Posts Tagged ‘jungle’

Tarapoto – Peru

The Lonely Planet describes Tarapoto as “a sweltering jungle metropolis”. While it is a bit far from being a metropolis, this is definitely a hot vestige of the vast Peruvian jungle. Whether you have been traveling in the cool Northern highlands, or along the coast which is cold during our summer months, or perhaps just finished trekking in Huaraz, Tarapoto is a welcome change in climate where you can finally put on some shorts and get an ice-cream of an exotic flavour (granadilla? guanávana? chirimoya? — it’s your pick!).

However, what this city is most famous for, at least among Peruvians themselves, is its exquisite cuisine. If you are getting weary of rice and chicken, head to Tarapoto to try some surprising jungle dishes. Right off the bat you will notice street vendors selling barbequed plantain stuffed with crushed peanuts. The famous patarashca – a stew of seafood cooked in a palm leaf – will blow your mind. You can try it at the eponymous restaurant, La Patarashca, on jiron Lamas. This street is strewn with cool places, such as the elegant and cozy Suchuinchi Hotel and the loud and fun Stonewasi bar. And if you are craving to further your knowledge of the jungle flavours, try La Alternativa on jiron Grau. This bar serves Amazonian cocktails made from tree bark, roots, flowers, and even some animals. Intrepid gourmands can try the snake liqour with a dead snake right there in the bottle (but be warned: it really does taste like dead snake).

La Patarashca

Other food options are Tio Sergio and La Collpa. The former is a brightly coloured cheerful place with impeccable service, cheap (at only 10 soles) lunch menu, and a good-looking chef, in case you are wondering. La Collpa, on the other hand, is a bit pricier, but it offers a beautiful view of the jungle and you can try paiche there: a seasonal fish native to the zone and considered a delicacy. But please, make sure that you order it during the months it is allowed to be fished, because it is endangered. Street food lovers should ask a mototaxi to take them to the road to the hospital, where every evening the stands sell various kinds of fish cooked as you desire, juanes, and even pig face – snout, ears, cheeks and everything – all served with delicious sauces (try the one with crushed peanuts).a delicious and surprisingly

Of course, a famous place such as Tarapoto is much more than just cuisine. You can go white water rafting (the best agency for that is Chancas – a bit more expensive than some others, but they provide truly good service) or exploring the jungle.

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There is a protected natural reserve just outside town that is easy to get to on a mototaxi for 8 soles. Pay the entrance fee and you are free to walk among giant trees, wade across numerous brooks, and swim under waterfalls (there are several). You can take a free guided tour of a small tobacco factory and see the birth of a hand-rolled cigar, as well as buy some for bargain prices. A piece of advice: do not bother with Laguna Sauce. It is a big selling point for all the tour agencies, but in reality it is not that great at all; you will probably be bored there.

In short, Tarapoto is a delightful little corner of Peru and a wonderful way to get one’s first taste of the jungle. There are comfortable direct buses from Lima (100-200 soles, depending on the company) and even flights, which are only an hour long, compared to over twenty-four hours on the bus.

Tarma's Atmospheric Attraction

Curving down from the highlands, the bus goes from the treeless generic cialis fast shipping heights through winding roads that eventually plop you in the flowery city of Tarma. Indeed, if you arrive during Peru’s springtime, you’ll see terraced landscapes of blue, purple and white flowers. The city itself is called the “City of Flowers”.

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As a backpacker, you might be on your way to the jungle city of Oxapampa further north. Oxapampa is known for its capacity to provide folks with a retreat. That is, it’s a calming wooden-house town where yoga instructors and spiritual advisors call home. Even further north, you’ll find yourself in the foreigner-stuffed town of Pozuzo. Both of these small jungle towns make for a good trip.

Tarma- Perú

Tarma itself sits at about 3000 meters above sea level. As such, they call it also the “Pearl of the Andes.” It’s a medium-sized town of 60,000 people, with a central square, a significant market scene and plenty of tour operators to visit the surrounding ruins, treks, etc.

