Traveling from Puerto Maldonado to Rio Branco
Flying internationally into Brazil can be costly, so after having a look at our unofficial itinerary and realizing that we would need to get from central Peru to Southern Brazil in only a couple of weeks we needed to devise a (cheaper) plan. Whilst catching 3 – 4 buses across the country was an option, it was a pretty ugly one and should we have priced it out, wouldn’t have been any more economical as buses in Brazil can still prove expensive.
…..And so the plan was born, to get as close as we could to the Brazilian border to hop over and then catch a domestic flight, and Rio Branco was our best bet, being 350km from the Peruvian border and 580km from Puerto Maldonado, a popular destination to begin tours into the Amazon.
We made our way to Puerto Maldonado from Cusco with Movil Tours (our final overnight bus) and to make things easier Movil Tours also do the Puerto Maldonado to Rio Branco leg, but this will cost you a hefty 120Soles ($45AUD) for the 12 hour journey and the bus only departs Tuesdays and Fridays. Not only did the days not suit us (the timing is annoying too, departing at midday and getting you to Rio Branco at midnight) we also felt that we could do it cheaper and wanted to be a bit more brazen and go it alone.
We asked our Amazon tour guide for any ideas and after talking to one of the taxi drivers that the company seem to frequently use, he told us it would cost 30Soles for the three hour trip to the border, where after getting stamped out of Peru we could then catch a Brazilian taxi for $70BR ($30AU) to take us all the way to our hotel in Rio Branco. Sounded lovely, easy and cheap! Wishful thinking, this was not what the end result was, far from it and this is how our 18 hour journey unfolded ….
We awoke at 5:30am and our personal taxi driver was there by the agreed 6am. We had made it 10 minutes down the road until Rob realized he had left his phone behind so we returned to the hostel. Take two, off we took towards the Brazilian border and 15 minutes later we pulled into a gas station, we understood from our small amount of Spanish the driver wanted us to pay, assuming to cover the cost of the petrol and so we prepared our previously agreed upon 30Soles. However the driver then started telling us 30Soles wasn’t what he was after, the trip would actually cost us 300Soles($115AUD), even though we had confirmed over and over that the trip was only going to cost us 30Soles, even when he had arrived at the hostel only half an hour prior, Rob had confirmed again with him. No way were we paying that much for the three hour journey and after telling him no he offered to take us to a collectivo agency, where here we could catch a ride in a minivan with the local people for 30Soles, which we would have been happy to do in the first place had we had none from the get go this was the cheapest option.
So we are sitting at the office with our bags on the roof of the minivan, waiting for another seven people to arrive to fill it up before we can set off, after 45 minutes Rob decided to walk around the corner and spotted a couple more companies that looked a little more lively. We grabbed our stuff off the roof and made our way there instead, after another half an hour we filled up the minivan and finally set off, only two and a half hours behind schedule. Most of the other people hopped off along the way and by the time we got to the Peruvian border we were the only ones left and the driver stopped and let us out with all our gear. We got stamped out of the country and when we asked the woman at the office she told us we could walk to the Brazilian border but it was 2km (and very hot!), we also had taxi drivers flapping about offering us the trip to Rio Branco for $90BR ($45AU) each, no deal! So we grabbed a tuktuk and asked him to take us to the border instead, as he waited for us the process took another 20 minutes and we still weren’t entirely sure what to do next, Rio Branco was another 350km away and it didn’t seem like there were any buses or minivans taking people anywhere from this point. So after a bit of guess work and attempting to speak Portuguese/Spanish to the tuktuk driver we worked out we needed to go back over the border (but still within Brazil??!) and 10 minutes up the road to the town of Assis where we could get a bus. The driver kept telling us something about three, we thought he was telling us the bus would cost us $3 and so he pointed out where it would stop, we hoped out and he was on his way.
The locals were pretty shocked to see us standing on the side of the road at this unmarked bus stop, one even asked to take a photo of us after repeatedly asking us if we were in fact gringo’s. We also managed to uncover that the bus was actually arriving at 3pm and it was now 2pm so we quickly had time to have lunch before coming back to the ‘bus stop’. We gobbled down some food and then made our way to the bus stop again, and waited – no bus, then some locals told us the bus was actually arriving at 3.30pm, and so we waited. It never came, and neither did the 3pm Brazil V Cameroon game, people were still trotting down the road – no one seemed to be glued to the TV’s even though the whole street was dressed up in preparation – what was going on?! I then asked another local what had happened to the bus and he told me 3.30pm, I told him yes it is 3.30pm and he told me no it is currently 2.30pm. It turned out that even though our iPhones/iPads adjusted to the one hour time difference once we crossed the border, this was in fact a bug with Apple and this state of Brazil does not incur a time difference after all.
So we had a little more waiting on our hands and settled in with a bunch of locals to watch the kick off of the game, and at 3.30pm as promised the bus arrived to take us on its merry way. The trip cost us $28BR ($14AU) each and ended up taking around seven and a half hours as it stopped continuously to let people on/off and the roads were not all that great either, the AC was also turned off the last hour of the trip too and it was excruciatingly hot! We were also pretty lucky we had made what we thought originally was a mistake by going to the border office before making our way to Assis, as the bus driver wouldn’t let us on the bus without showing our Brazilian entry stamps as the bus will not stop here and wait if we had not already been.
What a trip, and after arriving at the bus station in Rio Branco we then had to get a 15 minute taxi to our hotel as the station is quite far out from the main part of the city. We finally made it to our hotel in Rio Branco, where we had intended on arriving 9 hours prior BUT with more money in our pocket as the journey ended up costing us about $52AU for the both of us instead of $90AU that the perfectly straight forward tourist bus would have set us back.
- You can find the collectivo’s that do the Puerto Maldonado to Peru border (Iñapari) trip on Ica, between Piura and Lambayeque, there are two companies opposite each other that seem to work together to fill up their minivans before they are sent on their way. 30Soles for this trip, which was pretty comfortable and straight forward.
- When you reach the Peruvian border, hop off and take all your luggage with you. You’ll need to make your way into the immigration office to get your passport stamped and then once this is done grab a tuktuk for the 2km up the road to the Brazilian border and ask the driver to wait while you get your stamp here.
- Make your way to Assis which is back over the border again (oddly enough) and it is here you can get the 3.30pm bus to Rio Branco from the main road as you drive in on your left, (corner of R. Eneide Maria Batista and R. Raimundo Chaar) do ask the locals as they all know about it. The trip will cost $28BR and although you will get two tickets in return you do not need to change buses.
- To ensure you make the daily 3.30pm bus I would say make your way to the collectivo agency by about 7.30am to be safe. Following the same route we did you will make it to Assis with plenty of time up your sleeve for lunch before you hop on the bus. We ate at a churrascaria, Restaurante Barriga Cheia for $13BR which was opposite the bus stop, it is buffet style so make sure you fill up as you have a long trip ahead of you.
- Make sure to visit immigration before making your way to Assis to catch the 3.30pm bus as you will not be allowed on without your stamp.
- Spend as little time as possible in both Rio Branco and Puerto Maldonado – neither town offer very much to the typical tourist, trust me.