The largest metropolis in the Peruvian Amazon, Iquitos is the ninth-most populous city of Peru. Located in the Great Plains of the Amazon Basin, fed by the Amazon, Nanay, and Itaya rivers, it is the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road – it is accessible only by river and air.
A little confusing to some, legendary to others, the hype in the rubber industry in the 19th century made this city well-popular among Europeans, who left behind various traces, among else several beautiful historical buildings in the city centre, which are, however, dilapidating nowadays in the vast majority.
In my article HERE I spoke about the surroundings of Iquitos and some places one can experience “on the water”. This one is dedicated purely to the city and what is worth visiting there.
Where to Stay
Iquitos is the perfect location after your ayahuasca retreat or other type of stay in the jungle. The city offers great comfort of various restaurants, even vegetarians, laundrettes and laundries, and comfy mid-budget hotels with AC and delicious breakfast. You truly do not need to pay that ridiculous sum of money for a night in the Hilton Doubletree located right at the main Plaza de Armas where the people in the street in the night see right into your windows – not kidding! There are plenty of other options located just a three-minute walk from the main square but offering more privacy and escape from the noise of the busy streets. One such is Central Bed & Breakfast.
This place is truly well-located, just a 5-minute walk from the malecón Tarapaca or the main square. There are many restaurants and laundrettes as well as shops and agencies around. You always get a moto taxi right when walking out the hotel door. The hotel offers perfect comfort as there is AC, hot water in ALL the taps and the breakfasts are delicious with hot bread and eggs made the way you want them. The coffee is heavenly. The value for money is optimal. And the staff is very kind and helpful. I must say that due to the pandemics I am even more of a control-freak when it comes to hygiene and cleanliness and this hotel certainly complied with my standards.
The hotel is situated just a couple of blocks away from Lulú resto-bar, which is one of my favourite in Iquitos, extending within one of the typical historical European buildings whose façade is covered in ornamented tiles. Especially at the time of the pandemics, it is great that you can sit in the backyard garden they have there. Right in front of the resto-bar there is an internet café with a reasonable connection where you pay 3 soles per hour to use their computer and other equipment. Know that there is no optic fibre in Iquitos, still satellites only, so the connection in general is not too good but for a quick chat or a browse it will do.
A ten-minute walk from the hotel and you arrive to the huge bookstore (with new as well as second-hand books) in Arica Street – Librería cultura MAYEL. In here, you find books from 5 soles in various languages, including e.g. English or French (these would be around 20 to 30 soles and were, in vast majority, preowned). The bookstore is located right next to Plaza 28 de Julio which is laced with restaurants, cafés, banks and agents.
What to See
Set of early (around 8 am) and get a moto taxi (around 25 soles and 40 minutes from the city centre) to the famous Amazon Rescue Centre – Centro de Rescate Amazónico where you can see manatees at an arm distance, freely flying guacamayos (andira inermis), turtles of various kinds, tree sloths and many more.
In the same complex, you can also visit the small but nice Botanical garden of the Bosque de Huayo where the guide introduces you to various jungle plants and trees and where you can see paiche fish and stingrays and even enjoy some canoeing on the lagoons.
If these two hours of fauna a flora aren´t enough for you, go to Quistococha Lagoon and Tourist Park nearby where you can enjoy some swimming and bathing and also another educative tour.
If you do not get a coconut pipa until then, get it on the way back to the city centre in one of the road bistros. They are huge and tasty, for 3 soles there, while in the city centre they sell for 5. Your moto driver will be happy if you invite him to one too and will gladly choose a good place for you.
In the afternoon, enjoy a stroll around The Plaza de Armas where the Cathedral of St John the Baptist as well as the artisanal community market and La Casa de Fierro are worth your attention.
La Casa de Fierro is the central landmark of Iquitos city centre. A large iron residence built during the rubber boom in the late 19th century will call your attention with the walls, ceiling and the balcony of the house covered with iron rectangular sheets. It is said that it is the first prefabricated house in both North and South America. Although some claim that the house was designed by Gustave Eiffel, there is no evidence of it. The building was probably created in the Belgian workshops of Les Forges d’Aiseau (Joseph Danly’s team). The rubber baron Anselmo del Aguila bought it at an international exhibition in Paris in 1889 and had it transported piece by piece to Iquitos. Today there is a pharmacy on the lower floor and a restaurant on the upper floor. The restaurant is good and offers some options for the ayahuasca and vegetarian diet too. At night you will appreciate the view it offers over the square, if seated on the balcony.
If you wish to support the artisanal products of the Shipibo and other indigenous communities, see the products at the artisanal market at the square or by the malecón Tarapaca where there is a culture and art centre of the local communities. The malecón offers some wonderful views over the Amazon and there are plenty of restaurants and bars along the promenade.
From the malecón, you can continue walking all the way to the Upper Belen, a quarter popular for its market. I do not recommend you to wander around the Lower Belen (all the parts down the staircase from the main promenade) unless you are in a group of people and without your belongings (especially phones, wallets and such). The area is not only filled with pickpockets, but also muggers. The same is true for the floating village of Belen (and the floating market) which is located on both river banks right by the Lower Belen. To see the village, better get a tour with a local to stay safe. More about the floating village in my article HERE.
The market of the Upper Belen is more or less safe, but surely go without your camera and keep your phone and money safe on your body. Best if you go in your worst clothes and a little dirty – in the vagabond style. The locals might think you are a migrant or a drug addict; there is plenty of such desperados in Iquitos and if you take a stroll in the evening along the malecón, they might be stopping you begging for money or offering you tarot readings etc.
Take it as a fact that the “Covid plaguing” in Iquitos in the first wave was so common and strong that the majority of locals already had the illness and thus do not see much need now to protect themselves. They will often walk without their mask on and will want to be shaking hands with you to show their welcoming friendship. I recommend you thus to always have your own medical mask on and use plenty of disinfection for your hands.
A video where you can see the above mentioned is available HERE.