There is no better way to experience Peru’s Amazon than sitting in a hammock and watching the jungle go by. This experience is easy to have on an Amazon cargo boat, which offer bathrooms, plenty of deck space to sling a hammock, and kitchens that serve palatable meals. You need to be flexible on time, however, because boats wait until they are filled with cargo and rarely depart on the day they say they will.
The most popular routes start from Yurimaguas or Pucallpa and float toward Iquitos on chocolate-colored, torpid rivers. An even longer option, and more adventurous option is the Río Urubamba from Quillabamba all the way to Pucallpa. This journey includes incredible stretches of jungle and passes through the Pongo de Mainique, an infamous white-water gorge that cuts through the Vilcabamba mountain range.
It is much faster to head downstream, and some routes become dangerous during high-water months between January and June. Some rivers are unsafe due to drug trafficking or conflicts with native groups. These include the Río Huallaga above Tarapoto, the Río Marañón from Bagua to where it joins with the Río Huallaga, and any of the small rivers around Chanchamayo that drain into the Río Urubamba. Because of its big rapids, the Río Apurímac can also be dangerous. Raft it only with a skilled guide.
The preferred mode of local travel in the jungle is by dugout canoe or peke-peke, a name that perfectly describes the sound of the boat’s engine. These boats, also used in parts of Asia, have a long propeller shaft that can be lifted out of the water for maneuvering or avoiding obstacles.
Boats also ply the waters of Lake Titicaca, which are inspected and carry life jackets for everyone. The captain even carries a cell phone for emergencies. Other boat options in Peru include deep-sea fishing boats that can be contracted in places like Órganos and Punta Sal on the north coast, though there is no transport service along Peru’s Pacific coast.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition