The legendary part of the Amazonian jungle: a city surrounded by the Amazon and its arms and the rain forest. No other way to reach it but on a boat or in a plane. Mentioned in many books, movies and documentaries, including the bible of the New Age, Celestial Prophecy, and Zac Efron´s Down to Earth, this place certainly is a must see in Peru.
Where to Stay
Arriving to Iquitos, you have an option to stay in one of the many city hotels or take a moto taxi (much more common and cheaper than private car taxis) to one of the harbours from which you continue on a boat (public, private or sent by your lodge) to a river lodge which I believe is actually the best way to truly experience the Amazon as you immerse yourself deep within the thriving eco-system.
Most lodges would be willing to send their transportation for you. If not, they explain to you clearly how to arrive – and from which harbour, as there are various arms of the Amazon and several harbours.
If you are arriving to Iquitos city with the intention to go on an ayahuasca diet/retreat, you will most probably be heading out of the city too but it might be your destination of “luxury and comfort” later, after your retreat because in the city you find everything from supermarkets, laundries and launderettes to good restaurants and hotels with AC and practically no mosquitos and humidity. A nice change after you spent some weeks out there “in the wild”.
In some lodges you use the water from the river to wash yourself and the dishes, the solar panels only allow to have a limited amount of electricity generated daily (so no AC) and the food options may be more limited to what is available in the jungle. Also, the humidity is higher and thus your clothes barely ever completely dry off. And – of course – all bio waste (including the excrements from the toilets) ends up in the river where the fish deals with it. That is why it is needed to use natural soaps and shampoos only and never throw paper into the loo.
The Wi-Fi in the city is limited (there is no optic fibre in Iquitos, solely satellites) and in the lodges on the rivers there is usually none, but sometimes there is a bit of signal for your data to work. But then, why not simply turn your phone off and enjoy the tranquillity and peace surrounding you…
My favourite lodge near Iquitos (about a 10-minute ride on the boat from Nanay Bella Vista harbour) is the Amazon Oasis Floating Lodge which is located right on the river Momon, an arm of the Amazon. When a motor boat passes by, you will be sweetly swayed. If you are in a hammock, the slight motion of the whole lodge might even lullaby you to sleep. The lodge offers some amazing natural scenery and all day observation of birds and butterflies. In the evening, you can hear the frogs.
For monkey lovers, there is one living near the hotel, partially-tamed, which might sometimes jump into your canoe if you intentionally come close enough. The food served is all local and there are various vegetarian and vegan options. The owners are a family you will quickly become friends with, even more so since there are only four bungalows for the guests so the atmosphere is very private and family-like. The tours offered as well as the other activities (canoe, swimming, meditation) will certainly satisfy the adventurous as well as the more tranquil ones.
Here are two videos from the Amazon Oasis Floating Lodge:
Tours and Cruises
People usually come to Iquitos for vacation if they want to relax in the jungle, or do ayahuasca retreats, or enjoy adventurous holidays of various tours that can take you to various places, including the virgin jungle.
I recommend you to discuss in advance with the lodge where you are thinking of staying which tours they are offering as normally every lodge offers its tours in special packages (e.g. lunches included), and some tours maybe included already within your accommodation package. In case there is a tour which you want to do but your lodge does not offer, you can buy it in an agency in the city centre – but remember some of them take several days, like the tours to the reservations, la Pacaya Samiria or Matses etc. So plan well ahead what is your must-see-list.
If you are on a high-budget, you can also embark on a luxury river cruise. You can check some of them out HERE.
There are also cruises in between Iquitos and Pucallpa or Yurimaguas (4 days). Some of them are luxurious, others low-budget, during which you sleep in a hammock (you pay even less if you bring your own hammock). However, be cautious when choosing such cruise: there are pirates on this route! This is not a myth, an urban legend, a joke. This is real and most locals in Iquitos would confirm to you that “it is not happening every day, but it happens”…
The Yaguas and the Boras
There are a number of native communities living in the reserves (zonas reservadas) of the zone and the tours commonly include a visit to these indigenous locals, especially the Yaguas and the Boras who are willing to accept tourists and treat them to a song and dance routine. They might also teach you blow dart hunting and are very happy if you purchase their handicrafts, dream catchers (from 20 to 200 soles), earrings (around 10 to 25 soles), necklaces, bracelets (usually 3 for 10 soles the simple ones), amulets etc.
If you think about visiting these communities, come prepared with some cash in your pocket to use to get your perfect Amazon souvenir and at the same time help the community who is forced to live almost of nothing as the country has taken their land and left them only with a limited space which does not allow them to grow their food. If they want to stay in their relative freedom, i.e. out of the system, they have just enough space to put a few houses on, and nothing else. Not even a boat. The kids only know toys that can be handmade. None of them travels. They have no knowledge of technologies. They drink the water from the river and eat whatever is around, including all the animals that cross their way. Don’t blame them if they kill a monkey. They are hungry and need to eat. The government doesn’t help them. They are outsiders. If they do not want to earn their living selling ayahuasca to tourists just like it has become common in recent decades, they only have their crafts to sell.
