Iquitos’ small but busy airport, 7km from the center, receives flights from Lima, Pucallpa and Tarapoto.
Charter companies at the airport have five-seat passenger planes to almost anywhere in the Amazon, if you have a few hundred US bucks going spare.
LATAM Direct daily runs to Lima, plus flights to Cuzco on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Star Perú Star Perú operates two daily flights to and from Lima: the morning flight stops at Pucallpa and the afternoon flight at Tarapoto. Fares are about US$70 to Lima and US$60 to Pucallpa or Tarapoto.
Iquitos is Peru’s largest, best-organized river port. You can theoretically travel all the way from Iquitos to the Atlantic Ocean, but most boats out of Iquitos ply only Peruvian waters, and voyagers necessarily change boats at the tri-border with Colombia and Brazil. If you choose to arrive or depart by river, you’ll end up at one of six ports, which are between 2km and 3km north of the city center.
Six main ports are of interest to travelers:
Puerto Bellavista-Nanay, furthest from the center at the end of Av La Marina, is mainly used by smaller craft to destinations local to Iquitos, such as to Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm. However, cruise ships as well as some jungle expedition boats use this as a departure port. A mototaxi ride here is S4.
Puerto Masusa, about 3km north of the town center, is where cargo boats depart for Yurimaguas (upriver; three to six days) and Pucallpa (upriver; four to seven days); but these trips are better undertaken in the other direction, with the current. Fares cost S80 to S100 for hammock space and S130 to S180 for a tiny (often cell-like) cabin. Boats leave most days for both places: there are more frequent departures for the closer intermediate ports en route. For Yurimaguas, the Eduardo boats have the best reputation.
Downriver boats to the Peruvian border with Brazil and Colombia leave from Puerto Masusa, too. There are about two or three departures weekly for the two-day journey (per person S80). Boats will stop at Pevas (hammock space S40, about 15 hours) and other ports en route. Boats may dock closer to the center if the water is very high (from May to July).
Closer to the center, the more organized Henry Boats Port runs services along the Iquitos–Pucallpa route.
At both ports chalkboards tell you which boats are leaving when, for where, and whether they accept passengers. Although there are agencies in town, it’s usually best to go to the dock and look around; don’t trust anyone except the captain for an estimate of departure time. Be wary: the chalkboards have a habit of changing dates overnight! Boats often leave hours or even days late.
You can often sleep aboard the boat while waiting for departure, and this enables you to get the best hammock space. Never leave gear unattended − ask to have your bags locked up when you sleep.
Puerto ENAPU, on Av La Marina near the crossroads with 28 de Julio, is mainly of interest as it's where the Consorcio Fluvial del Amazonas ferry leaves from heading downriver to Pevas and Santa Rosa, on the Colombia–Brazil border.
Tiny Puerto Embarcadero, closest to the center, near the join of Av La Marina/Calle Ocampo, is for speedboats to the tri-border (with Colombia and Brazil). These depart between 5am and 6am daily. You’ll need to purchase your ticket in advance. Speedboat offices are bunched together on Raimondi near the Plaza Castilla. Standard fares are S150 to Pevas or Santa Rosa, on the Peruvian side of the border, including meals.
Finally, some tours still depart from the dock right on Malecón Maldonado.
You may be able to book a berth on a Leticia-bound cruise ship if space is available, although this is more likely coming from Leticia to Iquitos (the captain is more likely to take pity on you if you’re stranded in Leticia).
Border Crossing: The Peru–Colombia–Brazil Border Zone
Even in the middle of the Amazon, border officials adhere to formalities and will refuse passage if documents are not in order. With a valid passport and visa or tourist card, border crossing is not a problem. It is highly advisable to check what immigration policies are for your country prior to showing up at the border.
When leaving Peru for Brazil or Colombia, you’ll get an exit stamp at a Peruvian guard post just before the border (boats stop there long enough for this; ask the captain).
The ports at the three-way border are several kilometers apart, connected by public ferries. They are reached by air or boat, but not by road.
At this point, Peru occupies the south side of the river, where currents create a constantly shifting bank. Peru's border town (OK, tiny village) is Santa Rosa, which has Peruvian immigration facilities.
From here, motor canoes reach Leticia, in Colombia, in about 15 minutes. The biggest, nicest border town, Leticia has by far the best hotels and restaurants, and a hospital. You can fly from Leticia to Bogotá on almost-daily commercial flights. Otherwise, infrequent boats go to Puerto Asis on the Río Putumayo; the trip takes up to 12 days. From Puerto Asis, buses go further into Colombia.
The two small ports in Brazil are Tabatinga and Benjamin Constant; both have basic hotels. Tabatinga has an airport with flights to Manaus. Get your official Brazilian entry stamp from the Tabatinga police station if flying on to Manaus. Tabatinga is a continuation of Leticia, and you can walk or take a taxi between the two with no immigration hassles, unless you are planning on traveling further into Brazil or Colombia. Cargo boats leave from Tabatinga downriver, usually stopping in Benjamin Constant for a night, then continuing on to Manaus, a week away. It takes about an hour to reach Benjamin Constant by public ferry. US citizens need a visa to enter Brazil. Make sure you apply in good time − either in the USA or in Lima.
For travelers to Colombia or Brazil, Lonely Planet has guidebooks for both countries.
If you are arriving from Colombia or Brazil, you’ll find boats in Leticia and Tabatinga for Iquitos. You will have to first voyage to Santa Rosa. From here, you should pay US$10 to US$15 for the nigh-on two-day trip on a cargo riverboat. Happily, since the arrival of the Consorcio Fluvial del Amazonas ferry, fast boats upriver have become much more dependable. For a mas rápido (fast boat), prices begin at US$25 and run all the way up to about US$50. Prices are the same for the opposite journey (downriver), too, although downriver from Iquitos to the tri-border is quicker. Upriver or downriver, you may be able to get passage on a cruise ship, but note that this will make stops en route.
Remember that however disorganized things may appear, you can always get meals, money changed, beds and boats simply by asking around.