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Saturday, January 2, 2016

Iquitos, Peru - Gateway to the Amazon

 One way to see Peru is to visit the 3 areas - Coastal, Andes, and Amazon -- and Iquitos is the best way to see the Amazon.

The Amazonian City of Iquitos is a beautiful and exotic city in the Amazonas region of Peru. Now known as
"The Gateway to the Amazon", more than 150 years ago this city was merely a native village that sat on a mud bank. Iquitos is the capital of the vast Department of Loreto, which covers most of the northern Amazon region of Peru.

For travelers, Iquitos offers a vast selection of activities not found elsewhere in Peru, such as Amazon boat rides and great wildlife viewing.

Jungle trips are the main reason many tourists visit Iquitos as it serves as a launch point for trips into the Amazon. Single day or multi-day trips can be booked for around S/.130 Nuevos Soles per person per day ($45 USD). You are taken out on a boat and can view wildlife such as monkeys, alligators, giant lily-pads, baby caimans (sort of like mini-alligators), anacondas, boas, tarantulas, and more.

While a lot of visitors go to Iquitos just to head straight off to a jungle lodge and then leave on their return from the jungle, Iquitos has a lot to offer and it's always recommended that visitors allow at least two days before or after their jungle excursion to explore this charming city.

Iquitos is widely considered the largest continental city unreachable by road. Surrounded by rivers and jungle and with no road connection to the outside world, Iquitos has acquired a unique culture that has come from years of isolation. That leaves planes and boats as the primary means of entrance and egress for both people and supplies.

Do not expect to see a city with all the trappings of the western world. This city is very basic as it has no road connection with the rest of the world. Vehicles are old and most vehicles on the meager roads are "motor taxis" or three wheeler motorbikes which can carry three at a pinch. The people are friendly once you get past the taxi drivers at the airport

Iquitos is hot and humid (90 percent) all year round. The population is very diverse. 'Iquiteños' (or 'Iquitinos') are usually very friendly and like to party.

If you want to party, there are dance clubs all over the city. Iquitos offers all-year round nightlife like few other South American destinations, with a huge range of dance clubs and bars. All Iquiteños love to party in their own way. Beer and other cold beverages are cheaper than in Lima (subsidized by the government). Often times clubs will not let men in if they are wearing sandals or unbuttoned shirts.

Visitors to Iquitos should choose their activities, shopping and jungle trips carefully to avoid contributing to further destruction of this fragile region.

Getting There

Arriving By Air

There are numerous flights to Iquitos from the capital Lima. LAN flies 4 to 5 times per day; Peruvian Airlines flies twice daily and offers flights without penalties and other facilities. Be aware that the stopover in Tarapoto often causes delays up to several hours. Avianca has also started service to Iquitos.

When arriving at the airport, consider stopping at the official iPeru, Tourist Information and Assistance Office of the Peruvian Tourist Board (PromPerú) before exiting the terminal. You can get a free map and brochure, a list of tour providers, recommendations about what to see and do and safety recommendations.

By boat

Iquitos can be reached by boat from any navigable port on the Amazon River. Boat prices will depend on the distance, speed of the boat, number of passengers, and your bargaining skills

Getting Around

The most common way to move around town is by motocarro, a motorcycle with a small, rickshaw-like passenger cabin in the back. Taxis are available too, but the heat and availability of the moto-taxis makes it advisable to take a motocarro.

Things to do

Monkey Island

Monkey Island
About a two hour ride down the Amazon by fast boat lies Monkey Island. Here they have a variety of different monkey species (some endangered) that roam freely and feed off a variety of fruits such as starfruit, banana, pineapple, cocona and guava, these were especially planted to ensure the monkey’s staple diet is maintained. As soon as visitors arrive at the island the monkeys swarm towards them so it’s always best to take some bananas with you so as not to disappoint them. You can go for a walk through the rainforest and the monkeys will follow you, one even leading you by the hand. There is no charge for visiting Monkey Island but visitors are expected to make a voluntary contribution for the upkeep of the sanctuary.

