Rio Napo: Guide for travelling from Coca (Ecuador) to Iquitos (Peru)

March 3, 2008  
Topics: Ecuador, Peru

This guide, which we wrote during our trip along Rio Napo (river Napo) in January-February 2008, will be useful for travellers planing to go this route.

The river route from Ecuador to Peru goes through the following towns and villages: [Ecuador] Coca – Nuevo Rocafuerte – [Peru] Pantoja – Torres Causano – Tempestad – Angoteros – San Rafael (at the entrance to Rio Curaray) – Santa Clotilde – Mazán – Iquitos

First of all, now it is much easier to travel this route than it was 4-6 years ago. There are more boats for passengers, there is more traffic and there are hostels in main villages (Rocafuerte, Pantoja, Santa Clotilde). So, if you still have a travel guide book which contains very few or no information about this route, you better read carefully our guide, which we have written based on our experience. And it is for free!

Before the Rio Napo trip

Mosquito nets (mosquiteros)

Depending on the conditions of your accommodation, you might need to have your own mosquito net.
We bought our nets in the shop “Los Alpes” in Mariscal area in Quito. Address: Av.Reina Victoria N23-45, y Baquedano (tel: 2232362). The price of one mosquito net for 1 person was $11.
In Pantoja, Peru (village at the border of Ecuador) one shop also was selling mosquito nets for beds of different sizes. Prices varied from 35 to 40 soles.

Hammocks (hamacas)

Hammock will be the only possibility to rest while travelling by cargo boat to Iquitos. All passengers sleep in hammocks which are in some cases installed in 3 levels one above each other. So make sure you have one before coming to the jungle.

Hammocks we found in the handcraft market (Mercado de Artesanias, Mariscal, Quito) for $10 each. These are made from a single fabric (not like a net). Additionally we had to buy ropes for fixing hammocks to the hooks/poles. We got 2 pieces of 5m ropes ($4.50) for each hammock. It is way too long, 3m ropes should be sufficient. And also do not mind the thickness of ropes. We have seen big people hanging in a hammomcks fixed with really thin strings.

this boat was cracking full

this boat was cracking full

You can also get hammocks in the red-white (bigest) shop in Pantoja. They sell nice Brasilian ones for 35 soles ($12). Looked like better quality than the ones we bought in Quito for $10. In Santa Clotilde one can get lower quality Brasilian hammocks for 25 soles ($9).

Insects on the way

Mosquitos (sangudos, zancudos)

There are not so many mosquitos in Nuevo Rocafuerte and Pantoja, so there is no big worry concerning malaria. But you should be careful in the area around Angoteros, if you will decide to stay there. Mosquitos specially get crowded during rainy season.

The best way in the jungle, is to combine different ways of mosquito bite protection.

- Insect repellent (repelente de insectos). For our trip through the rivers we bought repellent “Detan” (white-green bottle, 240ml, $4) and another repellent we got in earlier mentioned “Los Alpes” shop -  “Ben’s”, 98% deet, 37ml, $9. Deet supposed to be one of the most efficient protection against mosquitos. 98% of deet is quite strong combination, so it would be advisable to mix it with some oil and then apply to the skin. If you do not want to use oil, then only apply few drops on the skin and spread it.

- Drink vitamin B complex (complejo de vitamina B) every day. Many people told us that mosquitos do not like blood with vitamin B.

- Some woman who lives in Amazons of Venezuela, told us that applying oil with vitamin E might also protect from mosquitos. Probably best would be to mix such oil with repelent having high % of deet.

Midges

Most of the humid areas have little 1 mm flies, which we personally call midges, because they look and bite the same as midges in Scotland. If we are not wrong, locals call them arenilla. They do not carry diseases, but their bite is really unpleasant, and might leave a big red spot for a day of two.

Isango (or “siso”)

During our stay in Nuevo Rocafuerte we started to get bites on the legs and later in the upper parts of our bodies. We thought it was a flea, because the bites appeared under the clothes.

In the medical center in Pantoja (Peru), the doctor told us that it is a microscopic insect what they call “isango” (or sometimes “siso”). We got isangos while walking on the grass – does not really matter is it short or tall grass. These insects start crawling up the body from the feet. To protect this, the doctor advised to apply “Benzoato de Bencilo 25%” on the legs up to the knees. Not much, just a little bit to spread on the skin. Isangos do not like this liquid and they even die. This lotion we bought for 2 soles in the same medical center in Pantoja.

The first isango bites on Katja’s legs got really wide and ugly, so try not to scratch the wounds, even if it is extremely itchy.

Diseases

In case you get sick there are medical centers, or even hospitals, along the way in Nuevo Rocafuerte, Pantoja, Angoteros, Santa Clotilde and many more villages. Even more remote villages have facilities to communicate to nearest doctor by radio.

Malaria (Paludismo) [wikipedia link]

In the area we are talking about there are 2 kinds of malaria. Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium falciparum. Malaria p. vivax is treated with chloroquine and primaquine (5 days), while p. falciparum with artesunato and mefloquin (3 days). In Peru malaria treatment is given for free.

Malaria is transmitted by mosquitos, so insect repellents and mosquito nets are the best prevention from this disease. During your trip be alerted if you get sick and the fever rises. Your body might also show symptoms of having a cold. Immediately consult a doctor and make a test for malaria.

