navigable for ocean-going vessels and the main economic engine of Manaus is the Duty Free port and the Manaus Free Economic Zone.

A long way from the sea - 1,400 km upriver, an ocean-going freighter approaches Manaus port.

A long way from the sea – 1,400 km upriver, an ocean-going freighter approaches Manaus port.

During colonial times, great wealth was generated from rubber plantations during the period known as the Amazon Rubber Boom (1879 to 1912).

The proceeds from this boom were used to build magnificent buildings, including a copy of the Grand Opera de Paris – the Teatro Amazonas. Other monuments from this period are the Mercado Municipal, a copy of the famous market halls Les Halles in Paris, and the arts centre Palacio Rio Negro.

Apart from a wealth of history and sights, Manaus serves as a regional travel hub offering onward travel possibilities to Boa Vista, Guyana and Venezuela.

If you’re spending time meandering along the river, Manaus is the best place to take timeout, offering a good choice of accommodation, fine restaurants, bars and cafes and the biggest shopping mall on the Amazon – Amazonas Shopping.

Sightseeing

Theatro Amazonas

The opulent interior of the Theatro Amazonas, Manaus.

The opulent interior of the Theatro Amazonas, Manaus.

This spectacular theatre is a ‘must see’ in Manaus. Constructed during the years of the rubber boom, when the city was awash with money, no expense was spared on its construction with the roof tiles being imported from Alsace, the steel walls from Glasgow and Carrara marble from Italy.

The dome is covered with 36,000 decorated ceramic tiles painted in the colours of the national flag of Brazil. Concerts are held often and tickets are very affordable at about US$10 each. I saw an amazing concert which showcased the culture of the Amazon, definitely a highlight of my stay!

The Theatro Amazonas, Manaus.

The Theatro Amazonas, Manaus.

Mercado Municipal – This ‘touristy’ riverside market is very clean and organised. It’s a good place to buy souvenirs or to have a refreshing fruit juice (made from amazing Amazonian fruits).

Meeting of the Waters

The 'Meeting of the Waters', down-river from Manaus.

The ‘Meeting of the Waters’, down-river from Manaus.

The Meeting of the Waters is composed of water from the Rio Negro and Rio Solimões Rivers. They meet up to form the Lower Amazon River, but do not mix together initially. This amazing phenomenon stretches for 6 km (3.7 mi) and is caused by irreconcilable differences in the water properties between the two rivers.

Our boat from Manaus to Santarém passing through the 'Meeting of the Waters'.

Our boat from Manaus to Santarém passing through the ‘Meeting of the Waters’.

The Rio Negro, as the name implies, is a river of water that looks nearly black. It is relatively clear of sediment but has obtained its tea-like colour from large quantities of plant material steeping in the water as it comes down through the jungles of Colombia. The water has an average temperature of 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and flows slowly at about 2 kilometres per hour (1.24 mph).

Accommodation

The best place to stay is in the historic old town where you have a good selection of guest houses, restaurants, bars and cafes and everything is within walking distance.

I stayed at the wonderful Boutique Hotel Casa Teatro which is across the road from the Opera house and in close proximity to all the sights in the old town. The neighbourhood is very pedestrian friendly with loads of dining and entertainment options.

If you prefer something more modern, there are many international chain hotels in the new town. There are plenty of options on booking.com

Eating Out

There is no shortage of good restaurants in Manaus, including a quirky revolving restaurant which is located on the top of the Taj Mahal Hotel. The décor is very 1970’s and the restaurant is tired and worn. It all feels like you’re on the set of a vintage James Bond movie set – waiting for the bad guys to arrive. The food, service and views are worthwhile and besides – where else can you eat in a revolving restaurant in the jungle?

Shopping

Manaus offers the same sort of shopping opportunities you would expect to find in any large metropolis. Something that is unexpected in the middle of the jungle is the glitzy, modern shopping mall – Amazonas Shopping – a short taxi ride from downtown. Whatever you need, you’ll find it here, along with a good selection of restaurants.

Getting There/ Away

Air

If you don’t fancy spending days traveling on a slow boat along the Amazon river (or if you’re not arriving on a bus from Boa Vista) then flying is your only other option for reaching this remote jungle metropolis. Flights arrive at Manaus International Airport – Eduardo Gomes, which is located 13 kilometres (8 miles) west of downtown.

