Top 10 Things to Do in Iquitos Peru
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.
- Belen “Super” Market, the Opposite of a Tourist Trap
- Amazon Animal Orphanage and Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm, the #1 Tourist Attraction in Iquitos
- Watch How Real Indians Live at the Yagua and Bora Indian Villages
- Hold a Sloth, or be Squeezed by a Giant Anaconda at a Jungle Menagerie
- See the Big Cats at the Quistococha Zoo
- Take a Cruise Around Iquitos on the Three Rivers
- Look for Pink Dolphins
- Explore the History of Iquitos on a City Tour
- Play a Round of Golf at the Amazon Golf Course
- Take In the Scene on the Malecon, or Boulevard Saturday and Sunday Night
(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.
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.
(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.
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…
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.
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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
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.
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Bill Grimes, Amazon Tour
Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, Wikipedia
Fluvial Life in Motion, You Tube