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Riverboat travel on the Amazon River in Brazil: Pros & cons

Riverboat from Manaus to Santarem (Photo by Mari Suyama)Motion sickness is probably your last worry when venturing out on a riverboat trip down the Brazilian Amazon. The riverboat trip is slow, calm, and definitely an experience of a lifetime. You’ll get a taste for local culture and experience the warmth of Brazilian people.

But don’t be mistaken, there are some downfalls of river travel. If you want the jungle experience of animals, plants and insects, you won’t be impressed by the views.

Amazon River boat travel in Brazil

The most popular and less gruelling journey starts in the northern city of Manaus and drops off passengers in Santarém (2 days of travel) and Belém (5 days of travel). Once in Manaus, head to the Porto Flutuante where the riverboats dock. Buying your ticket onboard is a safe bet but you can try haggling with ticket vendors on the pier.

Tickets from Manaus to Santarém are $60 US and if continuing on to Belém $120. A few years back the ticket cost included meals, but due to the growing popularity of riverboat travel and the fact that flying is your only other option, breakfast now costs around $2.50 and dinner $5 depending on the captain.

Pros and cons of riverboat travel

Here are the pros and cons of riverboat travel. Being well prepared will ensure a more enjoyable journey.

CON Riverboat travel is slow and the departure/arrival schedule is unreliable at best. And now that food is an extra expense, the cost of riverboat travel is significantly higher. If you do your research and book well in advance, air travel throughout the Amazon region can be faster and cheaper than boat fare.

If you have enough time in your itinerary, take the boat. Prepare and pack fruit, snacks, non-perishable food and some bread to avoid paying the inflated prices for food on the boat. If you decide to eat the food for purchase, bring diarrhea medication.

Sleeping deck on Amazon riverboat in Brazil (Photo by Mari Suyama)

PRO Filtered water is available free of charge but pack a few extra litres just in case the boat runs out.

CON There is no secure location for your luggage. Carry all valuable on you and try not to leave your bags unattended. Bring rope and locks to secure your luggage under your hammock, to a post or to the ceiling.

PRO When you have 300 people on a boat for two days, cleanliness of facilities are bound to be grim. But if you’ve ever stayed a night in a hostel or budget motel, expect the same standards. You may be pleasantly surprised, most riverboats are equipped with cleaning crews who empty bins, replenish toilet paper and scrub down the stalls every few hours. Cold showers are also available.

CON The riverboat travels through the middle of a wide river and unless you bring binoculars, you won’t see much of the Amazon beyond the trees that line the riverbank. The views are unchanging day after day but the PRO is that there is a good chance of seeing river dolphin swimming alongside the boat at sunset.

CON Space is limited. The lower level cabin is less busy, open air, sometimes wet and also houses the engine. Because of the constant rattle of the engine, most people opt for the air-conditioned upper level.

Upstairs is quiet and cool at night which means tickets sell out and it becomes over crowded.

Don’t be alarmed if hammocks are strung above and below yours and you find yourself nestled in between two people with no room to move. This is normal.

PRO Bumping hammocks with your neighbour for two days will most likely lead to conversation. Brazilians are open, friendly people and despite your little knowledge of Portuguese, you will get to know each other very well. New friendships are bound to spring up in the most uncomfortable of sleeping arrangements.

There is no doubt riverboat travel is slow, boring and uncomfortable. But it is an experience you can’t get anywhere else in South America. The Brazilian people are what make the trip unforgettable. There are families, backpackers, couples and fishermen all sharing a small space and all willing to share their life stories. As long as you can throw the notion of privacy out the window, you will enjoy lazing in your hammock for a few days listening to stories and getting to know Brazil through its people.

Looking to book a trip to Brazil? Check out the tripatlas.com/new Trip Builder where you can request a quote from over 104,000 travel agents who are ready to offer you the best prices on your trip.


Mari Suyama
Mari Suyama is a freelance writer from Toronto, Canada who is currently on a one-year journey working and volunteering in South America.  She is tripatlas.com/new’s South America Expert – go to our South America Trip Guide for more.

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