When I was planning my trip through South America, I thought it sounded like a really cool idea to get go from Colombia to Peru by boat along the Amazon river, instead of taking a plane. Little did I know that this process would involve taking at least two planes anyway, as well as being a very confusing and stressful experience. I’m only glad that we could speak Spanish and a bit of Portuguese. Otherwise we would have been totally lost and probably still be somewhere in the Amazon rainforest (ha!).

My time in the Amazon rainforest was amazing, there is no denying that. But I really should and could have prepared better (see my guide on how to prepare for the Amazon rainforest). I just had no idea what it would be like, so if you are thinking to go from Colombia to Peru by boat, hopefully this post will eliminate some of the confusion and help you understand what you are in for!

How to go from Colombia to Peru by boat: The Process

The process will start when you arrive to Leticia. You can’t do any of this stuff in advance so allow enough time between arriving in Leticia and departing in boat.

  1. Book your boat ride

There are numerous tour agencies that sell the tickets. However, there are only two companies which operate the actual service to go from Colombia to Peru by boat. One is Golfinho and the other is Transtur. The tickets for this cannot be bought online, nor can they be purchased anywhere in Leticia. To get the tickets, one must cross the border from Leticia to Tabatinga, Brazil.

 Crossing the border

Don’t worry, this is a fairly simple process. Because the two towns are conjoined (see the map below), there is no border control, it is simply a matter of walking down a street. I didn’t even realise I was in Brazil until I looked behind me and saw the sign: ‘Bienvenidos a Colombia’.

Standing at the border between Colombia and Brazil

But it won’t take you too long to realise you are in Brazil. Suddenly all of the signs are in Portuguese and all the people you walk past speak Portuguese (and no, not everyone is bilingual, there are many people living right next to the border that don’t speak a word of Spanish, and vice versa). Also, the conditions of the two towns are vastly different due to different city councils. While Leticia prides itself on being the ‘cleanest city in Colombia’, Tabatinga is a mess. Lots of poverty, dirty streets and unfinished tar paths are what will greet you.

So basically, you have to visit Tabatinga to pick up your tickets, but you want it to be a simple in-and-out. There’s no popping over to Brazil for a coffee or for lunch, as we had naively imagined. You really want to just get your tickets, and get out of there as fast as possible.

 Buying the tickets

All of the tour agencies and ticket sellers are located on the same street, Rua Marechal Melet, known by locals as ‘rua dos sapatos’ (shoe street). We wondered where they’d got this name from, until we walked down the street to see hundreds of different shoes laid out for sale on the side of the road.

We bought our tickets directly from Golfinhos, located at Rua Marachel Melet #306. Follow the maps below to see the layout of the town and how to get to the ticket office. Note that it only opens in afternoons after 3pm.

The price will be subject to negotiations (and your level of Spanish/Portuguese), but we managed to get it down to 180.000COP (or around $60USD) per person for four people.  Most of the tour agents were bilingual in Spanish and Portuguese.

You will need to pay in cash and have your passport handy.

  1. Get your passport stamped

There is no apparent strict border control, so the matter is in your own hands to get your passport stamped. You need to get your exit visa for Colombia stamped less than 24 hours before you exit Colombia, and the Peru one to be stamped within your first 24 hours in Peru.

 Exit stamp:

You need to go to the Leticia airport to get this done. The airport is not far from the town centre and you can get a ride there and back for as little as 10.000 COP (about $3USD). The office closes at 6pm.

 Entry stamp:

This is done on the small island of Santa Rosa, Peru, before you take the boat journey (which is the only actual journey from Colombia to Peru by boat that you will take). You can get there from the waterfront in Leticia on a boat for about 20.000 COP ($7USD). The immigration office is located on the main street, next to Las Brisas del Amazonas restaurant. It’s a good idea to call first to make sure someone will be there, but generally they open until 5 or 6pm.

From this island, you can take a boat to the island from which you actually take the boat to Iquitos. But that all comes into the next step.

Exit Stamp to Entry Stamp
This shows the route you would take if you were to go straight from getting your exit stamp in Colombia to getting your entry stamp in Peru.
  1. Getting ready for the boat ride

So both boats board at 3am…yeah. There are a few ways to get there, including shuttles from Tabatinga and Leticia which will see you waking up at 2am at the latest. We opted to stay the night in Santa Rosa, which meant a short boat ride for us the next morning.

