Crossing the Amazon with a Motorbike (from Belem to Manaus)

Crossing Amazon was not easy. In planning my route through South America I did not give it much thought. The roads seemed to be on both sides of the river, so for sure a ferry would cross in matter of minutes or at worst few hours. I was wrong.

Amazon boat on which we spent about 6 days
Amazon boat on which we spent about 6 days

My original plan was too cross Amazon from Belem,arrive to Macapa on the opposite side of the river and take the road from there towards French Guiana then continue via Surinam and Guyana, cross back to Brazil and continue up to Venezuela. When checking this on Google Maps it did not seem like a big deal.

Soon two problems emerged. First crossing Amazon would take at least a day or two and second the road to French Guiana was almost impassable for most of they year. I checked some pictures and videos and saw that this road had up to half a meter of mud in some places. Ridding a bike through it would really be tough and with my little Honda maybe impossible.

Crossing the river from Brazil’s Oiapoque to French Guinea will be easy once the bridge is build, but its completion was still few months away. I was not sure if anyone will take my bike across the river for a reasonable price.

The coastal highway across the three countries I had to cross seemed decent but from Georgetown in Guyana the road was not good and this time of the year maybe passable with a lot of problems.

Bike waits to be loaded
Bike waits to be loaded

Beside the uncertain road I also found out I would need visa for entering Surinam and Guyana each costing over 40 dollars. I could get these in French Guiana’s capital Cayenne, but it would take days and while waiting I would be spending quite a bit of Euros.

Also it was unclear what paperwork I would need to do for crossing bike across these borders. It seemed like a big adventure, maybe too big for me and the bike at the moment. I was going to decide in Belem when I see what it would cost to cross Amazon this way.

In the mean time I checked if maybe taking a boat from Belem to Manaus would be less complicated. From Manaus there was a decent road to Boa Vista and from there to Venezuela’s border. Many travelers take the boat and live on it in a hammock for number of days. After my ride from Colombia to Peru on Amazon in a speed boat I was certain I would not enjoy that many days on a slow boat. I decided to check this option just in case.

Taking bike from Belem to Manaus has been done many times before and so I only needed to get to Belem to see what prices they were charging these days and compare them with overall cost of my planned route.

I asked for the prices in the port, on the street and in a few travel agencies. It turns out taking me and the bike to either Manaus (thousands kilometers away) or Macapa just across the river would cost almost the same. It did not take me long to see that going to Manaus will be much easier and cheaper overall. It was Monday and next boat in that direction was leaving on Tuesday.

Not that much privacy on the boat
Not that much privacy on the boat

In my hostel I found out that the boat for Manaus leaves from Port Marques Pinto, so on Tuesday morning I headed there to make sure a middle man was not ripping me off. After a bit of searching I found the boat that was being loaded and went to talk to the captain. We agreed on the price of 150 reales for me and 150 for the bike. While on the boat I quickly made friends with some Chileans and put my new hammock next to theirs. I asked them to watch for the bike in case they were going to drop it into the river and headed back to my hostel for the rest of my stuff. The boat was leaving at 5pm, so I enjoyed the day by walking around Belem. I wanted to limit the time on the boat to an absolute minimum.

I got to the boat a 3pm and it was already pretty full. My hammock was squeezed between two others and my Chilean friends said there was nothing they could do to prevent this. Next to me a baby started crying and vomiting all over the place. They went to go to see a doctor. It was time for our boat to leave and I figured we were waiting for the mom with a baby to come back. I seriously doubted any doctor will let a baby that sick travel on this sort of ship but the mom with her sleeping baby came back and we headed out of the port Belem at about 7pm. Five days later we should be arriving to Manaus.

Stopping for a few hours in Santerem - About half-way to Manaus
Stopping for a few hours in Santerem - About half-way to Manaus

The days on the boat were not as bad and as slow as I feared. I was comfortable in my hammock and started reading my first book in Portuguese. We formed a big Chilean group: Claudio and Cristian are from Chiloe and travel around South America in a WV Kombi. There is a family from Santiago who travel around the continent for a year with their adopted daughter. And a couple of future doctors from Concepcion who are backpacking around South America before they will dedicate their life to medicine. Me and my Chilean bike fit perfectly into this group.

The food on the boat was pretty decent and it got even better when Claudio cooked for us. The bathrooms that are supposed to be horrible are actually ok – that is if you accept that a toilet and the shower are in the same rusted little space.

After three days we make a half day stop in Santender and I realize that I am enjoying the ride and more than anything I am extremely enjoying the company of all the Chileans. I don’t care that the boat will take a day longer to arrive to Manaus.

I am sad to leave my new friends when we arrive on Monday, but I know that Claudio and Cristian will catch up with me once their WV Kombi either in Venezuela or in Colombia.

The "special" place where my bike stayed during our journey
The "special" place where my bike stayed during our journey

On the way out of port I am asked to pay disembarking fee of 20 reales that I thought was bunch of crap. In a split second I decided that two security guys were not gonna hold me for ransom. I started the bike and to the horror of the security pulled away without paying. I was back on the road again. The sign above the highway showed that Caracas was only 2250 km away.

3 easy steps to follow to get a bike and yourself from Belem to Manaus:

  1. Check what prices a person is getting charged for the trip between Belem and Manus. Do this at your hostel, a travel agency and in main port in Belem.
  2. The bike price is not set and so every agent has to verify with the captain. Prices can vary quite a bit, so get a few quotes.
  3. On the day of the departure go to the port from which the boat is leaving and negotiate the best price with the captain and load your bike on the boat right there. (or get the bike on the floating platform which follows the tide – they might want to load your bike last).
Finally, road toward Venezuela!
Finally, road toward Venezuela!

Tip: Loading will typically be much easier at high tide, so check when that is to be there at that time. Loading at low tide can cost you extra since it gets more complicated to lower the bike.

Note: Check that nothing is above the bike – the tide might still be rising and you don’t want your bike get crushed.

The ports from which the boats were leaving in 2011:
Tuesday: Port Marques Pinto
Wednesday: Port Rodrigues Alves or Port Tamandare
Friday: Port gate 09-10 (I think this is the main port downtown)

Base prices given by agents in 2011 (bike portion can be negotiated down):

Macapa (the other shore of Amazon river):
Moto:150 BRL
Person: 100 BRL

Santender (about half way to Manaus)
Moto: 200 BRL
Person: 100 BRL

Moto: 280 BRL (directly with captain 150 BRL for my small 125 ccm Honda)
Person: 150 BRL

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