All photos in this article about Iquitos, Peru, are courtesy of Ryan Tingle photography.
If you’re looking for a city getaway that is also off the grid, then Iquitos, Peru is a perfect destination. Sitting on the banks of the Amazon River and Jungle, this wild and chaotic town is a great spot for an adventure junkie looking for wild culture and a jungle adventure. Although, visiting Iquitos isn’t for the faint hearted.
How to Get to Iquitos
There are only two ways you can get to Iquitos, by plane or boat. Iquitos, Peru, is the world’s largest city that cannot be reached by road. If you want to make the process long, take a boat for a full adventure. You can start in Brazil and cruise up the Amazon towards Iquitos. For those that want the quick, easy, and cheap option, a flight from Lima will do. There are multiple flights daily from the capital of Lima, another must-visit destination on its own. Flights can vary anywhere from $40 to $100 on Latam and are about 2 hours in duration.
Once you’ve made it to Iquitos, prepare for a wild ride on one of the mototaxis! Being a city that isn’t accessible via road and often hit with some extreme weather, mototaxis and motorcycles are a lot more common than cars. Riding around one of these feels like a ride at a theme park as they tie your luggage to the back “trunk” while you hang out the sides in the open air. It seems pretty lawless as everyone zips around the muddy roads, but makes for a very fun experience.
Things to Do in Iquitos
One of the most memorable and unique experiences you can have when in Iquitos is an excursion to meet local Indigenous communities of the Peruvian Amazon. Thanks to the incredible location of Iquitos, you can easily access Indigenous communities in just an hour by boat. You will have the opportunity to meet multiple tribes such as the Bora, Alamas, and Jibaros. While spending time with these different communities, you will learn about their traditions, practices, textiles, food and lifestyle. Each tribe is different from the other and they are happy to give you an experience of a lifetime. As Iquitos is a gateway to the Amazon and everything that goes with it, it also has some incredible and unique culture and views of its own.
Weather in the Amazon Rainforest
One of the best things to do in Iquitos is watch the dramatic change of weather over a short period of time. Sitting along the Amazon River, Iquitos gets hammered with rainfall, averaging over 110 inches (279 centimeters) annually. It is a lot of fun to watch the storm clouds roll across the Amazonian jungle as the locals carry on with their daily routines.
You can find many options for accommodation along the banks of the Amazon River in and near Iquitos, Peru. The views from the floating houses along the river banks enchanting. This style of living is not at all what we are used to, but these homes along the Amazon riverbanks are both beautiful and extremely interesting. The way that they can take on water during rainstorms is incredible, and they are built to float in the river as they are tied to the shoreline. As the daily rainstorms power through, the houses rise with the flooding water levels and drop back down as the day moves along. Handmade, wooden bridges act as the entrances, while the tin roofs help keep the inside dry. You will find it to be both fun and fascinating to watch these communities work together as they are constantly fixing up their houses, regardless of the extreme weather patterns.
Amazonian Markets & Culture
The unique way of life in the Amazon is like nothing you will ever see. Another must when visiting Iquitos, Peru, is to check out the beautifully chaotic Amazonian markets. When visiting any city, exploring the market should be at the top of your to do list. A local market best displays the authentic culture of a city as there is always so much going on, but not many are as unique as this one.
Here in Iquitos, the vendors spread out across multiple streets and into a large building. The outside portion gets dirty quickly as the ever-changing weather of the Amazon basin is unpredictable. Moto taxis speed through the streets while Amazonian fish from the river are thrown around and cut up. Smoke rises from grills as bananas and plantains are cooked up alongside fresh piranha. The sites outside are mesmerizing, but incoming storms quickly muddy up the streets.
Inside, the vendor stalls are crammed full, containing thousands of roots, herbs, and animal extracts that are said to cure all sorts of ailments, from respiratory illness to baldness and apparently, a broken heart. You will have the opportunity to try a few out, but. wedon’t recommend buying something if you don’t know what you’re looking for as endangered Amazonian fauna can be sold in themarket. A local friend or guide is NECESSARY to visit these markets!
The natural healing powers of the Amazon are in every direction and it becomes overwhelming to learn about them all. It’s a bit shocking to find the fur of a jaguar and the skin of an anaconda, but apparently that’s a usual sight at an Amazonian market.
The Floating City of Belén
For the true adventure seeker, visiting the floating city of Belén cannot be left of your to do list. Nicknamed, “The Venice of Peru”, the scenery is a little bit different from its Italian counterpart and is one of the most fascinating you will ever see. Once a very well known and touristic hotspot, it was home to floating markets and beautiful buildings. Unfortunately, in recent years with the rise in water levels and an increase of poverty, Belén is not what it once was. It is infamous for its black market, but with the right guide (yes, you need to go with a local or guide), it is absolutely worth seeing for eye opening experience.
There’s another reason you won’t find many tourists if any at all in the Belén market as it’s pretty easy to get lost among the unorganized stalls. The selection of Amazonian fruits, roots and vegetables is incredible. Plantains, mangoes, pineapples, guava, passionfruit, yuca, cacao, avocados, coconuts, figs—you name it. Fresh fish, caught straight from the river in every direction, help create some delicious and creative cuisine. The options of different foods straight from the source of the Amazon Jungle and River is endless.
The biggest thing that you will notice is the people. Everyone in Belén, the main neighborhood of Iquitos, is extremely welcoming. As a matter of fact, they are happy to see a visitor more than anything. This isn’t the kind of place you would expect a traveler to venture though, but the locals of Belén are very eager to talk to you, show off different things and teach you about the area. Sure, there are plenty of issues that come from poverty, but this community is hurt because of what happens in the outside world, not what happens within. This community does nothing but smile and welcome you in what will be one of the most unforgettable experiences of your life.
For the majority of travelers that visit Iquitos, they have two major things on their mind: the mighty Amazon and Ayahuasca. In more recent years, Iquitos has become a big destination for those seeking a big change in their life. Talk to any Peruvian about the famed Ayahuasca and they will tell you that Iquitos is the only place for it. The psychoactive brew has been used for hundreds of years in religious or spiritual ceremonies in Indigenous communities throughout Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil. It is thought to act as a healing medicine to treat both physical and mental problems. Many Peruvians have a story to tell about how Ayahuasca changed their lives in some form, with most of them raving about Iquitos being the center of it. The town is home to hundreds of eco lodges and jungle retreats that host safe places with qualified and professional Shamans. There are no touristic scams here. All of the services throughout Iquitos are meant to bring you closer to nature and to yourself. If this is an experience that you have been looking for, then Iquitos is the place.
While Ayahuasca ceremonies are quickly growing in popularity, the majority of visitors to Iquitos are making their way directly into the jungle for a natural escape from daily life. You can put yourself immediately off the grid by taking a 10 minute boat ride down the Amazon River to one of the local eco lodges. Staying with an eco lodge is the best way to fully immerse yourself into the jungle. There are many options, but Amazon Garden Eco Lodge has the best accommodation, food and adventure filled itinerary.
Let’s state this again: Visiting Iquitos is not for the faint-hearted traveler. Alternatively, if you want a fully immersive Amazonian adventure, Iquitos, Peru, has your name written all over it.