Iquitos, Peru is the largest city in the world not connected by roads. The capital of Peru’s northern Amazon rainforest sits on the Rio Ucayali, not far from where it meets with the Amazon River. The city was officially founded on Jan. 5, 1864 by the Peruvian Navy, however, the Spanish conquistadors were in the area as early as 1542, and numerous native tribes were there well before that.
The city was an important part of the Amazonian Rubber Boom, and many rubber barons, including such as the famous Fitzcarrald, from the Herzog movie Fitzcarraldo, quickly gathered enormous wealth and riches that transformed the city. The rubber boom has since died, but oil drilling continues to be an important part of Iquitos today.
Although many land at the airport here only to be picked up and hurried off to a nature/eco-lodge or their luxury river boat, the city has a vast number of interesting sites within a short distance from and even on the Plaza de Armas. If you stick around for a few extra days there is more than enough to keep you occupied.
Tourist Attractions in Iquitos
Plaza de Armas – The most active square in all of Peru’s northern Amazon and a hub of tourist activity. The best hotels and restaurants in Iquitos sit within a few blocks of here, as does the malecón. There are several small casinos, internet cafes, gift shops, a small museum, the legendary diner Ari’s Burger, the Iglesia Matriz, an iPeru office, and the Casa de Fierro, or iron house, all surrounding the plaza.
Museo Amazonica – On the malecón, this small museum has just a few exhibits, but one set in particular is quite fascinating. There are 76 fiberglass moldings (painted bronze) of Native Indians of all shapes, sizes, and attires that are scattered about the museum and are worth more than the five sole admission.
Belen Market – Before entering Iquitos’ sprawling market you will see a gazebo designed by the firm of Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel tower fame, who was contracted to do iron work across Peru. The market area is one of the most fascinating in the country. You’ll see streets full of bananas, men rolling handmade cigarettes, a witches market with medicinal herbs and shaman tools, grubs being roasted on a stick to be eaten, endangered animals for sale, regional produce, and much more.
Lower Belen District – Just off the market you can hire a boatmen to take you on short rides through Belen, the floating city. Built on stilts, the neighborhood is designed to withstand the low water seasons and the high water, or rainy season where it is completely flooded. It’s an inexpensive look at a rare and fascinating way of life.
Lago Quistococha – The nearly 450 hectares of forests and lagoon make up this National Tourist Park. The beach is good for a swim or fishing. There’s a hatchery for Paiche, the largest fish in the Amazon basin, and a decent zoo with creatures taken from the surrounding jungle. Many of them extremely rare.
Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm – In the town of Pedrococha, a short ferry ride from the Bellavista dock area, you’ll find this small butterfly farm and animal shelter. Apart from the butterflies, there are several rare species that have been rescued from the area such as monkeys, a jaguar, tapir, giant anteater, and even a small Amazonian manatee. A very selfless group of people work here. If you want to help save the rainforest and know where the money goes, donations are accepted on their website and highly recommended.
Bora and Yagua Indian Villages – With their cultures hanging on by a thread, two local indigenous groups have set up a separate tourist attractions not far from one another that are the only “real” interactions with Indians within 50 miles of Iquitos. Neither village is really authentic. The touristic part of each consists of a thatched roof maloka where, for $5, you are invited in for a dance performed by the chief and all the women and children. Afterwards you are guilt tripped into buying jewelry made from seeds. They don’t mind photos and the Yaguas will even let you to try shooting a dart out of their three meter long blowguns. In the dry season it is possible to walk to the villages from Pedrococha, but in the rainy season a boat is necessary.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.