Amazon cruise Tabatinga to Belém – the details

This post is describing the three boats we took on our Amazon journey from Tabating to Belém.

I have published two other posts, one, which describes the border crossing and purchase of the first boat ticket at the Colombian/Brazilian border (a must-read if you’re starting from Tabatinga and flying into Leticia!!!).

The other post describes a little more what our time on the boat looked like. You can find it here – cruising the Amazon.

Now back to the nitty-gritty.

Section 1: Tabating to Manaus:

We had purchased the tickets the day before at the port in Tabatinga in order to get our immigration procedure sorted (read this post!!). The boats run quite regularly but I was told different days on the internet as well as by our host in Leticia, Colombia. I would simply go to the port and check there in person. You might have to wait one day until a boat leaves, but generally, they should leave at least every 2 days, sometimes every day. All meals should be included on this boat and the price should be around 200 Reais (always a little negotiable 😉)

On your departure day, the boarding procedure can be a bit lengthy. You will be asked to arrive at the port 2 hours before the boat is supposed to leave (we got there at 9 am, with the boat scheduled to leave at 11 am – it did indeed leave about an hour later – I’m calling this South-American time 😉)

Once at the port we queued to get wristbands and carry out a police check. The first line was short, the second took a long time. There was only one police officer who had to register and take a photo of every single passenger who went on the boat (there were several hundred), which is probably why we were ordered to show up at the boat 2 hours before departure.

Luckily the whole procedure was organized. Upon arriving, we were told to put our luggage together with the one from other people in a straight line on the floor. Embarking the ship went by these lines, so, take the line the farthest on the left facing the ship or the farthest on the right facing the ticketing center if you want to be the first to get on the boat (we made a mistake and despite being super early ended up being let on the board in the third wave only).

Whilst waiting to get on the boat, several vendors offered snacks and lunches. The boat from Tabatinga to Manaus includes all meals, however on the first day you only get dinner, so you could either purchase some lunch that was handed out in the waiting area or on the boat as well or survive on snacks (ice-cream ‘choppe’ was my choice – it was pretty hot!).

The boat itself was much more ‘luxurious’ than we had expected and compared to what would await us by far our favorite out of the three boats we took in total. There were 3 decks: the lower deck for cargo and a few hammocks, the middle deck for most of the hammocks, bathrooms and dining hall and the upper deck with some cabins, a room that functioned as ‘church’, a small shop that sold snacks and an outside deck with some exercise equipment and space to hang out and get some sun.

boat number one from Tabatinga to Manaus, called Monteiro

As I wrote, all meals are included on this boat and meal schedules are early: breakfast from 6am, lunch form as early as 10:30am, dinner from 5pm.

Keep in mind that there is a change in the time-zone somewhere between days 2 and 3, so make sure you show up to meals at the right time 😉 (check with staff to tell you or simply listen to the bell announcing the meals).

Brazil being Brazil, food was rice and beans all around. That was accompanied by either fish or some meat, spaghetti and farofa, a manioc flour that you always find on any Brazilian table and which is spread over the meal adding a little extra texture and flavor. The Amazon region is known especially for producing many different kinds of farofa and we’ve had several ones.

Breakfast was simple white bread rolls with margarine and cake (which is something you will be sure to find in most Brazilian breakfasts). You also got served coffee, already mixed with milk and sugar which would be put outside the kitchen after breakfast so that you could serve yourself afterward as well. There was also hot water available.  

We also always had ice-cold water to drink which was nice to have with the sweltering heat during the day. It was bearable and especially the cold breeze at night brought some relief (as well as the airconditioned dining room).

The journey to Manaus took 3 days and 3 nights and we arrived around 10 am on day 4. Keep in mind that the arrival time can change quite substantially, so don’t plan any appointments on your day of arrival 😉 You can always ask the staff regarding your estimated arrival time or follow the cruise on maps.me.


Section 2:  Manaus to Santarem

We bought our tickets on arrival in Manaus from a vendor on the boat right away. We were told that there was no boat on a Sunday (we arrived on a Saturday) but that we could sleep on the boat already Sunday night with the boat leaving on Monday morning. Always make sure you try and haggle with the price, especially as the tickets for the next boats are more expensive than the previous one and exclude meals. You do not have to buy them from the vendor who’ll jump onto the boat when you arrive from Tabatinga to Manaus. There are always little vending stalls along the harbor and you can try and haggle regarding the price.

