One of the reasons why travellers flock to Iquitos is the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon rainforest covers most of the northeastern part of South America, and is the largest tropical rainforest in the world. It is big, it is beautiful, and it’s a testament to what this planet has to offer us.
The main entry point to the Peruvian rainforest is through the city of Iquitos. Iquitos has seen a huge development in the last couple of years, making it now the largest and most populated city on the side of the Peruvian amazon.
Getting to Iquitos is no easy feat, as there are no direct roads to get to this city. You must either fly or take a boat from any of the cities on the other side of the Amazon river within Peru. The boat option will set you back about 3 days all depending on where the boat is taken from, and requires you to buy your own hammock to sleep on the boat (these are not provided).
I decided to fly as I was to meet with people on a particular date, and taking the boat would have made it impossible for me to make it on time. The flight from Lima can cost as low as $35.00USD (or more if you are slow and indecisive like me). Once at the airport, a mototaxi can take you anywhere near the city center (to Plaza de Armas or to Plaza 28 de Julio) for only S./8, and it is about a 30 minute long ride.
My Top 5 Things to Do In Iquitos:
1. Stroll down the Malecon Tarapaca
Located by the river, between streets Brasil and Palves, the Malecon is filled with many restaurants and bars, some of them on the high-end of the price list. It is a popular spot with both locals and tourists who like to flock the Malecon at night for a walk, a drink, and something to eat.
Be sure to visit the artisan shops. Walk down the stairs directly in front on either Brasil or Palves street once on Malecon Tarapaca. The shops themselves are quite ordinary, the real sight are the walls while walking from one end to the next, as some are filled with very picturesque street art you will not see in town.
2. Visit Belen market
Messy, humid and way too hot to walk it all in one stroll, the Belen market is a fun walk to see vendors sell pretty much any product you can think of, and many that you cannot even start to imagine!
Through the market you can find your usual utilities like toothpaste and toilet paper (sold by the roll), to local “delicacies” like Suri worms (fried or marinated, your choice), on-the-spot-barbecued fish, vulture eggs, turtle eggs, and more.
Belen market is located about 6 blocks east from the Malecon. It gets packed with locals making their daily purchases in the afternoon, so it may be worth getting there early to avoid too many crowds.
On the other side of the Malecon there is another market, somewhat smaller but still worth the visit. The market is located right in front of the Puerto de Productores, and it sells very much anything the Belen market does.
3. Play with monkeys at Isla de los Monos (Monkey Island)
The highlight of my trip to Iquitos was definitely Isla de los Monos, or Monkey Island, a refuge and rehabilitation center for monkeys, some of which have been rescued from poachers, were kept as pets, or were found injured in the jungle.
Once in the island, chances are that you will be greeted by the monkeys themselves! Within the complex, monkeys roam free and are used to human presence, which makes them really friendly. Do not be surprised if one (or many) of them jump on you and they stay on your shoulders for the rest of your visit!!!
Getting to Monkey Island from Iquitos:
1. Head on to Puerto de Productores (about S./2 from the Malecon).
2. Head inside the market all the way to the end towards the port, turn left and go down the stairs.
3. Take any boat heading to Mazan (45 minutes, S./15).
4. Call the number provided on the website and advise you are visiting the island. A boat will be arranged to pick you up from Mazan to take you to the island for an additional S./5. (NOTE: Contact the cell phone number as staff may be spending the day on the island, it is more sure you will get an answer that way)
Make sure you start your journey early, as boats to Mazan will not depart unless full, which can sometimes take quite long. Also, no pick ups are arranged after 1PM from Mazan, as the journey to the islands takes an extra 30 minutes.
4. Spend a night in the jungle
Spending a night in the jungle is an unbelievable experience and one not to be missed. Many tour companies offer 2 to multiple day trips deep in the amazon jungle. It is a great opportunity to feel closer to nature. The feel, the smells, the sounds of nature (especially at night), and the no internet access are sure to make you feel disconnected from everyday life.
Many activities are planned through your stay, some of which may include fishing for piranhas, pink dolphin spotting, many many (many) boat rides through the Amazon river, and a rainforest walk (more on that below). Ask about doing boat rides at night for some caiman spotting; not only are the sounds of nature at their best, but the sight of fireflies abound, sometimes creating a very magical sight in the dark.
Make sure you bring PLENTY of mosquito repellent, a long sleeve shirt and long pants. Mosquitoes are relentless and THEY. ARE. EVERYWHERE, especially at night. It doesn’t matter how hot it is and how much you think you will not need them….BRING THEM!!!
5. Walk in the rainforest
The Amazon rainforest is like no other jungle you have ever seen. The vegetation is unique, while the fauna found within the forest is extremely diverse and is sure to amaze you. The colors you can find within the jungle are indescribable, plants the size of which you have never seen, some with properties you could not possibly imagine.
Small animals and insects abound in the rainforest, among which you may see killer ants, termites, frogs, countless birds, monkeys, sloths and if you’re lucky (or unlucky), anacondas.
It is during my rainforest walk that I had my first taste of the Suri worm. You can see a video of my Suri worm “tasting” here.
Two Things I Missed:
- Visit any of the local tribes (Bora Bora or Yagua indigenous communities)
- See and feed baby manatees at the Amazonian Manatee Rescue Cente
WHERE I STAYED:
Flying Dog Hostel: Chill hostel with a cool atmosphere located nearby the Malecon by the water. Some rooms are equipped with (some much needed) A/C. Breakfast is included with stay. One annoyance about this hostel is that the owners seem to be trying to market a new hostel deep within the city (Amazonas Green Hostel), and the owners might “insist” that you book your tour with them (which requires you to actually go there). Although Amazonas seems like a quiet nice hostel, it is situated a bit far from the city center.
What are some of your highlights from your visit to Iquitos? How bad were the mosquito bites in the jungle? And what did you enjoy the most? Let me know in the comments section!