Sailing the Amazon river for 5 days, sleeping in a hammock, stunning scenery… Sounds great. How does this go down practically? We describe it all for you: all you need to know for your trip from Pucallpa to Iquitos by cargo boat: from the food to the bathroom business. All the locations are links to google maps. Most importantly though, the captains drew out the entire route including inter-arrival times. Check that out here!
Below you find all the things we will discuss and by clicking on it, you will directly go to that section!
Getting to the cargo boat in Pucallpa + booking
To Iquitos by boat
Iquitos is the biggest city in the Amazon that is not reachable by road. Therefore, two means of transportation remain flight and cargo boat to Iquitos. There are various boat routes, but the main two between from Yurimaguas or Pucallpa and Iquitos. Pucallpa is easily reachable by plane (±1 hour, 59 dollars), but can also be reached by bus (16-20 hours, 80-140 soles). Yurimaguas appears to be only reachable by plane and tickets seem slightly more expensive, so we chose the Pucallpa option.
From Pucallpa airport to the boat
From Pucallpa airport, you can take a tuctuc to Puerto Henry (Port Henry) for about 5 soles. Make sure this is clear because we had to pay 7 after haggling at the port in the end. There are multiple suppliers outside the airport gate. When you arrive at the boat, skip all the hammock sellers and walk straight to the captain because he can tell you when the boat is leaving. A normal ticket cost us 100 soles and there sometimes are cabins too (150 soles according to other blogs). In our case the cabins were already booked, so we took the hammock option, which was ultimately local (see sleeping).
If you still need to go shopping, make sure you do not leave any belongings on the boat yet. However unlikely, the boat might leave early.
Grocery shopping in Pucallpa
As you will be on the cargo boat to Iquitos for 5 days, it is important you are well supplied. Fortunately, you can take a tuctuc to the market for 5 soles, where you can buy most of the things you really need for the trip like food and hammocks. However, some items you might want to bring from home/Lima, like tiger balm (against mosquito itch) and a power bank. We made a clear list of everything you need on your Pucallpa – Iquitos cargo boat adventure, you find it here:
Next to all the hammocks, food and cutlery, you might wish for, you can also get super cheap 2$ lunch menus around there (7 soles for a starter, main and drink).
TIP: We did our groceries in pairs and ended at the supermarket (Los Andes) where we bought our water and from there we took a tuctuc back.
The route from Pucallpa to Iquitos by cargo boat
The captains told us that the fleet of Henry exists of about 12 boats and they are supposed to leave every day at 1 pm at Pucallpa, although they normally leave later. The boats vary a lot in size, the number of floors and the number of passengers. Without an internet connection, it was at times hard to know where we were on our journey, let alone how far we had to go. Spoiler alarm, the captains elaborately drew us the entire route. So here it is, an overview of the stops and the inter-arrival durations!
Note that this is the ideal situation… The boat navigates without any modern technical equipment, no radars, no computers, not even a big light… So, there is no way to know where exactly the river is deep enough. Finding the route therefore truly is hit-or-miss and in case they “miss”, the boat gets stuck. This especially happens in the dry season when the river is more shallow, which is when we were there and so we got stuck twice and our journey was 96 hours instead of 81 hours…
From Pucallpa to Iquitos with duration
Pucallpa – Contamana
Contamana – Orellana
Orellana – Juancito
Bretaña – Requena
Requena – Nauta
Nauta – Iquitos
The Food on the Pucallpa – Iquitos cargo boat
In the ticket, three meals per day are included. Be prepared though, you are going to eat carbs, carbs, carbs. Say… Rice with pasta and chicken, rice with potato and chicken, rice with beans and Chicken, you get the idea. That having said, the cooks are “carb-masters” and the food was actually really delicious. Mind, you do have to bring your own cutlery and Tupperware (and your own soap to do dishes afterward!). Check out our packing list for what to bring!
TIP: the food became even better though when we started adding our own cut tomatoes and cucumber, totally recommended.
You might have noticed the mentioning of “chicken” and you might wonder, how do you refrigerate enough meat for 200 people, three meals a day? Our poor chicken friends are brought alive. So, when you line up for your meal and look down to the engine, you look right at the sisters of the chicken you are about to eat. Yikes, not for the faint-hearted (or vegans). On the boat, there is a small kiosk “Bar Henry” too, with some drinks (high in sugar) and some snacks.
