Gateway to the Amazon jungle and home to an array of attractions as colorful as the city’s history and its people. Iquitos is an amazing city — and not just because it’s only accessible by boat or by plane, but its awesome diversity.
Once you arrive, take a riverboat to your preferred jungle lodge or continue on to Nauta to begin your Amazon river cruise. Check out our destination guide below for essential info, travel tips, and top attractions on an Iquitos jungle tour. A grand jewel in the heart of the Peruvian jungle.
There’s always plenty to do and see in the jungle city of Iquitos. Explore the charming floating market at Belen. Sail to Isla de Los Monos to have fun with crazy monkeys.
Outside of the city, Iquitos provides access to top-notch jungle lodges located up and down the river. It’s also the point of departure for many cruise ships headed for the Amazon headwaters.
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Though founded in 1757 under the name of San Pablo de Los Nepeanos, the present center of Iquitos was established in 1864. By the end of the nineteenth century, Iquitos was, along with Manaus in Brazil, one of the great rubber towns. From that era of grandeur, a number of structures survive, but during the last century, the town veered between prosperity (as far back as 1938, when the area was explored for oil) and the depths of economic depression. However, its strategic position on the Amazon, which makes it accessible to large ocean-going ships from the distant Atlantic, has ensured its continued importance. At present, still buoyed by the export of timber, petroleum, tobacco, and Brazil nuts, and dabbling heavily in the trade of wild animals, tropical fish, and birds, as well as an insecticide called barbasco, long used by natives as a fish poison. Happily, nowadays, Iquitos is in a period of quite wealthy expansion.
The central Plaza de Armas is still weirdly dominated by the towering presence of an abandoned and dilapidated high-rise hotel, built during the boom of the early 1980s, before the economy slumped and terrorism temporarily slowed tourism in the regions. These days, it has little function other than as a foundation for antennas. The plaza's modern fountain attracts strolling townsfolk when illuminated at night, though its sound is generally drowned out by the moto-taxis and cars whizzing around the square.
On the southwest side of the plaza, the Iglesia Matriz (daily 7 am-5 pm), the main Catholic church, houses paintings by the Loretano (Loreto is the capital department of Iquitos) artists Américo Pinasco and César Calvo de Araujo, depicting biblical scenes.
The Museo Municipal, by the tourist office on the plaza, has an interesting, albeit a little half-baked, collection of exhibits featuring language drums, stuffed animals, information on tree and plant products from the forest, a large dissected Paiche fish, and some animal skulls.
On the southeast corner of the plaza, you'll find the majestic Casa de Fierro (Iron House), which was restored just a few years ago and is bard to miss with its silvery sides glinting in the afternoon sunshine. Designed by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 Paris exhibition and later shipped in pieces to Iquitos and reconstructed here in the 1890s by one of the local robber barons, these days it's home to a high-quality restaurant located in the upper store.
One block southeast of Plaza de Armas is the two best sections of the old riverfront, El Boulevard, and Malecón Tarapacá, both of which have been recently restored to some of their former glory. The Boulevard is the busiest of the two areas, especially at night, full of bars and restaurants and with a small amphitheater with live entertainment most nights, from little circuses to mime, comedy, and music. The Malecón Tarapacá boasts some fine old mansions, one of which, at no. 262, with lovely nineteenth-century Azulejo (tile) work, is now one of the town's better bakeries. On the comer witch, Putumayo stands the military-occupied building (no photos allowed) that was once the "Art Nouveau Hotel Palace", no longer open to the public but one of the city’s historical icons.
The municipal museum, Museo Amazónico, is devoted to the region's natural history and tribal cultures, Its collection includes some unusual life-sized human figures in traditional dress from different Amazon tribes; each fiberglass sculpture was made from a cast that encapsulated the live subject for an hour or so. Also on display are some oil paintings, a few stuffed animals, and a small military museum.
The quaint, one-story Casa Cohen is still a working shop, built in 1905 and beautifully adorned with iron-work, colorful Azulejos (tiles), and pilasters (mural-covered pillars) - all reflecting the past days of rubber-boom commerce and glory.
