Our top ten tips to explore the Belen market.
The Belen Market has a reputation that I hope to repair with this article. If you follow along with Marmelita and I, we will show you our top ten tips to be safe, while finding the freshest produce, and learning the most about the new products you’ll discover. Some tourists only see the two day old chicken in the sun, the salted dried fish, the lower market with drunks passed out in the mud, the afternoon garbage, and buzzards. All of that can be interesting and is part of the story, but right now I want you to know about the fresh, safe, upper Belen Market.
The Belen Market is a great, huge, third world outdoor “super” market that covers 20 blocks or more. Everything that can be bought or sold, is bought and sold there. In this article Marmelita and I are focused on purchasing supplies to outfit an expedition with Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises. Follow along with us as we purchase only the best and freshest fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, herbs, and spices.
- It is best to go to the Belen Market in the morning. Relax, after breakfast, around 8:30 or 9:00 is early enough for you. Use the toilet before you go.
- We buy all of our Dorado fish from Mariela Macedo. She is located in the large blue building in the first stall of the fish section at the top of the stairs. We trust her to make sure our fish is the freshest. We trust, but we verify. The gills were still moving this mornhing. The price per kilo is S/ 18 to S/24 soles depending on supply and demand. If Mariela is not working her fish stall, her daughter Katarina will take good care of you.
- Shopping at the Belen Market is a microcosm of life. Building good relationships of trust and respect is important. Dawn on the Amazon is a good customer. We pay when we buy, and we only want the freshest and best. Marmelita is a charming woman. She jokes a lot, they laugh, and business is built around the relationship.
- Don’t buy your basil or other herbs in the stores because they are brought from Lima. The basil we use is harvested that morning and the dried herbs are fresh ground.
- For long expeditions we buy some fruits and vegetables completely ripe to start, and some to ripen (and not spoil) along the way. For the Dawn on the Amazon Cafe we only purchase the ripest fruits and vegetables because we buy them fresh every morning between 6:00 and 7:00am.
- One of the stores we like at the Belen Market is called El Cruz del Chalpon, and we think it’s the best place to buy many fruits and vegetables, but we always check around to make sure theirs are the freshest.
- The Belen Market is safe, but you should use the normal precautions as in any crowded area in the world. In hundreds of trips to the Belen Market to purchase supplies we have never been robbed or threatened. Use common sense. Don’t look or be vulnerable. Be alert to pickpockets. Don’t carry unnecessary valuables with you. Carry everything in front of you, backpacks, fanny packs, purses, camera bags, etc. I keep my camera out, strap around my neck, but I also keep one hand on it at all times.
- Keep your wallet and change purse in your front pockets, preferably zipped up. Keep some small sole bills and change in a separate pocket, so you never have to get your large sole bills out to show anyone you have them. No vendor will want to make change for a S/ 100 sole bill so you can buy a S/ 2 sole mango anyway. US currency is nearly worthless here. Plan ahead, change to small bill soles before coming to the Belen Market.
- Dawn on the Amazon is the only tour company, restaurant, or store that rinses all of our fruits, vegetables, and herbs in pure water, then we soak them in pure water and then we rinse them again in pure water, so you can be safe and sure…and so I don’t have to worry about you.
- The Belen Market is not a tourist trap, it is real life, with much of real life’s beauty and ugliness, aromas and odors, laughter and anger, honorable vendors next to petty thieves with rigged scales, barkers shouting out their wares, musicians playing, cooks cooking, blenders blending, babies nursing, dogs doing what dogs do, parrots squawking, and all combined, create an excellent reason for some tourists that are interested to learn about real life in Iquitos to spend several hours here.
- Bonus Tip. To make sure you learn the most about the exotic rainforest natural medicines and other products, many of which might be new for you, and to make sure you don’t get lost in the labyrinth of alleyways, you will enjoy your time much more with a nice, knowledgeable, English speaking guide. I know where there are three of them I can recommend. Check in at my Dawn on the Amazon office on the boulevard, over looking the river, less than two blocks from the Plaza de Armas.
Nearly all of the food served in the restaurants, lodges, and cruise ships operating in Iquitos Peru comes from the Belen Market. The difference is in how fresh that food is when it’s purchased, how it’s cleaned and rinsed, how soon it’s refrigerated, and the hygiene of the cooks that handle it.
I hope this article will bring a better appreciation and awareness of how the food chain is fresh and safe at the Belen Market, in Iquitos Peru. Maybe you will be relieved to know.
Our top ten tips to explore the Belen Market.
Bill Grimes is the President of Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises, and the owner of the Dawn on the Amazon Cafe. He blogs about Iquitos regularly on the Captain’s Blog at www.dawnontheamazon.com/blog.