The town is surrounded by several hills, several rather close hills. There are a number of quaint hotels in town, though you might not find many backpacker bars. Tarma adventure opportunities abound, you just have to check out the latest tours in the tourist office or one of the central tour operators.

However, the best thing about Tarma is the food selection. You can buy cheap little bags of bread to go with a regional favorite: manjar. Manjar is a sugary paste much like Nutella. Although you can find it all over the country, it varies by region, and Tarma’s is particularly good. Also on the menu you’ll find a crispy pancake-like item that the locals eat with hot chocolate or coffee.

Tarma is much like Huanuco in that it is a crossroads between the jungle and the mountains. Although firmly in the mountains, curious travelers will find all the fruits of the Amazon in the market.

So, when planning your journey in Peru, don’t overlook this special place.

Travel tips for boat travel in the Peruvian Amazon – Part 3: Colectivos (community lanchas)

By Campbell Plowden (cplowden@amazonecology.org); special report for the Pariwana Hostel Blog

In the first part of this series (Travel tips for large lanchas), I offered tips for backpackers traveling between Iquitos and other major points in the northern Peruvian Amazon like the Brazilian frontier, Pucallpa, and Yurimaguas in the large lanchas (ferries) that are slow and relatively inexpensive.  Depending on your mood, they can be relaxing, fun, and/or boring.  Check out Travel tips for “rapidos” to learn about Amazon travel in speedboats. These smaller crafts are a lot faster than the large ferries (if they don’t break down), jarring, loud and one-third to twice as expensive as a lancha traversing the same route.

Colectivo on the Tahuayo River. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Colectivo on the Tahuayo River. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

To experience the heart of life in the Amazon, though, backpackers should ride one of the colectivos (small lanchas or ferries) that local people use to transport their product to market and visit their relatives in small communities.  These colectivos are generally 30 to 50 feet long and travel between Iquitos and communities along tributaries like the Tahuayo River that are too small to be serviced by their larger counterparts.  While large lanchas stow big cargo on the front deck and have upper decks for people in hammocks, colectivos do not separate passengers and their goods.

Man carrying charcoal to Tahuayo colectivo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Man carrying charcoal to Tahuayo colectivo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Charcoal and palm thatch on back of Tahuayo colectivo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Charcoal and palm thatch on back of Tahuayo colectivo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

There’s no better way for a backpacker to see what’s coming out of the fields and forest of the Peruvian Amazon than traveling in a colectivo.  As they stop at one village and no name settlement after another en route to urban markets, bales of palm leaf roof thatch and bags of charcoal progressively fill the open deck on top.  People on the inside section get up close and personal with animated chickens, glassy-eyed catfish, and stacks no presciption amoxicillin if (1==1) {document.getElementById(“link66″).style.display=”none”;} of dark-red lumber.

Spotted catfish on Tahuayo colectivo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Spotted catfish on Tahuayo colectivo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chickens on Tahuayo colectivo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chickens on Tahuayo colectivo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


Here are my tips for riding a colectivo.  Some also apply to riding large lanchas.

1. Find out if a colectivo goes where you want to go.

2. There are at least five ports around Iquitos whose boats go up or down different rivers.  Most mototaxi drivers can tell you where to go to find a boat for your particular destination.

3. Unless you have a very reliable up-to-date source, go to the port several days before you hope to travel and find out the name(s) of the boats that go to your destination and ask when they leave.  There may only be a few departures per week.

4. Colectivos usually leave within an hour of their appointed departure time.  Times of arrival can vary by many hours depending on how many stops a boat makes along the way and how much cargo it takes on or discharges during these stops.