The Casa Kahn (Sargento Lores Avenue) is a particularly fine example of the Portuguese tile decoration that adorns many of the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century buildings, some of which are brilliantly extravagant in their Moorish inspiration.
Once home to the legendary Rubber baron of the same name, sadly the Casa Fitzcarrald is not open to the public. It was built of adobe and Quincha (cane or bamboo plastered with mud) and has a central patio with arches, plus ceilings of roughly sawn wood. It is located on Napo street 200-212.
In the Punchana sector of Iquitos, the Galería de Arte Amazónica exhibits the work of the Peruvian painter Francisco Grippa, as well as that of other national and local artists. Grippa, who lives and works mainly in Pevas, arrived in the Amazon in the late 1970s after being educated in Europe and the US, and his work, described variously as figurative and expressionist, displays an obsession with light and color, focusing on subjects such as Shipibo Indians, jungle birds, and rainforest landscapes. It is located on Trujillo street 438. Call for a visit to ©065 253120 • Free.
There's more art to be found at Galería Amauta, where there are exhibitions of oil paintings, caricatures, and photographs, mostly by local artists including Francisco Grippa, whose work is large, colorful, and almost abstract. It is located on Nauta Street 248. Open from Monday to Saturday from 10 am - 6 pm. Admission free.
The most memorable pan of town - best visited around 7 am when it's most active - Puerto Belen looms out of the main town at a point where the Amazon, until recently, joined the Río Itaya inlet. Consistent almost entirely of wooden huts raised on stilts and, until a few years ago, also floating on rafts, the district has earned fame among travelers as the "Venice of the Peruvian Jungle". Actually farther Eastern than European in appearance, with obvious poverty and little glamour, it has changed little over its hundred or so years, remaining a poor shanty settlement trading in basics like bananas, manioc, fish, turtle, and crocodile meat. While filming Fitzcarraldo here, Werner Herzog merely had to make sure that no motorized canoes appeared on the screen: virtually everything else, including the style of the barriada dwellings, looks exactly the way it did during the nineteenth century.
Ask for directions to Pasaje Paquito, the busy herbalist alley in the heart of this frenetic community, synthesizing the rich flavor of the place. Here you'll find scores of competing stalls selling an enormous variety of natural jungle medicines, as well as some of the town's cheapest artesanía. To 4 o 5 minutes in moto-taxi from Iquitos center. Cost 2 Soles.
If you've come by boat downstream from Yurimaguas (4-5 days) or Pucallpa (4-6 days) or upstream from Leticia or Tabatinga (3 days or 12 hr. depending on the type of boat), you'll arrive at Puerto Masusa, some eleven blocks northeast of the Plaza de Armas. Larger riverboats also go upstream from Puerto Masusa to Lagunas (3 days), or downstream to Pevas (about 1 day). Check with the commercial river transport for a rough idea of departure dates and times. Speedboats go downstream to the three-way frontier. The main boat companies have their offices on Av Raymondi, just a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas: Expreso Loreto, Raymondi 384 (9065 238021); Transtur, Raymondi 328 (065 242367); and Transportes Rápido, Raymondi 346 (065 222147). Brastours, Jr Condamine 384 (065 223232), specialize in boats to Tabatinga, Brazil.
Flights land at Iquitos airport (Aeropuerto Internacional Francisco Secada Vignetta; 6km southwest of town and connected by taxis S/15 and cheaper moto-taxis S/8). Airline offices are mostly central: LAN Perú, Prospero 232 (next to Banco de Crédito; 065 232421), for reasonably priced flights to Requena, Angamos and Santa Rosa. For flights to Brazil, try Brastours, Jr Condamine 384 (65 223232).
Destinations Lima (several dailies; 2 hr); Pucallpa (daily, 2 hr); Tarapoto (1 weekly; 1 hr).
The furthest you can go by road from Iquitos is the town of Nauta, on the Río Maranon, close to the confluence with the Ucayali and Amazon rivers and relatively near to the Reserva Nacional Pacaya-Samiria. Several daily buses from Nauta (4 hr) pull in on the Plaza de Armas and on the corner with Huallaga street.
