So you have a day in Iquitos. What is there to see?
You can start with a stroll along the waterfront. This waterway, the locals are quick to point out, is not the Amazon River; it’s just a tributary. The real Amazon isn’t far away though. It can be seen from the northern end of Iquitos city, a chocolate brown expressway of water barreling past the sluggish black water of the Itaya River.
Take a good look in the trees that line the river. Giant Green Iguanas, reaching up to two metres in length, can be found here in abundance. They make the tree branches shake and shimmer as they scamper around in the heat of the day.
Just down the road is the sprawling Belen Market, occupying dozens of roads and alleyways, and selling everything from pens and pencils, to carved up hunks of caiman (alligator) and skinned monkey.
Caiman, turtle, capybara, monkey, armadillo, and paiche (a type of freshwater fish that grows up to 3m in length) are all for sale here. Numbers of these species are all in sharp decline due to poaching. Hunting these animals is prohibited, but their dismembered body parts can be found in the markets without any difficulty.
In Belen Markets caiman heads and turtle legs are sold to human bidders, but jaw bones of all types are given to the vultures free of charge.
Belen, the neighbourhood where the market is based, is submerged beneath flood waters each year during the wet season. An average flood will render the lower levels of most low-lying homes useless. Families will move into the upper levels of their homes (if they are fortunate enough to have multi-level homes) during the inundation, and will use the lower level merely for canoe storage. A higher than average flood, as experienced in 2015, ends up displacing thousands of people.
During the wet season roads are impassable, except by boat. Pedestrians are forced to use elevated walkways to get around town.
Plaza de Armas, Iquitos
Ten minutes of leisurely, tropical-heat-appropriate dawdling will bring you to the Plaza de Armas, where the Iglesia Matriz de Iquitos (Mother Church of Iquitos) stands. It was built between 1911 and 1919, at the end of the rubber boom.
If you are lucky you might stumble across a parade while wandering about the city, like this Don’t-forget-to-vote-in-the-upcoming-national-election Parade. The frontrunner of the election is Keiko Fujimori. Keiko is the daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, who is currently incarcerated in Peru under charges of embezzlement, bribery, and human rights violations.
The best part of being in Iquitos, however, is not the sights you can see, but the friendly, let’s-make-life-easy-for-everyone perspective of the locals. And one day of this is simply not enough.
Practical information and how to reach Iquitos:
There are two ways into Iquitos: by plane (there are frequent flights to Lima) and by boat (into Amazonian Ecuador, Amazonian Colombia, and Amazonian Brazil). More transport info here.
Read more on the Amazon Rainforest in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.