Gateway to the northern Amazon and home to an array of attractions as eclectic as the city’s history and its people, Iquitos is a remarkable city — and not just because the only way to get there is by boat or by plane. Once you arrive, board a riverboat to your jungle lodge or continue on to Nauta to begin your Amazon cruise.
At a Glance
There’s plenty to see and do in the jungle city of Iquitos. Explore the local floating market at Belen. Sail to Isla de los Monos for fun with mischievous monkeys. Swim with dolphins. Wander the city seeking out the architectural legacy of the early 20th century rubber boom. Visit museums or book a tour to learn more about indigenous Amazonian cultures.
Away from the city, Iquitos provides access to excellent jungle lodges located up and down river. It’s also the point of departure for cruise ships destined for the Amazon headwaters.
The establishment of the Iquitos city coincides with the discovery of the Amazon Basin. During the mid-16th century, early Spanish expeditions ventured into uncharted rainforest in search of the fabled jungle city of gold of El Dorado. In northern Peru, the waterways they encountered didn’t lead them to El Dorado, but instead to the mighty Amazon River. It wasn’t long thereafter that the Spanish discovered the Amazon River stretched all the way from the Atlantic Ocean into present-day Brazil, introducing an important trade route in South America.
Over the next centuries and into the era of Peru’s declaration of independence from Spain in 1821, the importance of Iquitos grew. The city’s location in the heart of the Amazon Basin and easy river access was strategic for trade in an otherwise remote region.
The Rubber Boom, lasting from the 1880s through the early 1900s, was a period of intense growth for Iquitos. During this time, rubber was in high demand for making car tires in Europe and the United States, and opportunistic businesses used the port city to export large quantities of the natural growing Amazonian product on steamships cruising the waterways.
Where does the rubber come from? Natural rubber comes from rubber trees that grow in the Amazon rainforest of South America. Under their bark is a soft tissue that’s rich with a creamy liquid called latex used for making rubber products.
The rubber boom brought a lot of wealth to Iquitos for nearly three decades. Beautiful mansions were constructed along the city streets and the population grew. Unfortunately, this time of opulence in Iquitos was not without a dark side. Indigenous communities were exploited for their knowledge of rubber trees and enslaved for their physical labor. By 1910, the rubber boom had ended when alternative rubber tree plantations were established in more easily accessible parts of the world.
Today, tourism is an important driver of the Iquitos economy. Travelers arrive to the colorful Amazonian city by plane or boat, and venture deeper into remote tracts of rainforest where adventure and wildlife await.
In Peru, the Amazon rainforest spans the entire eastern side of the country and covers 60 percent of the national territory. Within its tropical borders are a myriad of habitats, from old-growth forest and river swamps to bamboo groves.
Northern Amazon in Peru
Iquitos is the gateway to the northern Peruvian Amazon. Located in the country’s remote province of Maynas, part of the northern Loreto Region, the city of Iquitos is not accessible by road. Travelers must fly or cruise the river by boat to get there.
The Amazon River and its tributaries form the Amazon Basin of northern Peru. Surrounded by lowland rainforest, Iquitos lies at the confluence of the Nanay and Itaya rivers. The elevation of the city is 300 ft (90 m) above sea level.
Plaza de Armas
Activity in Iquitos revolves around the city’s Plaza de Armas. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a leisurely stroll, grab a bite to eat or buy keepsake souvenirs. A stone statue commemorating the soldiers of the War of the Pacific (1879-1883) is the centerpiece of the tree-filled plaza. Matriz Church, also known as Iquitos Cathedral, on the western corner features neo-Gothic architecture and a tall bell tower.
The Tarapaca Malecon is a scenic promenade overlooking the Itaya River just a few blocks from the city’s main plaza. From the riverfront pathway filled with gardens and historic monuments, you can take in spectacular views of the surrounding Amazon tributary enveloped by rich green foliage and houses of the city’s Belen neighborhood built on stilts over the water. Locals and travelers gravitate to the lively energy of this part of Iquitos, replete with cafes, restaurants, bars, and beautiful mansions constructed at the height of the rubber boom.
Location: One block east of Plaza de Armas; Malecon extends about 5 blocks along the riverfront
Activity at Belen Market begins early and offers travelers an authentic look at life in Iquitos. Explore a labyrinth of stalls spreading multiple blocks and piled high with exotic fruits, freshly caught river fish, and jungle herbs. Also for sale are jungle-grown seeds and roots along with bottled oils used for healing and shamanistic rituals. It’s best to bring small notes of Peruvian Soles to make your market buys and bartering is common practice. Avoid petty theft by keeping a close eye on your belongings and don’t bring unnecessary valuables.
