Gaiola & Vaticano

Gaiola is a large motor vessel for river transport in the Amazon River. The Gaiola is made from local timber, where the comfort is minimal and passengers sleep in hammocks on deck, which led to the name Gaiola (“cage”). An old text describing the vessel: “The Gaiola is a typical ship of the Amazon, mixed for passengers and cargo. They are seen up and down the rivers always crowded with passengers who set their hammocks in any part, among the cattle, pigs, chicken, and birds!”

Originally they were steamboats. The Gaiola has been one of the most influential political, social, and economic factors in the life of the Amazon region, communicating the cities, villages, settlements and sheds situated on the banks of the rivers. With a single chimney, the Gailoas are generally English-type ships with variable gross tonnage, ranging from 167 to 600 t. There are, however, Gaiolas with wheels on the stern and on the flanks of one and two propellers, which seem to be the same as the Mississipi boats.

It has from 3 to 12 feet of draft and was constructed by the British. On the two decks, the first is the winches, hatches, kitchen, ranch, officers’ cabins, engine room, and in the second the cabins, the keel, the rudder, the canopy, the bar, the pantry, the hygienic facilities, the smokebox, the tables of meal, being of two and four bunk beds the capacity of each cabin. They may have a capacity for 300 passengers.


The Vaticanos was a more sumptuous, designed and built in the Netherlands, propelled by two propellers, with two parallel chimneys, the Vaticanos were 900 to 1000 tons, thus bigger in relation to the Gaiolas and with a draft that enabled them to be used only on the Amazon River. They seemed to be floating palaces at night with cabins and a hall for music. In the upper part of the Vaticano is the bridge and the officers’ cabins. In the lower deck, the cargo and third-class passengers travel with no cabins but using hammocks.

Currently the same name Vaticano is used for the barges also called “Chatões”.

Text addapted and photo credit to Terra Brasileira