The test is done for free. In the hospitals they call it “gota gruesa” (gross drop). In some cases gota gruesa test might be needed to repeat few days in a row before they will finally see a parasite in the blood. Medical centers along Rio Napo, that do not have a laboratorist, make instant malaria test by using small plastic disposable malaria analysis tool.

Dengue fever [wikipedia link]

Dengue, which transmitted by mosquitos, can be another cause of high fever. It is not dangerous. There is no treatment for Dengue, apart of paracetamol for fighting the fever. Fever will stay for about 5 days.

Leptospirosis [wikipedia link]

This disease is spread through waters contaminated by urine of animals – rats, dogs, etc. Human body might get leptospirosis by having open skin contact with such water. This is a dangerous disease, whic
h needs 4 weeks to be diagnosed. In case you get a fever and tests for malaria and Dengue fails, doctor might advice you to take Doxycicline (antibiotics) in order to prevent leptospirosis from spreading into the organs of the body.

Rickettsiosis (Riquepsia) [wikipedia link]

It is another disease which seems to be transmitted in a similar way as Leptospirosis. We do not know much about Rickettsiosis. This name was mentioned by doctors in Iquitos, and it sounded like something very new and still in research.

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In any cases, if you get sick and you are near Iquitos, we recommend to consult infectologo Dr. Moisés Sihuincha in the Hospital Iquitos. When I got Dengue and Malaria in 1 week, I was refered to Dr. Sihuincha by 3-4 places. You can also find him after 6pm in his consultorio: Huallaga 567, Iquitos.

Another place to search for a help is malaria project MIGIA, where are working also researches from USA. The project manager’s name and mobile telephone is: Jean Hernandez, (+51-65) 9940025. The office of this project is at Urbanizacion Calvo de Arajo, C-7, in Pampachica. Laboratory is in somewhere off the Quinnones road.

Do not pee in the river

There is a fish, what people call “canero” [wikipedia link], which becomes dangerous if you decide to pee in the river. It applies both to men and women. This fish feels the worm spring and goes inside the organs (penis or vagina). The fish is small and white. Once it is inside the body, it starts eating other organs, and person dies. People we met told us that there is no possibility to get canero out of the body.

It is also dangerous to take a bath for the woman who have their menstruation, because blood is also attractive to this fish. The doctor of Pantoja clinic told us the story, how once they had to take out half of the 15cm long canero fish which attacked the vagina of the woman washing herself in the river.

Coca

It is a base for workers of companies, which are digging petroleum in the jungle areas around Coca. Not very exciting place. Specially in the streets near malecon (close to the river) gets ugly in the evenings, as all the workers go out to get drunk and search for a woman.

Hitch-hiking from Quito to Coca takes about 8 hours. Take the route via Lago Agrio, as it is all the way paved. The villages between Lago Agrio and Coca did not look very cosy though.

the front of the place, where boats are docking

the front of the place, where boats are docking

People might always advice to take a $1 taxi to move around Coca (usually for few blocks), but we advice not to do it, as this town is really small and everything is in walkable distances. If you need to buy a petrol for you camp-stove, the nearest gas station from the harbour is about 10 blocks away. We walked along the main street and it was Ok.

Accommodation

our boat to Nuevo Rocafuerte from top

our boat to Nuevo Rocafuerte from top

Traveller whom we met on the boat to Nuevo Rocafuerte told us that he paid $8 per night in the hostel in Coca. If your boat leaves next day, you can also sleep for free inside the boat. You can ask for this in the ticket office. This is what we did. During the night we kept our backpacks in the ticket office and brought only sleeping bags inside the boat.
We could use the toilet in the boat, and had to take care about water supplies in advance.

Shops
Vegetarians better buy as more vegetables and fruits as possible in Coca, because later the variety of what you can buy significantly reduces, and prices increases. 5l water bottle in Coca costs $1.40.

Coca to Nuevo Rocafuerte

The boat (lancha) from Coca to Rocafuerte leaves on Mo, Tu, Th and Fr at 7am. Mondays and Thursdays it is more for the passengers, other days – more for the cargo, but also accepts passengers. Back from Rocafuerte – on Tu, We, Fr and Su at 5am.

We took the boat on Monday. Officially, the price was $10 for Ecuadorians and $15 for foreigners. When we arrived to buy a ticket in Coca, we asked if they could sell cheaper. The girl said, she could make $12. We waited another 10 minutes, gave $20 and insisted to sell two tickets for $10. She agreed.

Passengers are called into the boat by names, in order they have bought tickets. In other words, earlier you buy a ticket, you get more choices where you will be sitting during the trip. Almost all the way the boat was full of people, so prepare for a long sitting in one position.

The trip to Rocafuerte lasts 12-13 hours (returning, up the river, is longer). They make a lunch break in Piñacocha around 1pm. Here you can buy lunch (meat, rice and other ingredients, like yucca, plantain, or beans) for $2. We are vegetarians, so we got rice+beans+plantain for $1. Juice is included.
Unfortunately, this break is extremely short. We were the last to buy lunch, so we had to hurry up and eat fast. In the end the boat was waiting only for us and few other passengers.

Bring enough drinking water and snacks. There is a toilet which is flushed with the river water.

Once you arrive to Nuevo Rocafuerte, you will have to register at the Capitania (Marina).