Location: North-eastern section of Iquitos along the river
House of Iron
Casa de Fierro, or House of Iron, was constructed at the end of the 19th century during the rubber boom. Covered in full by silver-hued metal sheets, its structure boasts a second story wrap-around balcony, several exterior columns, and a distinct red roof. The building is one of the best preserved examples of civil architecture in Peru and an iconic historic site in Iquitos.
Location: Plaza de Armas, corner of Prospero and Jiron Putumayo
- Amazonian Indigenous Cultures Museum highlights the history and culture of indigenous populations from all over the Amazon Basin. Housed in the small two story building, the well curated museum showcases ceremonial relics, clothing and hunting tools. (Malecon Tarapaca 332; Admission S/.15)
- Amazonico Museum displays pottery, faded paintings, and ceremonial relics from local tribes who have little to no written history. There are also large bronze statues depicting indigenous Amazon people. The museum is housed in the former town hall building built in 1863. (Malecon Tarapaca 382)
Northern Peruvian Amazon
The Amazon River, or Rio Amazonas, is the second longest river in the world. The river and its tributaries wind through dense tropical jungle in Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia. From the city of Iquitos, travelers can take a luxurious cruise on the mighty Amazon River, which flows across northern Peru, or stay at a jungle lodge along its shores. Water activities include wildlife spotting from a canoe, swimming with pink river dolphins, paddle boarding, and piranha fishing.
Amazon cruise packages are generally more expensive than a jungle lodge stay, but the additional cost comes with definite perks, including luxury facilities and endless rainforest and river panoramas from your private cabin. Ask your travel advisor for more information about cruising the Amazon in style.
Life in the Amazon rainforest takes many forms below, within, and above its leafy green canopy. It is home to big-eyed monkeys rustling amid trees, bright bird species, stealthy river creatures and other ecological oddities. In northern Amazon tributaries, pink river dolphins are but one unique animal that can be spotted in the national parks surrounding Iquitos. Keep your eyes peeled and camera in hand because seeing these rainforest residents in their natural habitat may well be the highlight of your jungle adventure. Jungle lodges surrounding Iquitos are the perfect hub for convenient access to remote jungle reserves.
Amazon Communities & Iquitos
The Amazon rainforest has a long history of human settlement, which dates long before European explorers arrived to South America. Many of these indigenous tribes survived along the riverways, offering great transport, and survived by hunting, fishing, and growing crops in fertile floodplains. Archaeological evidence of the oldest known Amazonian settlement dates back an estimated 11,000 years.
While the Amazon covers more than 60 percent of Peru, the sparsely populated region is home to only 5% of the country’s population. Some indigenous communities reside in main jungle cities, like Iquitos, Pucallpa, and Puerto Maldonado. Other communities reside in remote Amazon regions only accessible via boat ride.
The Yaguas are an indigenous group inhabiting an expansive region, from the northeastern jungle of Peru and into parts of Brazil and Colombia. In their native tongue, they call themselves “Nihamwo”, which means “The People”. On a trip to Iquitos, you can visit a small Yaguas village located along the Momon River. They are famous for their blowgun hunting techniques and visitors are invited to test out their aim. Traditionally, the Yagua are warriors spending their time hunting and fishing, but these days they welcome tourists into their villages and sell local crafts.
Also nearby Iquitos is the Bora community, which is significantly larger than the Yaguas village. Visitors are invited to participate in their festivities and song. Wearing traditional clothing, the Bora people use masks to symbolize mythical beings while performing expressive dance moves.
Hotel staff and tour representative generally speak Spanish and English. Spanish-speaking guides at jungle lodges also speak English, sometimes French or German. On a visit to a indigenous jungle community, you’ll hear their native language.
Tipping your naturalist guide and lodge staff is a nice way to show your appreciation. At a jungle lodge, it’s customary to tip at the end of a multiple-day stay. Of course, tip at your own discretion.
Wander the Streets of Iquitos
The city sprawls outward from the Plaza de Armas, surrounded by streets dominated by moto-taxis. The Iron House, located on a corner of the main plaza, and the numerous beautiful mansions lining the city’s riverfront malecon are evidence of the wealth brought to Iquitos during the rubber boom era. On an Iquitos tour you may come across some of the city’s most beautiful architecture relics: Casa Morey (now a hotel), Casa Vela (now a hotel), and San Agustin Seminary. Visit one of the city’s museums for a dose of Amazon culture. During your city exploration, take a break in a shady seat at a local cafe or restaurant to soak in the energy of this busting jungle hub at a slower pace.
Explore the Belen Neighborhood of Iquitos
A tour to the shanty town of Belen market and its residential area offer travelers a truly unique cultural experience. Morning visits to the Belen market are the best because it’s less crowded. Your guide will point out exotic fruits and veggies used in jungle cuisine, and likely lead you down Shaman’s Alley, where medicinal and spiritual Amazon remedies are sold. Next, hire a boat or canoe and explore the waterways of the Belen neighborhood where houses are built on stilts over the Itaya River or on top of balsa wood rafts.
