Pantoja to Iquitos – The lancha experience

We were most excited to be finally on the lancha and on our way to Iquitos. So excited in fact that we asked if we could sleep aboard the night before it left, to secure a good spot for our hammock, and avoid having to wake up early for the 6am departure. (And also because we only had about 20 soles left to our names until we reached the bank in Iquitos!) Of course it was a hive of activity from about 5am the next morning and we were up to wave off Pantoja and set off down the Rio Napo. But not for long. Ten minutes after departure we made our first stop at the army base and for about an hour there was a frenzy of military guys carrying things on and off until finally we got going again.

The next stop was to pick up plantains, and we quickly realised that this was the purpose of this lancha. We were on the plantain boat! Over the next two days and nights countless stops were made along the way for plantains, sometimes for huge piles, sometimes only a few bunches. The lower deck was filling up fast, and we were also picking up many chickens and pigs, as well as some turtles, three bulls, a small truck and a digger. Plus about 150 passengers with luggage. The boat was pretty full, and in the heat it got very smelly. The kitchen was dangerously close to the toilets (revolting and to be avoided until absolutely necessary), which were flushed straight into the river, and of course all the food was cooked in river water. The showers were river water. We swam in the river. We were at one with the river!

Our days were spent lazing in the hammock, dozing, reading, wandering round the boat, sitting on top deck, and treating ourselves to the occasional cold fizzy drink or beer (when the boat’s fridge was working and until we ran out of money). Also sitting on the “gringo bench” watching endless plantains being carried aboard with fellow travellers Reuben and Josh from Australia, and Helyn, Pat and Mike from England. It was Australia day during the trip so we celebrated with some music and supplies of rum and coke we had brought on board. Wout and Mike did some fishing too, much to the delight of some of the Peruvian guys on board who were in absolute hysterics watching their attempts as they used a plantain tied to the line as a weight to try and stop the hook and bait from bouncing uselessly on top on the water. Their efforts were in vain but at least they had provided some quality entertainment for an hour or two!

Lunch was rice or spaghetti, some kind of sauce, maybe even the odd vegetable, a boiled plantain, and some mystery meat; we think it might have been jungle pig, but there were rumours that it was turtle. Dinners were usually a sweet milky, suspiciously river coloured, rice soup with, not surprisingly, the only thing on the boat in abundance, a boiled plantain in it. We didn’t realise that you were expected to bring bowls and cutlery so we improvised and cut a large water bottle in half and took turns to use our travel spork.

The novelty of the lancha was definitely wearing thin and we couldn’t wait for Iquitos, which to us meant land, clean showers, and nice food! The final two days we zipped along the beautiful Amazon river, enjoyed some amazing sunsets, and arrived a day earlier than expected in Iquitos after four nights on the boat. We worked out that we had travelled approximately 400 miles along the river at an average of 5 miles an hour. It had been an amazing journey but we were glad it was at an end!

First load of plantains on board, before even leaving Pantoja

Where we stayed:

On the boat! 85 soles each for hammock space for the whole trip

Where we ate:

On the boat! Breakfast, lunch and dinner were included, however we brought hot sauce, tinned tuna, crackers, granola and yogurt drinks to supplement what was provided, plus booze

Other costs:

Cold fizzy drink – 2 soles

Cold beer – 4 soles

(Exchange rate: 2.4 soles to 1 US$)

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9 Responses to Pantoja to Iquitos – The lancha experience

  1. fran freeman says:

    hi there,
    i want to find the cheapest and best way to get from iquitos to equador. is it possible to do this route from iquitos and to equdor?

    • yesmads says:

      Hi Fran,

      it is possible to do this route the opposite way we did it. Your best bet is to visit the Tourist Office in Iquitos, where they have all the information you will need, including departure times etc.

      Thanks for your question!
      Wout and Lucy

  2. Gareth Smith says:

    Hi this sounds amazing i’m living in Quito at the moment and would love to do this trip, i have a few questions thou, I’m not sure my travel companions would be up for it they are thinking of heading south and stopping a Mancura , I’m willing to do this on my own but my Spanish isn’t great, how do u think i will fair? . Also when you get in iquitos are there boats heading further south , or is a flight to Lima the best option? Oh and whats the border crossing like i have actually overstayed my Visa, the immigration office here have told me all i will incur is 9 month ban, but I’m afraid of unscrupulous border police trying to fleece me. Thanks a lot.

    • yesmads says:

      Hi Gareth,

      We don’t speak Spanish very well either, so we think you will be fine.
      From Iquitos there are more boats going all directions. The border crossing is very basic (no computers and only paperwork). Not sure how it will work for you.

      Wout and Lucy

  3. Trey Sanders says:

    If you need any assistance of info on Iquitos, send me an email. I met my wife on the launch between Pucallpa and Iquitos 12 years ago and we go back every year. I helped my sister-in-law who live in Iquitos start a guide service, very cheap, local prices and all the money is for her. She has been arranging all of my excursions for last 12 years, so she knows what gringos like and how to get it at a good price.

    • yesmads says:

      Thanks for the info Trey! :-)

    • Theresa says:

      hey trey!
      I¨m in peru right now and somewhere in the next two months i want to go either from coca to iquitos or from iquitos to coca. it would be great for me to know when exactly the boats are leaving!! so an aproximat date if thats possible and if you know on that would help me a lot!


  4. Shar says:

    Hello, I saw that you had a blog about your trip to Iquitos. My son, 22 years and husband are planning a 10 day trip to the Amazon. They want to be adventurous and are in great shape. Do you have any ideas? My son loves reptiles.

    • yesmads says:

      Hi Shar,

      Iquitos was fantastic.
      There are many places where you can book tours to see all kinds of species including reptiles!
      Be aware, hotel rates have been very negotiable according to our experience. This must counts for tours as well!


      Wout and Lucy

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