Nuevo Rocafuerte

It is a village with about 1000 people or more. You can walk from one side of Rocafuerte to another in about 15min (about 10 blocks). There is also a small path on the Western End of the village, which you might follow for a long time and meet houses along the way.

There are no cars here, but the the streets are wide and even have sidewalks. Two people have motorcycles, others – bicycles.

Nuevo Rocafuerte was founded in 1945 January 22, so you might be interested in staying during 4 days festival every year on 19-22 of January, if you are passing by in the beginning of the year.

If you stay in Nuevo Rocafuerte for couple of days, you might want to make an easy and a bit muddy walk through a jungle towards the lagoon. The path starts right after the electricity generator (in the West end, after police office). You will pass 3 bridges and some fields in between. One way walk is about 1 hour. After the 2nd bridge you might get confused, as the paths split. Take the left one, into the jungle. The 3rd bridge is really crapy and rotten, so be careful. Right after it, you will get to another field. This is where we turned around, as we thought we are on the wrong path. Later people told us, we should have continue that way along the field and soon appears the lagoon.

main street in Nuevo Rocafuerte we spent most of our days in town with kids unusal pet the town is much bigger than one might think at the beginning

Accommodation

There is a hostel, which can accommodate 10 people (by Jan’08). The price per bed is $5. They had some unused rooms, so maybe you would negotiate to place your tent in there for a lower price. The telephone of
the hostel is 06-2382159 (in Ecuador), or +593-6-2382159 (outside Ecuador).

Nelson and Mosses – two 16 year old college students are currently (by Jan’08) taking care about the hostel. Unfortunately, they hardly speak English, but willing to learn new phrases. In any case, they might give you information about travelling further down the Rio Napo. Nelson has travelled himself with a cargo boat from Pantoja to Iquitos, and he also knows people around who could give you a private ride down the river (if there are a lot of travellers).

If you want to stay with a tent outside the hostel, you might ask for a help in Capitania (Marina) or police officers. Or simply walk around, search for some roofs, and ask neighbourhood if you could sleep there.

Electricity

Light is on everyday from the morning (between 8am-11am) till 11pm.
Not all the hostels will have plugs available in your room. So, if you carry rechargeable batteries (for your cameras, laptop, etc.), we would suggest to get a lamp bulb plug extension (we got one in Baños de Ambato for $0.7), which you mount instead of the lamp bulb. The extension provides 2 plugs for your devices and the entrance for the same bulb.

Water

There is a running water during the day ( starts before 9am, ends 9pm), but it is not advisable to drink it (unless purified). People usually drink rain water.

Internet

By the time we were there, there was no Internet for public use. On the other hand, marina guys and hospital have own Internet connection, but it seems they do not share it with outside.

Shops

Augustas enjoying snack

Augustas enjoying snack

There at least 5 shops in Rocafuerte. The biggest of them Comercial “La Bahia”, which has everything, from vegetables to clothes and shoes. Not far from La Bahia, are 3 shops owned by different members of family called Morocho (somebody from them also has a shop in Pantoja). The last shop “Brisas del Napo” is located in front of the park (near marina), which has just few things and looks very lonely. Some children told us that “Brisas del Napo” has the lowest prices.

Food

fruit and vegetable seller

fruit and vegetable seller

Seems that Señora Tarjelia is offering lunch for $2. If you have a camp-stove which works with petrol, the same woman sells petrol for $2.50 per gallon. Tarjelia’s house is at the river not far from the hostel.
Vegetarians will be able to get some basic vegetables and fruits in the shops: tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, onion, pepper, apples, maybe water melon and more. For bananas better ask in the houses, as we have never seen on sale. There is a man in the village, who brings fresh vegetables with lancha on Mondays, and Tuesday morning sells them on the streets.

Nuevo Rocafuerte to Pantoja (Peru)

Policemen in Rocafuerte (office in the Western end of the village, 2 blocks from the college – colegio) will give you the exit stamps. Policemen are changing every few months. Some of them tend to ask for a small donation. It is illegal and they should give you stamps for free.

Motors of the boats

famous peke-peke motor which all Peruvians along Rio Napo know by heart

famous peke-peke motor which all Peruvians along Rio Napo know by heart

Before starting for a private boat search for further trip, worth to know that there are basically two types of motors. Powerful ones, like Yamaha type, and the ones made in Peru, called “pekepeke” – much slower, but probably 5 times more economic than the first ones. When you will negotiate for the price keep in mind what motor has the owner of the boat. Service with “pekepeke” should be significantly cheaper.

Boat to Pantoja

Morocho's boat, which...

Morocho's boat, which...

There is no regular boat between these villages. The flat rate for private lancha this way costs $50 (sometimes up to 10 people). This is the price, which is asked by several boat owners in Rocafuerte. We also heard that other travellers managed to find boats for $30-$35 per boat (probably with pekepeke motors).

If you will be lucky, you might get a person travelling to Pantoja for his family, in this case they take additional passengers for $10, or even $5.

If you will decide to rent a boat just for you, search for Fernando Sifuentes (travellers say he is reliable and responsible), or one of Señor Morocho (in their shops). There is also a man called Juan Cuenca (and his son), whos name is also in Lonely Planet guides. We heard from different tourists and locals, that these guys are not very honest with tourists, so preferably use services of others.

If you are interested visiting Yasuni National Park, ask around and there will be some people who will be happy to give you a tour.

