Into the Amazon: 3-day Barge from Yurimaguas to Iquitos, Peru

From Yurimaguas, the rustic barge weaves its way for several days deep into the vast snakelike Amazon River until reaching Iquitos – “largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road”

Before I explain the incredible experience on this stunning once-in-a-lifetime-trip into the jungle, a little housekeeping and free tips on travelling to the starting point of Yurimaguas first, and organising the barge to Iquitos.

Getting to Yurimaguas

map Tarapoto, Yurimaguas, Peru, South AmericaLeaving Tarapoto, the minibus begins to swerve and weave at an alarming Formula 1 pace, around the twisting switchbacks of the Andes’ base. This short 2.5-hour journey is never-ending.

Relentless rain clears slightly creating a thick shroud of mist, which blankets the road and surrounds us along the way…

The scenery is stunning and definitely worth the teeth-clenching experience!

Yurimaguas, Peru, South America

Reaching the very remote and small port town of Yurimaguas is a relief. This is the end of northern Peru’s roads – it feels like the last frontier but the best is yet to come…

Yurimaguas

Travelling deeper into the expansive Amazon’s steamy forest, heat envelops Yurimaguas creating a heavy and oppressive humid air – my T-shirt hangs with sweat after only a couple of hours.

Yurimaguas, Peru, South America

The ominous heavy cloud layer shrouding the sky and the town’s location at the confluence of the imposing Huallaga and Paranapura Rivers, keep Yurimaguas damp.

Where to sleep

Hostal El Naranjo Yurimaguas provides a tranquil refuge from the stifling heat and is only a short walk to the port. A great location as we’re visiting this area each day to check on the barge’s departure date.

Excellent staff, private bathroom, and breakfast are included in the room’s price. If you can afford it, splash out on a room with an air-conditioner.


The barge

Strolling to the port – not really a typical port but a muddy bank with timber planks rising from the ground to awaiting vessels that ram ashore – we spot our barge the Eduardo IV.

Eduardo IV, Yurimaguas, Peru, South America

Buying tickets from the man on the Eduardo IV feels as if we’re dishing money into a black hole as he advises that the barge usually leaves around 12:00pm, but is not sure of the actual day or time. Nothing runs to schedule in the Amazon.

The barge does not provide internet access but the scenery is rumoured to be spectacular.

Barge accommodation

The barge offers 3 types of accommodation:

  1. Top deck and second deck undercover spaces (80 Soles) – sling your hammock up and keep possessions beneath you. Includes 3 basic meals per day.
  2. Cell-like 2-berth coffin (280 Soles) – lockable and complete with man-eating cockroaches. Includes 3 better meals per day.
  3. Matrimonial (500 Soles) – larger room for 2 people behind the wheelhouse – noisy – linen is provided. Includes 3 good meals per day.

After checking out the basic tiny Galley (kitchen), I can’t see how three levels of meals will be prepared for serving at the same time. I’m sure that all passengers will be fed identical meals.

Tip: Take a plate and cutlery as these aren’t provided.

Back to waiting…

The hostel manager advises that the barges leave between 4 to 5pm, if full.

This is starting to sound like the long 6-night-wait for the ever-elusive Navimag ferry in Puerto Natales, Chile earlier this year.

After a few more days of waiting, many morning and afternoon walks back and forth to the Eduardo IV, and listening to reasons for ongoing cancelled departure – barge isn’t full enough – we finally leave today.

Passengers started moving in on the top deck yesterday, staking their hammock space as you’re allowed to sleep on the barge until it leaves.

Eduardo IV, Yurimaguas, Peru, South America

The second deck is quite full now and feels more enclosed although there are no bulkheads…

Eduardo IV, Yurimaguas, Peru, South America

Opting for the coffin-like cell, which comes with a sliver of grubby foam, sheets, no fan – we move in.

With barely enough room for our backpacks and day packs on this 3-day passage, life vests are provided. Nicking a small stool from the deck for a tiny table, the abode is complete.

Eduardo IV, Yurimaguas, Peru, South America


On to the captivating Amazon journey!

Yurimaguas, Iquitos, Amazon River, Peru, South AmericaEduardo IV advises that the ‘cruise’ down the Amazon takes from 3 to 5 days as locals live along the river, so there can be 50-plus stops.

Learning too late that this barge also carries livestock, I’m hoping that it’s not another awful southern Patagonian Fjords Navimag Ferry.

Delivering livestock to the barge…

Amazon River, Peru, South America

…think these guys are going to a different barge.

Amazon River, Peru, South America

Quite empty of goods but full enough with passengers, the Eduardo IV slides away from the swampy bank and we say goodbye to Yurimaguas.

Yurimaguas, Amazon River, Peru, South America

It feels good to be finally moving and the gentle breeze cools the barge down, slightly.