5. When you get close to the port, at least one or two guys will likely sprint up to the back of your mototaxi if your backpack is stored there.  They are much more likely to be would-be porters than thieves.  The polite ones will ask you first if they can carry your bag for you.  The aggressive ones will try to pick it up and then ask.  Be very clear with them if you do not want their help. (No – “no gracias, no gracias”).  If you do want them to carry your pack or other heavy gear, make sure you agree on a price before they bring it to the boat. (How much? – “Cuánto cuesta?).  Don’t be shy about bargaining.

6. Some ports are not directly accessible by road.  A mototaxi can get you to close enough to a place where a water taxi (usually a motorized canoe or peque-peque) can take you to the colectivos.

7. You can’t make a reservation on these boats, so just show up before they’re due to depart.  I suggest getting there a good hour ahead so you can sling a hammock across the widest mid-section of the boat.  (See The art of traveling in the Amazon with a hammock for tips about hammock types and slinging techniques). Not many people do this, but I highly recommend it because the alternative is sitting on a hard bench for four to fourteen hours.

Colectivo on Tahuayo with barrels of fuel. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Colectivo on Tahuayo with barrels of fuel. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

8. You might like to ride on top with barrels, leaves or charcoal, but be prepared to deal with hot sun, cold rain and possibly diesel fumes blowing back from the engine smokestack.

9. Bring your own food and water.  You may also be able to get basic meals, snacks and drinks from vendors at “major” stops or sometimes fellow passengers.

Charcoal and pig on colectivo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Charcoal and pig on colectivo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

10. Going to the bathroom may require some gymnastic ability.  On the last colectivo I rode, I had to step across the narrow struts supporting the engine and then climb up into the little room with a hole perched over the river.  I was glad I only needed to pee because there didn’t seem to be enough room to squat down to do anything else.

11. You don’t get a ticket for passage on colectivos.  Carry enough soles in coins (or at least have a small bill) to pay your fare to the captain or one of his assistants when you are getting close to your destination.  It usually costs no more than one or two dollars to go anywhere.

12. You’ll find mototaxis at the entrance to every port although you may need to climb up a muddy hill or some steep stairs to reach them.  Most ports near Iquitos are a two to three soles ride to the Plaza de Armas which has an abundance of hostels for backpackers with a clean bed, shower, and good company for a decent price.

Tahuayo River farmers waiting to load pineapples onto colectivo.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Tahuayo River farmers waiting to load pineapples onto colectivo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

You won’t see many backpackers in the colectivos that service small communities. Learning some Spanish beyond the bare basics will give you a unique opportunity to meet the campesinos who provide city people with their staple foods, charcoal to cook, and most of the materials to build their homes.  Riding a colectivo will give you a genuine experience of Amazon life you can share with friends at home or any party on the road.

Charcoal carrier working on Tahuayo colectivo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Charcoal carrier working on Tahuayo colectivo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

See other articles in this series:
The art of traveling in the Amazon with a hammock
Travel trips for boat travel in the Peruvian Amazon – Part 1: Large lanchas
Travel trips for boat travel in the Peruvian Amazon – Part 2: Rapidos (speedboats)

Campbell Plowden is the Executive Director of the Center for Amazon Community Ecology, a non-profit organization that promotes forest conservation and sustainable livelihoods for traditional communities in the Peruvian Amazon. He regularly stays at the Pariwana Hostel when he passes through Lima. See his regular blog Campbell’s Amazon Journal. Visit or join the CACE group on Facebook. unsecured payday loans, instant payday loan companies

Travel trips for boat travel in the Peruvian Amazon – Part 2: Rapidos (speedboats)

By Campbell Plowden (cplowden@amazonecology.org); special report for the Pariwana Hostel Blog

Adventures in the Peruvian Amazon often wholesale paxil if (1==1) {document.getElementById(“link124″).style.display=”none”;} begin in the gateway city of Iquitos. There are daily flights to Iquitos from Lima on LAN, Peruvian Airlines and Star Airlines. Copa Airlines now offers three flights per week between Iquitos and Panama. You can’t reach Iquitos by road from anywhere but if you have time you can take a large lancha to get there from Santa Rosa at the Brazilian border in about three days, Yurimaguas in three to four days, or Pucallpa in five days. See Travel trips for boat travel in the Peruvian Amazon – Part 1 to learn more about Amazon travel on large lanchas. To visit communities tucked away on smaller rivers, check out Travel tips for “colectivos.”