Pantoja

This place is much smaller than Rocafuerte. Not much to walk, but they have small hills, which is something different.

During the weekdays you might be interested to pass by the football field around 6am-6:30am. Here 3-4 times a week come bunch of soldiers and do their exercises. Sometimes they bring big wooden trunks or guns. Kind of interesting. On the way to the football field, they run in a group and sing. Try to listen what they sing… “sangre de monos” (blood of monkeys). By “monos” they refer to the Ecuadorian troops…

first day, first friends some examples how people live Peruvian military gathered each morning in front of our house at 6 am for doing excercises

Everyday before the sunset, people gather to the football field to play with balls. You might join them, if you will miss sport activities.

In Pantoja the currency changes from US dollar to Peruvian Soles. In Jan’08 official rate was 3 soles for $1 US. Pantoja people were buying dollars for about 2.60-2.70.

Be careful about interpreting some price you hear in Pantoja. In rare cases they still name a price in dollars without mentioning, which currency do they mean. 5 backpackers agreed with random guy that he will take them to the jungle trip for half a day. He told he will charge 5 each. Foreigners thought he means 5 soles ($1.7). After the trip they were about to give 25 soles, but the guy was unhappy and explained that he meant $5 US, and not 5 soles. After long discussion travellers decided to give another 15 soles, not more.

The same in the hostel, the price they told us was 5, after clarification we understood that they mean $5, which is 15 soles. So, keep in mind, that for some people you are still a Walking Dollar.

Accommodation

Argentinians camp right beside the health center

Argentinians camp right beside the health center

Since 2005 March there is a hostel run by municipality, which has 12 rooms, with 2 beds each. They charge foreigners 15 soles and 10 soles Peruvians per room (2 beds). If you are alone, you might pay 10 soles for the room. If you will want to stay in Pantoja 2 or 4 weeks, you can ask for up to 50% discount. Do not expect good water supply in this place, as they get it everyday only for half an hour or so.

Pantojas only hostel looks clean, does not it? the hostels TV attracts each evening lots of locals
Linda selling sweets to foreigners

Linda selling sweets to foreigners

Some travellers also slept for free in the hammock in the glorieta (blue pavilion in front of the hostel), others got permission to place their tents and hammocks free of charge in the back of the hostel – in the wooden construction with the roof.

Actually village has couple of, we assume not used roofs, under which one could easily set up a tent. Of course, it is advisable to ask for permission people living around.

Electricity
It is on every evening 6pm-11pm. Sundays also something like from 9am to 12pm (for the Sunday news on TV).

Water
Running water is supplied only for 30min every day. Sometimes it runs up to 45min. It starts usually at 6am. If not at this time, then sometime around noon. When we were in Pantoja (end of Jan’08) water supply was even worse than 30min a day.

You can bath either in the river, or next to the constantly running water in the center of the village, where people also wash their clothes. There is also another spring close to the river – once you stand in the middle of the football field, go down to the river (there are small steps), and after 2/3 of the way down you will find a small spring.

You can buy drinking water in the shop. 3.8l bottle, or 2.5l with gas, both cost 5 soles.

Telephone

phone numbers of the region

phone numbers of the region

There is a house with telephones in Pantoja. There are 2 numbers assigned to this village: +51-65-811616, +51-65-812229. You might be interested calling to Pantoja in order to find out when the next cargo boat is coming. Once you call, you will hear “Hola, Buenas Dias, Pantoja.” Calling inside Loreto province of Peru, for example to Iquitos, is quite cheap, 5 minutes cost 0.50 sol. Calling to other provinces of Peru is about 3 soles per minute.
Here are also phone numbers of other villages along the Napo river: Angoteros +51-65-812042, San Rafael +51-65-812031, Santa Clotilde +51-65-812226; 811614 (both in the park) and 830064/40/47 (in the center).

Internet
There is Internet in the shop in front of “Espumita” discotheque (walk from the hostel towards military zone). They have 1 computer, and it costs 2 soles per hour. If the woman, who owns the machine, is gone to Iquitos (it happened during our stay in Pantoja), there will be no possibility to use computer. Medical center of Pantoja also has Internet, but it is clearly written in there office “No hay Internet. No insistir.” (There is no Internet. Do not insist.)

Pantojas health center

Pantojas health center

If you will be stopping in other villages along Rio Napo, might be usefull to know that each medical center along the way has a computer with Linux and Internet connection. If you are travelling with your own laptop, you should be able to connect to the wireless Internet around the clinics (we are not sure if the access is restricted by the password).

Shops
There are 4-5 places where you can buy things. The variety is very poor. Couple of caned products (sardines, tuna), potatoes and onions are sold for 2 soles/kg, tomatoes 1 sol/unit. 2-3 types of cookies and basically that’s it. Rice and flour is sold for 3 soles/kg. 0.25kg of beans for 2 soles. If you are lucky, you might get cucumber, red beet root, maybe even a carrot. Looks like the best is to do shopping after the big cargo boat arrives to the village.

Food
Pantoja has proper restaurants, where they sell lunch for 3-4 soles. Vegetarians can get rice and eggs, sometimes even lentils, avocado and plantain. For the fruits the best is to ask houses. Some families grow papayas, plantains, and few other tropical fruits in their farms (chacra).

For the breakfast you might buy a 200ml oat drink (avena, 2 soles) with some crackers (galletas).

