The jungle city of Iquitos is the world’s largest city that cannot be reached by road, and most jungle-seekers choose to fly in, but we decided to take the slower, cheaper option of the long cargo boat that takes 3-4 days and costs only 60 quid total for a cabin for two including 3 meals a day. Bargain!
Chilled out, relaxed and happy aboard the slow boat…
We lucked out on our first boat (outbound) as we happened to arrive half an hour before the boat was due to leave, so we managed to haggle the price down to 50 quid. Even better bargain! We’d heard stories about boats sitting in ports for days before leaving, so we were also relieved to get moving quickly!
We’d done our research on the long boat option, and had read about the boats being hot, dirty, loud, and had also read (and heard first-hand) that the food was pretty grim, but we were pleasantly surprised to find most of this was untrue (apart from the hot and loud parts!)
The boat has 3 or 4 open floors and the bottom floor is cargo (ours was beer, fruit, vegetables and brand new tuk-tuk frames!). Then the next floor up is for hammock-dwellers: you can choose to just string a hammock up and sleep in that for even cheaper (which is what the vast majority of people do). Then on the top floor, or alongside the hammocks, you have the cabins.
The hammock floor
Nothing fancy, the cabins are basically a small room with bunks, mattresses, pillows and sheets, but they’re comfy and safe, as you can padlock all your stuff away. We’d read before that the boats were super unsafe which is why we opted for a cabin (not to mention a first-hand account from a fellow traveller who’s boat had been attacked by pirates!). Much safer behind closed doors.
Our cosy cabin!
Another perk of opting for a cabin is that the staff bring your meals to your door, rather than having to queue up at the kitchen window with everyone else. It was also handy because meal windows were pretty tight, and breakfast was at 7am so we probably would have missed it! The food was surprisingly nice, with ham rolls and hot chocolate for breakfast, and some kind of grilled meat (beef or chicken) with rice and a few veggies for lunch and dinner. Definitely not the ‘gruel’ or ‘slop’ we’d been warned about before! We did add quite a lot of ketchup to everything and brought our own fruit on board though to keep scurvy at bay!
Chicken, veggies, rice and beans – typical dinner
We opted for the ‘Eduardo’ fleet as everyone recommends these as the best boats, and they really were great. The staff were amazing, cleaning the decks and toilets all the time (yes, there’s flush toilets! and showers!) and the boats were new-looking, with plenty of life jackets and outside benches to sit and watch the river float by.
Our days on the boat were spent sunning ourselves on deck or napping, hanging out with cute local kids, playing cards, drinking sun-downers and watching the most incredible sunsets every evening The boat also regularly stopped into little flooded villages to drop off and pick up cargo, and it was amazing watching how the villages function, houses on stilts, and villagers travelling from hut to hut in dug-out canoes or wading in wellies.
On the way there, we also got chatting to one of the boat mechanics who was previously a jungle guide and told us all about the mad jungle animals he’d seen, which got us super-excited about our jungly adventures ahead!
The only downside was the extreme heat of the times when we were sun-facing, and the walls of our metal cabin would radiate with skin-melting heat! But then, there was always breeze and shade somewhere on deck. In these moments, I did have a little hammock-envy, but we would’ve had to trash the hammock after (being too big to carry) which felt like a waste. Oh, and there was a fair amount of noise (people playing music out of their phones, boat noise) that kept us up/woke us up a bit, but nothing major. And the boat’s so big, you barely feel any movement at all! Which is pretty cool. You wouldn’t want sea-sickness for 4 days…!
Sundowners onboard whilst watching the sunset…
So, that was our life on a boat. Next onto our destination, Iquitos….