Nestled on the Amazon River in the heart of the Amazon Basin, Iquitos is a bustling metropolis in Peru’s Amazon Jungle. Boasting a population of nearly half a million people, Iquitos has no shortage of attractions for nearly any tourist. A big city with jungle roots, Iquitos can offer what few other cities can in the way of culture, food and entertainment.
On the edge of the city lies a warm lake with white sand beaches and all the famed animals of the Amazon Jungle housed nearby. Quistacocha is the destination spot to spend a relaxing day enjoying the heat, sun and sites of Iquitos. Sit on the beach with a fresh coconut or walk the paths through the wildlife sanctuary. Enjoy local cuisine at the restaurant and don’t miss out on catching a glimpse of the famed pink Amazon River dolphin! View native wildlife up close and personal, but don’t get too close to the anacondas – they stink! If you’re up for more than just relaxation, boats are available to rent. Take a spin out on the lake to get away from the weekend crowds.
2) Indian Market
Located in the San Juan district of Iquitos, the Indian Market is a great place to pick up your gifts to bring back home. Numerous shops line several alleys and vendors are always willing to barter with you. Start your price low – they know who the tourists are and will make you pay for it. While wandering the stalls, check out the set of authentic Bora drums. These massive instruments were and, in some places still are, an important part in communication. Strike a rhythm and wait for a response. Many unique items line the many shelves of the Indian Market. Take your time, you may find that treasure you’ve been looking for! When you’re done shopping, head over to the restaurant across the street. It may not look like much, but if you arrive on the right day, they will serve you the best chicharrones (deep fried pork) in town.
ENTERTAINMENT TIP: If looking for fun at night, or to watch sports during the day, or even a taste of home, visit the Wild Rover Hostels Chain for great food, sports and beer! Entrance to their bars is free even for non-guests
3) Belen Market
If you’re the kind of tourist who doesn’t like tourist spots, try the Belen market. Just a few soles and a motokar will get you from your hotel to this Iquitos treasure. This is where the locals shop and you’ll probably smell it before you see it, but if you want to experience the real Iquitos, this is a great place to start and finish. The Belen market stretches for blocks and nearly everything imaginable is available for purchase if you can offer the right price. But buyers beware, many of the unique items are not legal for purchase and are certainly not legal to bring across international borders. Be sure to check with your own border services before making any questionable purchases. As a general rule, if it is, was or could be alive, chances are that it should remain where it is and not land in your suitcase. If a gastronomical adventure is up your alley, there are numerous native remedies, produce, meat, spices and even bugs and insects. The locals have a way of preparing it all.
Being the Capital of the Peruvian Amazon, there is no shortage of boats for hire in and around Iquitos. If you’ve finished at the Belen Market, find a willing local to take you on a trip out on the river. If you’re fortunate, the dolphins will be out frolicking in the murky waters. If fortune has turned her back, you may get caught in an Amazonian downpour. Either way, you’ll go home with some unforgettable moments. Aqua Expeditions and Delfin Amazon River Cruises offer some of the finest luxury cruises, costing upwards of US$ 2,500 per person for a 4 days trip.
You can’t leave Iquitos without sampling the local fare. From street food to fine dining, the city has everything to offer. With a large Chinese population, you will be hard pressed to find better Chinese food outside Beijing. Coming into its own as a destination for fine cuisine, Peru’s meal of choice – rotisserie chicken and French fries – will leave your mouth watering. On a hot evening, hop in a motokar and let the breeze cool you down as you ride to Al Carbon. Vegetarians beware, this is not a place you want to be seen. Brought to the table over a bed of hot coals, a platter of assorted meats will make your stomach growl. End the meal with a glass of frozen lemonade and you’ll wonder why you ever booked your ticket home.
Whether Iquitos is just a stopover or your final destination, there is no shortage of things to do or places to see. If you’re looking for even more unique experiences, don’t be afraid to ask at your hotel or even your motokar driver. The locals love to share their city with the world.
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