Top 10 Things to Do in Iquitos Peru

by Captain Bill

Top 10 Things to Do in Iquitos Peru

Iquitos Peru, Belen, house built on balsa logs

Iquitos Peru is well known as the gateway to Amazon adventures. It is also a charming destination in its own right, deserving at least one or two days to explore, either before or after your Amazon cruise or lodge stay, preferably both. Iquitos is surrounded by rivers and rainforest, with a rich history, and a unique culture that has evolved in isolation from the rest of the civilized world.

We all have different interests, but there is sure to be something here for everyone. Most of you will not have the time or inclination to enjoy all of the Top 10 ten things to do in Iquitos Peru, but my hope is that you will sort through the list to learn your options. Choose two or three of the choices listed in no particular order, and pursue your personal interests. Make the best use of your available free time, even if only for a few hours before your flight out to Lima and beyond.

  1. Belen “Super” Market, the Opposite of a Tourist Trap
  2. Amazon Animal Orphanage and Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm, the #1 Tourist Attraction in Iquitos
  3. Watch How Real Indians Live at the Yagua and Bora Indian Villages
  4. Hold a Sloth, or be Squeezed by a Giant Anaconda at a Jungle Menagerie
  5. See the Big Cats at the Quistococha Zoo
  6. Take a Cruise Around Iquitos on the Three Rivers
  7. Look for Pink Dolphins
  8. Explore the History of Iquitos on a City Tour
  9. Play a Round of Golf at the Amazon Golf Course
  10. Take In the Scene on the Malecon, or Boulevard Saturday and Sunday Night

Iquitos Peru, Belen Market, joking with the butcher

(1) When travelers ask me to recommend somewhere that is not a “tourist trap” we will walk down to the Mercado de Belen. The Belen Market is a huge outdoor “super” market that sprawls for blocks, one of the great third world markets, bustling with life seven mornings per week, 365 days a year.

Everything that can be bought and sold in Iqutios can be found at the Belen Market; tropical jungle fruits, heart of palm, ayahuasca, mapacho, coca leaves, parrots, chicken eggs, fish eggs, turtle eggs, snail eggs, giant catfish, peacock bass, vampire fish, prehistoric fish with lungs, cows udder, tongue, stomach, intestine, eyeballs, feet, horns, hooves, (no source of protein is wasted), natural medicines to cure arthritis, diabetes, baldness, and even cancer. Chances are you will see many fascinating jungle extracted products you have never seen before.

A bag of coca leaves at the Belen Market, Iquitos Peru

Be careful, it is easy to get lost in the narrow twisting alley ways, crammed full of locals doing their daily shopping. When in doubt, climb the steps or walk uphill and hail a moto-car back to your hotel for two or three soles. As always, keep your valuables safe from pickpockets.

Combining the Belen Market in the morning with the Three River Cruise, and Looking for Pink Dolphins, in the afternoon makes for a non-touristy day to remember.

Iquitos Peru, Belen Market, giant catfish

(2) My favorite attraction near Iquitos is a short boat ride and hike to the Amazon Animal Orphanage and Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm. I wish everyone that has an extra half day before or after their Amazon Cruise or lodge could find their way to this tropical jungle garden. In case you are thinking “Butterfly farm, slow as watching larva eat leaf”, it is not like that. Although you will probably gain a better understanding of the life cycle of the butterfly, it will be more interesting than you might think, and parts of the tour are down right exciting.

Iquitos Peru, Amazon Animal Orphanage, and Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm

Most of the animals live free to roam around the Butterfly Farm, except for the jaguar who lives in a large cage with trees and a pool. You can probably feed the tapir, touch the anteater, monkeys will want to touch you, see a manatee and caiman in the pond, get up close to the macaws, and lots more…

Iquitos Peru, Butterfly Farm

There is more danger of pickpockets at the Butterfly Farm than at the Belen Market. The pickpockets are the monkeys. Be sure to keep everything you own secure. Two of these little rascals can unzip bags and pockets and be wearing your sunglasses in the top of the tree before you know it. I’ve watched the Black-faced Capuchin named Junior unscrew the lid on a plastic water bottle, poke leaves or paper inside, and screw the lid back on. His dexterity is remarkable. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, secure your gear.

(3) Two tribes of real Indians live in villages short, interesting boat rides from Iquitos. The Yaguas and Boras provide an opportunity for you to watch how natives have lived in the jungle for hundreds of years. The Boras perform traditional dances, the Yagua give lessons in shooting the blow gun. Both tribes sell handicrafts made from jungle extracted products.

Blow gun, Yagua village, Iquitos Peru

Due to the distance, difficulty and danger of approaching a tribe of uncontacted or rarely contacted indigenous natives, most visitors will appreciate helping the local Yagua and Bora tribes preserve their cultural heritage on the edge of civilization.

Iquitos Peru, bora village, bora girls

(4) Want to hold a cute sloth, wear a boa for a necktie, be squeezed by an anaconda? Dock your boat at Las Boas on the Momon River.

