The water route from Coca, Ecuador to Iquitos, Peru on the Rio Napo is one to remember. River travel in the Amazon Rainforest is one of the most exciting ways to get around the South American continent. Few tourists make these trips with the exception of a few main routes on the Amazon River itself which offers luxury tours and stops at pricey lodges.
Local Boats: Local boats ply the rivers and tributaries. the routes change often due to the level of the water, the changing course of the river, and how valuable the stop is. Most of the boats carry a variety of produce, goods, and plenty of live animals such as pigs, cows, chickens, ducks and much more.
Cargo and Food: Human cargo, which pays maybe $7 a day for hammock space and three meals per day. The food is generally absoluetely horrendous combinations of rice, fish, and plantains and is cooked in river water by almost always transvestite (really!!) cooks.
Amazon River Boats: The boats once were the best way to get around and were used frequently by travelers. Now that air travel has become cheaper flights fly into the major cities making the lengthy boat journeys unncessary and isolating many smaller jungle towns even furthur.
In parts of Brazil, Paraguay, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, and Bolivia this is the only way to get to many places in the Amazon. There are no roads to many cities including Iquitos, Peru which is the largest city in the world not connected by road.
River Travel Routes: Although there are many boat trips to/from Iquitos such as to Leticia, Manaus, Yurimaguas, and Pucallpa the trip to/from Coca is legendary for the chaos that adjoins it. If coming from Coca you catch a boat to Nueva Rocafuerte that leaves twice a week. From there you need to ask around for someone to take you a few hours across the border. You must be prepared to wait at the Peruvian border in Pantoja for a period of weeks for a boat. Coming from Iquitos you should have a much easier time finding passage. Just ask around at Puerto Bellavista.
The trip is tiring, crowded, uncomfortable, hot, itchy and as miserable as any trip you will ever go on. For some reason many tourists of all ages and wallets make it though, simply so they can say they did.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.