 Leticia to Santa Rosa

We organised our boat at the docking station the day before, when we arrived from Leticia to Santa Rosa. When you arrive, you will be greeted by a line of boating men. They would all be more than happy to offer you the service of driving you to the docking station the next day at 3. Just choose one and negotiate (preferably out of earshot of the other drivers).

this is the first place you arrive in Peru when you go from Colombia to Peru by boat
Santa Rosa, Peru

Santa Rosa is a bit of a dead town. It consists of just one main street. All electricity is powered by generators, so there is no electricity until about 6pm, and then it lasts for a few hours until everything goes black. There are a few restaurants and a few hostels on this street, but apart from in the immigration office I didn’t see any other foreigners around. We got the vibe that it can be quite a dangerous place.

The hostel we stayed in was sup-par, to say the least. There were four of us, but since it was going to be such a short night’s sleep, we didn’t see the need to pay for anywhere fancy. So we ended up being squished together on a double bed in a room with a heavy mildew smell trying to get some shut-eye but all the while expecting that alarm to go off any minute. It was a  very strange night to say the least.

 Santa Rosa to the docking station and beyond

When the alarm finally rang we found ourselves collecting our belongings in complete darkness, and rushing off to the dock in heavy rain, where the boat we had previously organised awaited us. It was a dark ride to the docking station, as no lights are allowed to be turned on to navigate the river as apparently it could attract dangerous creatures.

Anyway, we made it to the dock and it was time for our Amazon river adventure!

  1. The boat ride

The boat driver will have a list of names of people who bought tickets and will call you up one by one. Luggage is loaded on top of the boat and you can choose a seat. Tip: try and get a seat where you can look out the window, as not all of them have well positioned windows!

So now you are finally on your way from Colombia to Peru by boat! Remember you are travelling upstream by taking this route, so the boat ride takes over 11 hours, so allow for that time. Oh, and try to refrain from taking pictures out the window with flash on before sunrise. Remember, no lights allowed for safety reasons! Taking pictures after sunrise is okay, but don’t expect any magical pictures through those tiny windows.

Outside the boat
This is what it looked like outside of the boat for the majority of the journey.
  1. Getting off the boat

Welcome to Iquitos! You have endured 11 hours sitting down, so it is time to get up and stretch your feet. The next step is to disembark. Then stand around waiting as the luggage is taken off the top of the boat and handed down to passengers.

You will be greeted by a number of tuk-tuk drivers all competing for your service. In Iquitos, there are no traditional taxis. Most of the road vehicles are motorcycles or tuk-tuks. In other words, pack light because no one has a boot for all your shit!

Tuk-tuk piled up with backpacks in Iquitos, Peru

Common Misconceptions about travelling from Colombia to Peru by boat:

There is very little information to be found on the topic, so I have put together the common misconceptions people ( me included!) tend to have about travelling from Colombia to Peru by boat.

– You can travel from Colombia to Peru without a plane.

I was completely wrong about by initial assumption that by travelling by boat we wouldn’t have to take planes. In fact, both Leticia and Iquitos are completely secluded. There is no way to get to them by road, as they are both fully surrounded by rain forest. I (foolishly) assumed that we could take a bus to Leticia from another town in Colombia or something, but unfortunately that is actually impossible.

Unless you want to spend weeks walking through the Amazon rain forest, the only way to get to Leticia is by plane (we took a plane from Bogota). Likewise, in Iquitos, the only way to reach the rest of the country is by taking a plane. Iquitos and Leticia are two of the most remote cities in the world, so don’t expect transport options to be abundant.

– The boat ride itself must be amazing.

I had been dreaming about the boat ride down the amazon river for months. I was expecting a lovely scenic ride with close-up shots of anacondas and cheetahs basking in the sand by the water’s edge, as well as a vast outdoor area to enjoy the amazonic breeze and take in panoramic views as well as shooting beautiful, insta-worthy pictures. When the websites said that beverages and breakfast were included, I imagined a bar where fresh tropical juices and hot Colombian coffee would be brewed up, and that a hot cooked meal would be provided, along with chairs and tables to fully appreciate the service.

…Let’s just say my fantasies did not play out how I would have hoped. The ride consisted of a stuffy indoor bus-like coach, with tiny windows. There was certainly no deck to enjoy the breeze. In fact, there was absolutely no way to get fresh air. Because of the early start, we spent most of the ride trying to catch up on sleep and drown out the awful Spanish-dubbed action movies that played constantly. After hours on a grumbling stomach, breakfast was finally served at around 9am. The drinks consisted of two options: bottled juice or bottled water, and the breakfast was a sandwhich of which I ended up dropping half the contents on the seat in front of me because I was eating it with no table (not even a fold-down one) on a rocking boat.