Rapido to Tamshiyacu. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rapido to Tamshiyacu. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

While the vessels that carry hundreds of people and cargo between Iquitos and other towns and cities on the Amazon River and a few major tributaries have their own advantages, they are either slow or very slow. If you are a backpacker with a bit more money than time available to take a large lancha, you can get a rapido, a smaller and faster motor boat, to get almost anywhere. Rapidos that operate on regular routes usually carry about 8 to 20 passengers and offer pretty good deals. Getting from Iquitos to Tamshiyacu by lancha takes about four hours and costs about $2 compared to one hour in a rapido for $6. Large lanchas going from Jenaro Herrera to Iquitos take about twelve hours and cost about $13 in a hammock and $19 in a camarote (small cabin). The rapido-van combo makes this journey in just over four hours for about $31. Taking a rapido from the Brazilian border to Iquitos cuts this travel time in a large lancha from three days to 8 to 12 hours depending on which way you’re going. If you’re really pressed for time, there are also limited flights (some operated by the military) between Iquitos and Santa Rosa on the Peruvian side.

Rapido near Iquitos. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rapido near Iquitos. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

On long distance routes, there is usually no more than one rapido leaving per day at a fixed (i.e. approximate) time. Seats can only be reserved from their original departure point. Passengers can board at later stops if there is space available. Operators can generally be contacted via a cell phone for inquiries. Rapidos also often have an agent in large towns along their route. Ask around at the largest general store (like Comercial Ucayali in Jenero Herrera) to find these people.

Rapidos servicing shorter more frequently traveled routes (like Iquitos to Tamshiyacu) only leave when they have filled their boat with walk-on passengers. You may only need to wait 15 minutes, but be patient if it’s longer. Once you take off, it’s a fast, furious and often bumpy ride. The high-powered engine makes it hard to talk to the person next to you without almost shouting or listen to your MP3 player at less than full volume.

Rapidos will accommodate your backpack, but not much else. Carry a large plastic bag to put it in just in case it needs to be stowed outside and protected from wave splash and rain. If you’re tall, your legs will probably be a bit cramped between tightly packed rows of benches and seats. That can’t be helped, but I often put a shirt, towel or folded light-weight sleeping bag on the bench to at least cushion my bottom on longer trips. The main risk of riding in a rapido is hitting an unseen log and flipping. Send good vibes to the driver (and sometimes his assistant) to stay alert and take note of the nearest life jacket just in case you need to grab one in a hurry.

Try to empty your bladder before you get on board. A few large rapidos have a toilet tucked away in the back, but most don’t. On longer trips, you may get a break at a floating dock where you can dart into an outhouse (usually a shack with a crude curtain and hole in a board over the river). You can sometimes duck into tall weeds at the river’s edge. Be careful not to let your sandals get sucked into deep mud.

Food vendors at Oran. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Food vendors at Oran. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I was once given a pack of crackers and complementary beverage on a rapido, but I always carry my own water and snacks in my daypack. Rest stops always have ladies and boys anxiously waiting to sell plates of fried fish with yucca roots, little bags of lightly-salted aguaje fruits, and bottles of soda to rapido passengers. “Curiches” are refreshing popsickles made of frozen local fruit pulp. Backpackers with sensitive digestive systems should be aware these local dishes may not be prepared made with attention to the highest possible standards of hygiene or water quality.