Experience Local Jungle Culture
Travel by boat from Iquitos to the Yaguas and Bora communities for a unique cultural experience. A guide from the community will explain the local way of life and the history. During a visit, the local men, women, and children share aspects of their culture, including language, dance traditions, and artistic expression, with visitors. Beautiful jewelry, weavings, and art pieces are made by local artisans and available for sale.
Stay Overnight in the Jungle
The best way to experience the stunning beauty of the Amazon rainforest and see wildlife is at a remote jungle lodge accessible by river boat from Iquitos. Don’t worry, you don’t have to sacrifice comfort to have a true jungle adventure! The jungle lodges recommended by our team have running water, cushioned beds, and serve tasty meals. See the Hotels section on this page for more information. During the day, explore the nearby national reserves on a variety of guided wildlife, canopy, walking, cultural, and river tours.
Sure, staying at a remote jungle lodge offers some epic opportunities to see wildlife in nature. But the following animal-centric spots in and around Iquitos are awesome too.
- Amazonian Manatee Rescue Center: Manatees swim in the murky waterways of the Amazon in small groups. Sadly, habitat degradation and poaching have landed these gentle river giants on the endangered species list. The Manatee Rescue Center takes in injured and orphaned baby manatees and nurses them to health before releasing them back into the Amazon. Visitors can feed the baby manatees while learning about on-going efforts to protect them in Iquitos. (Located a 30-minute drive from Iquitos Plaza de Armas along main Nauta highway.)
- Monkey Island (La Isla de los Monos): Monkey Island is a cage-free sanctuary for rescued and abandoned monkeys. Visitors can observe, play with, and take photos of various monkey species that roam about the island freely. Volunteer opportunities are also available. (Located a 40-minute speedboat ride from Iquitos along the Amazon River; Visit the La Isla de los Monos website)
- Quistococha Zoo: This national tourist park includes a zoo, the sandy Tunchi beach, and on-site dining facilities. The zoo is home a wide variety of jungle reptiles, mammals, and birds, and offers a one-stop shop to see them all in one day. It’s extremely rare to spot jungle cats, like a jaguar, puma, and ocelot in the wild, but each one can be seen on a visit to the Iquitos zoo. (Located about a 30-minute drive southeast of Iquitos along the main Nauta highway)
The best way to experience the Amazon rainforest is at a jungle lodge located beyond the city limits of Iquitos. You don’t have to sacrifice comfort to have a true jungle adventure.
Our team recommends the following Iquitos lodges.
Ceiba Tops Lodge
1-hour boat ride from Iquitos
Providing a welcome opulent touch to traditional Amazon lodging, Ceiba Tops Luxury Lodge is ideal for those who wish to have the essential comforts available to them during their stay, such as hot showers, air conditioning, and refreshing dips in a large open air pool. The lodge’s 72 dispersed rooms lie quietly among lush tropical gardens, each with private bathroom and screened windows. Guests are treated to efficient and friendly service in this spectacular Amazonian setting.
See all Iquitos Hotels
Where to Eat
From upscale to more casual, the colorful Amazonian town of Iquitos doesn’t fall short on tasty restaurant options. The following eateries are just two of a long list of traveler favorites.
Al Frio y El Fuego
Al Frio y El Fuego is an classy restaurant floating in the middle of the Itaya River with a pool and bar. Enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Menu highlights are the regional-style ceviche and fillets of doncella, a tasty local catfish, seasoned in numerous varieties. Main entries range from about S/.30 – S/50.
Location: Take a short, but scenic riverboat from Avenida La Marina N 123 to the restaurant
http://www.alfrioyalfuego.com/ (Spanish only)
Dawn of the Amazon Cafe
Take a rest while walking the city’s riverfront malecon and stop in at this popular cafe. Order an iced beverage or fresh juice and enjoy the free Wi-Fi . Light appetizers include guacamole served with toasted ciabatta bread and hummus. The extensive menu includes Peruvian, Mexican, American, and vegetarian options galore. Dishes have beautiful presentation and generous portions. Specialty coffee drinks cost S/.5 – S/.10. Main dishes average between S/.20-S/.30.
Location: Malecon Maldonado 185
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are typically included in a jungle lodge stay tour package. Meal service style varies at each lodge, from buffet-style to table a la carte service. Flavors of the Amazon (fresh fruits, fish caught from the rivers, locally-grown plants and herbs) add variety to standard Peruvian and international cuisine prepared and served by staff. Vegetarian options are often available upon request.
The Amazon experiences a warm, tropical climate with high humidity. Rainfall occurs throughout the year.
Seasons in northern Peru’s Amazon Basin are divided between months with high water and low water. Water level of the rivers fluctuate as much as 12 meters (40 feet), resulting from the rain and snow melt runoff flowing down from the eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains.