Long story short, this is not a touristic experience by any means. What it is is the only means of transport for people who travel by necessity between Leticia and Iquitos. Yeah, it was cool gazing out the window at the vastness of the Amazon River. And yeah, it is great for bragging rights to say you’ve travelled via the Amazon River and gone from Colombia to Peru by boat. But would I have spent my time doing this if I could go back in time? I’ll be honest with you – no, I probably wouldn’t.

Most of the journey the view is exactly the same: brown river alongside grass and trees. The only thing that changes is how close the boat is to the greenery.

Inside The Boat from Colombia to Peru
This is the window that I had to crane my neck to see through throughout the journey (the bottom of the window was at about my forehead height).

– You are travelling from one country to another.

The boat actually departs from Santa Rosa, Peru to arrive in Iquitos, Peru. So while I did go from Colombia to Peru by boat, it was a very short trip that took about five minutes. The long trip is actually entirely domestic.

Going from Leticia in Colombia to Peru by boat to Santa Rosa
This is from the motor boat we took to get from Leticia to Santa Rosa. A quick five-minute journey, but in my opinion much more exciting and scenic than the 11-hour journey we made the next day!

My recommendation:

By all means, go and spend some time in the Amazon rain forest. It is an amazing place and I learned so much in the time I spent there. However, unless you have a particular reason to visit both Leticia and Iquitos, I recommend visiting just one of these towns. Save yourself the trouble of worrying about boat tickets, visas, safety and the works. Both towns have great options for Amazon rain forest tours. Leticia, in my opinion is a prettier town but Iquitos is larger with more things to do.

So I suggest not taking the journey from Colombia to Peru by boat. Simply enjoy one place and then take a nice, easy plane and fly to your next destination.

You will start in Leticia in your journey from Colombia to Peru by boat
Taken at Parque Santander, Leticia


Please keep in mind all of the places mentioned in this article experience a lot of poverty. While the local people live in a semi-developed suburbia, they live in very remote places. As such, they may come across very detached compared to the friendly Latin American people you are used to. You need to take care to look after yourself and your belongings when spending time in these areas.

Maybe you are thinking that a fast boat isn’t for you. That to get from Colombia to Peru by boat, a slow boat might be the way to go. To be honest, I haven’t heard raving reviews about these either, just a slower and more torturous version of the same thing. On the other hand, with these boats you do have access to go outside and see more of the nature in more detail.

For more about what you can do in the Amazon, see this Amazon Travel Guide by Telegraph. If you are planning a trip to the Amazon rainforest, make sure you check out my post about how to prepare for the Amazon rainforest. If you’re still travelling Colombia, here is a good guide to backpacking in Colombia.

Has anyone done this or the reverse trip before? How was your experience? If you are planning on doing this trip, let me know in the comments as well!~

How to go from Colombia to Peru by fast boat via the Amazon river.

How to go from Colombia to Peru by fast boat via the Amazon river.




  1. This is so thorough! Thanks for the info, I have Peru on my bucketlist so this will definitely help… I’ve got it pinned for future reference:)

    • Haha thank you! I tried to make it something that would have been so handy to me if I’d read it before I went. Hopefully this will come in handy to you at some point in your travels 😛

  2. I’ve been to Peru but not Colombia yet – I think this is next on my South America bucket list! So much better than plane/bus!

  3. Wow sounds like a long boat ride! I’m not sure I could have lasted for that long. It’s a very helpful article for anyone considering the same route.

  4. Were you able to find any flights between Leticia/Tabatinga and Iquitos?

    • Suzie Reply

      Hey Shelby, I didn’t look for that to be honest. I don’t know that it would be worth it to take a flight between those two towns, because then either way you would still need another flight to get out of the destination! Like I say in this post, I believe it is best to choose one or the other – Leticia or Iquitos

      • Thanks for the prompt response! I work in Iquitos and up the Napo and Amazon Rivers. We would be going for work and I’d greatly prefer to fly versus the long boat ride. I appreciate your help!

  5. We did the reverse trip back in 2006 so pretty sure info isn’t relevant any more as there were virtually no tourists when we went so we used normal local buses, collectivos and boats to get all the way from north coast in Peru going through Chachapoyas and ending up in Leticia. Just saw article that Columbia had signed a ceasefire with last guerilla group and made me nostalgic…and a few links later wound up on your blog

    • Suzie Reply

      There were not too many tourists around in 2017, either – but yeah I’m sure it was much less back in 2006. Thanks for dropping by and sharing your experience 🙂

  6. I’m in Iquitos right now and taking the boat to Santa Rosa early tomorrow morning. There are currently no scheduled air services between the two cities. Flying means going back to Lima then probably Bogotá. I’ve been enjoying Perú and want to revisit Leticia after 20 years. I’ll try to remember to update with my experiences!