The following airlines provide regular services:

  • American Airlines – flies to/ from Miami
  • Azul Brazilian Airlines  – flies to/ from Belém, Belo Horizonte-Confins, Boa Vista, Campinas, Cuiabá, Fortaleza, Parintins, Porto Velho, Santarém, Tabatinga, Tefé
  • Avior Airlines – flies to/ from Barcelona (Venezuela)
  • Copa Airlines – flies to/ from Panama City–Tocumen
  • Gol Airlines – flies to/ from Belém, Belo Horizonte, Boa Vista, Buenos Aires-Ezeiza, Brasília, Campo Grande, Cruzeiro do Sul, Cuiabá, Curitiba, Fortaleza, Foz do Iguaçu, Porto Alegre, Porto Velho, Recife, Rio Branco, Rio de Janeiro-Galeão, Salvador da Bahia, Santarém, São Luís, São Paulo-Guarulhos
  • LATAM Brasil – flies to/ from Belém, Boa Vista, Brasília, Fortaleza, Miami, Salvador da Bahia, São Paulo-Guarulhos
  • MAP Linhas Aéreas – flies to/ from Altamira, Belém, Carauari, Eirunepé, Lábrea, Parintins, Santarém, Tefé
  • TAP Air Portugal – flies to/ from Lisbon
  • Total Linhas Aéreas – flies to/ from Carauari, Coari, Porto Urucu
A Lost Connection

The national airline of Curaçao, Insel Air, used to provide a very convenient connection from Manaus to Aruba. A great way of getting from the jungle onto a white-sand, Caribbean beach in just a few hours.

From the middle of the Amazon jungle to the white-sand beaches of the Caribbean, the Insel air flight was a dream connection for travellers but was never of interest to locals. As such, the flights were never well patronised and not surprisingly the service was terminated.

I once took this flight which I shared with just one other passenger. The Captain personally came to thank us for flying.

My Insel Air flight from Manaus to Aruba. I shared the flight with one other passenger.

My Insel Air flight from Manaus to Aruba. I shared the flight with one other passenger.

Land

Despite the fanciful lines often drawn onto road maps of Brazil, there are no roads connecting Manaus with the rest of Brazil – except for route BR174 which runs north to the Venezuelan border via Boa Vista (capital of Roraima state). This asphalt highway is in excellent condition, and the buses which ply the route are comfortable and fast.

To Boa Vista:

Frequent night buses run between Manaus and Boa Vista with the 746 kilometre journey taking approximately 12-13 hours. Three different companies offer multiple daily trips with fares ranging from R$157 – R$210. Eucatur offer the only daytime service which departs Manaus at 10:00, arriving in Boa Vista at 21:55. You can book tickets online here.

To Venezuela: 

The Venezuelan border is 960 kilometres north of Manaus at the end of BR174. Any journey to the border will require a change of transport in Boa Vista (please refer to the ‘Boa Vista – Getting There‘ section for more details).

To Guyana: 

There are no direct transport options from Manaus to Guyana. Like Venezuela, you will first need to travel to Boa Vista then take a bus or shared taxi to the border town of Bonfim then cross the Takutu River Bridge, entering Guyana at the town of Lethem (please refer to the ‘Boa Vista – Getting There‘ section for more details).

Boat
Amazon river 'slow' boats docked in Manaus.

Amazon river ‘slow’ boats docked in Manaus.

Manaus is the busiest port on the Amazon with regular boats departing to all points along the river. Tickets should be purchased in advance from the ticket offices at the dock.

Slow boats:

My deluxe cabin on the 'MV Amazonia', a slow boat which carried me from Santarém to Belém in 48 hours.

My deluxe cabin on the ‘MV Amazonia’, a slow boat which carried me from Santarém to Belém in 48 hours.

Slow boats depart from the chaotic and crowded docks in downtown Manaus. Departures include:

  • Manaus to Tabatinga: The up-river journey can take anywhere from 5-7 days. The cost for hammock space is R$330 while a cabin costs R$414 per person (two sharing). Meals and drinks are included.
  • Manaus to Santarém: The down-river journey takes about 30 hours. The cost for hammock space is R$80 while a cabin costs R$700 per person. Meals and drinks are not included.
  • Manaus to Belém: The down-river journey takes 80 hours with hammock space costing R$220. Meals and drinks are not included.
The captain of my slow boat from Manaus to Santarém.

The captain of my slow boat from Manaus to Santarém.

Fast boats:

Macapa to Manaus via the Guianas: Rocketing along the Amazon river on a fast boat from Tabatinga to Manaus.

Rocketing along the Amazon river on a fast boat from Tabatinga to Manaus.

Currently four fast boats a week operate between Manaus and the border town of Tabatinga, completing the 1,628 kilometres (1011 miles) journey in 36 hours. Each boat offers comfortable aircraft-style seats, clean bathrooms and all inclusive meals which are served at your seat. 

All boats depart from the ‘Terminal Ajato‘ wharf in Manaus as per the following timetable (current at March 2018):

  • The MV Expresso Madame Cris: Departs Thursday at 06:00 am (R$550 per seat)
  • The MV Expresso Gloria de Deus III: Departs Friday at 06:00 am (R$600)
  • The MV Expresso Cidade de Manaquiri: Departs Sunday at 06:00 am (R$600)
  • The MV Expresso Crystal I: Departs Tuesday at 06:00 am (R$600)

The company previously operated a fast boat from Manaus to Santarém but unfortunately suspended their service, leaving passengers at the mercy of the slow (30 hours) boats.

A meal served in my seat on the fast boat from Tabatinga to Manaus.

A meal served in my seat on the fast boat from Tabatinga to Manaus.