Waterfront Cruise

You can take a cruise along the Iquitos waterfront very easily by renting a wooden palm roofed boat called a "peque peque".  They will take you to the floating village of Belen and during high water you can cruise through the flooded streets. Then back along the entire waterfront taking in the naval port with its old warships and onto Masusa the main port of Iquitos and then the confluence of the Itaya and Amazon rivers before dropping you off back at the Boulevard.

Belen Market

Located 11 blocks from the Plaza de Armas up Prospero Street on the embankment in Iquitos lies the sprawling Belen Market. This floating market covers many blocks and sells everything you can think of and it is open from about 5.00 am every single morning throughout the year. Over 150 native communities from upriver come down here to sell their produce in the Market. Belen is the hub of every village within miles, chaotic, flavorful, practical and superstitious, thriving on and above a strip of land that is seasonally flooded. For a series of photo-essays on Belen, check out The Belen Street Market, Pasaje Paquito (if you want to buy exotic drinks this is the place), and Floating in Belen. If you want to buy crafts, you can go to the San Juan crafts market. Visiting Belen Market is a very interesting way to spend an hour or two. Never go after dark. Best time is early in the morning. And leave your valuables at home.

Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm and Amazon Animal Orphanage

If you do have half a day to spare  it is worthwhile going there. At Pilpintuwasi you can see the complete life cycle and learn about the impressing development of butterflies. At the Amazon Animal Orphange you'll see the rescued endangered animals that were ill-treated, such as anteaters, monkeys, tapirs and others. Watch out for the monkeys, they are very proficient thieves and will steal anything they can get their hands on. Best to take a bunch of bananas and bribe them to leave you alone. Pilpintuwasi is on the Nanay River Front near the village of Padre Cocha. It's about 20min by boat from Bellavista-Nanay. There are boats all day long. During the dry season you have to walk about 15 mins from the village.

 Amazon Rescue Center

Located about 30 minutes from Iquitos, the rescue center is a fantastic opportunity to learn about endangered aquatic wildlife in the Amazon region. The center is focused on educating regional youth and others on the harm and impact of killing and selling manatee and other wildlife such as turtles and otter. This is a must do trip if you have extra time in Iquitos

Pink Dolphin Watching

There are lots of places to see these beautiful creatures but the closest and best place is at the confluence of the Amazon and Nanay rivers at Bella Vista Nanay. At Bella Vista Nanay hire a boat for an hour or two  and float down the amazon watching pink dolphins swim around you.

 The Waterfront at Night

Known as "The Boulevard", this pedestrian promenade overlooking the river is the place to hang out in the evenings. Things normally get going around 7.00 pm and usually goes on until 11.00 pm. Drink a cold beer outside one of the many bars and restaurants facing the boulevard, listen to great music, enjoy a meal or just watch the street entertainers.

Jungle tours and ecolodges

There are many lodges and resorts which are carefully controlled. The facilities are adequate, with some being very well appointed. You can book in the city or pay for a full package in Lima, through a travel agent, or online directly with the company. Many legitimate companies are registered in iPerú, Tourist Information and Assistance (by PromPerú, the Peruvian Tourism Board), but be aware that businesses must pay to be listed in iPeru, thus listings are not comprehensive.

Be aware of "guides" who solicit on the street. They offer their work for a very cheap fee but they do not have any guarantee. They are not official guides in Iquitos. They will show you an ID of the company they "work" for to gain your confidence. Most of them are scammers, do not trust them for your own safety and well-being!


The Yagua and Bora Indigenous Villages.

The Boras and the Yagua Natives live on the Momon River near the village of San Andres. Each community wears their own traditional clothing. They will dance and sing for you and then invite you to dance with them before showing you their handicrafts which they hope you will buy. They use the money as their source of income which they also use to buy medicines for the children. To get to the Yaguas and Boras simply get a motocarro to the port of Bella Vista Nanay and from there rent an aluminium speedboat for an hour or two to take you for the 20 minute ride to San Andres.


 Options range from backpacker hostels to more upscale hotels, but do not expect the same standards of luxury from Iquitos as elsewhere in the world or even in Peru. Reasonable private rooms can be found for as little as 25 USD per night.

Find Affordable Hotels in Iquitos
Affordable Hotels in Iquitos (Visitors from the UK)

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