The boat this time did not leave from the main ‘modern’ port building but from the area a few hundred meters next to it, right below the market. That area you could probably rather describe as a ‘run-down city beach’ and you had to walk through the sand onto some ramps where the boats were docked.

We were almost the only people staying overnight on the boat besides 3 other people with their hammocks. This boat had 2 floors for hammocks, one closed up with windows and A/C, the other an open deck with natural airflow 😉 We chose the latter as it’s nice feeling the breeze when cruising. That turned out to be a good choice as the lower deck would end up being much more crowded than the upper one (which seemed to be the case with other boats as well).

The port turned into a bit of a party place in the evening. Large boats blasting party music turned up around 6pm, docking at the port.  We could hear dance music and saw locals drinking on the small pier area. I was worried about not being able to sleep but thankfully my earplugs did a good job and the party died down soon enough.

The next morning, I woke up being faced with a vendor who held chargers and charging cables right into my face. I was surprised to find someone at 6:45 am on the boat trying to sell things when there were pretty much no people on there. Eventually around 7, the first people started entering the boat and with them more vendors. We had our spot secured so I headed out for coffee and to try the local Tucuman fruit which is sold on sandwiches, or in my case, tapioca. It was a starchy orange fruit that was sliced and served with cheese and pretty decent for what it was.

Back on the boat, it had gotten really crowded. As I had heard from other people, this boat would not be as ‘luxurious’ as the previous boat. More space for hammocks, less space for leisure, hanging out, etc.… In fact, there weren’t any benches to sit. Your hammock was your seat except for the little dining room. The boat itself was also much older and especially the bathrooms were places that made us miss the previous boat. However, overall everything was fine and the overall procedure worked as we had known it from the previous boat. Check-in for wristbands and passport check and that was it.

Also, meals were not included, so you had to pay 5-7 Reais for breakfast and 10 for lunch and dinner each. Breakfast was a little ‘healthier’ this time with a milky corn or rice pudding, bread, and fruit. You also have the option to purchase meals of vendors who will come onto the boat whenever it stops, purchase some on the boat’s little store (they did not have ice cream, unfortunately) or bring something onboard yourself. Cold drinking water is available for free, coffee was not on this boat and only available for breakfast and once in the afternoon.

We reached Santarem on the evening of day 3 around 9 pm. As we hadn’t booked any accommodation beforehand, we decided we’d sleep on the boat again.

This turned out to be a bad decision for me, as I had trouble sleeping there. The port was busy and people were working loudly in it throughout the night. If you are a sound sleeper you might be ok, however, if I had to choose again, I would definitely take a hostel/hotel for that night.



Section 3: Santarém to Belém.

Technically you can go straight from Manaus to Belém in one go. However, as we visited Alter do Chao, an Amazon beach town close to Santarem, which I highly recommend checking out, we took two different boats.

The boat from Santarém to Belém was pretty much the same in standard as the previous one. We managed to haggle with the price this time (you can try to get as much as 25-30% off what they’re trying to sell you the ticket at).

The one thing to notice is that the port of departure was at a completely different point than where we had arrived. Luckily, we ran into a local who helped us find the right place. See the screenshots below for the location. In any case, always ask (our mistake as we thought we’d leave from where we arrived…). 

Regarding the boat tickets, we found it very hard to get information ahead of arrival in the towns on when the boats would leave. People kept giving us different information and it was impossible to plan ahead as the only way to know for sure would be when you were buying the ticket from either the port in Tabatinga or the little umbrella stalls where you can purchase your tickets from in Manaus and Santarem. This means that if you have a flight out of Belém, you better leave a little bit of leeway in your estimated arrival time as you might arrive a few days later. In our case, we had to wait 2-3 days for the next boat, so we arrived quite a bit later than anticipated.

Also, one thing to keep in mind is the arrival time at the port. You will be getting told different times constantly throughout your journey, so always be flexible and expect to arrive several hours later than you were told.


