Starting points for trips upriver (Asuncion for the Cacique II and Concepcion for the Aquidaban) are the only fixed departure times for either boat. Arrival and departure times from there on out are subject to conditions on the river and the time spent loading and unloading merchandise in each port.
Basic meals are available at a cheap price from the boat’s kitchen (put in an order ahead of time), but be aware that river water is used to wash dishes and prepare meals. If you are concerned about hygiene you can bring your own food or purchase cookies, crackers, and produce available from the boat’s many vendors. Due to the amount of food on board, bugs are common even in cabins. Boats have a communal sink near the bathrooms that is used by passengers for hand washing and by vendors for washing dishes. Some bathrooms have toilet bowls and others just ceramic latrine style drains. Interestingly, the bathrooms can be on the cleaner side of the Paraguay public bathroom spectrum thanks to hoses and/or shower heads that can be used to wash away anything icky. Everything is washed into the river, but water for the sink and bathrooms is also pumped from the river. Unless you are up to drinking river water it is best to bring water purification tablets or lots of bottled water along. If you have to use water from the sink for drinking, avoid doing so when the boat is docked.
What to Bring
– Cash – costs for excursions from Vallemi, Bahia Negra, and Fuerte Olimpo are high due to their remote nature and fuel costs, and there are no reliable ATMS past Concepcion.
– Ziplocs or containers for food – to keep critters at bay.
– Sunscreen and a hat – you will not be able to resist going on deck when there is a cool breeze.
– Hammock – if you are not renting a cabin, then bring your own hammock just in case (nylon/parachute hammocks pack down smallest).
– First aid kit.
– Soap, flip flops, toilet paper, towel – for the bathroom
– Cards or games to pass the time. Ones that are easy to share with fellow passengers are the best.
– Twine or rope for jerry rigging cabin doors shut or semi shut (for airflow).
– Warm clothes for cool nights, especially during the winter.
– Sleeping bag or sheets. Beds come with no linens.
– Luggage or pack lock.
– Headlamp or flashlight.
A Floating Market
The majority of Alto Paraguay’s population lives in riverside communities serviced by the boats. The Aquidaban serves as a floating market, and is, in many cases, the only reliable source of produce and commercial goods for communities along the river. Several small scale vendors operate open stalls selling everything from clothing to eggs, bread, and canned foods. Many of the passengers themselves are also vendors shopping their wares from port to port. Mere moments after
docking, the boat will fill with locals making their way up rickety planks to do their shopping and pick up deliveries. Meanwhile, the boat’s crew unloads deliveries for the town’s merchants from the deck and hold – commercial shipments include everything from cooking gas canisters, to packs upon packs of soda bottles and beer cans. Merchants aren’t the only ones who use the boats as delivery services; many of the region’s cattle ranches place orders to have construction materials and other goods delivered either to directly to private docks or to the nearest port. Fishermen from indigenous communities frequently load large plastic barrels full of baitfish to sell to Brazilian tourist fishing boats in towns like Porto Murtinho. While the movement of goods on and off the boat is interesting to watch, unless you want to be woken up every time goods are loaded or unloaded it is best to forgo hammocks and sleeping on deck for a private cabin.
Lancha Aquidaban (Concepcion to Bahia Negra)
Tel: 0331 242 435 Agencia Cohelo (Concepcion office) or 0972 678 695 (Pedro Coelho), located across the street from Concepcion’s docks at the end of Presidente Franco, Mon-Fri 7:30am-12pm, Sat 8am-11am (but is often open earlier when the Aquidaban and Cacique II are docked)
Upriver Schedule: The Aquidaban makes weekly departures from Concepcion Tuesday mornings between 9am and 11am. It arrives in Vallemi on Wednesdays between noon and 6pm and Fuerte Olimpo between noon and 6pm. It docks in Bahia Negra between 6am and 4pm on Fridays.
Downriver schedule: Departs Bahia Negra on Friday afternoon (two to three hours after arrival). Arrives Fuerte Olimpo ten to twelve hours later, usually between 1am and 2am, and arrives in Concepcion Sundays between 11am and midnight.
Cost: The trip from Concepcion to Bahia Negra costs Gs. 100,000.
Accommodations and food: Small cabins with one to two bunk beds are available. Cabin reservations must be made over the phone or in person. These must be reconfirmed in person before 7am the day of departure. A four person cabin runs about Gs. 80,000. Note that there is no guarantee that you’ll have a cabin to yourself. Reservations for cabins on the return trip are made with Pitin, the boat’s cook. There is limited hammock space in the hallways between cabins. Some people stake out a spot on benches along the boat hallways. Food and beverages are available from the boat’s kitchen, but you must put in an order ahead of time as it goes fast. Typical Paraguayan food is served; it is quite tasty but don’t brave it if you haven’t already developed an iron stomach.