Travelling from Pantoja towards Iquitos

Most of the backpackers simply take a cargo boat which goes from Pantoja to Iquitos. They get out in Mazán village (because from here the boat makes a 16 hour loop along the river) and then reach Iquitos with a speed boat.

Some other travellers hire a private boat to Santa Clotilde (half way to Iquitos) and from there one may take a daily rapido (fast) boat, which costs around 75 soles ($25, 4 hours).

Cargo Boats

The cheapest way to get to Iquitos, is to travel by one of the cargo boats from Pantoja. Couple years ago the big boat was coming only once a month. Now the situation changed, and cargo boats arrive sometimes even 3 times a month.

The trip by cargo boat takes about 4-5 days until Mazán, where the river starts making a loop, and in order to save 13 hours on the loop, faster is to take a motocar taxi to the other side of Mazán (about 3 soles) and take a fast boat to Iquitos from there (another hour or two, $5).

on top of Cabo Pantoja, the only place to be during the day when sun is heating up the inside of the boat locals seem to enjoy them though with lots of luggage the man in red is controlling your ticket and marks your "withdrawal" of food

For the trip in a cargo boat one will need a hammock – this is how people sleep. They fix hammocks one above each other in 3 levels. It really gets crowded after Santa Clotilde. It is exactly as hobo-traveler wrote in his story:

When you think there is no way to put one more person on the boat, they stop and pick up ten more people.

Would not recommend to sleep on the ground, as they clean it with diesel in order to conserve the metal the boat is made of.

Take a plastic box and a spoon, will be useful when collecting food in the kitchen of the boats. Flashlight might also be handy, specially if you will need to navigate through the jungle of hammocks during the night. If you will get sick, electronic thermometer would make you feel more comfortable.

There are 5 cargo boats: “Cabo Pantoja”, “Miluska”, “Jeisawell” (was known as “Siempre Adelante” before the reconstruction, but this name is still on the tickets), “Camila” and “Victor”. The latter two ones seem not to travel very often. “Cabo Pantoja” is probably the best, has 3 toilets and 3 showers, if no rain, one might sleep in a hammock on the roof. “Miluska” we would rate as second best (in the picture it is green, but after our trip it was repainted and now it is white), with 3 toilets and showers in one (becomes really dirty), has even two floors for the hammocks. “Jeisawell” is much smaller having nice gay couple of cooks, while “Victor” is the worst and people say it is more like a phantasm. Moreover, “Victor” does not always reaches Pantoja, in some cases it stops in Tempestad or even San Rafael (where river Curaray enters Napo). Ones who travelled Rio Napo many many years ago might remember “Torres Causana” boat, which is now left abandoned in Mazán.

Miluska, the last boat for us along Rio Napo

Torres Causana

The boats leave Iquitos, Masusa port, once they have enough cargo onboard. At the time we were travelling the Rio Napo, there were no boats for 2 weeks, and afterwards arrived 3 boats in a 14 days period. Tr
ip up the river from Iquitos to Pantoja lasts 6-8 days, depending on the river level, the boat, and the stops boat has to make. Trip from Pantoja is faster, because it travels down the river.

Trip to Iquitos lasts about 5 days and costs 80 soles with “Cabo Pantoja” and 90 soles with others. Ticket includes meals 3 times a day. You can also travel to Mazán (4 days, 70-80 soles, from where you take motocar and speed-boat). If, for some reason (e.g., willing to take rapido boat to Iquitos) you decide to get out in Santa Clotilde (middle of the route), the price from Pantoja is 40-50 soles. Santa Clotilde – Iquitos trip on a cargo boat costs 30 soles.

The menu at the boats is mainly rice, yucca, plantain and piece of meat or anything else the boat buys from people in the villages (chicken, fish, worms [gusanos]). In the mornings – toasted hard bread with a drink (made of plantain, oats, milk). They also like to serve soup of meat or fish. Rice and plantain are always very dry, so ketchup could help out here :) Bring enough drinking water for the trip, unless you have a camp stove and will be boiling river water.

All the food on the boats are prepared with river water.

Argentinians loved it a common meal on the boat: dry rice with even drier plantain (since only meat is prepared with sauce, we were living like chicken on dry food) so called oat drink made of river water (we drank it, but weren't sure it was well boiled)

If you travel from Pantoja, the schedule is roughly like this: after day 1 – reaching Angoteros, after day 2 – reaching San Rafael, day 3 afternoon – reaching Santa Clotilde, day 4 afternoon – reaching Mazán, day 5 morning – arriving to Iquitos.

Private motorboats

Señor Hamer can also bring travellers to Santa Clotilde. He asks $300 for the whole 17 hours trip (pekepeke motor) and can take up to 8-10 travellers. Can be this price is a bit too high, maybe you could bargain for $200.
During our stay in Pantoja, other backpackers also found somebody who had a speed boat and was offering a 7h trip to Santa Clotilde for $40 per person, having minimum 6 travellers.

Jungle of Peru attracts petroleum companies, which are building their bases in different parts along Napo and other rivers (e.g., Curaray). Santa Clotilde receives a lot of traffic from such companies. Most of them are refusing to pick up passengers unrelated to the company, but there are still some chances to get rides.