Seating on the boats is limited so it’s best to book tickets in advance on their website (only available in Portuguese) or from their ticket office at the wharf in Manaus. If booking from the wharf you’ll need to show your passport.

Getting to Colombia/ Peru

The kayak journey through an Amazon swamp to the Marasha Nature Reserve which lies in Peru opposite Leticia (Colombia).

The kayak journey through an Amazon swamp to the Marasha Nature Reserve which lies in Peru opposite Leticia (Colombia).

If you wish to travel by river to Leticia (Colombia) or Iquitos (Peru), you’ll first need to travel from Manaus upriver to the Brazilian border town of Tabatinga. At this point the three countries converge and while in this area, movement between the countries is unrestricted. However, when you do decide to leave, you’ll need to be stamped out of the country you’re exiting and stamped into the country in which you’ll continue your travels.

The Brazilian immigration office is located on Avenida da Amizade. This avenue continues, uninterrupted, across the border into Leticia.

The Colombian immigration office is at the airport, so if you’re flying in and moving on to a different country you should get your passport stamped when you land.

The Peruvian immigration office is on the muddy island of Santa Rosa, which can be reached in 10 minutes by boat from either Tabatinga or Leticia. Boats to Iquitos (Peru) arrive and depart from here.

If you must spend anytime in the border area, Leticia offers the best accommodation and dining options and is much more pleasant than either Tabatinga or Santa Rosa.

To Colombia

At Tabatinga you can simply walk across the border (or take a taxi) into neighbouring Leticia.

From Leticia airport, there are regular flights to Bogota.

To Peru

Exploring the Amazon around Iquitos.

Boats travel upriver to Iquitos from tiny settlement of Santa Rosa, which is located across the river from Leticia and Tabatinga. You have a choice of taking either a fast boat (13 hours) or a slow boat (4 days):

Fast boat to Iquitos

Three different companies (Transtur, Golfinho & Flipper), operate daily (except Monday) fast boats from Santa Rosa to Iquitos, covering the 486 kilometre (302 mile) journey in 13 hours. Tickets cost 200 Peruvian Soles (US$70) with the boats departing Santa Rosa at 4:00 am – yes that is AM! If you’re staying in Tabatinga or Leticia you’ll need to take a boat across to Santa Rosa at 3:00 am.

Note: If you are taking the 4:00 am fast boat to Iquitos, you need to get your Peruvian entry stamp the day before departure as the immigration office will be closed at the time of your departure and you will not be allowed on the boat without a Peruvian entry stamp.  

I made the journey with (and would certainly recommend) Transporte Golfinho who have departures for Iquitos three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday). Tickets can be purchased from their office in Tabatinga:

Transporte Golfinho

Address: Av. Marechal Mallet N° 306
E-mail: jrcbra@hotmail.com

Slow Boat to Iquitos

If you prefer to embark on a more enduring adventure, slow boats depart from Santa Rosa each evening (except Thursday), reaching Iquitos four days later. Essentially cargo boats, the 2nd floor is used to transport passengers who must supply their own hammock. Tickets cost 80 Peruvian Soles (US$25).

From Iquitos you can then continue your journey into Peru by either:

  • Taking one of the regular daily flights from Iquitos airport to Lima.
  • Or – for the die hard overlander’s – taking a four day slow boat further up the Amazon to the town of Pucallpa where you can finally connect with the Peruvian road network

 

Visa Requirements

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Brazil provides visa-free access for a period of 90 days to 93 different nationalities, however this does not include Australian, Canadian or United States passport holders, who must apply for a visa in advance. You can check your requirements here.

A new e-visa process is now available for holders of Australian, Canadian, Japanese and United States passports. The processing time for the e-visa is 5 days, with the visa valid for multiple visits (not exceeding 90 days per year) over a two year period.

More information, including a link to the online form, can be found here:

https://www.brazilevisas.com

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While French Guiana is a territory of France, it applies its own visa policy. One key difference from the policy of France is that French Guiana places restrictions on Brazilian passport holders who wish to travel there.

You can check your requirements here.

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Citizens of 54 countries and territories are provided visa free access to Guyana for a period of 1,3 or 6 months, with most nationalities receiving a 3 month stay.

You can check your requirements here.

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Few nationalities are granted visa-free access to Suriname with many required to apply for a visa in advance or apply for a Tourist card (valid for single entry only).

You can check your requirements here.

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Citizens of 70 countries and territories are provided visa free access to Venezuela for a period of 90 days.

You can check your requirements here.

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The end of this meandering journey! 

Safe Travels! 

You might also like…

A painting of the 'Tres Fronteras' (Three Frontiers) region, which encompasses the point on the Amazon river where Colombia, Peru and Brazil converge.

A painting of the ‘Tres Fronteras’ (Three Frontiers) region, which encompasses the point on the Amazon river where Colombia, Peru and Brazil converge.

 

The journey in this region continues in my Amazon River Guides:

 


That’s the end of this Travel Guide.

Safe Travels!

Darren


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Further Reading

Other travel reports from the region include:

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