Brazilian Amazon River by Boat – 70 Important travel tips
Updated May 6, 2017 / João Leitão / 36 Comments / Filed in: Brazil 🇧🇷 / Reading time 15 minutes
Brazilian Amazon River
Traveling the Amazon River by boat is an amazing experience. Cruising for days on this epic journey is something that will stay in your memory forever.
On this page, I will give you some useful suggestions and directions to help you cross the Brazilian Amazon River by boat more easily and comfortably.
My trip in the Amazon River by boat was always upstream. I made the journey from Macapá to the tri-border of Brazil, Peru, and Colombia. Yet, I kept on going up the river to the city of Iquitos on the Peruvian side of the Amazon and later on until El Coca in Ecuador through Napo River.
The travel tips I gathered on this page come from an experience of a total of 600 hours of boat travel in Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador, but it refers only to the Brazilian ships.
⛴ My boat trips, Amazon River – Brazil
- Boat CORAMAR II ● Macapá (Santana) to Monte Alegre – small boat, slow, sleeping in hammock, free food. 35 hour trip. Price R$120 reais
- Speedboat Tapajós III ● Monte Alegre to Santarém – fast boat, seats, TV. 4 hour trip. Price R$40 reais
- Boat Luiz Afonso ● Santarém to Óbidos – medium boat, slow, sleeping in hammock, food R$10 a meal. 7 hour trip. Price R$30 reais
- Speedboat Tapajós ● Óbidos to Oriximiná – fast boat, seats, TV. 1 hour trip. Price R$20 reais
- Boat Cidade Oriximiná II ● Oriximiná to Manaus – big boat, sleeping in hammock, free food. 36 hour trip. Price R$100 reais
- Boat Manoel Monteiro ● Manaus to Benjamin Constant – medium boat, sleeping in hammock, free food. 156 hours trip. Price R$320 reais
- Jungle Speed Boat ● Benjamin Constant to Tabatinga – fast boat, seats. 30 minute trip. Price R$20 reais
📹 Benjamin Constant boat terminal:
Anxious to know more? Here it goes:
✅ How to choose your boat
- There are large, medium and small boats.
- The big ships transport up to 300 people. Medium ships carry up to 200 people, and small boats transport up to 100 people. Speedboats have a maximum of 60 seats and take much less time than slower boats.
- Generally, the crew and boat service in medium and large vessels are better.
- There are boats made of metal, wood, and the speedboats. Smaller wooden boats are slower. Metal boats are stronger and cross the river much faster.
- Do not travel on a vessel called Cisne Branco. This ship had an accident and killed more than 80 people. It was recently renovated and roams the Amazon River again.
- The toilets/bathrooms on board the boats are always shared, and always separate for women and men. These bathrooms always have toilet and shower in the same compartment.
- The areas for hand washing are usually outside the bathroom. These places are more or less always maintained and cleaned by the crew, so they never get filthy to the point you can not use them. They are always relatively clean.
- The five-star boat hotel Iberostar does not operate during the winter Brazilian months.
- If you’re short on time to travel you can always do the whole route by speedboats. It takes much less time but is more expensive, and you don’t see anything because you will be in a closed cabin. The boat from Manaus to Benjamin Constant (after Tabatinga) takes 156 hours by slow boat, but with the speedboat, it only takes about 30 hours.
✅ How to choose your Itinerary
- Up the river, you see more of the Amazon River banks and the day-to-day life that takes place there.
- Down the river, you see less of the shore. The boats quickly cruise in the middle of the river at a much higher speed.
- Remember that down the Amazon River it always takes much less time than going upstream, for the simple reason that boats follow the natural current to gain time and save fuel. The boat from Manaus to Santarém, for example, takes about one day and a half, while the same route, but in reverse, from Santarém to Manaus, takes 3 and a half days.
- The river from Belém to Manaus is called Amazon. The river from Manaus to the border with Peru is called Rio Solimões.
- The river heading inside Peru is called Amazon again.
- You can divide your trip in different itineraries so that you can see and visit various cities along the Amazon River. Places of interest are Macapá, Monte Alegre, Santarém, Alter do Chão, and Óbidos, for example.
- The Macapá route to Santarém goes along areas of very narrow river passages, giving a very close view of the shore, people, villages, jungle, animals, etc..
