Dig a little deeper when doing your research
When my research only came up with expensive forest lodges and week-long packages worth £1000 (which definitely wasn’t in my budget), I was disheartened. There must be an easier way.
While those steep prices put me off at first, I was determined to figure out how I could travel there on a much more reasonable budget.
By chance, I found out from a friend of a friend that it’s actually possible to navigate around the Amazon instead of flying. Wait, navigate? Were there cruises organised on the Rio Amazonas and Rio Negro?
I had so many questions, but went straight back to my laptop to find out. Two months later, I would find myself on a hammock boat in the middle of the rushing river, surrounded by rainforest.
Let me backtrack a bit. In my research, I discovered that there are only two roads in the Brazilian Amazon, connecting the state from north to south. So, to move around, locals turn the flowing river into a highway instead and travel around on boats.
Amazonian villages and cities are all connected through the Rios, and whether on tiny canoes, or on three-floor hammock boats, it’s possible to arrange your own transport around. Unsurprisingly, I was onboard immediately.
To make this dream happen, I had to DIY the best combination of flights and boat routes for what I wanted to see. And that was kind of a problem…
You see, a lot of the information you’ll need to find isn’t that easy to google. So, you’ll have to work for it. That’s where the concept of ‘digging deeper’ really comes in.
For example, I remember struggling to find the Amazon boat’s timetable online. Lucky for you, I recently discovered this website that I wish I had known about before my trip!
That being said, I still suggest double-checking the schedule at the port once you arrive, rather than just blindly trusting websites. Reading blog posts from people who’d already navigated around the Amazon by ferry was very useful. Most of the ones you can find online are written in Portuguese or Spanish—so you may need some help from Google Translate if you don’t read the language.
Soooo, once I’d locked down my itinerary of taking the hammock boat from Tabatinga down to Manaus (a casual 1200 km), I booked my flights [from Rio] and paid a grand total of £160.
There’s more than one way to travel the Amazon
A hammock boat isn't for everyone. It was the perfect fit for me and what I wanted from my trip to the Amazon, but it’s not the only way you can access the rainforest.
In fact, what you want to see, eat and do are all really important to figure out before you go, and do plan accordingly, because there are so many options.
The tours leaving from Manaus (the typical starting point) are way more structured—and expensive—than tours in remote places. If you do choose to take one of these tours, the company will probably drive you to the rainforest entrance. From there, you’ll explore around the area by foot (during the dry season) or by canoes (during the rainy season).
Here was my thought process behind starting in Tabatinga, rather than Manaus: Tabatinga is a Brazilian city located at the three-border point (where Brazil, Colombia, and Peru meet).
The three-border point is a perfect location for visiting the jungle, due to the amount of local tour agencies and facilities (restaurants, banks, pharmacies) available.
Landing in Tabatinga was the easiest (and cheapest) option for me, coming from Rio de Janeiro. The other way to reach the three-border point is to fly to Bogotá, and from there to Letícia.
Sure, these cities aren’t the easiest places in the world to access, but that’s kind of the point.
Be prepared to haggle with tour companies
There are plenty of different tour options depending on what you want to see. We opted for a 4-day trip with everything included, which ended up costing us 765,000 Colombian pesos (around £150 at the time).
But, when we first entered the agency, the starting price for the tour was around £215. Luckily, a friend of mine (hey, Claus!) had mentioned how much his tour of the Amazon cost him a few years before. So, I knew that—for what the agency was offering us—the starting price of £215 was far too high.
Haggling was quite easy because we were both fluent in Portuguese, but it can become quite tricky if you can’t communicate properly with the agents. That’s where Google Translate comes back in handy!
This tour included one night in a floating house, a night spent inside the forest camping with hammocks, and one last night in a big house within a local community.
The whole trip was actually on the Peruvian side of the border. That’s the cool thing about heading to the three borders point to start your trip—you can easily knock three countries off your list!
Because we’d decided to visit such a remote area of the Amazon in the right season, we were basically getting a private tour. The only other person with us was a solo traveller, and it was such a bonus that we didn’t have to share our guide with a bigger group!
Learn how the seasons will shape your trip
We went in November, which marks the beginning of the rainy season in the Amazon, so our trip was organised with a mix of hiking and navigating on canoes. We were prepared for that going into the trip, but it’s so important to understand how both the rainy, dry (and in-between) seasons may affect your trip.
For example, we loved the experience of canoeing, but they were small and a bit uncomfortable. So, if you’d prefer to move around on foot instead, definitely opt for the dry season (from June until November).
Of course, being on the water meant a lot of our activities included fishing—and afterwards eating what we fished—boat safaris at sunset, jungle flora and fauna exploration, as well as night hiking.
For all of you animal lovers, we saw tons of spiders (tarantulas included), scorpions, snakes, caimans, butterflies and birds, a toucan, some monkeys, and even a baby tapir.
If insects are not your best friends, you may want to skip the night hike in the forest. Although you stroll around the jungle with a torch, you’ll see pleeeeenty of tiny eyes looking at you. Yep, that freaked me out as well, but it also helped me overcome my arachnophobia. Pretty ironic, right?
Another animal that was very present in the rainforest were mosquitoes. Countless mosquitoes. Which takes me onto my next point…
Know your backpack
Please, don’t go to the Amazon with a suitcase. Pack light and take just what you need… don’t worry too much about packing several changes of clothes, you’re gonna smell after 5 minutes, anyway!
Whichever season you’ll travel to the Amazon, you will encounter rain and humidity. And that calls for a very specific outfit: light-coloured, full-coverage, and oversized clothes.
Let me explain. Mosquitos are attracted to dark colours, especially black and dark grey/blue. However, ‘forest’ colours (army green, browns) also work to camouflage within the forest and escape those tiny beasts.
In terms of clothes length, when you’re in the forest (and not inside a lodge/house), you should stick to long sleeved shirts and trousers.
My friend Phil learned that the hard way when his arms were covered in bites because of his Hawaiian shirt!
Amazonian mosquitos resist well to most repellents, and will bite you even through your clothes.
To protect myself (as much as I could), I used this repellent (you can only find it in South America, I believe) and it worked pretty well—if I sprayed it on every hour or so! I also bought this Decathlon hat, which saved my face from a thousand bites (no, I’m not even exaggerating). Very much worth the price.