Iquitos Peu, Las Boas, macaws

(5) The Quistococha Zoological Park, is the fastest, easiest way to see and learn about rainforest wildlife. Most of you will never see a Jaguar, Ocelot or Marguay in the wild, because they are nocturnal, live in dense forest, and avoid humans. All of the wild cats, and most of the wildlife of the upper Amazon are on display at the zoo. You can also enjoy a botanical garden,  aviary, serpentarium, and lake, with beach. Bring your swim gear to cool off.

(6) Take a boat ride on the three rivers surrounding Iquitos. Cruise through the floating village of Belen, where the houses are  built on balsa logs that float up and down with the water level. See the Iquitos waterfront from a boat on the Itaya River. Watch the activity in the busy ports. Look for Pink Dolphins. Cruise down the magnificent Amazon River to the confluence of the Nanay River, and up the Nanay to the other side of Iquitos.

Iquitos Peru, Itaya River, boat ride

(7) Pink Dolphins are some of the most popular wildlife found in the Amazon. There are two places close to Iquitos where Pink and Gray Dolphins can frequently be seen. Hire a boat for a few hours and try your luck spotting the legendary, unforgettable, Pink Dolphin.

Iquitos Peru, pink dolphin

(8) Explore the history of Iquitos on a city tour. A good place to start is on the Plaza de Armas with La Casa de Fierro,  The Iron House, designed and built by Gustav Eiffel, and Inglesia Matriz, the Catholic cathedral. If you are a history buff, you can enjoy a two day project exploring 85 historical attractions worthy of your attention including; the Palace Hotel, Museo Amazonico, Masonic Temple, Iglesia de la Consolacion Chapel, the Seminary of St. Augustine, and the small narrow-guaged, wood-fired steam engine, from the rubber boom era.

Iquitos Peru, Iglesia de la Consolacion Chapel, the Seminary of St. Augustine

(9) If golf is your game, play a round at the 25 acre Amazon Golf Course. The 9 hole jungle course tests your skill with a multitude of challenges, including caiman sunning in the sand traps, piranhas biting in the water hazards, and red tailed boas constricting in the rough. You will have a good story to tell your friends back home.

Iquitos Peru, Amazon Golf Course

(10) Take in the Saturday and Sunday night scene  on the Boulevard, which starts gaining momentum around 7:00 and peaks around 9:30, one of the best times and places for people watching. Enjoy a special meal at one of the restaurants along the boulevard. Sample a Pisco Sour, the national drink, or a locally brewed Iquiteña beer. Be entertained by street musicians, comedy acts, or my favorite the capoeira martial arts dance that begins at 8:00pm. Mingle with the locals. Have fun.

Whether you are a history buff, a sightseer, or want to be immersed in the customs and culture of Iquitos, there is more to do here than you probably have planned for. I hope this list of the Top 10 Things to Do in Iquitos Peru, helps you prioritize your time, enhance your life, and make your stay in Iquitos pleasant and memorable.

If you would like to know the best way to accomplish any of the top 10 things to do in Iquitos, stop in and say hi at the Dawn on the Amazon office, facing the river, on the boulevard, Malecon, Maldonado #185.

Dawn on the Amazon at the Bora village

Top 10 Things to Do In Iquitos Peru

It was challenging keeping this list to a manageable 10 attractions. This is my opinion of the top ten, what did I leave out that you think should have been on the list? Leave a comment below and let us know your favorite things to do in Iqutios Peru.

I am working on follow up articles to this one, including the Top Night Life, Top Cruises, and Top Lodges. I admit I am not an authority on the night life and would value your suggestions in the comments or by email.

To make sure you do not miss out on the rest of this series, please subscribe to my RSS feed. It is easy and free. Thank you.

Bill Grimes, Amazon Tour

Pink Dolphin

Pink Dolphins, Legends and Sex

Pink Dolphins in Pacaya Samiria National Reserve

Our Amazon Tour to the Butterfly Farm, Iquitos Peru

Butterfly Farm, Iquitos Peru

You Could Love Iquitos Peru

Amazon Golf Course, Iquitos Peru, Open Under New Management

Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, Wikipedia

Google Maps, Iquitos Peru

Iquitos, Wikipedia

Fluvial Life in Motion, You Tube

Yagua, Wikipedia

Nanay River

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Macaw January 2, 2009 at 10:30 am

Wow that fish is huge! looks like a place I would love, especially with all the free roaming animals.

2 Chullachuckie January 22, 2009 at 10:27 pm

DO NOT visit Quistococha unless you are into seeing wild animals being neglected and abused. The last time I was there it was absolutely one of the worst experiences I have ever had in Iquitos; it left me with a sense of anger and sadness to see something like a beautiful jaguar pacing nervously in an 8’by 10′ cage, with some ignorant kid sitting right next to the cage with a boombox blaring away. And then there are the monkeys in an open pit, with a pool of water that looked dirtier than sewage. Most of the exhibits there are very distressing. Better not to support the abuse and neglect that goes on there.