- The meeting point of waters arriving and departing from Manaus and Santarém is quite beautiful. Manaus is the meeting place of the Rio Negro and Rio Solimões. Santarém is the meeting place of the Amazon River and the Rio Tapajós.
- The Manaus to Tabatinga route is done in an area with lots of white sandy beaches. Jungle and beach together turns out to be a very beautiful scenery.
✅ How to buy your boat ticket
- The high season in the Amazon River is during the European / American winter months, and during the Brazilian summer months.
- Many boats that go up and down the river. Every day and every hour. The idea that you need to book in advance through a travel agency is wrong. You can always buy the tickets directly at the port or inside the boat, at a lower price.
- During high season, there is a greater influx of people traveling by cruise, and thus increasing the amount of travelers. You can still buy your ticket, but you’d rather buy it 1 or 2 days in advance. Anyway, if you arrive at the last minute they will probably always fit one more.
- During the low season you can buy the ticket on the same departure day, directly on the boat, or newsstand sales of tickets in the harbor entrance like in Manaus.
- You can always negotiate the price of the ticket. Even if there is a fixed price, you can always get cheaper (but not during high season).
- In the port of Santana (near Macapá), buy your ticket directly on the boat, and do not talk to anyone at the harbour entrance because they will charge more and keep the rest of the money for themselves.
- There are electrical outlets on board. Some boats even have them near the hammocks.
- When you buy the ticket on the boat, or when you check in, you are usually given a small bracelet with a particular color of destination where you go and with the boat’s name. So the crew knows exactly what you paid for, and the city where you go out.
✅ What to bring on board of the boat
- Hammock and rope.
- There is no luggage limit to bring on board. If you have a lot of things you can always hire a porter to help you.
- You can buy groceries before boarding or during stops in other cities. There are always lots of people selling cookies, sweets, fried pastries and fruit along the way. There’s even a small selection of things on the boat’s shop.
- The boats offer free drinkable water, you can always fill your bottle whenever you want. There is also toilet paper in the bathrooms.
- You can bring earplugs. And you’ll be able to sleep better without the engine noise, people, noisy children and cold wind in your ears.
- Overnight trips sleeping in hammocks are always freezing. Buy a blanket in the city where your trip begins. And throw it away or give it to someone else at the end of your adventure in the Amazon. I bought a blanket 2m x 1.8m for R$12. I still have it with me.
- A small plastic box and fork or spoon, so that you can get your food during meal times, and bring it along near your luggage. Most of the passengers do this as well. Also, no need to eat it all at once, you can always eat the rest in an hour or two.
- A plastic bottle. To fill with water provided free of charge on board the boat.
- Bring slippers. Much more comfortable to walk in the boat, and to use in the shower and when you go to the toilet.
- Headphones and smartphone. You can listen to your favorite music during some parts of the trip while laying down in your hammock.
- In some areas of the route several children are waiting for the boats to pass by to receive a packet of biscuits. Passengers usually buy sweets, bread, crackers, and toys, and put them inside a plastic bag and throw it in the river. These children will come to pick it up.
- Always good to have a locker with code. Very useful to be able to keep your backpack closed. You can even tight your bag to a pillar using another padlock.
✅ Where to put your hammock on the boat
- To sleep in the hammock, arrive early to the boat, to be able to choose a better place. You can even come in the previous day, put your hammock and return the next day. You can even sleep that night on the boat, ensuring the best place and also saving you money of a hotel night.
- There are boats with two or three floors for hammock placement. The best seats are in the upper deck. Never stand on the lower deck or exit and entry of personnel. Because of the engine noise and it’s always very busy. Large boats have the middle deck with air conditioning and sealed windows, so they are very cold areas. Personally, I don’t like it.
- Pay attention if your itinerary is made with the Sun on the left or right side of the boat. You can ask this to the crew. In Oriximiná trip to Manaus for example, a young crewman gave me a hint not to travel on the right side of the boat because the Sun would pick up throughout the day. Later in the trip, I reported that in my part of the boat was less sunny, and consequently much cooler.
- If you choose a place near the light bulbs, you will always have light in your eyes at night, and some parts of the trip will have many insects. Yet these places may have a socket for you to charge your cell phone or computer.
- Always keep your hammock away from the stairs, away from the TV, away from the toilets, away from sinks.
- Always choose a place near one of the pillars of the boat so that you can tight your backpack. Another advantage is that you will always have more space since you do not have someone close to you, because the pillar is between you and that person.
