Peru’s

Jungle City

Guest post by: Nicole Tegge

I think for most of us, we grow up with vivid images of the Amazon jungle: man-crushing anacondas, stalking jaguars, sky-scraping tree canopies.  Well, at least I did, probably due to my fascination with all-things animal.  Image my excitement when the opportunity arose to visit Iquitos! 

 

Iquitos is a city in the northern region of the Peruvian Amazon.  Perhaps better called “Peru’s Jungle City” or “The Gateway to the Amazon”, it’s a common destination for those who wish to experience this region of the world.

 

So, after much anticipation I recently visited this bucket list destination.  Spending a long weekend in this city, I can definitely say that the reality exceeded expectations.  The region is hands-down spectacular, and I hope everyone has the chance to spend the day lazily canoeing down the Amazon or sipping exotic, local fruit juices along the promenade.  For these reasons, I’ve created this guide on the most important things you need to know about Iquitos, Peru.

Iquitos Peru

Background

Iquitos is the world’s largest city inaccessible by road.  That’s right… you can only arrive via plane or boat!  Just this fact alone lends to the aurora of remoteness you feel once arriving to its small airport.

Weather

Located in the Amazon, you’d be correct to assume that the city is hot and humid.  Even visiting in early March, the end of the winter season, brought mid-day temperatures in the 80’s.  While temperatures may not change greatly, average rainfall does!  Visiting the rainy season in the dry or wet season will definitely impact your trip, so be sure to plan accordingly!

History

 

For thousands of years, Iquitos was inhabited solely by indigenous peoples.  However, in the late 19th century it became the center of the huge Amazon rubber trade. Mostly European traders and businessmen flocked here to take advantage of the rubber trees prevalent in the Amazon jungle.  The trade left its mark.  Colonial mansions with beautiful ceramic tiles still line some streets highlighting the disparity of wealth it helped contribute to here.  Today the population continues to be very diverse and boasts more than 450,000 people in the metropolitan area.

street art in Iquitos
Samiria Jungle Hotel

Where to Stay

 

Iquitos has a nice mix of accommodation options.  Options range from backpacker hostels to mid-range or luxury hotels.  As someone who spent a lot of time researching the perfect option, take it from me when I say that I strongly recommend staying at Samiria Jungle Hotel.  This hotel is affordable while providing all the amenities you can imagine as well as top-rate service.    

Samiria is the only 4-star hotel in Iquitos and that’s evident by all the attention to detail shown here.  It’s located right on the riverfront and not far from the plaza providing beautiful river vistas and a quiet location.  The hotel boasts a large pool, pool-side bar, gym, and restaurant.  The breakfast buffet and menu options are extraordinary, and we certainly chowed down on our fair share of tasty dishes. 

The hotel is owned by a local Peruvian, Tedy, who traveled the world for years before deciding to take over the crumbling hotel in his hometown.  In 5 years, he’s transformed it into from bankrupt into, hands-down, one of the best in Iquitos.  He is so friendly that even running this huge operation, he has time to sit down and enjoy a quiet breakfast with his guests.  Don’t feel shy to ask for him during your stay!

Personally, I don’t have enough good things to say about the hotel.  Some of my favorites include their efforts to be ecological friendly, their tour packages, and their magnificent customer service.  Even if you choose another option while staying in Iquitos, I recommend dropping by for the food or one of their events.  Next weekend they’re hosting a pool party!

reception - Samiria Jungle Hotel

Reception

Samiria Jungle Hotel

Mayantu Restaurant

Samiria Jungle Hotel

Pool-side bar

Samiria Jungle Hotel

Hotel bathrooms

Samiria Jungle Hotel

Front entrance

What to Eat

As someone who’s been living in Lima for months, let’s just say I’ve grown accustomed to delicious food.  I think Lima has some of the best food in the world, so expectations were pretty high before arriving to Iquitos.  I’m excited to say that Amazonian food didn’t disappoint.  Watch out, Lima!

Amazonian Food

Paiche

Paiche is one of the largest freshwater fish in the world.  It regularly measures around 8 feet and 450 pounds!  It’s normally prepared by steaming it in a large leaf with onions, tomatoes, and cilantro; the taste is exquisite.  I’m no seafood expert, but I’ve been told it’s flavor closely resembles that of cod or tilapia.  It’s served almost without any spines and literally melts in your mouth.

 

Paiche is said to be full of minerals and vitamins that contribute to its many health benefits including lowering cholesterol and preventing anemia.  The fish is not heavy, quick to ingest, and a must-try while in Iquitos! 

