Taking a slow boat from Leticia to Iquitos will most definitely be a highlight of your South America travels. There is no better way to get intimate with the Amazon River than to spend a few days stretched out on your hammock on the upper deck of a river boat.
The boat is called the slow boat because it will make at least a couple dozen stops on its 2 to 3 day trip up the Amazon river from Leticia, Colombia to Iquitos, Peru. Everything from harvested crops to empty glass bottles and cows to pigs will be loaded and unloaded from the boat during the river boat ride.
The following is your guide to conquering this challenging, yet extremely rewarding journey up the Amazon river from Leticia to Iquitos.
Important Steps Before Buying Your Slow Boat Ticket
Since you are technically leaving Colombia and entering Peru, you must first officially exit Colombia and enter Peru through immigration. Here are the steps you must take before boarding the slow boat to Iquitos.
- Get a Colombia exit stamp: First step is to get an exit stamp from immigration in Leticia, Colombia. The only place you can get your Colombia exit stamp is at the Leticia Airport. We tried going to other immigration offices around Leticia, and they would not stamp our passports. Please note that you must exit Colombia within 24 hours of receiving your stamp.
- Hire a boat to Santa Rosa: Head on over to the Malecón Turístico i.e. the “tourist boardwalk” in Leticia and hire a boat to take you across the Amazon River to Peru. Your destination is an island in the middle of the Amazon River called Santa Rosa.
- Get a Peru entry stamp: Once on Santa Rosa, hire a rickshaw to take you to the Migraciones Perú immigration office. In addition to your Colombia exit stamp, come prepared with documentation for your yellow fever and measles vaccines. These vaccines are critical and you may be denied entry into Peru without them. I will say that the measles vaccine is less important than the yellow fever vaccine, and I may or may not have been granted entry into Peru without my measles vaccine documentation.
- Board the slow boat: Take another rickshaw back to the river and upstream a bit to the slow boat dock. You can purchase your slow boat ticket on board. There are potentially multiple slow boat departures everyday. Everyone seemed to have a different story as to when the slow boat leaves. Your best best is to just show up and find out there.
How Much Does the Slow Boat Ticket Cost?
The cost of a slow boat ticket from Leticia to Iquitos is 70 soles or approximately $21 USD in 2019. Since flights between countries in South America are expensive, especially for foreigners, the slow boat up the Amazon is a great way to save some money while at the same time having an unforgettable experience.
Although breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included with the price of the boat ticket, I still recommend packing some fresh fruits and vegetables along with some snacks. Breakfast is usually a very sweet rice bowl and coffee. Lunch and dinner are typically a large portion of rice, a small piece of chicken, and a fraction of a plantain. Additionally, you will need to bring a few liters of fresh water or at least a water filter since drinking water is not supplied on board.
If you forget to pack water or food, don’t sweat it. There will be plenty of opportunities during the trip down the Amazon river to make purchases—either from the kitchen on board or from vendors who sometimes board the boat at stops along the way. Given that, budget an additional 15 to 20 soles for water and food.
You need to bring a hammock to sleep on. Hammocks are not available on board for purchase. You can buy a hammock in Iquitos for 15 soles. Don’t forget that you will also need some rope to hang your hammock on board the boat. This will cost no more than 5 soles for 3 or 4 meters.
All things considered, the total cost of the slow boat from Leticia to Iquitos will cost around 100 soles for the boat ticket, extra food, water, rope, and a hammock.
Best Place to Hang Your Hammock
There’s a strategy to finding the ideal place to hang your hammock on board the slow boat. Take it from me, the upper deck is hands down the best level to post up. Just be sure that there are no holes above you since the upper deck roof is made of tarp.
Why is the upper deck the best place for your hammock? Well, the lower deck is closest to the engine which not only produces a lot of heat, but is also very noisy. The physical walls on either side of the lower decks have windows, but the view is limited and it is still quite dark.
The upper deck is ideal because the tarp walls can be opened during the day allowing fresh air to flow through the entire deck while providing a floor to ceiling view of the beautiful Amazon river.
I also recommend that you choose a spot away from the bathrooms. These bathrooms have quite a disgusting odor emitting from them, so the further away the better.
One last thing—hang your hammock away from the lights. Light attracts loads of bugs at night, so unless you want hundreds of insects as sleeping partners, avoid the light if possible. That being said, I did not find that a mosquito net was necessary. A quick spray of mosquito repellent before bed did the trick for me.
Leticia to Iquitos Slow Boat FAQ
Here are some more tips on surviving the slow boat from Leticia, Colombia to Iquitos, Peru.
Is there electric on board?
Yes, there is electric on board, but it is only available from sunset to sunrise. Outlets are limited, so you’ll have to share them with your fellow passengers.
Do I need to bring toilet paper?
Absolutely yes. Toilet paper is not provided on board. A single roll will be more than sufficient for the 2 or 3 day journey.
Can I shower on board?
If you can handle the stench of the bathroom for long enough to shower, then yes, showers are available. Please note that the shower water is probably river water. It had a brownish color to it, as did the toilet water.
Is it safe?
In my experience, the slow boat from Leticia to Iquitos is safe. I had no issues with my physical safety or theft. That being said, always use common sense. For example, do not leave your smartphone and laptop sitting out in plain sight.
I had a fantastic experience taking the slow boat from Leticia to Iquitos. If you have a few days to spare while backpacking South America, I highly recommend taking the slow boat from Leticia to Iquitos.
From Iquitos, you can hop on a flight to Lima or Cusco and test your grit on a 5 day trek to Machu Picchu.
If you have any questions about the slow boat trip, let me know in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer them based on my experience.
Happy travels my friends! Adiós!