To reach Iquitos  you have two options: travel by air or travel by water—there are no highways. There are plenty of direct flights from Lima , but if you are looking for adventure you can hop aboard a cargo boat from either Yurimaguas or Pucallpa.
As you lounge in a hammock, the jungle will pass by while the ship meanders through the muddy waters of the Marañón or Ucayali River, flowing into the Amazon under a bright blue sky. Just when the heat and humidity become unbearable, a refreshing afternoon rain might fall to reveal a spectacular clear sky dominated at night by the Southern Cross.
With a little preparation, the right attitude, and some patience, a river journey through the Amazon jungle  can be a comfortable, safe, and a unique travel experience.
Yurimaguas  is located in northeastern Peru, 2–3 days away from Iquitos down the Río Marañón. This small city is reached by a two-hour drive from Tarapoto . Comfy minivans and colectivo station wagons offer daily trips on a 120-kilometer highway that crosses the Cordillera Escalera, the last mountain range with cloud forests, before descending into the Amazon basin.
Cargo boats from Transportes Eduardo (Yurimaguas tel. 065/35-1270 or 065/35-2552) are highly recommended, departing Yurimaguas around noon, with accommodations ranging from covered decks for slinging hammocks (US$30 pp) to cabins with huge beds and private bathrooms (US$145 pp). The company has seven boats (Eduardo I, II, III and so on) and different services available in each.
Be warned, however, that boats wait until their cargo deck is full, and confirmed departures can get delayed quite often.
The other option is Pucallpa , on the shores of the Río Ucayali, a commercial hub 4–5 days upstream of Iquitos . The city is unattractive but is the southern gateway to the northeastern Amazon jungle. The wharfs are always busy loading and unloading goods—bananas, cars, passengers to and from Iquitos and other small towns along the river.
From Lima , Pucallpa is reached by daily flights or by a gorgeous 17-hour bus journey from desert coast to Andes to rainforest, reaching an altitude of almost 5,000 meters crossing Ticlio. The bus ride can can be broken up in two parts with an overnight stop in Huánuco  or Tingo María , which are opening up to travel after being shut down for years by drug trafficking in the area.
Gilmer I, IV, and V (also owned by Transportes Eduardo) and the Baylón I and II are the boats we recommend. Unlike in Yurimaguas, there is no office or phone available to book a ticket. You need to approach the decks and talk to the captain or the second in command.
Both companies sell tickets offering closed decks to hang your hammock on (US$29 pp); there are also cabins with a bunk bed, TV, and private bathroom in the Baylón boats (US$64 pp) or better cabins on the Gilmer boats (US$145 pp).
Regardless of whether you travel from Yurimaguas  or Pucallpa , the ticket includes three hot meals a day on any of these vessels, served up by the boat cooks and announced by a bell or a hammer blow on some metal surface. Passengers must bring their own spoon, bowl, and mug (US$2–3), available from the vendors roaming on the boat before departure. The food is pretty good: mostly stews with chicken, fish, and rice.
If you need a special diet, do not rely on the boat food. Buy fruit or whatever you think you might want to eat during your journey. As long as you consume bottled water, you won’t get sick aboard. The Baylón II has a small restaurant offering set-up dishes, cold beers, and other beverages.
Hammocks can be bought on board or around the wharf (US$11–21). The upper decks get less crowded than the lower ones. If you travel in a group you might consider the security of a locked cabin and alternate beds and hammocks to sleep.