Just imagine, you are laying on a hammock floating down the Amazon River, sipping on a fresh coconut watching the sun set over the countless layers of tropical flora. If the visualization of this boat ride gave you a sense of thrill and butterflies, then you will be pleased to learn that this is a very possible journey. While not always as glorious as sipping on a coconut, the Amazon offers visitors the opportunity to go inward, connect with nature, work with shamans, experiment with plant medicines and more. Of course, being the world’s largest jungle, you will find isolation, dietary challenges and insects everywhere! However, if you are willing to get out of your comfort zone this journey can offer awakening, clarity and lessons beyond your wildest dreams. Read on if you want to learn how to take the journey from the Peruvian high jungle into the depths of the great Amazon Rainforest.
Tarapoto: fertile soil, breathtaking mountain, fresh water
The journey begins in Tarapoto, the heart of the Peruvian high jungle. The city of Tarapoto is bustling, full of stores, restaurants, markets and moto-taxis. Many visitors make Tarapoto their hub for exploring the region. However, if you are interested in a quieter city with more locals and Peruvians, head a bit north and station yourself in Lamas. Lamas is a small town with a main plaza, a market and a few parks to relax. It is quieter than Tarapoto and only about 30 minutes north. Collectiva, public transportation cars, leave once full from the Paradero hasta Lamas from early in the morning until about 5 PM.
While the city is a great place for lodging and accommodations, the real reason people visit Tarapoto is the nature. Just an hour or so away from the heart of the city, visitors have access to nature parks, hikes and mountainous jungle. The mountains provide one of the main attractions, the region’s waterfalls. Two of the most popular waterfall locations are Las Cataratas de Ahuashiyacu and Catarata de Pucayaquillo. If you are looking to go for a swim, the waterfalls also have rivers and pools perfect for bathing and relaxing. The region is also home to plenty of local rivers and swimming spots. Connect with the locals to learn more about how you can bathe without the crowd!
Another amazing benefit of the high jungle is the abundance of delicious homegrown fruits and vegetables. Tarapoto and the region of San Martín are responsible for a large amount of the country’s agriculture. Here in the high jungle you are coming directly to the source, offering the freshest produce options. Coconuts, passionfruit, papaya, mango, avocado, yucca, cacao and sugar cane are among the large variety grown in the region. If you adventure to some of the smaller towns and villages in the outskirts of Tarapoto and Lamas, you can buy family grown produce straight from the source in many of the plazas!
Visitors can fly to Tarapoto from Lima for as little as 128 PEN (40 USD). The direct flight is only one and a half hours. Check out the link below for a budget-friendly comprehensive booking tool! If you prefer to travel by land, you can catch a bus from Lima for as low as 90 PEN (28 USD). The bus rides are between 25 and 30+ hours and may not be the best for travelers on a time constraint.
Tarapoto to Yurimaguas: from high jungle to Amazonian flatland
After you have swam under the waterfalls, ate a fresh papaya and watched a breathtaking mountain sunset, you are ready to continue your journey deeper into the jungle. In the city of Tarapoto head to the Paradero hasta Yurimaguas to catch a collectiva to the next destination. The trip from Tarapoto to Yurimaguas will cost between 15 and 25 PEN (5 and 8 USD). Winding through the untouched jungle, this ride is unforgettable. The road leaving Tarapoto, and several dirt roads leading to small villages appear to be the only thing man-made on the mountain leg of this 3 hour journey. From the car you will see waterfalls, faces of mountains entirely covered with tropical trees and birds soaring over jungle valleys. Open the window and stick your hand out to connect with the energy and breathe the deliciously fresh air. This ride will have you feeling refreshed and at peace.
Yurimaguas to Iquitos: boat ride through the Amazon
Here in Yurimaguas you will hop on the slow boat to Iquitos for the ride of a lifetime. The ride begins with several main tributaries of the Amazon River and ends in the world famous Amazon River. This unique boat ride is breathtaking, fun and culturally enriching. You will watch the width of the river grow as you get closer to the Amazon River. As you lay back on your hammock, you can enjoy watching the large diversity of flora along the river banks. Here you can also see tropical birds and the magical-looking pink dolphins. If you go during the dry season, you will watch beautiful sunsets and clear starry night skies. The sense of being on the boat will allow you to slow down and relax. The boat also provides some shelter from the large number of mosquitos you will experience in both Tarapoto and Iquitos, giving you an opportunity to enjoy without the itch.
The nature is not the only exciting part of the ride. The people give the boat ride another amazing dynamic. Between fellow travelers, Peruvian travelers and local villagers, your journey will not be lonely. On the boat itself, you have an amazing opportunity to connect with your hammock mates. Card games, travel stories and laughs are shared amongst travelers. This sense of community extends to the Peruvians on the boat. They typically know a lot about Iquitos and can provide you with insight to cool places to visit in and near the city. Through these awesome locals you can get connections to shamans, tour guides, tribes and more.
The people on the boat are not the only ones who will give you a fulfilling experience. When the boat stops in each town and village along the way, passengers have the opportunity to disembark. You can wander through the towns and villages, eat at local restaurants or mom and pop kitchens and speak with locals about their culture. Just be mindful of when the boat leaves as you do not want to be left behind. If you do not want to get off the boat, the locals also will board while the boat is docked to sell their local treats. Here on the slow boat you will get the opportunity to try amazing local fruits and dishes without ever leaving your hammock.
Yurimaguas to Iquitos: logistics of the ride
When you arrive in Yurimaguas from Tarapoto you will find that moto-taxis are lined up waiting at the station. They tend to know a little bit about the boat schedules and can assist you in your next move. Whether you choose the slow or fast boat, they will know where the port is and can take you directly there. The boat schedules, especially for the slow boat, are unpredictable and often times unreliable.
The slow boat is a 3+ day trip on a freight boat that stops at the many ports bringing supplies to the small towns and villages along the way. As the main purpose of the slow boat is to deliver goods to the towns, the schedule can be delayed very easily. This is especially seen when boarding. Oftentimes, the captain will tell passengers the boat is going to leave the day they arrive. Sometimes it does; however, many passengers find themselves waiting one or two days. The good news is, that if you would like, you can sleep on the boat until it does leave. Typically, you can also come back first thing in the morning and check into a hostel or hotel if you prefer.
On the slow boat you have the option to sleep in a hammock amongst other travelers, both Peruvians and international. The second option is to rent a cabin on the boat. The first option will cost only about 100 PEN (~31 USD). The second will cost about 140 PEN (~44 USD). If you do not have your own hammock, you can buy one in the market and shops of Yurimaguas, or you can rent one on the boat for about 20 PEN (~6 USD).
The boat ride includes three meals per day, although I recommend bringing your own food if you have any dietary constraints like vegetarian or vegan diets. Breakfast served around 6:30 AM is a watery oat/rice mix that is loaded with sugar and served with a piece of bread. Lunch and dinner meals vary between some type of meat or fish served either in a soup or with rice and sometimes vegetables like plantains. Lunch is served around 11 AM and dinner is served around 5 PM. In order to eat you must bring your own container, which can be purchased in the markets in Yurimaguas or on the boat before it leaves for an inflated price. You also will need to bring your own toilet paper to use the bathrooms, which are typically integrated with a shower in each stall. The water comes from the river so be careful and avoid getting any in your mouth. Drinking water should be purchased prior to leaving and can typically be purchased in the towns along the way as well.
While this ride has its nuances it is the perfect opportunity for travelers to break out of their comfort zone and see a different side of nature and culture. The slow boat offers travelers an authentic Peruvian experience. Of course, if the idea of the slow boat does not excite you, then there is always the option of the fast boat. The fast boat will costs about 320 PEN (100 USD) and will take a whole day. You will be closer to the water, but seated the entire boat ride. The company may or may not provide food.
Iquitos: nature, culture, plant medicine
After three days on a boat, you have made it to Iquitos, a bustling city full of life in the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest. The city itself has over 25,000 moto-taxis, making it busy, noisy and slightly polluted. However, Iquitos is the gateway to the Amazonian experience in Peru. Here in Iquitos you can find jungle tours, plant medicine retreats and more. The jungle tours will lead you to nature and wildlife you would never imagine: crocodiles, piranhas, pink dolphins and snakes; the nature tours will take you off the beaten path.
With shamanism so prevalent in Amazonian healing culture, the city of Iquitos is the perfect place to learn more about using jungle medicine to heal ailments. When looking for a shaman, be mindful that there are so many to choose from and not all have honest intentions. La Luna del Amazonas is an awesome ayahuasca retreat center an hour away from Iquitos that was started by a Swede, Enrique, who was personally impacted by the healing power of the jungle medicine. At his center, you will get to work with local shamans as you experience the ancient healing modalities of the jungle. See the link below to learn more! If you are looking to be directed to mindful places and trustworthy local healers, visit Frutama, a mindful juice/lunch spot.
The culture of Iquitos and the spirit of the jungle can be felt by taking a walk along the Malecon, a boardwalk along the Amazon River. Here you can encounter local and traveling artists. There are also many women from Shipibo-Conibo and other indigenous groups who hand stitch traditional patterns onto clothing and tapestries. Those who work with jungle medicines often wander the Malecon looking to share information about and sell their products. If you are looking for a quieter experience, take a seat on one of the many benches, and watch the sun set over the Amazon River. The view is marvelous. If you walk a few blocks past the end of the Malecon, you will run into the Bellin Market, where you can find literally anything. Here you can learn a lot about the medicines that come from the Amazon. In Iquitos, be prepared to go inward, heal past wounds and emerge like a butterfly.
Tarapoto – Yurimaguas – Iquitos
Travel to the high jungle of Tarapoto, see the waterfall of Cataratas de Ahuashiyacu and eat delicious jungle fruit, like coconut. Travel from Tarapoto to Yurimaguas through the mountains, breathe fresh air and take in the untouched jungle energy. Hop on the slow boat in Yurimaguas toward Iquitos and travel along the tributaries of the Amazon, watch the night stars and enjoy the animated sunset. Pour into the great river herself, explore the city of Iquitos and experience Amazonian culture. This trip through the Peruvian jungle landscapes will be unlike anything you have ever experienced before.