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River boats are the buses of the Amazon and serve an extensive network, connecting both major and minor settlements. You won’t see a great deal from the deck, especially if travelling downstream, as the boats stay in the middle of the river to catch the current. Going upstream, you will see an endless line of trees broken by the occasional village. However, the atmosphere on board is lively. Food is served, usually consisting of meat, beans and rice (which is brown as it is cooked in river water) and there is often a bar serving drinks and snacks. The size and quality of the boats varies greatly. The best boats ply the busiest routes: Manaus–Santarém–Belém and Manaus–Tabatinga. Overcrowding can be a problem. The cheapest way to travel is hammock class, out in the open on the deck. Be sure to take water, a cable and padlock for your bags, a jumper (nights on the water can be cool) a good book and, most importantly, a rede (hammock) with two pieces of rope (each about 1 m long) to string it up across the beams. The boats that travel on the Amazon itself are largely mosquito free – except when they moor; it’s a good idea to bring a mosquiteiro para rede (mosquito net) for your hammock. Hammocks and nets can be bought easily in any of the larger Amazon towns, usually in the downtown area near the river. Arrive early to get a good spot. Some boats also have air-conditioned berths and cabins and, for a higher price, suites with attached bathroom. Many boats ply the following routes: Manaus–Belém via Parintins, Óbidos and Santarém (four days); Manaus–São Gabriel da Cachoeira via Barcelos and Santa Isabel (six days); Manaus– Porto Velho via Manicoré and Humaitá (four days); Manaus–Tefé (36 hours); Manaus– Parintins (20 hours); Manaus–Tabatinga (six days); Belém–Santarém (two to three days); Belém–Macapá (36 hours); Macapá–Manaus (seven to 10 days)
Aside from routes to Belém from the Atlantic Coast and from Tocantins, bus routes are limited to the following: Amazonas/Roraima: Manaus–Boa Vista (via Presidente Figuieredo), paved. Roraima: Boa Vista–Venezuela, paved. Boa Vista– Guyana, paved. Amazonas: São Gabriel da Cachoeira–Cucuí, paved and dirt. Amapá: Macapá–Oiapoque (from where there is boat and road access to French Guiana), dirt. Pará: Santarém–Cuiabá (in the Pantanal) is being improved and buses now run intermittently along the route through Pará into Mato Grosso with changes at Itauba for Alta Floresta and the Rio Cristalino; enquire at the rodoviára in Cuiabá or Santarém for the latest details. Amazonas/ Rondônia: Humaitá–Porto Velho. Rondônia/Acre: Porto Velho–Rio Branco with onward buses to Cruzeiro do Sul and Peru, weather permitting. There are services to Guajará-Mirim along a small branch road, paved and dirt. Rodônia/Mato Grosso: Porto Velho–Cuiabá and onwards to the rest of Brazil, paved. There are dirt roads Manaus–Porto Velho, and Santarém–Porto Velho, but these are currently overgrown and impassable.
Flight networks within the Amazon are extensive. Rico, http://www.voerico.com.br, flies Manaus–Belém with stops at Santarém and Parintins and to a number of smaller towns. Trip, http://www.voetrip.com.br, flies Manaus–São Gabriel da Cachoeira via Barcelos, and Manaus– Tabatinga via Tefé; it also links Manaus with Brasília, Cuiabá and Campo Grande and Alta Floresta with Brasília, Cuiabá and the rest of Brazil. META, http://www.voemeta.com, flies Belém– Boa Vista, Belém–Georgetown (Guyana) via Paramaribo (Suriname), Belém–Santarém, Boa Vista–Georgetown and Boa Vista–Paramaribo. TAM, http://www.tam.com.br, links Alta Floresta, Altamira, Santarém and all the Amazon state capitals with the rest of Brazil and with Cuzco (Peru). GOL, http://www.voegol.com.br, connects all of the state capitals with the rest of Brazil. Oceanair, http://www.oceanair.com.br, flies to Manaus, Porto Velho and Alta Floresta. Flight schedules are constantly changing and routes frequently close and re-open. Check the airline websites for the latest details and for prices.
Ins and outs
The Brazilian Amazon is a vast region of vastly different landscapes, larger than Western Europe and it shares borders with eight other countries. While most visitors spend only a few days here either in and around Manaus or Belém it is possible to spend months in here without ever tiring of its wonders or scratching the surface of what there is to see.
The Brazilian Amazon has a number of borders permitting overland or river crossings.
Venezuela can be reached from Boa Vista (Roraima) via Santa Elena, from where there are buses to Caracas; or with far more difficulty from São Gabriel da Cachoeira (Amazonas) via Cucuí (Amazonas) and San Carlos de Río Negro in Venezuela for Puerto Ayacucho, which also has buses to Caracas and the rest of the country.
Peru can be reached easily from Tabatinga or Benjamin Constant (Amazonas), from where there are boats running to Iquitos in Peru and onward boats to Pucallpa or flights to Lima. Peru can also be reached through Brasiléia (Acre) from where there are combis to Iñapari and from there on to Puerto Maldonado and Cuzco.
Bolivia is reached from Guajará-Mirim (Rondônia), from where launches cross the river to Guayará Merin in Bolivia for buses to Rurrenabaque and La Paz.
Colombia is easily reached from Tabatinga (Amazonas) which is twinned and contiguous with the Colombian city of Leticia, from where there are flights to Bogotá.
Guyane (French Guiana) can be reached from Macapá (Amapá) by bus to Oiapoque, from where there are onward combis to St Georges Oyapock (Guyane), onward to Cayenne and all the way through Suriname to Guyana.Guyana is easily reached by bus from Boa Vista via Bonfim (Roraima) to Lethem (Guyana), from where there are buses to Georgetown.
There is a danger of malaria in Amazônia, especially on the brown-water rivers. Mosquito larvae do not breed well in the black-water rivers as they are too acidic. Mosquito nets are not required when in motion as boats travel away from the banks and are too fast for mosquitos to settle. However, nets and repellent can be useful for night stops. Wear long, loose trousers (tight ones are easy to bite through) and a baggy shirt at night and put repellent around shirt collars, cuffs and the tops of socks. Johnsons Off is an effective brand and is available in pharmacies throughout Brazil.A yellow fever inoculation is strongly advised. It is compulsory to have a certificate when crossing borders and those without one will have to get inoculated and wait 10 days before travelling. Other common infections in the Amazon are cutaneous larva migrans (a spot that appears to move), which is easily treated with Thiabendazole, and tropical ulcers, caught by scratching mosquito bites, which then get dirty and become infected.