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 its only accessible by boat or by plane.
Once you arrive, take a riverboat to your prefered jungle lodge or continue on to Nauta to begin your Amazon river cruise. Checkout 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 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 centre of Iquitos was established in ] 864. 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 ship 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, Iquitos is in a period of quite wealthy expansion.
Plaza de Armas
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 198üs, 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 plazas modern fountain attracts strolling townsfolk when illuminated at night, though its sound is generally drowned out by the mototaxis and cars whizzing around the square.
On the southwest side of the plaza, the Iglesia Matriz (daily 7am-5pm), the main Catholic church, houses paintings by the Loretano (Loreto is the departamento Iquitos is located in) 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 manguare drums, stuffed animals, information on tree and plant products from the forest, a large preserved paiche fish and some animal skulls.
Casa de Fierro
On the southeast corner of the plaza, you'll find the majestic Casa de Fierro (ron 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 rubber barons, these days its home to a quality restaurant located on the upper storey.
One block southeast of Plaza de Armas are 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. El Boulevard is the busiest of the two areas, especially at night, full of bars and restaurants and with a small amphitheatre with live entertainment most nights, from mine-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 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 museurn, Museo Amazónico, is devoted to the regions natural history and tribal cultures, Its collection includes some unusual life-sized human figures in traditional dress from different Amazon tribes; each fibreglass sculpture was made from a cast that had 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-storey Casa Cohen is still a working shop, built in 1905 and beautifully adorned with iron work, colourful azulejos (tiles) and pilastras (mural-covered pillars) - all refleting the past days of rubber-boom commerce and glory.
Biocklof Sargento Lores
The Casa Kahn 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.
Galería de Arte Amazónica
Trujillo 438 • Cali for an appomtment on ©065 253120 • Free
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 (see p.477), 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 colour, focusing on subjects such as Shipibo Indians, jungle birdids and rainforest landscapes.
Nauta 248. Mon-Sat 10am-6pm • 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, colourful and almost absract.
The most memorable pan of town - best visited around 7am 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 districs has earned fame among travellers as the "Venice of the Peruvian Jungle". Actually more Far 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 rnotorized canoes appeared on screen: virtually everything else, including the style of the barriada dwellings, looks exactly the way it did during the nineteenth century.
4-5m¡n in a mototaxi (S/2)
Ask for directions to Pasaje Paquito, the busy herbalist alley in the heart of this frenetic community, synthesizing the rich flavour 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.
Arrival And Departure
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 I2hr, depending on 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 transporten for a rough idea of departure dates and times. Speedboats go downstream to the three-way frontier (see p.480). Boat cumpanies The main 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.
Fights land at Iguitos airport (Aeropuerto Internacional Francisco secada Vignetta; 6km southwest of town and connected by taxis (S/15) and cheaper mototaxis (S/8). Airline offices are mostly central: LAN Perú, Prospero 232 (next to Banco de Crédito; 065 232421); Star Perú, Napo 260; Star Perú, Napo 298; Grupo 42, Prospero 215 ( 065 221071 or 233224), for reasonably priced flights to Requena, Angamos and Santa Rosa. For fights to Brazil, try Brastours, Jr Condamine 384 (65 223232).
Destinations Lima (several daily; 2hr); Pucallpa (daily, Whr); Tarapoto (1 weekly; Ihr).
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 (4hr) pull in on the Plaza de Armas and on C Huallaga.
The massive river system around Iquitos offers some of the best access to Indian villages, lodges and primary rainforest in the en tire 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 mototaxis.
Easily reached by canoe (rom Belen (30min each way) or the main waterfrom 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.
Bellavista and around
15mln by mototaxl (S/3-4) from Plaza de Armas in Iquitos
Some 4km northeast of the centre of Iquitos, the suburb of Bellavista, 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/l 5 an hour. Like Iquitos, Bellavista has recently been experiencing its highest and lowest recorded water levies, with all of the associated flooding and drying up; the bars sit on their stilts high above dried mud during the dry season, and the boats are moored some forty metres 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.
Amazon Animal Orphanage and Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm
Near the village of Padre Cocha • Tues-Sun 9am-4pm • 5/15, S/10 for students with ISIC card • amazonanimalorplianage.org • 20min by boat from Bellavista, involving a 15min walk from the beach village in the dry season, but accessible 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.
5/5 entry Microbuses go to the lagoon at Quistococha (20-30min) from the comer of Bermudez and Moore, near Plaza 28 de Julio in
Iquitos (around 5/6)
A kilometro 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.
Moronacocha to Santa Clara
Take a mototaxi from Iquitos to Moronacocha (15mín) or to Santa Clara (15-20min; S8-10)
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 5km 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 mototaxi from central Iquitos, is the popular weekend white-sand beach of Santa Clara.
Santo Tomás and Lago Mapacocha
Well connected by local buses (30min) from Iquitos via Santa Clara he agricultural and fishing village of Santo Tomás, 16km from central Iquitos and 2-3kr (rom Santa Clara on the banks of the Río Nanay, is renowned for its 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 durong Santo Tomás's fiesta (September 23-25), a huge party with dancing and chichi music.
Reserva Nacional Pacaya-Samiria
$30/5-day pass from SERNANP or the park office In Iquitos (see p.470)
The huge RESERVA NACIONAL PACAYA-SAMIRIA comprises around two million hectare 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 fiooded 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 indepenet safari, if you can afford it (expect to pay at least $75 a day without lodge accommodation). II 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 (see p.470) 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 (Dec-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 are 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 12-15hr, speedboats 4-5hr), or with an organized tour from Iquitos (see p.475) Downstream from Iquitos, some 190km 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 (see p.468), 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.
The three-way frontier
Leaving or entering Peru via the Amazon River inevitably means crossing the three-way frontier, nearly 300km from Iquitos. Some boats from Iquitos go all the way to Leticia (Colombia) or Tabatinga (Brazil), bul 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 Chimbóte, a few hours before you get to Santa Rosa and on the right as you head towards the frontier, dieres a small pólice 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.
Tabatinga and Manaus, Brazil
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 funther into Colombia. Boats leave from Tabatinga and from Benjamín Constante, 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 Constante in less than an hour and a half.