- There are many people who use the computer while sitting in the hammock. This page you are reading now was written while sitting in my hammock, on the third day from Manaus to Tabatinga.
✅ What to see and what to do on board
- Up the river you will always be near the shore, and you can enjoy small towns, isolated houses, plantations. Downstream, the boat always goes in the middle of the river, far from the shore and you will only see the horizon line and the margin far away.
- On two occasions you can contemplate the natural meeting of different colors of river waters. Near Santarém and Manaus. The first half-hour out of these two cities you will have the opportunity to enjoy this phenomenon of Nature.
- During the night, the boats have to use a powerful searchlight, in order to see if there is something dangerous or logs in the river. Enjoy, and during a few hours at night you can spot the bright eyes of alligators. Very nice indeed, when the light hits the alligators eyes, they shine. There are areas along the river with hundreds of alligators.
- Read a book. You will have plenty of time without anything to do. It’s just you, the boat and the river. Make the most of your time to read the book you’ve always wanted to read.
- Enjoy the rising and setting of the sun on the Amazon River or Rio Solimões. It’s a beautiful moment you will remember forever. The calmness of the Amazon jungle in the morning is breathtaking. Without a doubt a different morning. During sunset, the lovely colors of the sky will “paint” magnificent sceneries.
- Meet the captain of the boat. Go slowly and humbly make conversation with who pilots the ship. Ask questions about the river and the boat, which normally all captains answer quite nicely.
- Write articles for your travel blog. You will have many hours in your hammock to be able to sit and write.
- At night, you can watch soap opera on the boat’s TV on the upper deck. This is where most passengers will sit quietly and silently for 1 hour and a half.
✅ Health and Safety on board of the boat
- If you suffer from motion sickness bring some pills with you. You can buy them at a pharmacy before boarding. The river is very stable without significant fluctuations. But there are areas where the river is very busy, and when the boat picks up waves from other vessels things can get rough.
- In some parts of the journey up the river there are a few mosquitoes. When the boat goes very close to the shore and during sunset use long clothes and put repellent cream, or insects spray.
- Never leave your bag open or valuables on display. If you travel alone try not to show things of value and then go away to eat or have a shower and leave your backpack alone and open. Always use your own padlock.
- In my case, we were two people. One always took care of things. Of course, leaving it for 5 minutes will in most cases be OK. The problem is when the boat stops and people from the outside come on board to sell things.
- If you arrive at your destination in the evening, you can stay on the boat in your hammock until the next morning. No need to go out at night without knowing where to go. Sleep in your hammock one last night.
- During stops in small towns, there is always time to go out and buy something that you need or do a quick visit. Stops can last from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Be careful because sometimes the boat can unexpectedly leave. I have a friend whose boat left without him in Tefé, on the route from Manaus to Tabatinga. Always ask the crew about the departure times, and never rely on information that other passengers might say.
- Medium and large cruises have a nurse on board.
- Every morning you can make a bit of exercise on board. It’s good to stretch after sleeping on the hammock. Stretch the spine gripping the metal girders of the boat, where you tight the hammock. You can spin your arms and rotate your hips as well.
✅ Food and Snacks on board of the boat
- Ssome boats charge for food. These food boxes are called “marmitex” and can cost from R$10 to R$15 reais. As a major criterion for choosing a boat, personally, I always wanted to get food included in the ticket price.
- The meals on board are always very early. Breakfast around 5 or 6 am, lunch around 11:30 am or 12 pm, and dinner around 5 and 6pm.
- The boats that serve food included in the price, usually offer buffet meals. You can eat whatever you want.
- The menu ranges from beef stew, roast chicken, pasta, white rice, baked beans, soup or even fish stew.
- Breakfast varies from boat to boat as well. Some boats only serve porridge, and others serve bread with cheese and coffee with milk. Others offer a greater choice of various fruits, cheese, bread, butter, crackers, fruit juice, and coffee with milk.
- Some boats have light snacks on board, which you can buy at the bar, located on the upper deck of the vessel. They have sandwiches, soft drinks, slices of cake and even hamburgers with egg.
- Some boats sell beer on board, except the ships owned by evangelical people.
- If you are vegetarian, you can try talking to the kitchen to get beans without meat, but, in most cases, the best thing is to bring food from outside. Anyway, there is always white rice and noodles to eat. Bring fruit. Some boats do serve meatless beans.