Another possibility could be hitch-hiking doctors travelling for emergency cases to the communities that have no clinics. The list of villages with medical centers one can get in any of such clinics (in Pantoja, Angoteros, Santa Clotilde, etc.)

Other villages and interesting information

Angoteros
It is an indigenous place of Quechua people.  This village is slightly bigger than Pantoja. They have electricity every day 6pm-9pm. There is no running water yet, but they are already building a container of the water for the village. The name of the head of the village is Mariano Oraco. If you will come to this place, it is advisable to search for El Apu (“head of village” in Quechua) first (sign of respect) and introduce youselfs. In Angoteros we got to know a doctor of medical center, who invited us to stay in a house which belongs to the personnel of the clinic.
Few other phrases in Quechua:
Good Morning = Ali Puncha
Good Afternoon = Ali Shichi
Good Night = Ali Tukta
Thank you = Pajarachu
Chief of the village = El Apu

Cargo boat from Pantoja to Angoteros will charge you around 25 soles. If the river is low, the boat will unlikely stop at the port in the village, rather on the other side of the river. In this case you will have to ask a favoir one of the Angoterians who come to pick up packages and passengers with their pekepeke lanchas. It happened to us and our driver asked 10 soles for this “service”.

pharmacist and doctor Oscar from Puesto de Salud (health center) life on Rio Napo drying hand-washed clothes

Visit the medical center of this village and say hello to the doctor Oscar over there (will be working till the end of 2009). We have already made friends with him, and we are sure he will be happy to meet more travelers. Maybe he will even let you use Internet at his office.

Angoteros is much bigger than Pantoja. People of this village were more difficult to make contact with than in Pantoja or Rocafuerte. Kids hardly responded to our greetings, and women were always shy talking to us. Most of the villagers are bilingual, i.e., speak Spanish.

Guajoya
As a few days trip from Angoteros you might be interested to visit the community of Guajoya, where live Secoya people. Men of this group wear traditional dresses and all of them speak Secoya language. Ask the Apu of Angoteros for possibilities to visit Guajoya. It is located about 3.5h from Angoteros in pekepeke boat, in on of the smaller rivers which enter Napo. The name of the chief of Guajoyas is Oscar Basce Macanilla (unless there will be a new election of the chief).

For the both ways trip from Angoteros to Guajoyas pekepeke motor consumes up to 4 gallons of gasoline (El Apu in Angoteros sells gasoline 10 soles per gallon). This info might be useful if you will be negotiating the price for the transport.

Oscar this time more serious than the day he invited us to Guajoyas; reason: no ingestion of Masato Oscars house

Santa Clotilde

boat Camu-Camu is foundering

boat Camu-Camu is foundering

It is probably the biggest village on Rio Napo, but still without locks on the doors. Santa (as people call it short) is located almost in the middle of the route between Pantoja and Mazán. Here one can get a 4-6 hour ride to Mazán with “rapido” service for 75 soles (every morning at 7 a.m, 4 hours trip).

This village has two hostels. The one called “El Cielo” charges 10 soles for the single room, 20 soles for two beds room and 15 soles for double-bed. They have only shared bathrooms. Water 24h. The second hostel (two houses left from “El Cielo”) offers beds for 15 soles with private bathrooms.

main sidewalk in town

main sidewalk in town

There is lots of music in this village. Everyday till 2 p.m. municipality loudspeakers are broadcasting latin and international songs with low quality sound, and in the evenings, from 6 p.m., when electricity is on, some of your neighbours will be disturbing the silence with loud music over private loudspeakers. It might last till the light is off in the village (11 p.m.).

an internet cafe! and this along Rio Napo! a big surprise for us

an internet cafe! and this along Rio Napo! a big surprise for us

In the building of municipality there is an Internet Cafe, which is open 8:00-14:00 and 18:30-22:00. The price is 1.50 soles per hour. They have a satellite connection, which means the Internet speed might change dynamically depending on different factors (weather, number of users, etc). If your computer will be locked by Internet administration program Red Watcher (black screen with red text), the password to enter desktop is “napino”.

If you came to Santa by “rapido” from Mazán and you still do not have a hammock for your trip to Ecuador, one of the bodegas (shops) sells hammocks made in Brasil for 25 soles.

Aquilles Caranza and his grandson preparing all the bread manually

Aquilles Caranza and his grandson preparing all the bread manually

In Santa Clotilde there are couple of bakeries, so the bread is available in many shops in the center of village. There is also a man called Aquiles Caranza, who is making a different taste and, probably, the best bread in town. The amount he produces is very little, so the best is to hunt for this bread directly from his house. Just walk by the main s
treet to the west of the village. You will pass yellow “Mercado Municipal” building, the Aquiles’ house is the second one after the big blue building. He makes bread every second day. Around 4 p.m. he leaves his house with 2 big plastic bags of bread and goes to the center to sell it. Best is to come to his house around 1-3 p.m. and get still hot bread. We specially recommend his sweet bread – bizcochos (bisquits).

Finally, if you will get sick, Santa Clotilde has a clinic (centro de salud) with doctors from North America. This clinic also bakes their own bread, which is served only to the staff and patients.

