Our trip to the Amazon has been so different from all the other places in Brazil we’ve visited. The main difference being the form of transportation: the Amazon slow boat. It sounds crazy that to get from point A to B, you have to spend several days on one boat. In our case, we wanted to go from Belém to Santarém, and then from Santarém to Manaus. We could have flown of course, but we are on a budget, and flights were far from affordable after the pandemic.
After we decided we would be going on this big adventure, we just had to figure out where to begin. Continent wise it would be South America, as we have a wedding to attend in Brazil in the beginning of December. We also figured it would be cheaper and nicer to spend the holidays with Luis’ family, so Brazil it was.
The thing with Brazil is, it is SO big! Even though I’ve been several times, and Luis has lived there for most of his live, I don’t think we’ll ever see all of it. We still have a lot of places saved in our Google Maps that we want to see one day. One that’s been there for quite some time was… the Amazon. From the beginning of November we have about 3 weeks before we have to be in Brasilia, so that seemed like a perfect amount of time to get a taste of this massive region!
We dove in to planning the first weeks: which cities did we want to go to, what tours did they have, do we have to take malaria pills, etc.. And then: how do we get from one place to the other? A quick Google search showed us we’d basically have 2 options: by plane, or by boat. We checked the flight prices, but were also already saying that if we flew, it would kind of be taking away from the experience. And after seeing the actual prices (post-pandemic prices are tough) the decision for the boat was made.
We struggled finding information on schedules and prices, and the information we did find we weren’t sure of whether or not it was still correct. Some of those companies only have a Facebook or Instagram page, or only a phone number. And they weren’t very responsive to any inquiries. So, we worked with what we could find, using the website iBarco, and gave ourselves some extra time to figure this out when we’d be in Brazil. Part of the adventure, right.
In Belém it turned out to be fairly easy, a man from one of the companies approached us as soon as we walked in to the ‘hydroviaria’. He was from AR Transporte, we’d found this company online as well but never got a reply. We asked about our route and he told us boats would leave on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. We decided to take the one that left on Friday, meaning we would be taking the Amazonas IV boat.
Belém to Santarém by Amazon slow boat
How much does it cost?
We paid 200 R$ (€40) per person for a space on the hammock deck. This doesn’t include the hammock, which you’ll have to buy at Mercado Ver-o-Peso (when you depart from Belém). We were told you could get them as cheap as 20 R$, but we weren’t able to find them at that price. In the end I paid 35 R$ for the hammock and 7,5 R$ for the ropes, which is roughly €8,50 together.
Where to buy the ticket?
We purchased our ticket at the Hydroviaria Luiz Rebelo Neto in Belém, although this is not where our boat departed. As mentioned earlier we were approached by someone that we purchased our ticket from, but this company also has a ticket booth.
How long does it take?
The Amazonas IV boat takes a little bit less than 3 days and departs on Friday evening 18:00. Other boats in the direction of Santarém were also leaving on Wednesday and Saturday (in November 2022). We made stops in Breves, Gurupá, Porto de Moz, Almeirim, Prainha and Monte Alegre before we got to Santarém.
About the food…
This was the only thing that got to me over those 3 long days on the boat. The food…
Generally speaking, always bring some food: snacks, fruits, oatmeal, candy, etcetera. You’ll want some of this when you have to kill more than 60 hours in your hammock :P.
They serve food, but don’t expect a lot of variety, and definitely no vegetarian food. Pretty much the same thing is served for lunch and dinner, both costing 20R$. The only variety in the food was in the meat that was offered. Other than that there was rice, pasta, beans, farofa and salad (which, in Brazil, is tomato and cucumber) every meal.
You can sort of make it vegetarian by leaving out the meat (sem carne, por favor), but just be prepared to be eating the exact same food 3 days in a row. Rice, beans, farofa, repeat.
Or, do what lots of locals did, bring your own food. Many of them brought a cooler with drinks and premade meals. This wasn’t really feasible for us, but if you can, bring one too.
Breakfast on the boat, which cost 10 R$, consisted of bread, an apple, a banana and juice.
Learnings from our first Amazon slow boat
One thing Luis mentioned he would have done different, was get a bigger hammock. He is tall, 1,83 meters, so he struggled a bit with finding a comfortable position to sleep in. For me, being 1,64 meters, a standard hammock was plenty big.
We don’t carry blankets with us, but we noticed almost all the locals did. And indeed, the nights were… chilly. I managed by sleeping with warm hiking socks, long pants and a long-sleeve shirt, and using my travel towel and canga (a thin, cotten beach towel) as a blanket. I slept ok those nights, even better than I expected I would, but I definitely woke up a few times because I was cold or there was a loud noise.
Thirdly, make sure you have enough to entertain yourself. Personally, I had my e-reader, I downloaded series and films on Netflix, and I did some writing on my laptop. But, of course, also enjoy the experience! Be bored, watch the forest go by, listen to people talking. And, take naps, at least one a day ;).
Before you know it it’s time to discover the beaches of Santarém…