We had quite the adventure traveling from our last stop in southern Peru, the beautiful mountainous and colonial city of Arequipa to the hot and humid jungle of the Amazon in Iquitos; the gateway and access point to the Amazon Rainforest in Peru! I write about that adventurous experience on the previous rock slide post. Iquitos is surrounded by the Amazon River on one side and the Amazon Rainforest on all other sides so the only way to reach Iquitos is to either fly there or travel by boat. Therefore, Iquitos is the world’s largest city that can not be reached by any roads. For this reason, Iquitos is also an important port city for this area of Peru as many goods and supplies arrive by boat after a week long journey floating up the Amazon River from the Atlantic Ocean. A journey of over 2,200 miles. We didn’t have the time to travel by boat up the Amazon River as it takes a week, so we decided to fly.
Flying over the Amazon River and Amazon Rainforest was a once in a lifetime type of experience and it was awe inspiring to see just how large it actually is! May I remind you that we were only flying over the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest, much smaller than the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest. Once we landed, it was clear to see we were in a completely different world from where we had been just a few days earlier in Arequipa. Peru is such a diverse country in land, people and language and there is no better place to see that than Iquitos, which is fairly isolated as it is inaccessible by road. We arrived to Iquitos on a smaller aircraft so we walked directly off the plane and down steps onto the tarmac and one of the biggest changes from Peru’s Coastal Region and the Andes Mountain was the temperature difference. When we stepped out of the plane door, the heat was oppressive. The heat and humidity hit us like a smack in the face and we immediately started sweating and we didn’t stop until we left Iquitos.
While we waited to claim our back packs at the baggage claim we were entertained by an indigenous group dancing in the airport, with the majority having beaded loin clothes and bras covering up their most important body parts. The beads were making noise as they brushed up against the other beads making up the regalia, along with each individual’s footsteps as their feet hit the group keeping time with the recorder another individual was playing. It was such a nice welcome to Iquitos.
Even though Iquitos can only be reached by plane or boat, it doesn’t mean cars and other vehicles don’t exist. You will easily be able to get around on public transportation using either a bus or truck, but the most common thing you will see are the loud and smoke producing motorcycles and auto rickshaw, which are also called mototaxi, motocarro or motor car. If you have never seen them before, they basically are a motorcycle with a cabin in the back supported underneath by two extra wheels and generally seats up to three people. You can squeeze more people inside, but the more weight inside the rickshaw the slower it will be. Iquitos is not known for being quiet because with so many mototaxis dominating the streets and speeding from one place to the other, it almost feels like you are at a motorcycle convention. With all the motorcycles and mototaxis, there is just so much noise and at times chaos from one intersection to the next. It is just a reminder that you are in a different place you are used to and are experiencing one of the treasures of traveling to a new corner of the world.
Iquitos has an interesting history that starts out with the area being inhabited for thousands of years by native indigenous cultures and nomadic hunter-gatherers that lived close to the Amazon River. When Europeans arrived and started exploring into the Amazon River, they eventually arrived in what is present day Iquitos and settled around the three rivers that surround Iquitos including the Amazon, the Nanay and the Itaya Rivers. It is still not widely known exactly who might have founded Iquitos, but at the beginning of the 19th century when rubber was discovered a population growth occurred in Iquitos, especially when the automobile and other similar industries increased the demand for rubber. Thousands of immigrants from around the world made their way to Iquitos to become rich and make their fortunes from rubber. Many of the European men married indigenous women from around the area and started creating ethnically mixed families. The immigrants brought European cultural elements to Iquitos including religion, music, architecture and even clothing styles. Iquitos became very wealthy because of the boom of the rubber industry. When rubber production dropped considerably after 1912, the city’s population also declined, but it still maintains traces of the extravagant lifestyle of the rubber barons who once lived there, as many of the tiled mansions still exist. When rubber production decreased, Iquitos’ diversified its economy by exporting timber, fish, oil, minerals, along with their agricultural crops. Now, Iquitos is having a boom in the travel industry as eco tourism has increased with people wanting to visit and experience the Amazon River basin, along with jungle expeditions. The Amazon rainforest was ranked as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World so that has also helped to increase the number of tourists visiting Iquitos every year.
Plaza de Armas and the surrounding area
Iquitos has many interesting places to visit and in the historic center, the Plaza de Armas is surrounded by many European influenced buildings dating back to the boom of the rubber trade. There are multiple attractions to visit in the immediate area surrounding the Plaza de Armas.
One of those attractions is the Casa de Fierro which is an iron clad house designed by Gustave Eiffel, famous for designing the Eiffel Tower that stands in Paris, France today. During the rubber boom, many rubber barons, built extravagant houses in Iquitos with all the money they were earning. Some of these extravagant houses you can still see today like the mosaic tiles found on the Italian style palaces that surround Plaza de Armas. Many of these huge palaces are now museums and relics to the glory days of Iquitos. It’s actually amazing to see these magnificent tiled mansions just a few blocks away from mud huts.
Also surrounding the Plaza de Armas is the neo-Gothic Iquitos Cathedral, worth a visit to see the opulence of the cathedral and to take in a mass if you are Catholic. A short walk from the Plaza de Armas and the cathedral is the riverfront promenade known as the Malecón Maldonado, where you can look out along the mighty river to see how busy the traffic of the Amazon River can be and see large freight ships and Amazonian cruise ships next to tiny dugout canoes of local fisherman.
Close to the Malecón is the Museo Amazonico, which I must recommend if you are a history buff as it displays many artifacts from around different areas of the Amazon.
Belén is currently one of four districts around Iquitos and it is definitely one that you should visit! It is a lively neighborhood filled with hundreds of people visiting the Belén market on a daily basis which can make the market a very busy place.
There is a land market that you can visit on foot, but Belén is most famous for it’s water market that you can visit on boat. This particular market also has a nickname. It’s called the “Amazon Venice” because of all the canals and waterways. You can take a boat and float down the river while you shop the market in the floating shantytown of Belén. It is an experience like no other and one not to be missed. Many people consider it the most interesting market in all of Peru.
There are so many things to see and do in Iquitos, but If you would like to venture deeper into the Amazon rainforest there are many tour companies that offer jungle expeditions down Amazon tributaries to jungle lodges which allow you to visit tribal villages where you can stay and experience the local culture of the local indigenous indians of the region. You can read about my journey exploring the rainforest in this post.
Iquitos is a city not to be missed on any travel itinerary. This Amazon journey was yet again another one of the incredible Treasures Of Traveling in Peru.
Check out the map below to see where Arequipa is located at!
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