3 Bill January 23, 2009 at 8:00 am

Hi Chullachuckie, I wonder how long ago it was since the last time you went to the Quistacocha Zoo. In the last couple of years a group of Australian volunteers, working with their Peruvian peers, have transformed the zoo. Continuing improvements are being made. To recommend not supporting the zoo is the same as shutting off the funding that drives the improvements, which would make conditions worse. I also wish the big cats had larger cages. In Iquitos, a minimally large cage, costs $10,000. What I might consider to be a perfect containment such as the San Diego Zoo, might cost, $100,000. Peru is still a third world poor country. Iquitos has 65% unemployment. Instead of recommending no support, better to find a way to channel first world funding to bring the Quistacoca Zoo up to your acceptable standards.

That is just my opinion. What about the rest of you that have visited the Quistacocha Zoo in the last couple of years. What do you think of the conditions? What do you think can be done to make a world class improvement?

Bill Grimes

4 Gart January 23, 2009 at 11:30 am

Hi Bill and Chullachuckie,

I agree with Bill, things have improved dramatically at Quistococha over the last couple of years. There is a non-profit that works with volunteers, also from other countries, trying to make the necessary improvements. It seems to me that the awareness about animal well-being is on the rise. Surely, there is still a lot of room for improvement and many things are not up to Western standards yet, but, with funding and support from abroad, things will get better. In terms of animal abuse there are some places around Iquitos that are far worse than Quistococha. Bill knows what I am talking about 🙂
Quitsococha deserves our support.

Gart

5 Pisco April 8, 2009 at 10:35 pm

Nightlife in Iquitos rocks. But, well, yes, wildlife is pretty much interesting.
Almost all supplies got Iquitos trough air so they are more expensive that in the rest of Peru.

6 tony kinnard December 4, 2009 at 9:28 am

I keep your web site bookedmarked to help plan my
next trip there. I enjoy the iquitos times very much.

Thanks

TONY KINNARD

7 Pam March 31, 2010 at 3:04 pm

A group of us where at the zoo last year…no it wasn’t like a Western Zoo…but nothing we saw in Iquitos was like the Western world…I found it to be a great experience… the people we took where locals and it is a real treat for them to enjoy…something we should take in account…going to the zoo is a LUXURY to them…they have a lot of other pressing issues to spend money on other than the animals at the zoo ..so if someone doesn’t like the conditions do something to help them not destroy something of good pleasure… the world is embracing less and less moral pleasures …those animals are feed something a lot of people lack in the same region

8 Roomani September 25, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Hey guys,

just a question:
is there any local tribes who would let us live with them for about a week?
me and my friend are planing to go to Peru and would much rather stay and learn from a local tribe.
Any info would help..

Thanks
Roomani

9 Pili November 11, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Iquitos is heart of the Peruvian Amazon…if you are adventurous and open to learn about other cultures I recommend you to visit Iquitos..Visiting Quistococha Zoo is a great way to stay in contact with nature.. support our Zoo and dont destroy it with negative comments.

10 Anna November 22, 2010 at 6:53 pm

OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!! GIRLS DONT WALK AROUND NAKED!!!????????? NO SHIRT NO TOP OR ANYTHING?!! WHY!!!!!!! I AM NEVER GOING IN THAT AREA OF PERU

11 michael December 7, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Damn them girls can be very hot

12 Gart van Gennip January 3, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Hi Bill!

I noticed you haven’t gotten around to removing Las Boas from your top ten yet. The same is true for the article in The Iquitos Times. I hope you will do this soon. Please don’t send any people to those horrible places. The greedy owners there now charge as much as 50 soles per person to visit these centers of animal abuse and exploitation.
There’s only one way to stop the cruelty against animals; by not supporting it with tourism dollars. Instead I would suggest to list Fundo Pedrito, the cayman farm in Barrio Florido, as a daytrip destination. They only charge 5 soles, and they take excellent care of their animals in a beautiful environment.

For other great suggestions for daytrips, please visit http://www.ikitos.com/tourism

Thanks Bill!

13 Daniel April 1, 2011 at 5:27 am

Great post! I live in Iquitos and yes, being squeezed by and anaconda is priceless.

14 Bob Vincent August 10, 2011 at 1:22 pm

We are team Canada + 1 and are going in the raft race. We hope the 4 of us will stay on your boat for the race. Before the race we would like to see the butterfly farm and zoo.

15 Krishnadas February 26, 2012 at 5:26 am

After Reading all these comments, I feel like Visiting this country
But Unfortunately I don’t have Money.

16 AnimalLover January 27, 2016 at 6:01 am

It’s been awhile since any comments and I’m wondering if anyone has been to visit Quitsococha in the last 6months as I would like to know if the Jaguar now has an improved habitat in the park?
Also does anyone know the story of how it got there, was it injured or rescued from animal traffickers or what?
I was considering volunteering there for a day when and honestly would love to see all the animals up close but that cage situation does kind of put me off even though I appreciate the work they do there.
Any info appreciated, Thankyou

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