Their Spanish is just as bad as yours is (and it is tough to learn their dialects, different for each community even if they live just a few hundred meters on the boat apart from one another). They are stunned by your looks just like you are by theirs. To me, it always gives a special feeling to spend some time with the native communities, tribes, as some would say (not knowing that the word tribe originally arose as a pejorative).
Here is a video from the visits to the communities:
Mariposario Pilpintuwasi – Butterfly Farm and Animal Orphanage
Founded by a woman from Austria, this place has gained such reputation that the Peruvian government actually offers a financial support to it and it is among the first tours the agencies and lodges will offer to you. Though it is an interesting experience to come here, I did not like the fact that the admission fee is different for foreigners and Peruvians and that there is a fence everywhere – actually, it made me feel very claustrophobic and the explanation that it is to protect the animals from the humans seemed a little strange to me.
You also really have to come here when the sun is shining, otherwise you won’t see many of the butterflies. I dare say the Prague Botanical Garden in the Czech Republic offers every April a collection of more tropical butterflies in their greenhouse than what you see here. But the workers are kind and offer a lot of information. Some of them are volunteers working here for food and accommodation.
La Isla de Los Monos – The Monkey Island
I loved this place just as much as I once loved the Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali. Most of the monkeys (unless in quarantine or in protective caging) run around gaily, freely, and that´s why the visitors are asked to come without having applied sunscreen or a repellent (or a perfume). As there are mosquitos there in the forest I recommend you to come in trousers, sneakers (I made the mistake of taking my flip flops only and ended up with dozens of bites on my toes) and a long-sleeve top.
The monkeys will surely come to you to ask for a cuddle or wanting to play with you and tease you. That is why you take the tour with a guide who not only gives you some information about every monkey and its history but also helps you out if any monkey gets a little too cheeky.
There are various species roaming freely throughout the 200 hectare plot. This sanctuary (rescato) really knows what they are doing and thus no wonder some baby monkeys whose parents got killed (due to the hunts by the local communities who eat the adult monkeys) make their intuitive way to the sanctuary… Quite amazing indeed.
By the way, if you didn’t know: the IQ of monkeys equals to that of a 3-4 year old child. They can be naughty and cheeky if not given rules and discipline and they get amazingly nice and affectionate when guided the right way through love, tranquility and patience. If you encounter them in the wild, show no fear but peace, love and – however bizarre it may sound – a humble dominance. They are astonishing these creatures…
Fundo Pedrito – Pedrito Farm
The purpose of this farm is the breeding of paiche, piranhas, caimans and some other animals. You can also see turtles and other animals here which are not intended for breeding for food but the above mentioned are. So, though it is interesting to arrive here, admire the lush nature and feed the fish, the caimans (from a stick) and some other animals, you might be leaving a little sad knowing that these animals are there never to experience freedom but to end up on a plate.
Mercado Flotante de Belen – The Floating Market of Belen
South in the Iquitos city lies the quarter of Belen and the floating village of Belen. You can reach the onshore part of Belen (which is divided into Upper and Lower Belen) by walking from the malecón in the center of Iquitos, though it is not necessarily safe to do so. I am speaking more about this area – and its market – in my article HERE which is dedicated to the interesting city bits in Iquitos (Manatee Rescue Center, Quistococha Lagoon and Tourist Park, The Iron House, Malecón Tarapaca etc.).
To see the floating village, you need to go on a boat and I do recommend you to take a tour rather than doing this on your own, using the public transport, as the zone is truly not safe for the poorest people live here and the criminality is high due to mugging, robbing and pickpocketing. The tour boats take you around, passing family homes and public buildings like schools and bistros. Many opt to visit particularly the Pasaje Paquito where all kinds of traditional Amazon medicines are on sale to cure anything from baldness to a broken heart. Sadly, one can also get here certain products that are of the black market, such as bags made of anaconda leather and other animals which are illegally hunted.
Know that the area is littered by waste as the people here dispose of it by throwing it into the river. The do not have much of a choice as no municipality trash cars obviously arrive here and it did not occur to the authorities that they could be sending a trash boat…
This trip often includes a stop at Al Frio y Al Fuego restaurant, Iquitos’ most upmarket (and expensive) restaurants. If you have some cash to splash, get a drink or a lunch by the pool of this floating restaurant which can only be reached by boat.
Those who come to Peru to experience ayahuasca make their way to Iquitos where most of the retreat centres are located. Of course, it’s possible to experience ayahuasca also in Pucallpa, Tarapoto etc. (actually even in the mountains in Cuzco), but Iquitos is simply the top destination for this purpose.
Please see my article HERE to learn all you might need to know.
To see the video from the tours, click HERE.