The ever-changing scenery glides along the river and Selva (jungle) like still frames that resemble a hundred years’ ago.

Jungle life is frozen in time.

Amazon River, Peru, South America

It’s not long before the first stop and the captain rams the barge into the bank whilst keeping the engine on full throttle to pick up more passengers, cargo, and livestock.

Amazon River, Peru, South America

Food vendors ready themselves to board and sell Amazonian delights – homemade pastries, empanadas, and sweets at minimal prices.

Amazon River, Peru, South America

Regardless of age, everyone has something to sell – homemade potato chips (papitas) are delicious.

Amazon River, Peru, South America

These isolated villages without roads are basic, but it’s not uncommon to see huge Satellite dishes jutting out of a building or thatched hut.

Although we travel deeper into the jungle, locals still have mobile reception in villages and on the barge – more than I can say for back home in Brisbane (Australia) travelling an hour out of the city.

Amazon River, Peru, South America

At every stop, a plethora of waiting villagers’ board with jungle fruit or sometimes hot coffee, which fills in the time between the basic but tasty meals on the barge. Bring your own snacks.

Amazon River, Peru, South America

Some wait patiently for their turn to load produce…

Amazon River, Peru, South America

…and then the worse animal cruelty confronts even the most hardened traveller.

It’s pitiful to see pigs dragged down the bank and thrown roughly onto the barge. The squealing is intolerable.

Amazon River, Peru, South America

Women are content to pass the heat away chatting with laundry in the murky river waters…

Amazon River, Peru, South America

…children sit and watch our barge slip past.

Amazon River, Peru, South America

Some villages are so close to the bank that you can almost knock on their door.

Villages, Amazon River, Peru, South America

Beautiful Amazonian Amelia – wanting her photo taken throughout the 3 days – befriends me calling me ‘La Gringa’ (female foreigner).

Villages, Amazon River, Peru, South America

Passengers wait patiently for the journey to end. I’m sure they’ve done this trip hundreds of times.

Villages, Amazon River, Peru, South America

The lure of pink river dolphins and manatees are no longer interesting to some – sadly, these river creatures are illusive on this trip.

Dusk is gorgeous on the Amazon.

Villages, Amazon River, Peru, South America

Mornings are full of activity once more…

Villages, Amazon River, Peru, South America

River life is incredibly fascinating and have to pinch myself – I’m really drifting down the Amazon – a dream come true!

Villages, Amazon River, Peru, South America

Night on the barge is a tad scary as it’s not equipped with navigation or steering lights.

Villages, Amazon River, Peru, South America

The captain uses a searchlight to watch the river’s current and sweep back and forth across the bank to steer towards it, but not close enough to run aground – Russian Roulette – it’s pitch black out here in the jungle.

Morning arrives without an incident.

Villages, Amazon River, Peru, South America

As we near a larger village…

Villages, Amazon River, Peru, South America

…it’s time to offload once more.

Villages, Amazon River, Peru, South America

Everyone comes out to pick up supplies and more passengers leave the barge.

Villages, Amazon River, Peru, South America

Some locals are inquisitive of the gringos looking down from the 3-storey barge.

Villages, Amazon River, Peru, South America

Lovely Amelia…

Villages, Amazon River, Peru, South America

As there are no roads, any form of canoe or boat is crucial.

Villages, Amazon River, Peru, South America

Children are used to this type of transport and jump in and out of boats with ease.

Villages, Amazon River, Peru, South America

During the 3 days, babysitting also keeps us busy whilst mothers scarper and sleep in their hammocks all day – not sure how this happened, but it’s fun.

Eduardo IV, villages, Amazon River, Peru, South America

Watching the never-ending hype of activity over the few days is engrossing, whilst the romantic beauty of the jungle seduces your mind.

This short video from See The World taken a few months after our visit at the end of 2011, gives you a taste of just how secluded these Amazon villages are and also an idea of the scenery along the river.

Port of Iquitos

Nearing the Port of Iquitos – Peru’s most remote city – another barge is in our spot unloading cargo and there’s no room to dock.

Eduardo IV, villages, Amazon River, Peru, South America

Moving further down the river for another half-hour, the captain finds a small spot along the bank to unload. Two long thin planks are thrown out from the barge to the bank.

Walking the plank

I managed to walk the plank in Yurimaguas without losing my 30-kilos of backpacks, but the planks were substantial. Iquitos is harder. The flimsy timber planks are narrower and the muddy bank is much steeper.

Visions of falling in slow motion into the cloudy Amazonian waters, dragged to the bottom of the river under the weight of my packs, and swiftly devoured by hundreds of ravenous flesh-eating Piranhas cross my mind.