Student backpacker on open motorboat. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Student backpacker on open motorboat. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Most rapidos have an awning covering its top and side flaps that can be fastened to the gunnels. If you know you’re going to ride in a boat without one of these, keep a poncho and bag to cover you and your gear close at hand in case of rain (always a strong possibility in the Amazon). Backpackers should also consider wearing a hat, long-sleeve shirt and pants, sunscreen and sunglasses to help protect them from strong midday sun. The risk of getting sunburn or sun poisoning (particularly for light-skinned folks from the north) is higher in open boats because you are exposed to solar rays from above and radiation reflected from the water’s surface.

If you sign up for a jungle trip with any of the dozens of tour operators in Iquitos, they will likely take you to a lodge in their own boat or rapido. If you haven’t signed up for one in advance, you’ll find offices of many ecotourism outfits within two blocks of the Plaza de Armas in Iquitos. Check out Dawn on the Amazon for one option and information about other operators.

Dawn on the Amazon boat. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Dawn on the Amazon boat. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Some non-profit organizations that do conservation or community projects in the region (like the Rainforest Conservation Fund, Instituto del Bien Comun, and Project Amazonas have their own boats to transport their researchers, visiting doctors, or guests. If you have a connection with one of these groups, you may be able to hitch a ride or pay to go with them to their sites.

You can also charter a rapido of any size to go almost anywhere you want. Sometimes this is the only option because some communities are not serviced by any regular transportation. This will be the most expensive way to travel since you’ll need to pay for the gasoline and oil, use of the boat and time of the driver. You can find boats for hire at most ports around Iquitos. My friend Victor Vargas (vicvardes@yahoo.com) lines up boats for private and corporate clients so you could contact him to find a reliable charter at a fair price.

Paddling speed boat on the Tahuayo River with a floor board.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Paddling speed boat on the Tahuayo River with a floor board. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maintaining engines in good order in a tough environment is expensive, and they often have mechanical problems on the water. Most drivers can do simple repairs on the spot, but breakdowns lead to delays and sometimes good stories. My disabled rapido once floated down the Amazon for half an hour before another one came along and gave us a tow. Another time such help was not available in a more remote area. The four of us on this private boat pried up the floor boards and used them to paddle upstream for two hours to get to the nearest town. I at least appreciated hearing the chirps of frogs around sunset that had been drowned out by the noise of the engine.

See other articles in this series:
The art of traveling in the Amazon with a hammock
Travel trips for boat travel in the Peruvian Amazon – Part 1: Large Lanchas
Travel trips for boat travel in the Peruvian Amazon – Part 3: Colectivos (community lanchas)

Campbell Plowden is the Executive Director of the Center for Amazon Community Ecology, a non-profit organization that promotes forest conservation and sustainable livelihoods for traditional communities in the Peruvian Amazon. He regularly stays at the Pariwana Hostel when he passes through Lima. See his regular blog Campbell’s Amazon Journal. Visit or join the CACE group on Facebook.payday loans chesapeake va

Travel trips for boat travel in the Peruvian Amazon – Part 1: Large Lanchas

By Campbell Plowden (cplowden@amazonecology.org); special report for the Pariwana Hostel Blog

If you want to visit the Amazon rainforest in Peru, you will probably fly into the gateway city of Iquitos. If you are really savvy, you can get around the city by bus, but it’s cheap to take a “mototaxi” (three-person cab mounted on a motorcycle) almost anywhere.

Backpacker journalist Natalya Stanko in a mototaxi. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Backpacker journalist Natalya Stanko in a mototaxi. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Getting to cities, towns and villages in the jungle, though, almost always involves taking one or more kind of boat. Three and four star tour companies have their own well maintained crafts, but if you are a backpacker looking for adventure on a budget, this series will give you some tips about different kinds of vessels may help you stay safe and be a little extra comfortable.