The massive river system around Iquitos offers some of the best access to Indian villages, lodges, and primary rainforest in the entire Amazon. For those with ample time and money, the Reserva Nacional Pacaya-Samiria is one of the more distant but rewarding places for Eco safari tours; but there are also towns up and down the river, most notably Pevas, which is en route towards Brazil.
If you want to go it alone, Colectivo-boats run up and down the Amazon River more or less daily, and although you won't get deep into the forest without a guide, you can visit some of the larger river settlements on your own.
Hiring a bike can be an intriguing way to explore in and around Iquitos, but it’s quicker to use moto-taxis.
Easily reached by canoe (from Belen - 30min each way) or the main waterfront in Iquitos.
The closest place you can escape to without a guide or long river trip is Padre Isla, an island opposite Iquitos in the midst of the Amazon, over I4km long and with beautiful beaches during the dry season.
Some 4 km northeast of the center of Iquitos, the suburb of Bellavista (15 min by moto-taxi from Plaza de Armas in Iquitos. The transport cost 3-4 Soles), on the Río Nanay, is the main access point for smaller boats to all the rivers. There’s a small market selling jungle products, including local river fish, plus some bars and shops clustered around a port, where you can rent canoes for short trips at around S/15 an hour. Like Iquitos, Bellavista has recently been experiencing its highest and lowest recorded water levies, with all of the associated floodings and drying up. The Bars sit on their stilts high above dried mud during the dry season, and the boats are moored some forty meters further out than they used to be.
From Bellavista, you can set out by canoe ferry for Playa Nanay, the best beach around Iquitos, where bars and cafés are springing up to cater to the weekend crowds. Be aware that currents here are pretty strong, and although there are lifeguards, drownings have occurred.
It is located near the village of Padre Cocha. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9 am - 4 pm. Admission of 15 Soles per adult and 10 Soles for students with ISIC cards. Website: amazonanimalorplianage.org.
On the other hand, it is 20 min by boat from Bellavista, involving a 15min walk from the beach village in the dry season, but accessible to the river way when the river is high
At the fascinating Amazon Animal Orphanage and Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm, you can see a fantastic array of butterflies in a natural environment, plus a number of jungle animals, all rescued from certain death.
One kilometer long and up to 8m deep, the waters of the Quistococha lagoon have been taken over by the Ministry of Fishing for the breeding of giant Paiche. There´s also a zoo of sorts with a small selection of forest birds, a few mammals, and some snakes, plus an aviary, with a small museum of jungle natural history, as well as a small lakeside beach restaurant and bar. Admission cost S/5. Microbuses go to the lagoon at Quistococha (20-30 min) from the comer of Bermudez and Moore, near Plaza 28 de Julio in Iquitos (bus ticket around S/6)
On the western edge of Iquitos, a tributary of the Río Nanay forms a long lake called Moronacocha, a popular resort for swimming and waterskiing; some 5 km further out (just before the airport), another lake, Rumococha, has facilities on the Río Nanay for fishing and hunting. Beyond this, still on the Río Nanay, but just beyond the airport and easier to access by moto-taxi from central Iquitos, is the popular weekend white-sand beach of Santa Clara. To get to Moronacocha, you have to take a moto-taxi from Iquitos (15 min) or to Santa Clara (15 or 20 min). Bothe transport has costs of 8 and 10 Soles, respectively.
Well connected by local buses (30 min) from Iquitos via Santa Clara the agricultural and fishing village of Santo Tomás, (16 km from central Iquitos and 2-3 hr from Santa Clara on the banks of the Río Nanay) is renowned for its handicrafts about Amazon jungle (artesanía), and has another beach, on the Lago Mapacocha, where you can swim and canoe. There’s also one really good fish restaurant here, on the riverfront, run by the Chrichigno family, best during the day, before the mosquitoes come out. If you get the chance, visit during Santo Tomás's fiesta (September 23-25), a huge party with dancing and chichi music.
The huge Reserva Nacional Pacaya- Samiria (Admission $30 - 5-day pass from SERNANP or the park office In Iquitos) comprises around two million hectares of virgin rainforest (about 1.5 percent of the total landmass of Perú) leading up to the confluence between the ríos Marañón and the Huallaga, two of the largest Amazon headwaters and possessing between them the largest protected area of seasonally flooded jungle in the Peruvian Amazon.
