Peru - Pucallpa to Iquitos by boat

2022-03-28 @Travel

If exploring the Peruvian Amazons and not too constrained by time, you should consider boat travel. One viable means to traverse heavy distance by sea is the Pucallpa to Iquitos route, both major Amazon hubs. Here I’ll describe the options along with the costs known to me per the time of publication.

The Henry shipping company offers the following:

  1. The slow cargo boat that generally takes anywhere from 4-6 days once en route (nearly six days in my case) - if in the wet, winter season; longer during the summer. 150 soles/40 USD.

    • Sleep in a hammock or a mattress (extra expense).
    • Three meals included.
    • Unpredictable departure and duration.
    • Departs two, maximum three times a week.
  2. The fast, strictly passenger boat. Two days. 250 soles/66 USD.

    • Only seats.
    • Three meals provided.
    • Predictable departure and duration.
    • Departs once a week on Friday.

In addition, unaffiliated fast boats frequently, if not daily, traverse the route. But these I’m told charge even more, upwards of 300-350 soles. Here you must inquire around the port.

I chose the slow, least expensive option, having the time and the yearning for the more adventuresome experience.

How to arrange the slow, cargo-ship travel

If you or someone in your company doesn’t speak Spanish, you will face mounds of stress. If that’s the case, the cargo ship might not be a viable option. Otherwise, proceed.

Head to Puerto Henry. Descending towards the docks, you’ll find a little office to the left. There they only sell tickets for the rapid, two-day boat travel. (The cargo ship ticket you’ll purchase far later onboard, usually the day of heavily anticipated departure or once already in course.) Otherwise, the office provides just the general info, including the next supposed departure.

Note: there’s never a set departure schedule. Everything depends on the delivery of sufficient cargo. Whether you inquire at the office, or further down at the docks, by the ship, take everything you hear with a grain of salt.

Ultimately, the ship departure depends on 1) the sufficient cargo 2) favorable weather conditions for the delivery of that cargo (this the cause of my delay).

You can and should preemptively approach the ship by the docks. The next-to-depart Henry cargo ship will likely bear a sign: Iquitos, at such a day, at such an hour.

But it’s all speculative. Only within a few hours prior to that time-frame can you gather any reliable intel.

What does that entail for you?

However long the delay, whether hours or, yes, entire days, you have the option to settle and camp out at the ship come the initially announced day of departure. Take advantage of that free rent, or feel free to head back to your lodging in town.

My ship was thus two-days delayed, the first of which I returned to the guesthouse, the owner having granted me a free night for such an eventuality.

The situation repeated the following day, I chose to stay aboard: rain was pouring madly, the port soaked in thick pasta of heavy mud rendering any further walking effort too painfully cumbersome.

Necessary purchases


One of the cheaper hammocks for 30 soles/8 USD should suffice. It did for me, and I saw plenty of these throughout the ship sustaining even two persons on occasion.

They might offer to sell an overpriced hammock aboard the ship. Although should they see your intent to head to the market, you may likely attain the same 30-sol figure.

But best of all, head to Mercado 1, where you’ll find an abundant selection. Just be sure to ask for the cheaper hammocks usually stowed beneath.


You also require about five meters of rope to comfortably secure the hammock to the ceiling bars with the greatest height flexibility. You can usually purchase the rope for 1 sol/meter in most ferreterias (hardware stores).

Dish and silverware for the meals

You can get by with a single, one-liter container (ie a plastic jar) for both your solid and liquid meals. You can also make due with one spoon for everything.

The meals consist of:



I recommend you always pack your own water, or whatever you imbibe for living. Though you’ll want clean water to at least rinse your toothbrush, as otherwise, the tap/shower water comes straight from the littered river.

Upon request, the cook will also fill your container with boiled, pre-treated water. Running short of bottled water, I often made this request twice daily. The busy cook, however, often appeared irritated at my appeal, this being technically a courtesy. I eventually tried to avoid these awkward trips to the kitchen.

I even resorted to preparing instant coffee with the plain room-temperature water from the bottle. My craving surprisingly cared not.

Toilet paper, soap, and all the toiletries you require.

Flashlight. After dusk, any light around the ship will only emit from the handful of light bulbs around the tables: nothing in the bathrooms or the corridors. I tend to carry a key-chain LED light.


Blanket or cover lest you should suffer a bit at night. I didn’t have one, but generally slept in full layers of clothes, partially covered by the towel.

It gets cold at night; and sensationally hot and humid during the high sun.


Someone might share detergent with you, which you’ll otherwise want for washing your dishes and possibly clothes.

Additional food provisions

As you’ll note above, the meals, though more than sufficient calorie-wise to sustain your entire trip (mainly due to unearthly quantities of rice), are entirely disproportional in nutrients: heavy carbohydrates, nothing of vegetables, plantain the only fruit, and a comically tiny amount of protein.

Feel free to bring additional fruit, some vegetables you can eat raw, and whatever else you care for that can resist open-air storage.

More to bear in mind

Extra provisions

With food, it’s simpler than it sounds. Beyond the measures you take prior to departure, you’ll stop at a number of little villages for an hour or two where you can make additional purchases at little bodegas. Note that water will always come overpriced.

Beyond that, food vendors with baskets will often board the ship, arriving either from the village or by boat en route: sometimes, at a very awkward hour in the middle of the night!

These vendors will sell staples like the ubiquitous local ‘juane’ - rice and a little chicken wrapped in a huge leaf, fried fish - do take advantage of this, or entire meals (still saturated in rice). They’ll also occasionally sell beverages and fruit.

Ironically, I had the easiest time camped out prior to departure, as vendors boarded the ship thrice daily with entire, modestly priced meals of surprisingly reasonable balance, far cheaper than my dining experience in town.


Mosquitoes and other kindred flyers. You will incur hoards of insect bites, as anywhere in the Amazon region. If in Pucallpa, you should already have been voraciously abused, but expect more.

Light and electricity

The electric sockets will only deliver current once en route, and even then only closer to the evening. Furthermore, with but a single socket per table, someone must bring splitters and extenders, which there were plenty of in my region of the boat: not that I ever recharged anything beyond my MP3 player on a sole occasion.

The crew will likewise not install any bulbs into the empty sockets until already in course. Be sure to pack that flashlight.


You purchase your ticket onboard: either shortly before departure, or once already en route.

Strangely and awkwardly, once we set sail and asleep late into the night, around 23:30 the crew invaded to verify or emit tickets.

Personally, I find the tactic of conducting sudden transactions at the point of disrupted sleep, a subtle variety of emotional rape.

But the same emotional rape also resulted in the fish vendors days later aboard the ship at 3:30AM, something I was highly grateful for.

Try to have exact change. The crew will unlikely provide you change at the point of sale. You may have to repeatedly insist over a couple of days, per my case. Or was this a special gringo challenge?

Nothing aboard the ship bears a strict honest feel, keep in mind.


Someone from the crew might sweep your area once or twice. Otherwise, passengers must take the initiative, find a broom, a dustpan, and provide the due diligence. I twice did this for my upper area of the ship, as the filth rapidly accumulates.

Passing the time

The cargo ship is a rugged vessel, transporting mainly the lower economic classes that can afford some means of travel. I was the only gringo on board. From what I’m told, these days there are never more than one or two. Expect never-ending inquisitive glances.

Depending on which of the three passenger levels you occupy, you’ll constantly be surrounded by some degree of noise and locomotion. Anticipate it, don’t stress. Be okay with resting even with the chaos, with or without the assistance of music or earplugs.

And try to have fun. Consider it an adventure. I’ll later address more of the topic.

Questions, comments? Connect.