- Want to make a cocktail juice while traveling in the Amazon River? Do as I do: buy a liter of pineapple juice, a bottle of coconut milk and a packet of grated coconut. Put everything inside an empty plastic bottle, pour some water and shake well for the mix. And there you go, you enjoy your own Piña Colada in the Amazon!
💸 Tips to save money – How to save $150 dollars
Traveling on a low budget is, for many, the preferred way to know the world.
As a matter of fact, investing a lot of money on traveling doesn’t mean you will enjoy your adventure more or even that you won’t. It all depends on one’s personality and way of experiencing things.
Traveling by boat in the Amazon River without spending too much has a significant advantage, which is to travel in the open air – sleeping in a hammock. Observing the changing landscape, talking to the neighbor in the hammock beside and, above all, seeing how the average Brazilian travels, considering that only a few can afford a private cabin.
In the following lines, I will explain how you can save money traveling by boat in the Amazon River. So, let me give you some very interesting tips that can help you save up to or even more than R$450 / 150 dollars.
✅ Don’t buy tickets in a travel agency
Buy tickets on the same day of departure and always on the boat itself or the harbor. Travel agencies in the city always sell with a margin of R$10 or R$20 on top of the base price. However, there are some harbors where you cannot buy tickets inside the boat and cannot even get into the harbor without previously having a ticket. In these cases get them in the small shops outside and ask around to find the best value for money. For your reference, some cities where you have to buy the ticket outside the harbor are Santarém and Óbidos.
✅ Buy the tickets directly on the boat
At some harbors, some boys are willing to escort you, saying that they work in the boat or using other excuses. Do not listen to them, go straight to the boat and ask for the person in charge. I saw a lot of people listening to the boys and ending up paying much more than they had to in the Santana harbor (it was the only place I saw this happen). A man was charged with an extra R$20 per person, for a total of three people, totalizing an extra R$60.
✅ Choose the slow moving boats
In the Amazon, there are slow and fast moving boats. While a fast boat takes 12 hours connecting Óbidos to Manaus, a slow one takes three days, but it costs one-third of the fast boat. For example, the fast one connecting Santarém to Óbidos costs R$44 and the slow one just R$30. The fast boat from Manaus to Tabatinga costs R$540 and the slow one just R$330.
✅ Bargain in order to get the best possible price
Always ask for a discount over the offered price. Although the prices are fixed, there is always a chance to reduce the rate in R$10, R$20 or even R$30. Even the ticket shops make discounts.
✅ Choose a boat with included meals
Choose a boat where meals are included. In some, you have to pay for your food and each meal can cost between R$10 and R$15. There are boats, usually the medium and small ones that offer meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Remember that you can repeat and eat more at meals hour – eat and drink well so that you won’t be hungry afterwards.
✅ Save money of a night at the hotel before departure
If you wish to save the money for a night at the hotel, go to the boat on the previous evening to departure. I did it in Santana and Oriximiná. This means that if a boat leaves on a Saturday, you can sleep free of charge inside the boat on the previous night – just go inside and ask if you may. It is very usual, and you won’t probably be the only one. This way you can save money of one night at the hotel.
✅ Buy snacks before getting in
If you wish to bring supplies and snacks with you, buy them before you embark. Inside the ferry, everything is a bit more expensive. You will also find people that sell food along the stops in different cities. The prices are usually similar to those you find in the city. People are selling fried banana, homemade cheese, sweets, ice-cream, finger food and many local delicacies when the boat makes a stopover in other cities.
✅ Don’t buy bottled water
Drink the water offered inside, which is free of charge, since all the boats have potable water. This way you don’t have to spend money on water to carry with you. It’s free in all boats, and you can fill your bottle with cold water at any time in the clean water machine – just look for it or ask where to find it.
Let’s say that you drink two 1,5l bottles per day: after a 10-day journey up or down the river you will have saved more than R$30. If you’re a couple or a group, you’ll save much more.
✅ Don’t sleep in a cabin
Choose to rest in a hammock on the upper deck.
Choosing a place in a cabin is four times more expensive than a simple spot with a resting hammock. A cabin can cost from R$400 up to R$1100 per trip.
💲How much does it cost to travel by boat in the Amazon River?
Traveling the Amazon while sleeping in a hammock, from Belém to Manaus, costs around R$350. The one from Manaus to Tabatinga also costs around R$350. Going upstream is more expensive, but it is the best way to go.