Some other information:

  1. There are no lockers on the boat. Everyone keeps their luggage right underneath or next to their hammock. I always carried my most important valuables with me or locked them into a bag.

  2. There is ‘unsurprisingly’ no Wi-Fi on the boat. As you do pass by small villages and towns, you should get a signal with a Brazilian sim-card as soon as you approach them. 

  3. You are free to choose your hammock spot. I preferred being on the side instead of in the middle. If you’re close to the bathrooms or lunchroom then people will pass by all the time (and I mean squeeze by right next to your hammock bumping into you if it’s busy – so arrive early and choose your spot wisely.

  4. There are cabins available on the boat as well if you don’t want to sleep in a hammock. I never considered that as an option as the price was more than double than that of the hammock but if you prefer A/C and your own private space it might be worth it. I’d definitely recommend giving the hammock a try though, it was way more comfortable as we thought and the cabins are tiny (except for on the boat Tabatinga to Manaus, they had their own ‘balcony’ and got their meals brought up to them)

  5. If you are doing this journey the other way around, i.e. from Belém to Tabatinga, keep in mind that as the boat will be going upstream, you will take several days longer.



Hope this can help you a little bit more regarding your trip!

Cruising the Amazon

‘This is the biggest dormitory I’ve ever stayed in’.

The boat that greeted us with two empty decks when we got on, soon turned into a colorful land of hammocks.

We were on the public boat down the Amazon river in Brazil.

This journey that we took from the border town of Tabatinga all the way to Belem on the Atlantic Coast was one of the most unique parts of my travels of the last year.

My friend and I traveled the river in three sections, from Tabatinga to Manaus, Manaus to Santarem and Santarem to Belém.

A boat, a hammock. All you need to worry about is that you show up to get food at the right time. Other than that, you’re free to fill your time with whatever you want. For most people that are sleeping, chatting to others, staring at the river and repeating everything all over again.

The hammock will become your best friend at that time. It is not only your place to sleep but also your seat and your hideaway. I became a master in completely wrapping myself into the hammock when my introverted me had enough of socializing and needed a few hours by myself.

Sleeping in a hammock was much more comfortable than I had imagined. I’m not the best sleeper so I was slightly nervous about that. That changed pretty much the minute we set up the hammocks, finally left the port of Tabatinga at the Colombian/Brazilian border and I fell asleep right away. We had been waiting at the port for about 3 hours before the boat finally left.

The first boat to Manaus was much more ‘luxurious’ than we had expected and compared to what would await us by far our favorite out of the three boats we took in total.  There were 3 decks: the lower deck for cargo and a few hammocks, the middle deck for most of the hammocks, bathrooms and dining hall and the upper deck with some cabins, a small room that functioned as a ‘church’, a small shop that sold snacks and an outside deck with some exercise equipment and space to hang out and get some sun. That area was surprisingly quiet and my favorite spot in the morning to meditate and do yoga right when the sun rose around 5 am.

As you can see, you’re on an early schedule on the boat. The sun rose around 5 am, which meant everyone would wake up around that time. Breakfast was served at 6am, lunch started from as early as 10.30 am and dinner was served at 5 pm. At 6 pm it would already be pitch-black dark and by 8 pm lights were off and most people went to sleep. For an early bird like me, this was great. I loved living by the rhythm of daylight, something I’ve learned to enjoy particularly during this last year of traveling.

Being on a boat for 3 full days meant you got to know a lot of people. Your neighbors would be right next to you, as the deck can get pretty full and hammocks are squeezed in one right next to the other. Personal space was non-existent (thus my wrapping up in my hammock to get it) and me being quite an introvert for whom personal space is indispensable, I had to get used to this a little. I had many people coming up to me to talk, whether that was while I was in the middle of doing yoga, eating in the lunch hall or chilling in my hammock. To me, this was sometimes too much attention and me and my friend being blond females among the few foreigners (out of hundreds of passengers) didn’t help to stand out less.