 

 

Juane

Juane is the Amazon’s most popular rice dish.  Rice is stuffed with chicken, hard-boiled eggs, olives, and spices before being wrapped in a large bijao or banana leaf; it’s cooked in a large clay pot before being served, leaf intact.  You can find juane all around Iquitos from local market stalls to fancy restaurants.

Side note: the dish’s popularity arises from its traditional consumption on the feast of San Juan or St. John the Baptist Day.

Amazonian food

Photo courtsey of: elcomercio.pe

Amazonian Food

Tacacho

Tacacho comes from the Quecha word for “hit”.  That makes sense considering it’s prepared by smashing roasted banana.  The roasted banana is mixed with spices, small pieces of pork, salt, and butter.  It’s often serviced with cecina or sausage and usually eaten in the mornings.

Cecina and Chorizo

Cecina is an Amazonian preparation of smoked meat, usually pork.  It looks deceptively dry although it’s far from it!  It’s delicious and I highly recommend it!

Chorizo is a type of pork sausage.  While you can find chorizo all over the world, the typical version here is artisanal meaning it’s prepared via the traditional, smoked way. 

Amazonian food
Amazonian Food

Chonta Salad

Chonta is a kind of vegetable made from a specific palm tree found in the region.  Its white in color and can almost be said flavorless.  It’s served within salads most salads here and can best be described as a Amazonian-type of lettuce.  Think lettuce cut into fettucine-type strings and accompanied by tomatoes and avocados served before or with your meal.

Aguaje

This fruit is considered a best kept secret of the Amazon.  It’s consumed in many ways: in its natural state, in juices, or even in ice cream.  It’s known to have an abundance of health benefits including regulating hormones, limiting acne, and reducing the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.  It’s considered a natural estrogen and although I saw both genders consuming it around Iquitos, many Peruvians told us it’s a “woman’s drink”.

While I’m in the minority of those I talked to about this fruit, I hated it.  I could barely stomach a second sip of the juice we ordered off the street.  However, don’t let my opinion stop you.  You’ll see locals savoring it at most street corners.

Amazonian food
Amazonian Food

Suri

As someone who’s traveled for quite a few years and tried quite a few interesting foods, rarely do I come across one now that makes me think twice about trying.  When I first saw live suri (aka worms) crawling around in buckets, I almost couldn’t try it.  But, alas, when in Rome…  😬

 

For 5 soles ($1.50 USD) you can have three on a stick.  Now, while I readily admit I only had one (I had to share, right), they weren’t as bad as I thought.  First off, I chose the cooked option.  This helps eliminate the “gushiness” I expected after initially seeing them.  My friend commented that he thought they tasted like roasted chicken’s skin.  I’m not so sure.  For me, I tried to eat it as quickly as possible and didn’t really take the time to savor it and decide what it tastes like.  For the adventurous among you, give it a try while in Iquitos… they are full of protein. 😉

Drinks

Oh, how I wish cocona and camu camu juices were more common outside of the Amazon.  These drinks are refreshing, with the perfect level of sweetness.  (And healthy! Camu camu is said to have 50x the amount of vitamins present than orange juice.)  You’ll find that most restaurants will offer at least one of these two juices with every “menu of the day”.

Amazonian food

What to do

If only we had more time!  This small city packs a big punch in terms of things to do.  Like I mentioned, we were able to knock most things off of our list during a long weekend.  But I definitely recommend that you stay longer if you have the chance.

Iquitos Peru Ultimate Guide
Iquitos Peru Jungle Tour
Iquitos Peru Jungle Tour

Jungle River Tours

Tours into the Amazon are the biggest attraction here.  There are many companies to choose from and most offer a variety of packages, prices, and options.  In order to simply the multitude of choices you can chose from, let’s say that the tours fall into two main categories.  The first is a full-day “touristy” package and the second is a full-day “authentic” package. 

Researching options beforehand, we chose the latter as many of the touristy packages are damaging for the local animals.  Animals are hunted in the jungle for their meat, put into cages or made as “pets”, or killed for souvenirs. These tours offer you the chance to get up close with dolphins, monkeys, sloths and more.  And, while I admit, I would love to come up and personal with any of these animals, we didn’t want to contribute to the harming of such a fragile ecosystem. 

