Gateway to Peru’s Amazon & only accessible by plane or boat, Iquitos has a lot going on considering its size, and at present is still fairly off the beaten track for tourists & backpackers.
Though you’ll be surprised, in your head it makes you think of a small floating village, surrounded by jungle… Iquitos will give you a wake up call. It’s a hustling a bustling town, with motocars everywhere, and still very much developing. And even it’s a major attraction, the floating market is actually quite sad part.
Here’s my tried & tested top 10 things you must to in Iquitos, including one very important tip!
What to do in Iquitos!?
1. Amazon Experience Iquitos
Why else come to Peru’s most northern point if you’re not going to explore the incredible Amazon rainforest!? I did a 4 day 3 night camping trek in the Amazon’s Pacaya-Samiria Reserve & it was one of the best things I’ve done in life. This is the only way to truly appreciate how immense, beautiful and important our rainforest is.
Ranging from 1 day trips to longer stays, luxury lodges to Bear Grills style, there are plenty of options that come down to personal preference. I booked directly with Amazon Experience the biggest reason being their social impact policy, supporting locals indigenous people & protecting the rainforest. They use local guides, born and raised in or near the Amazon, I’d 100% recommend these guys. Cost: $100-$680 depending on the length & experience you want to go for.
2. Fall in love at Monkey Island
This is a must do for anyone visiting Iquitos, monkey island is a place you’ll remember for life. There are 2 of these in Iquitos, the real one (La Isla de los Monos) and a scam one where the monkeys are poorly treated. I did my research to make sure I got the right one & booked directly through their website.
You’ll take a boat to the island, which is quite a challenge (message me if you’re doing this without a guide and I’ll give you the advice you need). Once there, you get a briefing & are asked to wash face creams / bug spray / sun cream off before meeting the monkeys.
Then it’s time! There are a few species on the island, all at different stages of their rehabilitation. Some orphans you can interact with, others at a later stage are kept further away preparing them for their release back into the wild. It’s a magical place, the guides are great & you can also volunteer there for 1 week plus, helping to feed and care for the monkeys each day. You won’t want to leave! Location: If your’e going self guided – contact me & we’ll talk you through it. Cost: S120pp / $36pp (includes boats to & from the island & entrance).
3. Explore an old ship wreck
You can stroll along the front in Iquitos, walking next to the river. One of the sights to see is a big ship wreck, washed up on the river. I also saw people standing / taking pictures on it (not sure I’d recommend doing that part as it looks quite old). Nontheless, it’s something to go and see whilst you are there. Location: Head down to the river front and turn right Cost: Free.
4. Watch a street fight at night
At night the restaurants and neighbourhood along the main front comes alive. Dancers, actors, drums, street food, it’s all happening! My favourite has to be the Capoeira dancing, a group of people dancing to a rhythm as if they are fighting, though without contact. We could have watched it for hours, the agility of these women & men is insane! It happens around 8/9pm each night on the main river front by the bars & restaurants. Cost: Free.
5. Play real life Mario Carts in a Motorcar
This was so much fun, at some point you’ll be jumping into these carts in Iquitos, or if you don’t have plans to, make sure you do! No lanes, everyone goes anywhere & timelapse on your phone makes it look just like Mario Carts.
6. Visit the Manatee rescue centre
About 20mins by motorcar outside the centre of Iquitos you’ll find this rescue centre, it’ll give you both happy and sad feelings. Happy for the way they help to rehabilitate animals and eventually release them into the wild. Sad for those animals who have been rescued, though previously domesticated for too long and therefore can never be released back.
The centre is funded by a U.S manatee conservation company and the guides there give you a great understanding of each animal, the steps involved in rehabilitation and the hard hitting realities. It would be good to see the government help funding stretch beyond just the manatee’s and help other animals there too. You can check it out here & just buy tickets when you arrive. Location: Grab a motorcar and ask them to take you to Centro de Rescate Manatíes. Cost: S20pp / $6pp.
7. Ayahuasca: advice on the Shaman
So I had no idea this is what most tourists come to Iquitos for. For those of you into this you’ll know what an Ayahuasca experience is, for those who haven’t heard of it, it’s basically spending a few days in a retreat with a group, using ‘traditional’ methods to cleanse your body.
The reason I’ve put traditional in inverted comers – there are different versions of the experience. Some have used the wrong type of medicines with very bad effects on the person, others are fake Shamans & have sexually abused tourists. And then you have the flip side of people who say it went well and helped them find the answer to something / discover their destiny.
It’s not my thing, though if you decide to do it, just make sure you’re doing it through a reputable organisation.
8. To visit or not to visit Belen Floating market
This is a place I originally had on the list to visit in Iquitos, though after discovering more about the sad contents of the market it came off my list.
This is a market where apparently anything goes, you will find the regular through the extreme such as monkeys heads & freshly cut tortoise shells (both illegal) along with a lot of other banned animal produce.
On one hand I wanted to see the reality of what was going on, on the other hand I thought – I know what I’d be seeing & I don’t want to see it / promote tourism there. So it’s a personal choice, be aware of what should & shouldn’t be at that market, stick to the main streets & try to remember your way, this is a huge market. Finally, visit early in the morning (6am-12pm) after 1/2pm locals made me aware it starts to become more dangerous. Location: Walk down to the river front and head right. Cost: Free / the expense of animal’s lives.
9. Watch a military display
Iquitos’ main square isn’t a big one, despite that they often have things going on at night & the weekend. The colourful church seems like something from a toy city, at night there are drama performances and on Sunday they had a big military march (we’re not sure if this just happened to fall on the day I was visiting or if it’s a regular thing). Location: Plaza de Armas. Cost: Free.
10. Stay at Laidy’s place
If your backpacking or looking for an authentic, family place to stay whilst in Iquitos, look no further! As soon as I arrived at Laidy’s house she made me feel so welcome and sat down to explain the area. She’s an inspirational and kind woman, who’s recently started opening her home to guests, now working on expanding it and not to mention also owns a shop on the river front! Here’s the Airbnb link.
The 1 Important tip – don’t panic with the airport taxis
Trust me, this is something that will come in handy. As soon as you step out of the airport, you will be surrounded by a mob of 30 or so taxi drivers literally shouting in your face and blocking your view. I’ve never experienced anything like it before, you’ll look back and laugh though at the time it will be quite overwhelming / can send you into panic mode.
So, a few options – 1. Get you accommodation to book you transport and wait inside until it arrives (recommended). 2. Get an ‘official taxi’ into the centre, 3. Go for it and jump in the motorcar of the person you like the most! To be honest, if you’re going for option 2 you may as well go for option 3, motocars are more fun! Just keep your cool.
There’s my travel guide to Iquitos! Let me know if you’re heading there, or have been and discovered something else to see. As always, if you have any questions (especially about getting to Monkey Island) just message or WhatsApp mke and I’ll help you out.