Iquitos: Welcome to the Peruvian Amazon
Updated: Nov 3, 2022
Iquitos is a Peruvian city, but it is not as you might think: a gigantic river, floating food stalls, colorful mototaxis and pygmy monkeys that peep out from a jungle full of life. The Peruvian Amazon experience starts in Iquitos.
Iquitos is the largest city in the world without land access (it can only be reached by boat or plane) and floats on the Amazon, the longest river in the world with a length of 6400 kilometers. This particular urban universe is located in the middle of the jungle, in the northeast of Peru, just two hours away from Lima by plane.
The city is fed and bordered by the exuberance of the Amazon, the huge river that encompasses eight countries and is home to a third of all animal species registered in the world. It houses 20% of all birds, 40,000 species of plants and 390 billion trees that give life to the largest rainforest on the entire planet. Open your eyes wide and don’t miss a detail of the life that inhabits it.
The gate to the Amazon
A visit to the tangled, aquatic streets of Iquitos is the perfect anticipation before entering the chaos of the Amazon jungle. This former missionary outpost grew under the protection of the rubber trade boom during the colonial era, reaching 400,000 inhabitants today. The mud houses mix with mansions and buildings ‘art nouveau’, inheritance of its commercial splendor, such as Casa Fierro, which design is attributed to the same engineer who devised the Eiffel Tower. The noise of more than 20 000 mototaxis (auto rickshaws), especially on the boardwalk, composes the soundtrack of Iquitos. They make routes to the market in the neighborhood of Belén, one of the most fascinating in Peru, where you will find the ‘jungle pharmacy’ with concoctions to cure from headache to bad luck in love, or taste ‘delicacies’ like larvae of worm or turtle eggs.
The Amazon River
Throughout Iquitos sail from small canoes or speedboats to luxurious boats that enter and leave the Amazon River. The duration of the cruises usually ranges between three days and a week, with stops in various parks and sanctuaries such as Monkey Island or the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, the second largest protected natural area in Peru. The wild environment does not imply giving up comfort. Cruises such as Aria Amazon guarantee every luxury of detail: spacious rooms overlooking the river, jacuzzi and a restaurant where they serve dishes prepared by Peruvian chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, creator of the ÁmaZ restaurant.
A burst of natural life
Life flows around and into the brown waters of the river, dotted with Victoria Regia, the largest aquatic plant in the world. Birds of various plumages (there are more than 300 species), pygmy marmosets – one of the smallest monkeys on the planet -, bright-eyed alligators and stealthy anacondas watch from the shore to the ships. In the jungle you have to make your way through the thick vegetation, the suffocating heat and the humidity. Cotton clothes and drinking water are a solution; another is to jump into the water to swim, hopefully, near some pink and gray dolphin. The most extreme is “injecting the poison of a frog to get stronger”, as the natives advise, half-jokingly, half seriously.
The people of the jungle
Although it may not seem like it to the naked eye, the vast expanses of Amazon rainforest are inhabited by remote villages. Its inhabitants live in houses built on stilts where fashions do not arrive, neither Internet nor electricity. The Yaguas and Boras tribes give visitors the chance to visit their homes, and approach tribal customs such as body painting and artisanal masks.
The natives live from the river and the jungle, and it is easy to cross with peque-peque (canoes) full of fish on the way to the market. A fluvial swing that accompanies the packets that come and go between Pucallpa and Iquitos with travelers lying in multicolored hammocks on the deck and that reminds us that the river works as a highway towards civilization. Another thing is that we want to return to it.