Buying snacks while sailing from Pucallpa to Iquito
But more important, every city the boat stops at, vendadores (sellers) come on board. We called them the “hay” ladies because they would be screaming that word, which means “there is”, followed by what they sell. It was amazing and seriously the high light of the day because for 1 sol you can buy about everything!! Especially high in demand are watermelon (1 sol) and coconuts (3 soles), so if you want one of these, be in the front of the boat when they arrive or you will miss out.
Cakes (1 sol) are hit or miss, banana bread (1 sol) is always great, but even greater are the caramel meringues! Water is scarce (4 soles for 2,5 liter), but they sell other refrescos and only afterward we found out this is maracuja juice (a bit like passion fruit) and chicha (very sweet purple corn). The big meals like fried fish and chaufa we left to the locals.
TIP: bring small money (because you will wanna splash out), check your change (we have a fake 10 soles bill souvenir now) and bring most of your back-up snacks and fruit from the shore (where it will be even cheaper)
Bathroom Business on the Pucallpa – Iquitos Cargo boat
The toilets are cleaned frequently, but still not very comfortable. Therefore, we would like to give a shout out to the person who invented rubber flip-flops and to the fit girls that teach us to squat, because they minimized what you need to touch tremendously. Like on the camping, you walk to the toilet with a toilet roll under your arm.
TIP: bring some plastic bags because then you can hang your toilet roll and showering supplies!
Even though the water is brown (comes from the river), it’s so refreshing, and you actually feel clean. We showered at least once a day, the showering was a blessing, especially with all the sweating. It was also great to combine with your “big” bathroom break, as you can erase the traces of your Asian Squat with the shower water! The perks of doing both in the same room.
Sleeping on the Pucallpa – Iquitos Cargo boat
With four people we really felt like we build a little camp together. We not only had our 4 beautiful Cusco pattern hammocks, but we also had two net-hammocks hanging above us with our backpacks in it. This was multifunctional: the backpacks remained clean, but more importantly, it prevented theft. As all Peruvian knew the construction was weak (the bags were too big and therefore quite unstable. Furthermore, they slammed to the floor about 2 times a day) no one dared to even touch them! So, make sure you drop them once in a while.
Lastly, we struggled a bit with the mosquito nets, but we found the best way: tie a rope through the middle loop on both sides and attach these ropes to the big loop of your hammock.
Safety & theft on Pucallpa – Iquitos cargo boat
In short, everything on the floor will get searched/stolen at night and learned this the hard way: our beloved bottle of red wine got nicked the first day. But also our soaps, a pair of sunglasses and a rip curl head did not make it through the night. Fortunately, a mosquito net helps, as it is more difficult to snatch things out of your hammock.
So, you will want to sleep with your real variables on your body, and your semi variables in a bag attached inside your hammock and the rest above your head (read more about the sleeping). During our trip 6 phones got stolen on night four, fortunately, they were found hidden between the cargo. But it goes to show, yes, theft is a problem. So, leave at home what you do not need or at least leave them in your backpack such that no one knows you have them.
During the day
As it’s not smart to leave your stuff unattended at any time, investing in a good neighbor relationship is the way to be able to sit outside once in a while. During the day also beware. When I was sleeping in my hammock during the day a little girl sneaked up next to me looking for my phone. Although, if something gets stolen, go to the captain: they will try to get it back for you.
Arriving in Iquitos by boat
When the boat arrives in Iquitos, you are back in reality immediately. You will be asked to take a split decision: do you want to take the small boats to the harbor for 3 soles per person? The sellers will say it will take 4 hours before the big boat lets you depart but this is not true: it took us only 30 minutes of waiting. Next, the tuctuc drivers will want to overcharge you inside the harbor. So just walk past the beautiful Henry paintings to the main street and take a 5/6 soles tuctuc to the city center.
It’s going to be great
There you have it: everything you need to know before your Amazon cargo boat adventure. We really loved it!! So if you are in for a longer read, in this article we tell you all about our experience. If you have any questions left, drop us a message or leave a comment below! 🙂