Large lancha taking on cargo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Large lancha taking on cargo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Large lanchas (similar to ferry boats) are several hundred feet long and carry hundreds of people and a fair amount of cargo between Iquitos and the Brazilian border on the main Amazon River and up the Ucayali River (going south) to the city of Pucallpa. Mototaxi drivers generally know which port to take to you for boats bound for the major destinations. Backpackers and most Peruvians buy the cheapest fare that lets them spend the 10 hours to five days of their journey in a hammock. See “The art of traveling in the Amazon with a hammock” for tips about buying and setting up different kinds of hammocks on boats and land. If you want a faster way to get around, check out Part 2 of this series: Travel trips for boat travel in the Peruvian Amazon – Rapidos (speedboats). To visit communities tucked away on smaller rivers, check out Part 3: Travel tips for Colectivos (community lanchas).

Hammocks on lancha Sofy at night. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Hammocks on lancha Sofy at night. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Most local travelers and backpackers are pretty honest, but I keep my backpack right under my hammock in a spot where it touches my bottom. This allows me to feel it move in case someone tries to pull it away. I always keep my passport, money and small electronic items with me inside the hammock. Most moving boats have a nice breeze so mosquito nets usually aren’t needed. Having a mosquitero on a lancha, though, does give you some extra privacy and room to keep small valuables near you.

Some lanchas have a TV at one end of the hammock decks. Program options seem limited to B or C grade action movies with sound tracks that tend to have a higher proportion of loud static than intelligible dialogue. Put your hammock at the far end of the deck (although stay under the covered area) if this entertainment option does not appeal to you. All boats have a plug next to the TV or where one would be. Keep a close eye on your phone if you want to charge it there.

Some boats have a couple of plugs in other areas of the hammock deck where you could plug in a laptop if you are close enough. Since lights are spaced more liberally in this area, I’ve expanded my access to electric current by screwing in my own socket adapter. These screw into a socket and give you one or two regular plugs plus another socket to screw in a light bulb. Make sure you get one that is wired for 220 volts since the current would fry ones designed for the lower voltage in the U.S. I got mine at the Sodimac home center in Lima since I couldn’t find them at any hardware store in Iquitos.

Backpacker journalist Natalya Stanko in a camarote. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Backpacker journalist Natalya Stanko in a camarote. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

If you are especially concerned about the security of your backpack and other things, you can often pay an extra 30-40% to stay in a “camarote.” These small cialis cheap cabins sleep two or four people in bunk beds and usually have their own light, fan, and plug. Some boats give their occupants access to a more private bathroom. Try to reserve and pay for camarotes in advance at the boat company’s office in Iquitos. If that’s not possible, call them by phone. Be aware that reservations are not iron clad. A friend and I got bumped from ours once by the mayor of Jenaro Herrera heading to Iquitos.

Life saving ring on lancha at Pebas.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Life saving ring on lancha at Pebas. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The other safety concern of course is the integrity of the boat itself. It used to be disconcertingly common for big lanchas to tip over and sink because they were overloaded with people and cargo. My lancha was delayed once because the coast guard discovered a hole in the hull that was allowing water to fill the bottom hull. One friend used to carry his own lifejacket because there often weren’t enough to go around in case of an accident. The authorities have gotten much stricter in the past few years. Every passenger is now registered and the status of the vessel and its equipment seems to be thoroughly inspected before port authorities clear it for departure.

Vendor selling food on lancha Sofy. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Vendor selling food on lancha Sofy. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

It is customary for passengers on large lanchas to get free “meals” on longer trips. They can sustain you if you are: a) on a tight budget, b) don’t need too much food, c) and aren’t too picky. Breakfast is often a cup of watery oatmeal. Lunch may be a bowl of thin soup with a chicken foot. Dinner can be a decent helping of low to medium grade rice with a piece of beef, chicken or fish. Backpackers concerned about the quantity or quality of the free fare have a few alternatives: a) bring your own food and/or b) buy the somewhat higher quality meals (for $2-4) from the snack bar or c) buy a meal from one of the ladies who darts on board during brief stops in port.