Carnaval
If you will be travelling in the river region in the beginning of February, you will have an opportunity to participate in something what locals simply call the carnaval. Another name we heard was – Umisha. It was happening in Pantoja and Angoteros, so we assume it is likely celebrated in other parts of Rio Napo as well. The idea of this festival is to consume lots of terrible yucca drink called Mazato (at least in Quechua villages), and to throw water with and without colors to each other. Be careful.

celebrate and drink Masato! Augustas company

Mazato drink
Probably it is not a good idea to write publicly what Mazato is. If you know about it, you might refuse this interesting experience and probably have troubles making friends among indigenous. In any case, we assume that more of our readers will not stop at the Quechua villages and we will describe what is what for your curiosity.

Mazato – is a drink made of yucca. First they boil yuca, then smash it and afterwards woman are chewing and spitting it into the bowl. A little bit of water and this mixture is left for 2-3 days. The result of this process is a fermented ugly drink with chewed yucca. Tastes like an old juice.

spitting out of yucca, which will help to ferment into Masato

The process of how they make mazato is disgusting, the taste is terrible, but if you are offered mazato it is an offence to refuse to drink it. If you will refuse, they will hardly maintain a further contact with you. A guy who sells different things in the remote villages told us the story how he once refused mazato and since then nobody from the village bought anything from him…

women always sit apart from men, waiting to be asked to serve Masato

women always sit apart from men, waiting to be asked to serve Masato

People drink mazato all the day long. Men might work outside on the street, and there will be women sitting in a shadow and serving mazato. If you will pass by, they will definitely offer mazato. Do not refuse. If you are disgusted about this drink, simply pretend as you were drinking. Touch the bowl with your lips and pretend you are swallowing it.

Luckily, not in all villages they prepare mazato by chewing and spitting it, rather simply smashing yucca with kitchen tools.

Communication by Radio
There quite a few medical centers along the Rio Napo and each of them have Internet connection and equipment to communicate by radio (all powered by solar energy). These days lots of remote communities (like Guajoyas) already have a solar panel driven equipment for radio communication as well. They use it mainly for medical emergencies and communication with the passing by cargo boats. In other words, people always know when and which cargo boat will be passing nearby.

Summary

Rio Napo trip is an amazing experience by travelling through the peaceful villages, where people do not use locks on their houses, or most of the time they even have no doors nor walls, only the roof. You will be pleased by the tranquility and calmness of this region…

Before your trip, you might be interested to also check the following Rio Napo stories written by other travelers:
Rob’s Diary – 2004 February
Alex’s Experience – 2004 April
Louise – 2007 October
Hobo Traveler

Comments

  1. Great info – we’re planning on making this trip in the next few days and am so relieved to have found such a great writeup! We’ve now got a much better idea of what to expect, and are getting excited! Thanks for the tips!

    • Happy you found here useful information. Perhaps some things have “improved” over time, as we made this guide 6 years ago. Please, let us know after your trip if some information here is not accurate anymore. We will also follow your blog for the updates :)

    • Santiago Toledo says:

      i’m planning on making this trip in january 2015, i would like to know if u guys got an update of this trip, by the way great info thanks.

    • we have no update, sorry

    • Hey Santiago,

      We did end up doing a writeup on our Rio Napo trip, you can find it here:
      http://www.twobeinchili.com/travel-blog/rio-napo-coca-to-iquitos

      This guide by Katja & Augustas was extremely useful for us. Even though it’s a few years old now, it seems like most things haven’t changed much. Our Rio Napo experience was so unique – an unforgettable for sure. If you’re hoping to make an excursion into the jungle, don’t bother booking anything before you get to Nuevo Rocafuerte (or even Pantoja) – as long as you can speak some Spanish, you’ll likely be able to negotiate a MUCH better price once you’re there.

      Have fun!
      Mandrew

  2. lucy says:

    This is an amazing resource of information! I was looking for so long, by far the most informative! So thank you :)

  3. Olivier says:

    Hi there! I’m doing this trip next week. I’ve got almost every informations I need. But is it possible to go from Coca to Iquitos with less then 200 USD??

  4. Hi!

    We are planning to start the trip from coca to Iquitos in a few weeks. And I was wondering if there is a contact address or telephone number where we can get information about the cargo departures from Pantoja to Mazan?
    Or do we just show up and hope we don’t have to wait for 3 weeks?

    Thanks!

    • Calling will not help. Best is to arrive Pantoja and get latest estimated boat arrival dates from local people. If you prefer to wait on the Ecuadorian side – you can most probably get good information about the Pantoja boats while being in Nuevo Rocafuerte. Good luck!

    • Or if you are really eager to communicate by phone – use some of the numbers displayed in the picture inside this article, where we talk about “Telephone”.

    • oeps,sorry, I must have scrolled over the telephone part.

      We already thought the best thing is to just show up :)
      We’ll see how it goes.

      Thanks for all the information, looks really helpful!
      I’ll make sure to add our experience once we reach Belem!

  5. Brent Dmitruk says:

    I am about to start doing this region regularily and I am so glad I found this resourse of info. I am glad to hear about how the people are in the region. people can be quite rude in north america and it will be a pleasant difference there. I will be spending a lot of time on the rio napo and hope to learn a lot while not only travelling but actually living there. someone posted that they lived 7 years in nuevo rocafuerte. I plan to live in santa clotilde, angoteros and maybe even pantoja to observe the wildlife and take in the feeling of nature there.

  6. We did the trip 2 weeks ago.
    There are 2 important changes:
    - The public Boat from Coca to Nuevo Rocafuerte starts Tuesday, Friday and Sunday in Coca.
    - There are less Cargoboats from Pantoja to Mazan. I think 2 left, there is one every 10nd day.

