Iquitos is a Peruvian town, hidden deep in the Amazon Jungle. It is the largest town in the world not connected by roads. You either go in by boat for days on end or fly there.
I flew in and spent a week exploring the area, when the waters where very high in April. My Amazon Jungle accommodation was about to go under water and there were planks above some of the low-lying footpaths in town.
Iquitos is a different place to the rest of Peru. Full of rickshaws and majestic crumbling colonial buildings, plenty of boats to reach the homes on stilts. It had a slightly rougher feel – a hard life for the locals.
I wandered out to the Belén market, with exotic fruit and cheap underwear for sale, along dusty roads and damp alleyways. I’d read about taking a boat out to the houses on stilts. The boat I took, the driver picked up his wife and I eventually guessed she was my chaperone. I gestured if I could take photos, which he nodded ‘yes’. Eventually I realised there were giant signs on buildings saying ‘no photos’. When I got back to my hostel, I was told the mud carries diseases… I’m assuming it was the wrong season to be worried.
Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm
This was a fun day trip from Iquitos. I took a rickshaw to a small town called Bellavista-Nanay, then a shared local boat to Padre Cocha. I walked to the farm – but it’s very humid and worth taking a rickshaw. Arriving, I waited for a tour to start which was just 4 of us with an American tour leader. We started at the butterfly enclosure and watched the different butterflies flitter about – highly enjoyable. We were taken around to the other enclosures and saw plenty of monkeys, a jaguar and snakes. Two of the monkeys were rescued after a local tried to smuggle them out at the airport. The farm is a place that is focused mainly on trying to help the environment and was inspirational.
Manatee Rescue Centre
To reach the centre, I took another rickshaw from Iquitos. Again, I waited for the tour to start. We were shown the different areas the Manatee are bred. From starting in a small enclosed pool, then a larger enclosure, before being released back into the wild. They are slow moving creatures and often can’t avoid fast moving boats. This centre is helping increase their numbers. They look like a combination of a seal and a log – very unusual. For an extra price, you could feed them. The centre also has other animals to observe and is much more enjoyable than the zoo down the road.
I took a 3 day trip into the Amazon Jungle. There were 3 of us, plus a Spanish translator, the local tour guide, boat driver, plus cook and her drunk husband at our accommodation. To get there, we took a car from Iquitos to Nauta, a small muddy town. We then changed to rickshaws, as cars are not allowed in the town and the rickshaw drivers will get aggressive if you try. After stocking up on food, we walked along narrow wooden planks to our boat and were taken into the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. As the waters were high, there was no dry land left around our accommodation, so the boat took us right to the door.
There are lots of mosquitos in the area. Our accommodation had blue netting all around the rooms and balcony area where we could relax in hammocks. It was extremely humid, but you needed to stay completely covered because of the mosquitos. I kept finding huge spiders in my room and in the shared bathroom. I tried to get rid of one with a broom, but they moved extremely fast and I eventually needed to ask for help.
We were given plenty of exotic fruit to try with novel shapes and colours. Some were delicious and some were quite disgusting and most I had never heard of before. All the food was from the local village which was still above the water. They bred chickens, caught fish and foraged for food in the jungle.
Each day, we did a different activity, from visiting the local villages, hiking in the sweltering jungle, swimming in the water with dolphins, fishing, finding tarantulas at night, feeding monkeys, seeing sloths, and just relaxing in the hammocks.
It’s an experience I would highly recommend.
Researching the area, I was very curious about what was up the river. I decided to take a jet boat to Leticia in Colombia. There were a few shops in Iquitos selling the tickets and they didn’t run every day.
I took a rickshaw at the crack of dawn to the port and waited with a few other people before boarding the boat. We raced off up the river with plans of reaching Santa Rosa de Yavari, a small Peruvian town, in time to get our exit stamp. But we kept breaking down. We’d go a little while, then slow down and stop. After lots of uncertainty and waiting we eventually arrived in Santa Rosa de Yavari after dark.
There were 3 Norwegian backpackers on the same boat and we shared another boat over the river from Peru to Colombia. There were no milling rickshaws like in Iquitos. Leticia seemed small and sleepy in comparison. After walking a couple of blocks, hoping to come across a main road, we found a rickshaw and, after getting lost, found my accommodation, where there was enough room for all of us.
Letica is a curious area. It’s where 3 countries meet. The next day, I took a boat from Colombia to Peru for my exit stamp, then from Peru to Brazil and walked back to Colombia!
To get my exit stamp, I needed to wade through water to the immigration office, then wade to the police station next door. I really was visiting at the peak of the wet season! They were extremely relaxed about the exit stamp. To get an entrance stamp into Colombia required a trip to the airport, which I did the next day, when I flew out.
Iquitos and Leticia feel like they are deep enough into the Amazon Jungle to get an authentic experience. Iquitos is more built up with businesses set-up for tourists and there were some interesting day trips. I had heard an Amazon experience from Leticia is amazing, but I didn’t spot any obvious tourist shops for booking. I think it would be best to start emailing your accommodation or tourist office ahead of time.