There are a number of jungle destinations/ports of entry in Peru, but the largest and most popular is Iquitos, a 1 hour 40 minute flight from Lima.
Peru is a country of mind-boggling bio-diversity. Where I live in the Sacred Valley (at 3,300 meters/ 11,000 feet above sea level), the air is dry, the temperatures cool (especially at night), and the scenery mountainous.
Head towards the coast and you’ll find much warmer weather, ranging from the muggy haze of Lima to desert dunes (with South America’s only proper desert, and sister to the Sahara).
Between these two extremes you’ll find everything in between, including the jungle – and lots of it.
25% of visitors to Iquitos are there to explore work with ayahuasca in various jungle retreat centres up the river or down the road from Iquitos, which is also precisely why I found myself landing in Iquitos as well. (More on that later in this series).
This post was originally published in 2015. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
Americas or Asias?
In stark contrast to the tranquility of the jungle, Iquitos is a madhouse. Initially it reminded me more of Southeast Asia than of South America. I felt an Asian deja vu with the warm muggy air, the dusty streets, and the simple architecture. But what most reminded me of Asia was the moto traffic.
Scooters, motorcycles, and most commonly, rickshaws (or “motos” as they’re referred to), rule the roads in Iquitos. It’s a cacophony of movement and noise that is simultaneously chaotic and harmonious. Road lanes are considered guidelines rather than rules, as vehicles large and small all jostle for position at every intersection, filling in all available space.
You can escape the traffic – but certainly not the chaos – in Belen market. Covering a few city blocks of muddy alleyways open to pedestrians only, you’ll find tightly-knit stalls selling everything from fresh fish and meat, to fruits and vegetables, to prepared foods, odds and ends, and more.
Of curious interest was “medicine alley”, where local potions and remedies, voodoo-looking objects, supplements, powders, incenses, and more are for sale.
Just below Belen market, literally on (and sometimes in) the Amazon river is the neighbourhood of Belen itself. Houses here are built on stilts and are often two stories high, but in the rainy season the first story is underwater. (I didn’t venture into Belen proper, as I didn’t have time, and was also warned that it’s not particularly safe for foreigners as there are frequent robberies).
Iquitos is situated on the banks of the mighty Amazon river; I found myself quite moved to finally see this famed river with my own eyes, and I wasn’t disappointed either. It’s gorgeous. (I mean, the Amazon even has pink dolphins in it. Pink. Dolphins. If that doesn’t make it magical, nothing does).
A short walk from the main plaza of Iquitos, the area by the river is closed to traffic; so not only will you find beautiful views, but also the quietest most peaceful part of Iquitos to escape the fray.
In and Out of Iquitos
I only had a couple of days in total in Iquitos (as is the case for many tourists), as it was simply my port of entry/exit to spending a month in the jungle.
Iquitos doesn’t call to me to return and spend large amounts of time there in and of itself, but it’s likely a place I’ll see again the next time I’m jungle-bound. And for that, I’m happy.
Stay tuned for more on my month in the jungle of Peru, including daily life and and recommendations, critter encounters, what it’s like to experience an ayahuasca diet, and excerpts from my jungle-journal.