A Day in Iquitos - Belen Market, Eiffel House and a Crazy Rubber Baron

15 Jul 2018

When planning a trip to the Amazon jungle, it's likely you'll end up with a day to explore Iquitos, the metropolitan jungle city.

Iquitos is bustling and vibrant. It is a juxtaposition of modern comforts set in a backdrop of dense jungle foliage. It is sensory-overload of tastes, sounds and the buzz of the daily life of about half a million people.

We kinda 'ended up here' after spending an incredible 4 days deep in the jungle, meeting the Yaguas tribe, finding Caymans in the night, watching pink dolphins and getting up close with prehistoric fish the size of a grown up. We have a full day to explore. If you're wondering what to do in Iquitos in 24 hours, read on!

The Belen Market - Mercado Belen

The morning is cool. We start with a visit to the Belen markets, a local souk where you can find almost anything. From spices and tropical fruits, to live animals and snake poison. The market gets busy very quickly and it's full of pickpockets. Apply your standard travelling stances of awareness and pay attention here - especially with your camera.

We walk past people, looking in every direction, trying to take it all in. But it isn't fun, quite the opposite. It's absolutely hectic, smelly, things going on all the time, you don't know where to turn. It would have been a better idea to seek out a guide and let them show us around, but because I'm Peruvian, I thought we could manage without. Perhaps we would've enjoyed it more like that. Perhaps.

Quistococha Tourist Centre

We don't last very long and soon make our way out and climb on a mototaxi (tuktuk). We're headed for Quistococha, a tourist complex centre with an artificial beach, a restaurant, aquarium and a museum. The ride there only takes about 25 minutes but it could easily have been a thrill ride at your local theme park.

Finally, we're here. Getting off that damned tuktuk is the best thing that's happened to me all day. We've paid our entry fee and now walk under a canopy of trees. The vast natural space is tranquil and as our lungs fill with the purest oxygen (ever). I hadn't noticed it earlier but our ears are now thanking us for the clement respite from the city's noise pollution.

We walk around aimlessly. There's a zoo inside this complex - had I known this I wouldn't have come. We didn't plan this very well - we just wanted to get out of the markets and we'd heard a bit about this place. Oh well, we're here now.

By the manmade beach there is a restaurant with some outdoor tables. As we approach we can see smoke coming from a grill. On closer inspection, a woman has an array of animals on it and is basting them, eyeing us suspiciously. It's only 11AM. Amongst the offenders, I spot fish, crocodile leg, pork...

We find a seat and order some typical regional food: tacacho con cecina (smoked pork and plantain) and eat it under the watchful eye of some colourful macaws.

Plaza de Armas and Stories of Bygone Times

Back in town the best way to see it all is to walk outwards from the Plaza de Armas (Main Square). The Main Square is where all the buzz takes place - and the vibe is different during the day and during the night.

From the Square, check out the Iron House - La Casa de Fierro. Designed by Gustave Eiffel in the mid 19th Century during the Rubber Boom (more on this later), it ended up here after futile attempts to transport it further South. Since the house was large, it had to be imported in segments, but eventually the pieces were never put back together and this is one of three segments remaining. Today there's souvenir shops and a restaurant.

If you're wandering, continue meandering in and out of buildings and churches - Iglesia San Juan Bautista is not far from the Square and worth a nip into. Though most places here don't have a "wow-factor" in terms of architecture (or any other terms), strolling and observing is a good way to get a feel for the town.

A lot of the buildings you'll see were built in bygone times of wealth that came with the Rubber Boom. Famous Rubber Baron Carlos Fitzcarraldo arrived in the area to exploit the riches of the Amazon Basin. In his madness to extract the treasures from the deep jungle, he forced native tribes to dismantle and drag a steamship piece by piece over the mountain.

El Boulevard - The Boardwalk

Later on the day we stroll on the boulevard, the boardwalk next to the Amazon river. From here you see the river: floating houses, people loading up boats, the jungle. You also see the businesses that face the river, the restaurants with elegant people on some, locals having a bite at others. It's a great place for a stroll and to people-watch. We spot some school kids hanging around after school. We take a place by the malecon and take it all in once last time, before we bid Iquitos goodbye.

If you've been to Iquitos lots of times or you're a local, we'd love to hear from you. What are your favourite places to eat, see and do there? Share it with us in the comments below.

You can also download our free PDF 1-page guide to Peru in 2 weeks. It's packed with the best places to visit and things to try. Get it here.

No comments