Iquitos city - once the richest per-capita city on the planet -- what to see and do!
Iquitos, Perú is unique - no question about that. A city of 1/2 million people, yet accessible only by boat or by air. Noisy, colorful, friendly. A mixture of gorgeous rubber-era mansions and business, modern glass and concrete, and floating shanty-towns. Good restaurants, packed marketplaces that assault the senses, and a very active night-scene. Our expeditions begin and end here and there are many opportunities to meet fellow travelers. MT Amazon can provide local logistics and hotel reservations (as needed) as well as onward travel planning for Cusco, Machu Picchu and other destinations in Perú.
There are a dozen (+/-) flights daily to Iquitos (IQT) from Lima (LIM), Perú, which is served by many international airlines, including most major North American and European carriers. MT Amazon can provide guidance for getting the best flights, as some Perú domestic airlines are not connected to all flight search engines (Cheaptickets, Orbitz, Kayak, etc.). When you arrive in Iquitos, our local travel coordinator or tour leader will meet your flight and bring you to your hotel or to the port, depending on your itinerary.
A Brief History of Iquitos
The capital city of the Maynas Province and Loreto Region of the Peruvian Amazon is unique: the most inland city in the world with access to the sea (3600 km from the Atlantic) and the largest city (population of half-million) unreachable by road. Until quite recently, the Amazon’s banks touched the city; now a new channel has been cut and the Itaya River has spilled into the floodplain. The road network starts at Bella Vista on the Nanay River, through Iquitos, toward the airport, where a two-lane highway continues about 90 kilometers to the hamlet of Nauta on the Itaya River.
Various indigenous tribes inhabited the region before Jesuit missionaries began relocating groups to found the city in the 1750’s. The export of rubber (caucho) led to an economic boom, fostering an infrastructure including electricity, a railroad, social clubs and mansions that still exist along the Malecón (riverside boulevard) adorned with Portuguese porcelain tiles from the late 19th Century. The rubber boom crashed about thirty years later.
During WWII, the Allies built the first airport and hospital with the intent to have a ready source of rubber if needed to impede the entry of Axis forces into the New World. The modern cultural tapestry is striking: at Christmastime, a crèche in the main square may bear the baby Jesus surrounded by the Magi as well as caiman, monkeys and sloths.
The center of the city consists of the Plaza de Armas, with the church of San Juan Bautista and the Casa de Fierro (Iron House), an original work of Gustav Eiffel, better known for his work in Paris, the Malecón (the Boulevard along the river front), the main shopping street of Próspero, leading to the Belén Market and to the square at 28th de Julio. Nearly all of the accommodations and good restaurants are centrally located within a short walking distance.
Margarita Tours works with more than a dozen hotels, all of which are centrally located, offer breakfast, and have fan or AC and WiFi. The specific hotel information is provided in advance.
In and about the city
Stores have a good supply of toiletries, bottled drinks, snack foods and basic supplies, so no worries if you don’t want to overload the luggage. Rubber boots and other last-minute items of various quality can be picked up cheaply.
Restaurants: there are many fine restaurants to suit any palate. Typically, each expedition begins and ends with a dinner at a local restaurant. These (and many others) can be recommended:
El Meson: on the Malecón, the best for fish and local specialties
Dawn on the Amazon: far corner of the Malecón, excellent, wide variety of tastes including vegetarian fare
Amazon Bistro: two blocks from Plaza de Armas on the Malecón, French / Belgian / European café with good food
Ari’s (formerly Ari’s Burger): a hangout for both gringos and locals on the Plaza de Armas. Good prices.
Long Fung: on Plaza 28. Julio (5 minutes walk) – outstanding fusion Peruvian / Chinese food. Has A/C.
There are many others - ask your group leader.
Things to do in town
First, enjoy a smoothie or beer on the Boulevard at one of the many outdoor cafés.
A visit to the Belén Market is essential. Not recommended to explore for the first time without a guide, the experience is an assault on the senses and sensibilities: raw bushmeat, butchers’ tables, medicinal plants, crude food stalls, grungy tobacco, unique fruits; it’s possible to find everything there.
Museums: there are two on the Malecón heading upriver past the old rubber baron social halls. The newer Museum of Indigenous Cultures has beautiful artifacts from dozens of tribes; an admission fee of about $8 USD is charged.
Nearly next door is the Museo Amazónico – not to be confused with the other – it is free and has an extraordinary collection of two dozen or so castings of actual indigenous people, as well as pictures of the city in its heyday, all trimmed in mahogany woodwork.
With a guide, you can also hire a canoe to photograph the floating houses.
Short trips from the city
Quistacocha is a small oxbow lake at km 6 on the Nauta Highway, just past the airport. If you have a couple of hours, it’s a good place to relax and visit the zoo of animals native to the area. Although it doesn’t meet high standards of developed countries, conditions for the animals have improved significantly in the last ten years. It’s a good place to photograph tapirs, capybaras, monkeys, birds and other animals that you won’t see on a short trip to the forest. There is a medicinal plant trail, places to sample the local food and have a soft drink or beer and take a dip in the lake.
You can feed the animals at the Amazonian Manatee Orphanage, run by an NGO and supported by IIAP (Institute for Investigation of the Peruvian, and the Dallas World Aquarium) at km 4.6 on the way to Quistacocha.
Pilpintuasi – the butterfly farm is the life work of Gudrun Sperer, who studied butterflies in the Amazon for many years before establishing a home for them, which expanded into a menagerie including pygmy marmosets, sloths, several species of monkeys and various other critters.
Monkey Island is also dedicated to the humane care of animals. About 40 minutes downriver, it is convenient to stop on the way when visiting the Santa Cruz or Madre Selva field sites.
Barrio Florido – a nice little stop on the way to Monkey Island, you can feed the piranhas, paiche (arapaimas), and caiman.
There is much more to do if you have an extended stay; pick up the free The Amazon River Monthly newspaper on the Malecón (Boulevard).