Hire boats at the Río Madre de Dios ferry dock for local excursions or to take you downriver to destinations like Lago Sandoval, Río Heath and the Bolivian border – see the advice under Tours. It’s difficult to find boats going up the Madre de Dios (against the current) to Manu; Cuzco is currently a better departure point for Manu. Occasionally, people reach Puerto Maldonado by boat from Manu (with the current) or from the Bolivian border (against the current). However, transportation is infrequent unless you are on an arranged Manu excursion that includes this option in its itinerary.
The Tambopata ferry dock is 2km south of the center and reachable by mototaxi. Here, a public boat leaves on Mondays at 8am, chugging upriver to Baltimore. It returns from Baltimore on Friday morning. Passage costs S20 or thereabouts depending on how far you go.
Boats to jungle lodges leave from both docks, depending on the lodge location. When transporting visitors upriver, some Río Tambopata lodges avoid several hours of river travel by taking a road and then a rough track to Alto Tambopata Filadelfia (about 1¾ hours), and continuing by boat from there. This needs to be arranged in advance, however.
Terminal Terrestre is 6km northwest of the center; from there, buses ply the Carr Interocéanica (Transoceanic Hwy) southwest to Cuzco and northeast to Rio Branco, Brazil. Numerous companies leave either during the morning or at night (around 8pm) to Cuzco (S35 to S70, 10 hours). Top tariffs are for fully reclining seats. Other options heading southwest include Juliaca (S35, 12 hours) and Arequipa (S50, 17 hours), both destinations being served by Transportes Julsa. Options from Terminal Terrestre to Río Branco (S100, nine to 10 hours) are more scant and do not depart every day. It’s advisable to buy your ticket as far in advance of travel as possible.
Minibus & Taxi
Trucks, minibuses and colectivos (shared taxis) leave Puerto Maldonado for Laberinto (1½ hours), passing the turnoff to Baltimore at Km 37 on the Cuzco road (from here you can walk three hours to the Río Tambopata where, if you're staying at a Baltimore homestay, boats will pick you up if it's been arranged in advance). Laberinto-bound transport leaves frequently from the corner of Av 28 de Julio and Tacna.
For Iñapari (S25, three hours), near the borders with Brazil and Bolivia, take a minivan departing from the corner of Ica and Lambayeque. Other companies on the same block also advertise this trip.
Border Crossing: Brazil via Puerto Maldonado
A good paved road, part of the Carr Interocéanica, goes from Puerto Maldonado to Iberia and on to Iñapari, 233km from Puerto Maldonado, on the Brazilian border. Along the road are small settlements of people involved in the Brazil nut farming, cattle ranching and logging industries. After about 170km you reach Iberia, which has very basic hotels. The village of Iñapari is another 70km beyond Iberia.
Peruvian border formalities can be carried out in Iñapari. Stores around the main plaza accept and change both Peruvian and Brazilian currency; if leaving Peru, it’s best to get rid of any nuevos soles here. Small denominations of US cash are negotiable, and hotels and buses often quote rates in US dollars. From Iñapari, you can cross over the bridge to Assis Brasil, which has better hotels (starting from around US$15 per room).
US citizens need to get a Brazilian visa beforehand, either in the USA or Lima. It’s 325km (six to seven hours) by paved road from here to the important Brazilian city of Rio Branco, via Brasiléia (100km, two hours).
For more detailed coverage of Brazil, pick up Lonely Planet’s Brazil, from the Lonely Planet online shop (http://shop.lonelyplanet.com).
Border Crossing: Bolivia via Puerto Maldonado
There are three ways of reaching Bolivia from the Puerto Maldonado area.
First and easiest is to go to Brasiléia in Brazil and cross the Río Acre by ferry or bridge to Cobija in Bolivia, where there are hotels, banks, an airstrip with erratically scheduled flights further into Bolivia, and a rough gravel road with several river crossings to the city of Riberalta (seven to 12 hours depending on season).
From Iberia in Peru on the Carr Interocéanica to Iñapari, a road also runs to Cobija, but public transportation mostly uses the Ińapari/Assis Brasil route.
Alternatively, hire a boat at Puerto Maldonado’s Madre de Dios dock to take you to the Peru–Bolivia border at Puerto Pardo. A few minutes from Puerto Pardo by boat is Puerto Heath, a military camp on the Bolivian side. The trip takes half a day and can cost up to US$100 (but is negotiable) − the boat will carry several people. With time and luck, you may also be able to find a cargo boat that’s going there anyway and will take passengers much more cheaply.
It’s possible to continue down the river on the Bolivian side, but this can take days (even weeks) to arrange and isn’t cheap. Travel in a group to share costs, and avoid the dry months of July to September, when the river is too low. From Puerto Heath, continue down the Río Madre de Dios as far as Riberalta (at the confluence of the Madre de Dios and Beni, far into northern Bolivia), where road and air connections can be made: a classic (if tough) Amazon adventure the like of which no road trip can compete with. Basic food and shelter (bring a hammock) can be found en route. When river levels allow, a cargo and passenger boat runs from Puerto Maldonado to Riberalta and back about twice a month, but this trip is rarely done by foreigners.
If you've had your fill of river transport by Puerto Heath, you can switch to a dirt road which runs to Chivé (1½ hours by bus), where there are very basic accommodations and from where minivans depart each morning around 8am to Cobija (six hours).
Always get your Peruvian exit stamp in Puerto Maldonado. Bolivian entry stamps can be obtained in Puerto Heath or Cobija. Visas are not available, however, so get one ahead of time in Lima or your home country if you need it. US citizens need to pay US$135 in cash for a visa to enter Bolivia (US$160 if purchased in the US).
Formalities are generally slow and relaxed.
For more detailed coverage of Bolivia, pick up Lonely Planet’s Bolivia from the Lonely Planet online shop (http://shop.lonelyplanet.com).