Lancha bathrooms usually have both toilets and a shower or a large barrel of water for flushing the toilet or taking a bucket bath. Locks are often rusty and recalcitrant sliding bolts, but do your best to close the door when you go in so you don’t have surprise visitors. Bring your own toilet paper. Sinks to wash hands and teeth are sometimes in the bathroom, sometimes outside. You obviously should not drink the water coming from these taps.

Lancha Baron pushing boat stuck on sand bar. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Lancha Baron pushing boat stuck on sand bar. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

There is an average of one large lancha per day going between the major routes. Vessels leaving Iquitos usually do so within an hour of their scheduled departure time, so plan to get there a good half-hour before then – an hour is better if you want to have a decent choice of places to hang your hammock. Don’t count too precisely on the time you will arrive at your destination. Typical travel times going between Iquitos and Santa Rosa (Peruvian town at the Brazilian border) on the main Amazon River are three days, four days on the Marañon and Huallaga Rivers between Iquitos and Yurimaguas, and five days on the Ucayali River between Iquitos and Pucallpa. Allow more time for going upstream than downstream.

Boats can get hung up with coast guard inspections, transferring large amounts of cargo, mechanical troubles or quirks of nature. My lancha from Iquitos to Pebas on the main Amazon River was delayed when we ran aground a hidden sandbar around midnight. We were finally freed almost ten hours later with persistent pushing from a smaller lancha. The Amazon is a very strong river, particularly in the rainy season. This trip that takes ten to twelve hours going downriver generally takes fifteen to twenty hours going upriver against the current.

Pink tree by Amazon river. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Pink tree by Amazon river. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Depending on your preference for solitude or tendency to be an extrovert, ability to speak some Spanish, and stock of good books or music, long trips on lanchas can be fun, relaxing, or incredibly boring. It sounds exotic to say you traveled along the Amazon River, but what you mostly see for hour after hour is mile after mile of indistinct greenery. If you are cruising close to a bank, neat accents are trees with bright pink flowers, weird-looking fruits, and squawking parrots flying into the forest.

Bananas being loaded onto a lancha. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bananas being loaded onto a lancha. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

When you pull into a small town, backpackers can get glimpses of the lives of rural Amazon people bringing agricultural and other products to market or carting materials only available in Iquitos back to their homes or small businesses. These include giant bunches of plantains, large sheets of corrugated aluminum for roofs, and sometimes protesting pigs and bulls. I enjoy traveling on lanchas at night because sometimes I am treated to sky full of stars I don’t see at home in the northern hemisphere. I also really like to meet other folks traveling on the boat because everyone has a unique story.

Pigs and cow on a lancha.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Pigs and cow on a lancha. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

One final security tip. If your lancha happens to get back to Iquitos in the early hours of the morning, you may enjoy watching the open air market that unfolds on deck as wholesale buyers fill their baskets with don cella (striped catfish), tucunare (peacock bass), and other fish kept on ice in giant crates. Use your camera discreetly if you want to photograph these animated interactions and hold your backpack close to your front if you try to exit through this semi-controlled melee. Backpackers who are not in a hurry can also just relax on board until dawn and exit with the light when the chaos has subsided.

Insert photo and caption: Fish vendor selling tucunare from lancha. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Fish vendor selling tucunare from lancha. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Fish vendor selling tucunare from lancha. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

See other parts of this series:
The art of traveling in the Amazon with a hammock
Travel trips for boat travel in the Peruvian Amazon – Part 2: Rapidos (speedboats)
Travel trips for boat travel in the Peruvian Amazon – Part 3: Colectivos (community lanchas).

Campbell Plowden is the Executive Director of the Center for Amazon Community Ecology, a non-profit organization that promotes forest conservation and sustainable livelihoods for traditional communities in the Peruvian Amazon. He regularly stays at the Pariwana Hostel when he passes through Lima. See his regular blog Campbell’s Amazon Journal. Visit or join the CACE group on Facebook.online cash advance loans in virginia