High Water Season
- When: December to May
- Daily Temperature Average: 30°C (86°F)
- Pros: Higher Amazonian waterways allows boats to venture deeper into remote parts of the jungle. During this time, you’re likely to see more birds and mammal species living in the canopy.
- Cons: Rainfall is usually heavier (December through March), there are generally more mosquitos, there aren’t as many usable hiking trails
Low Water Season
- When: June to November
- Daily Temperature Average: 37°C (98°F), slightly warmer than the high water months
- Pros: More trails to explore the jungle on foot, fewer mosquitos, higher chance to see migratory birds, peak season for fishing
- Cons: Remote lakes and small creeks (only accessed by boat) cannot be visited
- Vaccines: For travel to tropical forest regions, the US Travel Advisory recommends malaria medication and the yellow fever vaccine. Talk with your doctor before a trip to the Amazon in Peru to discuss the best option for you.
- Mosquitos: Protect yourself from the itchy bites of mosquitoes by wearing loose fitting long shirts and pants. Apply insect repellant to exposed skin. At night, use the mosquito net hanging over your bed.
- Amazon Wildlife: Guided excursions into the Amazon rainforest to spot unique animals are included in a stay at almost every jungle lodge in the Iquitos region. Naturalist guides point out unique wildlife, and teach you how to observe them without disturbing them or possible endangering yourself. Stay on designated footpaths and do not get separated from your tour group.
- Drinking Water: Bottled water and safe filtered drinking water are provided to jungle lodge guests. A reusable water bottle is always handy in the jungle.
What to bring
- Head lamp (and extra batteries, just in case)
- Insect repellant (with DEET suggested)
- Sun protection (hat, sunblock, glasses)
- Reusable water bottle
- Local currency for small purchases and tips
What type of clothing should you pack?
- Shirts and pants made of light, breathable material
- Long-sleeve shirts and pants (for protection from the sun and mosquito bites)
- Waterproof gear or rain poncho
- Comfortable walking shoes (sneakers, gym shoes, or comfortable hiking boots)
Transportation to Iquitos
- By Air: Flights to Iquitos touch down at the Coronel FAP Francisco Secada Vignetta International Airport serves Iquitos. The airport is located on the outskirts of the city, about 10 km (6 mi) southwest of the Plaza de Armas. Facilities include tourist shops, eateries, and ATM machines. LAN, Star Perú, and Peruvian Airlines offer daily flights to Iquitos. By plane, nonstop service from Lima to Iquitos takes 1 hour and 40 minutes.
- By Boat: The Amazon River and its waterways connect the city of Iquitos to jungle lodges and other small port towns in the Peru’s northern Loreto region.
- Iquitos is not accessible by road. Traveling to Iquitos by bus or car is NOT an option.
Around the streets of Iquitos
Many city attractions, restaurants, and museums are within walking distance of the Plaza de Armas and riverfront malecon. Motorcycles and mototaxis buzz through the streets in Iquitos. Three-wheel mototaxis are by far most popular way to get around the city. Before accepting a ride from a mototaxi, be sure to negotiate a price.
What is it like to stay at a jungle lodge?
Jungle Lodge tour packages typically include transportation to and from the lodge, park entrance fees, three meals a day, and guided excursions. Some activities may require additional fees.
Lodges range drastically in style and amenities, from more luxurious options to more basic. Many eco-friendly lodges have limited, or no electricity. Sun provides natural lighting during the day, and at night kerosene lamps provide illumination. WiFi, if available, is usually slow and sporadic. A surprising number of jungle lodges have hot water for showering.
Days usually begin early at jungle lodges and are filled with different activities. Excursions vary for lodge to lodge and vary in levels of physical excursion. From birdwatching on one of the world’s longest jungle canopy walks at ExplorNapo Lodge or swimming with pink river dolphins to hanging out with local tribes, there’s something for every age and personal interest. Expert guides are on each excursion to answer questions, point out unique plants and animals you might otherwise overlook, and keep you safe. In the evenings, unwind in a hammock while listening to the sounds of the jungle.
Ask your travel advisor for details about a specific jungle lodge.
How do I get from Iquitos to my jungle lodge?
Many jungle lodges in northern Peru are only accessible by river transport from Iquitos. Lodge representatives greet travelers at the airport and then accompany them all the way into the jungle. River boats are typically open-air with a covering, much like a pontoon boat. Most lodges are located between 45 minutes to 3 hours away.
How can I protect myself from mosquito bites in the Amazon?
- Dress in lightweight pants, long sleeves, and wear shoes rather than sandals.
- Apply insect repellent containing DEET to areas of exposed skin. Read the label when applying repellant with DEET to young children.
- At night, sleep under a mosquito net with its edges tucked under the bed mattress.