Most people visit the Pacaya-Samiria for half a day as part of a tour package from Iquitos, but Lagunas is a good place to find a local guide and do a relatively independent safari, if you can afford it (expect to pay at least $75 a day without lodge accommodation). If you visit the park independently, allow a week or two for travel, and unavoidable hitches and delays en route. You will still need a local guide and a boat; the best bet to find these is to scout around the ports of Iquitos, Nauta, or Lagunas. The reserve office in Iquitos provides maps and information on the región. You should come well prepared with mosquito nets, hammocks, insect repellent, and all the necessary food and medicines.
The reserve is a swampland during the rainy season (December to March) when the streams and rivers rise, and the rainforest becomes comparable to the Reserva Nacional Tambopata in southeastern Perú or the Pantanal swamps of southwestern.
Brazil in its astonishing density of visible wildlife. It is fine to visit in the dry season, but there are more insects, you'll see less wildlife, and the creeks and lakes are smaller.
This region is home to the Cocoma tribe whose main settlement is Tipishca, where the native community is now directly involved in ecotourism. They can be hired as guides and will provide rustic accommodation, but can only be contacted by asking on arrival. Visitors should be aware that around 100,000 people, mostly indigenous communities, still live in the reserves forest; they are the local residents and their territory and customs should be respected. These tribal communities are also a source of detailed information on the sustainable management of river turtles: in recent years some of the communities have been collaborating on conservation projects.
The only way here is by riverboat (larger boats 12 - 15 hrs, speedboats 4 - 5hrs), or with an organized tour from Iquitos. Downstream from Iquitos, some 190 km to the east, lies attractive, palm-thatched PEVAS, the oldest town in the Peruvian Amazon and still a frontier settlement. The economy here is based primarily on fishing (visit the market where produce is brought in by boat every day), and dugout canoes are the main form of transport, propelled by characteristically ovoid-bladed and beautifully carved paddles, which are often sold as souvenirs, sometimes painted with closings. Artist Francisco Grippa, whose Work is exhibited at the Amazon Art Gallery in Iquitos, lives and has a gallery in Pevas.
The surrounding flood forest is home to hundreds of caimans and significant birdlife, including several types of parrots, eagles, and kingfishers. The area is also good for butterfly watching, and November, in particular, is a great time to study orchids and bromeliads in bloom. Pevas is also noted for its fishing - piranha being one of the easiest kinds to catch.
Leaving or entering Peru via the Amazon River inevitably means crossing the three-way frontier, nearly 300 km from Iquitos. Some boats from Iquitos go all the way to Leticia (Colombia) or Tabatinga (Brazil), but many stop at one of the two small Peruvian frontier settlements of Santa Rosa or Isla Islandia. Generally, the big Lancha boats pull in at Isla Islandia, opposite Benjamín Constante (which is on the Brazilian side of the frontier and just over the water) while the Rapido speedboats from Iquitos finish their journeys at Santa Rosa. At Chimbote, a few hours before you get to Santa Rosa and on the right as you head towards the frontier, is located a small police post, the main customs checkpoint (Guarda costa) for river traffic.
Having grown rich on tourism and contraband (mostly cocaine), Leticia has more than a touch of the Wild West about it but is still relatively safe.
If you do stay at one of the hotels here, be warned that it's a lively town, with cumbia and salsa music blasting out all over the place, and establishments remaining open until the wee hours of the morning. It's possible to arrange visits to some native communities from Leticia, and you can buy some of their excellent craftwork - mainly string bags and hammocks - from stores in the town.
Smaller than Leticia, and just a short stroll away, Tabatinga is hardly the most exciting place in South America, and many people stuck here waiting for a boat or plane to Manaus or Iquitos prefer to hop over the border to Leticia for the duration of their stay. Even if they don't plan on going any further into Colombia. Boats leave from Tabatinga and from Benjamín constantly, on the other side of the Amazon, to Manaus. Bear in mind that it's virtually impossible to get from Isla Islandia to the federal police in Tabatinga and then back to Benjamín in less than an hour and a half.