We chose the second option which involved many boat rides through rivers, canals, and tributaries on the search for wildlife.  Regrettably, we didn’t spot any animals aside from a profusion of different bird species.  However, the tour was great and I wouldn’t change it.  It was relaxing, beautiful, educational, and a ton of fun.  It even offered the added benefits of:

– Fishing for piranhas

– A delicious lunch

– A short jungle hike

Iquitos Peru Ultimate Guide

Photo Courtesy of: newperuvian.com

Visit a Rescue Center

While I’ve already mentioned some of the harmful animal-viewing experiences available in Iquitos, I would be remiss not to mention some of the amazing wildlife rescue centers that are doing great work in the area.  Perhaps the most well-known and loved is the Manatee Rescue Center.  It’s only a few soles to enter and here you can view people trying to protect one of the rarest Amazonian species.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to go.  While the place has some amazing reviews and is well-recommended by many, we just didn’t have time. 

Market in Iquitos Peru
market in Peru

Go to a local market

I never get tired of local markets.  The energy, souvenirs, FOOD.  This one was no exception and proved highly entertaining.  It was full of typical Amazonian food and products.  It’s here that we tried the larva grubs.  😱

 

There are various local markets located in Iquitos.  The biggest and most famous is the Belen Market.  When going here, be sure to go early and ask the locals for the best areas and the areas to avoid.

 

Rent a motorcycle

Renting a motorcycle is a great way to experience the city.  And it’s cheap!  Motorcycles are rented by the hour for around 12 soles ($4 USD).  Obviously, this option isn’t open to those without a valid motorcycle license.  However, rates can be negotiated with the local mototaxi drivers and they will be happy to have you hire them out by the hour, half-day, or full-day.

We decided to rent a motorcycle for 2 hours and were able to see a large part of the city this way.  We did have to maneuver through people trying to peg us with water balloons and paint.  (More on that later.)

Things to keep a look out for include Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, Plaza de Armas, and the Casa de Fierro (the Iron House).  These are all within a short walk of each other and are all unique and historical in their own right.

Riverfront Iquitos Peru

Walk the Riverfront

Gorgeous European-styled architecture, cafes, and museums line one-side of this lovely boulevard.  On the other are sweeping views of the river.  Some houses, decaying ships, and food stalls line the shallows of the river and you can see some local children jumping between the shade and trees.  

Belen neighborhood Iquitos

Belen

Belen is a lower-income neighborhood in Iquitos made up of stilt and floating houses.  There’s a huge market here in the mornings where you can find the freshest produce available.  It can be a little chaotic and overwhelming but it’s well-worth the view into local life.  While walking around, be sure to be respectful and courteous as you’ll see intimate moments of the local life.

Pardo nightclub Iquitos

Pardo

If you’re up for some nightlife and dancing, be sure to check out Centro de Convenciones del  Pardo.  Locals here love to party so there are many options, but this place was my favorite.  Pardo is a club but without all the negatives I associate with them.  First off, there’s no fancy VIP line and it’s free entrance!  Secondly, there’s actually room to dance even though the place was definitely bursting with people; it’s also open-air meaning that it’s not sticky and gross like almost every club I’ve been to.  And thirdly, as someone who absolutely detests techno and most club music, I loved the live bands who played traditional Amazonian music.  Locals never seemed to tired and danced all night long!

Iquitos Peru Carnival
Iquitos Peru Carnival
Iquitos Peru Carnival
Iquitos Peru Carnival

CARNIVAL! 

 

The first surprise in store for us upon landing in Iquitos was the weekend we’d spend here coincided with their Carnival.  The city would be in full-celebration!  We couldn’t believe our luck.  Carnival in Iquitos is special.  Locals tie presents (clothes, balloons, hats, ball, buckets, fruit, and more) to these huge palm trees that they hoist into the air.  (The trees reminded us of a jungle version of Christmas trees.)  The trees will remain standing for little more than a day.  Neighbors, families, and friends gather together to ornament the tree and make sure they’re ready for Sunday.  Before heading to bed on Saturday, many groups head to the plaza where there are performances, food, and activities.  Others head to parties or continue partying in the streets.

 

On Sunday, locals danced and partied around the trees all-day.  They would have jungle music playing on huge speakers full-blast, buckets of never-ending water balloons, water guns, and paint.  If you got anywhere near their celebration, they’d offer you a beer or a handshake, but not before drenching you with a few water balloons or paint.  It was an absolute blast and the perfect way to end our trip!

Carnival in Iquitos
Carnival in Iquitos

There you have it. A little about why we loved this awesome city in the midst of the Amazon Jungle.  Comment below and share if you’ve been and why you loved it!

Nicole Tegge

Nicole Tegge

Guest Blogger

After a study abroad trip in college sparked the love of traveling, Nicole has called home Taiwan, Colombia, and, currently, Peru. In between exploring foreign cities, she’s taken on a variety of work including copy writing, blogging, social media management, and more!

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