    • My experience of this journey was almost entirely positive. I used “TransTur” aka “Consorcio Fluvial del Amazonas” and from beginning to end they were well organized and effective as well as being pleasant and easy to deal with.
      I bought my ticket at the main office in Iquitos the day before traveling for 150 Soles. There are hordes of resellers, I don’t know what if any value they add.
      I traveled to the dock at 3am via tuk-tuk at a price of 20 Soles (From Casa Morey Hotel) which was a lot more expensive than the same journey the day before (4 Soles) but then it was late. The day before I visited the dock and spoke to security staff to ensure I knew where I was headed at 3am!
      On arrival there was a security checkpoint and a large waiting room. Eventual boarding at about 4:30. Leaving on time at 5am.
      All the luggage was stowed in the back of the boat. As I boarded one of the crew pulled me aside and directed me to sit at the front for the purposes of legroom. (I am over 6ft)
      There were four crew, they were all men wearing jeans & tee-shirts. They kept the boat going for eleven hours straight, sometimes stopping at river towns, very quickly, to drop parcels or people or collect passengers. One stop at Chimbote involved police/military checking documents but it was swift and painless. The crew also distributed breakfast at 7 (a spam & American cheese sandwich, which I devoured and was grateful for!) and lunch at 11 (pre-packed rice with a chicken drumstick. It keeps you going…)
      There were also opportunities to buy snacks from the locals at some stops. Things like coconuts and plantain chips.
      I took loads of photos and loved the journey. The weather was perfect and the river changed constantly. I also snoozed for goodly portions of the trip.
      At about 4pm we arrived outside Santa Rosa. This is where the real difference lies, as having to deal with the Santa Rosa end in the middle of the night or even in bad weather would be horrible. The journey ends a floating dock near Santa Rosa. From there a local boat to a pretty grim little town, all mud and confusion. Peru passport control, then the same boat across to Leticia. All very casual. Cost about 8 Soles I think.
      In Leticia 3 chances to “immigrate”:
      Theres a control office at the dock but it was open randomly. I think it’s fairly new. There’s a second office in the town and a third at the airport. I just went to the airport the next morning as I wanted to confirm my flight too. The immigration process was painless.
      So, I think west-to-east is easier, luck with the weather helps, and perhaps i was also lucky with the company i used.
      FYI this company is going to start a service with a larger, more comfortable looking ferry in May 2018.

      • Suzie Reply

        Wow, thanks for the detailed account of your experience – that will really help my readers who are looking for info on the trip from Peru to Colombia by fast boat. It’s great that you enjoyed your journey more than I did haha!

    • Suzie Reply

      Leticia must be quite different after 20 years? How did you find it?

  7. Nathaniel Yates Downes Reply

    If you want to do Amazon Basin by boat, other good options are slow boats that take you from/to Iquitos from/to Pucallpa or Yurimaguas. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to take a plane to get to/leave Iquitos you can take a boat.

    These boats can offer you a cabin or you can stay on the deck in a hammock. We chose a cabin to secure our belongings (two of us with pro photo gear), but spent all our time on the deck (It was way too hot to be in the cabin). Before we got on the boat we bought a few cases of beer (no beer was served on this boat) and talked to the captain and asked him if we could use their large refrigerator to keep our beers cold. No problem.

    The boat we took was from Yurimaguas (we travelled by bus from Lima to Chiclayo, Chiclayo to Tarapoto and Tarapoto to Yurimagaus).

    We were served breakfast lunch and dinner each day we were on the boat. The boat made many stops dropping off and picking up cargo (dirt bikes, food and even a cow). The captain got off several times to barter with small communities that sell their crops to him and he then sells them to someone in Iquitos. We also got to see the infamous pink dolphins swimming around in the river. No big cats though.

    I would definitely recommend this option as a way to get to/return from Iquitos without flying and getting to see the basin from a boat!

    • Suzie Reply

      wow, thank you for sharing your experience – it’s great to know that there is another option!

    • Hi Nathaniel
      Do you remember how much you paid for the trip to Iquitos? I’ve taken the boat from Yurimaguas to Iquitos before but it was years ago and I’ve forgotten the cost. Trying to figure out a cost-effective way to get to Leticia.

  8. Thank you for this in depth review of the boat trip. I´ve been staring at the map and curious if it´s really the move as ive endured long boat rides already in Colombia, Buenaventura to Nuqui (24+hours).

    I leave tomorrow for Leticia so now i have an extremely useful guide.

    Thank you


  9. Thank you very much for sharing your experience so detailed! I was about giving my decision for the same route.
    I am sure right now, that I am gonna take a plane 🙂

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