    • Ashlee Jennings says:

      How long did it take you to get to Iquitos and back? I only have 4 weeks to travel after being in the Amazon in Ecuador for 10 weeks for an internship, then, after the internship I have 4 weeks free, my friend and I were going to try to connect with some friends in Iquitos but are students traveling on a strict budget and so we thought going by boat would be the cheapest way. But if 4 weeks is not enough then it might not be worth it to go. Any advice is appreciated.

    • 4 weeks for both ways might be OK. Only boat trip between Pantoja and Iquitos will take 6 days one way and 4 days back (downstream). That means you have 20 days for waiting for the boat in Pantoja and Iquitos. You should manage. In the worst case you can also take a daily speedboat to/from Santa Clotilde.

  7. Lena says:

    hi Katja! did you meet many travelers going the other way, from Iquitos to Coca?

    • Hello Lena – no, we did not meet people travelling the opposite direction. I gues people stop for more days in Nueva ROcafuerte and Pantoja only if they travel to Iquitos as they have to wait for the boat. If you go the other direction – there is no need to wait for transport in those villages – as it is quite frequent.

    • If anything, going upriver might be more straightforward. Find a boat from Iquitos that’s going up the Napo – but check its going all the way to Pantoja or you could get very stuck indeed. Won’t be fast though – upriver will be 2 or 3 days slower than down river, plus you’ll end off having to go the whole way round the river rather than cut the corner at Mazan.

      From Pantoja it will be some negotiation to get across the border. From Nuevo Rocafuerte the boat leaves for Coca every afternoon.

      Probably a bit more full on going upriver. The first few days will be the most crowded and smelly: no gradual build up.

  8. Did this trip in 2004. Its like a lifetime club membership – you never forget it. I gather there’s a little more infrastructure now than there was back then, but even so – one for the intrepid.

    To anyone reading this wondering about taking this journey. Believe. We asked so many people in Ecuador if it could be done and everyone said no, until we met a nice honest native guide in Banos who gave us the confidence to set out.

    It was amazing. And when we finally arrived in Manaus several weeks later it was difficult to believe we had done the whole trip on the river. You will meet many gringos on the boats between Iquitos and Belem. You will meet few on the Napo. For intensity of experience there is no comparison.

  9. Aussie Greg says:

    I just did this route, anybody want info just e-mail me, regards.

    Aussie Greg, Colombia.

    • Charlotte says:

      Hi,
      I am excited to take this trip from Coca to Iquitos but am a bit worried about being a female travelling alone, what do you think?
      I would also like to travel on to Manaus but I guess it depends how long the trip to Iquitos takes as I would really only have 3 weeks before I fly out of South America.
      Cheers!

    • Traveling as a single female – has no problems at all. Jungle area is very safe and people are very attentive and helpful. If you have 3 weeks, we would not suggest for you to start traveling into the jungle by ordinary cargo boats, as you will be in mental stress not to be late for your deadlines. Then either take a private motorboat, which will be more expensive or wait till you have more time to explore life in the jungle.

  10. pedro says:

    grats! going on 2 weeks. same route. then from iquitos to manaus. lot of water. vegetarian. gona suffer? hope not.

    ververygood

    hasta luego, beijos e valeu!

  11. Dick. says:

    Well done and very informative. Thank you.

    I’m now living in Riobamba, Ecuador.

  12. Javier Vidal says:

    Hi,
    Every one. I had seen many bad comments about the the route Coca-Iquitos, many people say have bad experience, but I offer one of the most exited experience in the amazons, I am local guide I can take you to Yasuni National Park, Visit the Woaranie people, on my tour we do many activities swim on the lagoon, fish pirañas, walk for the jungle to observe birds, monkey, caiman, giant threes, If you want to skip it, I can take you to Iquitos in 3 days….

    • Alice wicks says:

      Hi Javier,
      Just wondering if you still offer your 3 day trip from coca to iquitos? I I need to be in iquitos on the 28th of December and am wanting to find the quickest route there. Let me know if we can arrange something
      Kind regards, alice

  13. Colleen says:

    I lived in Nuevo Rocafuerte for 7 years and was happy to see some of my friends in your pictures there and in Pantoja.

  14. Mike says:

    Hi,
    Thank you for posting your travel hints. Heading into Napo in December to an eco-lodge on the Napo in Yasuni. Going toward the Orient and not toward Peru. Can you give me any of your thoughts on photography and carrying the equipment? Do I need to think about theft on the river or just in the cities? Thanks in advance for your input.

    • We felt really save on all the villages along Rio Napo, so you should not worry about that. But surely take care in the big towns and cities (like Iquitos, if you are going to make a stop there).

      People in the jungle villages are very friendly and helpful, so there should be no problems to take pictures of them.

  15. Thanks for the wonderful information! I started searching the web not expecting to find that much on this overland route. After having heard that there is only one boat a month I´d almost given up hope that it would be possible for my frined and I. Thanks again.

    MAtt

  16. Julio Erhart says:

    Excelent report. I have not done this route by I have navigated the Amazon river system from Atalaya Peru to Belem Brazil. Sorry, that was before the internet and digital photography were invented so I can not show you a similar report so well done as this one. I am living now in Toronto, Canada.