The Yavari is a ship commissioned (along with her sister ship Yapura) by the Perúvian government in 1861 for use on Lake Titicaca. She is named after the Javary River in the Loreto Region of Perú. The ships were designed as combined cargo, passenger and gunboats for the Perúvian Navy.
Built in England, the ships were built in "knock down" form; that is, they were assembled with bolts and nuts at the shipyard, dismantled into thousands of parts small enough to transport, and shipped to their final destination to be assembled with rivets and launched on the lake. The kits for the two ships consisted of a total 2,766 pieces between them. Each piece was no more than what a mule could carry, because the railway from the Pacific Ocean port of Arica went only 40 miles (64 km), as far as Tacna. From there pack mules had to carry them the remaining 220 miles (350 km) to Puno and the lake. Yavari was launched in 1870 and Yapura in 1873.
Originally, Yavari was 100 feet (30 m) long and had a 60 horsepower (45 kW) two-cylinder steam engine, which was fuelled with dried llama dung. In 1914, Yavari's hull was extended to increase her cargo capacity. At the same time she was re-engined as a motor vessel with a Bolinder four-cylinder 320 bhp (240 kW) hot bulb engine.