Iquitos is the capital of the Peruvian department of Loreto, which is the largest department in Peru, covering nearly one-third of Peru. Barring Brazil, Peru contains the highest portion of the Amazon rainforest, and the department of Loreto contains most (but not all) of the Peruvian Amazon. You may be thinking, “I get it. This is where I should go for my Amazon excursion.” However, all of this being said, Iquitos is the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by car, and given its size, reaching the Amazon from Iquitos is no small feat either. So before we get to our Iquitos Travel Guide, a quick note on whether or not to go to Iquitos in the first place.
So you want to go to the Amazon?
If you’re reading this, you’re probably (a) going to Peru and (b) interested in exploring the Amazon rainforest.
There are plenty of options for where to start your Amazon adventure, particularly if you are looking at South America as a whole. Within Peru, people usually start from either Iquitos, which is further north, or Puerto Maldonado, which is closer to Cusco, further south. If you’re deciding between where to visit the Peruvian Amazon from, this article will help. TLDR; Iquitos is a larger city than Puerto Maldonado, which means that you have to travel farther to reach untouched rainforest, whereas Puerto Maldonado is a very small town with nature reserves more accessible. However, since Iquitos is larger, it has more to do. So if you want to spend more time in the jungle than just your guided tour of the Amazon, head for Iquitos. As for accessibility, Puerto Maldonado is easily accessible by air and land from both Lima and Cusco, whereas Iquitos is only easily accessible by plane from Lima unless you are willing to spend up to a week traveling by land/water. Given your trip to Peru most likely includes Lima, accessibility shouldn’t be an issue, and what you want to do in the Amazon should be your guiding factor.
I wish I’d known all of this before booking my trip to Iquitos. As I was time constrained and only there for a day before our expedition. Even though it was a quick trip, read on for tips on where to stay, what to do, and what to eat in Iquitos, Peru.
Things to Do
Take a tour of the Amazon
There are very many companies to choose from and the range of quality is wide. You can pay thousands for a week-long cruise or a couple hundred to stay in an eco-lodge. Somewhere in between is the adventure option which includes traveling deep into the reserve and camping in the jungle. We chose a 3-day / 2-night tour camping in the reserve. To avoid overpaying, ask your hostel for a tour company that they recommend.
Explore Belen Market
Belen Market is one of the largest, smelliest, and most hectic outdoor markets I have ever visited. It is AN EXPERIENCE, for sure. We met a stand owner who had a pet monkey and let us play with him for 10 minutes. If you go, make sure not to take anything flashy and to keep your valuables close to you.
Visit a Museum
We visited the Museo de Cultura Indigena (Indigenous Culture Museum), which is full of tribal artifacts from all of Amazonia. It’s only S./10 and very conveniently located on the riverside malecon.
There are MANY MORE things to do in Iquitos like visit the Amazon Rescue Center or Monkey Island…
…however, we didn’t do either and cannot comment. Read this article for ideas and also ask your hostel for more recommendations.
What to Eat
While Iquitos does not have a buzzing culinary scene, you can still enjoy classic Amazonian dishes. Expect to pay a tourist tax at any restaurant that looks decent. A few recommendations:
- Restaurante Fitzcarraldo is an elegant riverside establishment that pays tribute to a 1982 movie that was filmed in Iquitos. It’s a great place to try classic Amazonian dishes in a clean and comfortable environment.
- Amazon Bistro is perhaps my favorite restaurant in Iquitos because of the vibes. Go grab a coffee and a pastry and lookout over the river, or any meal (they serve menu del dia!). This is a blogger’s haven.
- Karma Cafe -Go here for hippie vibes and an international cuisine. They also serve local Amazonian dishes.
Where to Stay
The Amazon Within is a family-run hostel that was recommended to me by virtually everyone I’d met who had been to Iquitos. I found it average at best. My only complaints were the shoddy internet and lack of hot water. Now, I’ve heard that shoddy internet is par for the course in Iquitos, but I can’t definitively say that is the case since I didn’t stay elsewhere in Iquitos. If I were to go back to Iquitos, I would stay at the Flying Dog hostel, as it is more centrally located.
If you choose to stay at the Amazon Within, know that a mototaxi from Plaza de Armas (the main square) is 2-3 soles.
How to Get There
The most convenient way to get to Iquitos is to fly from Lima. You can find roundtrip flights for less than $100USD up to days before your desired travel day. Otherwise, and so long as you don’t mind slow travel (and I mean really slow travel), you can get to Iquitos via a combo of buses, ferries and flights depending on where you’re coming from. The trip can take over a week if you choose to travel by ferry (a cargo ship that runs along the Amazon), as departure is sporadic.
Where to Go Next
As I’ve mentioned before, you are most likely flying to Iquitos from Lima and vice-versa. From Lima, Peru is your oyster. For those traveling south from Lima, you can take a multistop road trip through Paracas, Huacachina and Arequipa before getting to Cusco, which would take roughly a week. Or if you’re running short on time, simply fly to Cusco from Lima. For those traveling north, from Lima, you can take an overnight bus to the hiking town of Huaraz. From Huaraz, you can take another overnight bus to get to the coastal city of Huanchaco for some sun & surf.
- All prices and durations are as of October 2019.
- We want to give credit to the following blogs and blogposts that offer useful advice that helped to make our trip!
- The New Peruvian
- Career Gappers