Luckily, no such thing happens.

Instead, I walk gingerly and slowly on the springy steep plank laden with my heavy load, down to terra firma, without a splash. After 3 days on the barge, passengers are in a hurry to get off and annoyed at my lack of speed, but I stand my ground (plank)!

The tiny slippery trail back up the bank is also challenging and I almost slide with my gear, but manage to get to the top unscathed.

With hundreds of people milling around and bedlam, we head out of the port to find a mototaxi for the hostel.

Speedboat to the Tri-border

The plan now is to take another boat deeper into the jungle to the the tri-border where three countries meet: Letitia in Colombia, Santa Rosa in Peru, and Tabatinga in Brazil.

This shady region is said to be like the last frontier and doesn’t boast a great reputation…

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more images. More posts on Peru at Image Earth Travel.

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42 thoughts on “Into the Amazon: 3-day Barge from Yurimaguas to Iquitos, Peru

Add yours

  1. Hi, I just read your article as we are just in this moment in Yurimaguas and trying to catch a slow boat in the next days. Everybody at the pier says that there are no boats for passengers anymore since one year apparently. It’s weird because you can’t read anything experiences about that online. You just went on the boat and asked for the captain? Would appreciate to hear your experiences. Best Kristina

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kristina, yes we just went down to the barge and asked. Are the barges still docked at the port? They do take a couple of days to fill up before leaving.
      I’m not sure why this would have changed as the barge transports locals and cargo to the Amazonian remote villages also – only a few tourists.

      Maybe also check with your hostel owner?

      Let me know how you go as I’ll update my post to reflect what’s occurring now. Good luck and I hope that you’re successful getting onto the barge as it’s an incredible trip! Nilla

      Like

  2. Nilla Palmer this looks unreal! I’m going to the Amazon in October and I was slightly unsure of what to expect… Cannot wait now! Those hammocks look sketchy but how cool would it be to spend a night in one! I love how you describe the Amazon – Jungle life is frozen in time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, many thanks for leaving my such great feedback – makes it all worthwhile!

      You’ll have a blast in October. For how long are you going? It might be cooler in the hammocks than the coffin-like cabin, but take mozzie repellent.

      Look forward to reading your posts after your trip in October. Just tried to follow your site, but it says you’ve deleted it…

      Liked by 1 person

    2. How strange! Other people can follow it … your comment didn’t show either. I have no idea how to get it to work haha.

      Oh yeah I’ve got my deet! I’ll be in the rainforest for only about 5 days I think, I’m travelling around central and some of the south of America 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    3. It is very strange and displays this message when I click your link:
      “geordieroots.wordpress.com is no longer available. The authors have deleted this site.”
      I’ve had this happen also with other visitors to my site then go to reciprocate and this message displays, have no idea how to fix this…

      Wear light-coloured long sleeves and long pants also, especially around dusk and dawn. Apart from the 5 days, for how long are you travelling?

      Like

    4. Hey Kayleigh, I salvaged your comment from my Trash but have been able to get into your site from your above link – all very strange.
      Left you another comment so hope this one came through…
      That sounds fantastic! You’ll love Australia but it is expensive.

      Like

  3. Do you ever get the feeling you’re living someone else’s life because there’s no way you could be doing what you’re doing? That looks and sounds like a mind-bending adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think I’ve said this before but you have had the most wonderful adventures. South America sure is an interesting and exciting country x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Gill for your cool comment and yes, South America is an incredible continent!
      I try to experience as much as I can in each country but there’s always loads I miss. 😉 x

      Like

  5. I was just in Iquitos last week and took a boat to Requena and Bretaña! I saw these barges but I was on a smaller boat. You did a great job capturing the feel of river travel on the Amazon and the little villages along the way! Thanks for writing all this–now I can show it to my family and friends that wanted to know what it’s like! 🙂 Keep up the great writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Callie! Thank you so much for the great feedback and so happy that I’ve done the Amazon some justice as it really is an incredible region, as you know. I haven’t been to those 2 places but wondering whether our barge stopped there – stops/village names weren’t announced. Hope your family enjoys my write-up. 😉
      You may like to read the next boat trip (mucked up the publish dates for these 2 posts) to the Tri-border – another amazing experience!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Suellen, agree that tourism can be so sanitised, it’s getting harder to find non-touristy adventures – this was definitely one of those once in a lifetime experiences!

      Like

  6. Wow, I have so much to say. First Air conditioning whenever possible, lol. Wonderful story telling and I love the video as well. “Visions of falling in slow motion into the cloudy Amazonian waters, dragged to the bottom of the river under the weight of my packs, and swiftly devoured by hundreds of ravenous flesh-eating Piranhas cross my mind.” Holy Cow! So Glad that did not happen!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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