On the bright side, with that many people on board, I got a good chance to practice Portuguese. If you’re wondering, whether you need to speak any to do this trip I’d say: Not necessarily as there are signs in English and Spanish on the boat and some of the staff and some people will be able to speak broken Spanish. I have met travelers who didn’t speak a word of neither Spanish nor Portuguese and they managed as well. That being said, it’s nice to be able to communicate with the locals and hear their stories, so I’d at least recommend knowing some Spanish. Brazilians usually don’t expect foreigners to know their language and it was always nice to see their face light up when they heard me speak.

We met a few people who were living here in the Amazon region and it was fascinating to hear their stories.

I talked to a guy who was living in a small town along the river. Compared to what I and my friend were expecting we actually stopped quite a few times on our boat journey to pick up passengers from small river towns. He was saying that we’d be surprised how people are probably as obsessed with their smartphones as we are and that he thought most foreigners have a bit of a too simple image of people living in those areas (this does not refer to tribes that do live in the jungle but the people who live of fishing and agriculture and have settlements along the river). He also explained that some people take online courses that are broadcasted by the university of Manaus and that was how he got a degree. The Internet seemed to be plentiful even in that remote area and we’d take the chance once we got sim cards to enjoy some 4G at every bigger town we stopped at during the ride.

Furthermore, we met a Peruvian pastor with his family who had hopped on the boat one stop after us and became our hammock neighbor. He told how he’d been working with tribes in the area for 11 years in order to civilize them. According to him, tribes partly wanted to become civilized to get certain government benefits and ‘luxury commodities’ such as electricity, big boats, etc. but of course that there was also some resistance and they wouldn’t allow just anyone into their territory. He told me about different rituals such as using frog poison (kambo) as cleansing medicine, a practice that had become popular for tourists in the Amazon region in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil. I had heard of it before but it was interesting to hear from a person that wasn’t a tourist. He also told me about other practices etc., many of which were hard for me to follow as he was using local words that I didn’t understand and I also wished my Spanish was more advanced to follow his stories. The feeling I got though was fascinating as the description sounded just like I had imagined. The fact that these tribes indeed exist who’ve had little to no contact with civilization. I can’t say whether this ‘civilization’ was really what they but it was interesting nevertheless to get at least a glimpse into this story.

Another guy we met told us that he was working in the river gold mining business and would constantly proudly point to his gold ring on his hand which had his initials engraved into it. Up to this point I had been unaware that there was gold in the Amazon, so that was another interesting fact to know.

Again, this was in Portuguese so I was able to follow only partly and not enough to recite the full stories but I am happy I got a few bits and pieces of the different worlds that exist out there.

The scenery cruising down the river pretty much stayed the same throughout the whole time. We didn’t get to see any animals unfortunately except for some birds. What we did see where small communities living in houses on stilts on the shore and fishermen heading out to do their work. The morning and evening showed some beautiful sunrises and sunsets and the stars at night were pretty impressive – we got to see the milky way the first night!

We would sometimes stop at small towns and villages to pick up new passengers or drop some off. This was the time when everyone would stand expectantly on the side of the boat, waiting to see what goodies the food vendors would sell. We were always on the lookout for ‘Choppe’, a popsicle as the heat on the boat could be challenging, especially in the afternoon. Vendors would also sell fruit, shrimp or full meals.

After 3 days and 3 nights we finally reached Manaus around 10 am.

The last hour was the time when everyone was packing up their hammock and their belongings and moved towards the railing to watch out for the city of Manaus to appear. After 3 days of trees and small settlements suddenly a large industrial city appeared in from of our eyes. Seeing that I couldn’t help but feel a hint of nostalgia, knowing that we would leave our little oasis of peace behind.

People who before were wearing summery clothes as in shorts and flip flops suddenly changed into dressing shirts, jeans, high-heels, etc. Even after having spent a year in the sweltering heat in South-America I still cannot comprehend how people can wear tight jeans in this climate. I kept being the tourist with the summer wear as the heat of the city was even hotter and stickier than on the boat.

All in all, the trip was in a way surreal, knowing that we were really on the Amazon river, very relaxing and entertaining.  We made the decision to finish the rest of the journey until Belem in the Atlantic Ocean by boat as well as we loved it so much. 

If you want to know the nitty-gritty details about the trip, also check out my post: Tabatinga to Belém – the details