The huge full moon rises over the Amazon rainforest as I walk down the malecon with a cone of camu camu ice cream. Camu camu is a small, round fruit grown in the Peruvian Amazon and probably my favorite flavor of ice cream. I\‘ve eaten far too many cones of it while staying here in Iquitos, Peru. But that\‘s OK, it\‘s full of vitamin c and Iquitos has been unrelenting with its heat.
The Plaza de Armas, like most in Peru, is a great area to check out. During the night the fountains are turned on and people gather with ice cream. Locals set up small collections of toys and blow bubbles, making the plaza fun and an interesting place to watch people interact and enjoy the night.
On my second day in Iquitos I went to the port of Nanay and found a boat to take me to the butterfly sanctuary, Pilpintuwasi. I highly recommend trying to go with a group to destinations like this. The small boat cost around S/. 35 – 40 to charter there and back, cutting the cost by traveling in a group is recommended.
Pilpintuwasi has more than just butterflies. They rescue all kinds of animals from the Amazon: sloths, ocelots, many types of monkeys, a jaguar, and many others. The tour here is very educational. You\‘ll learn about the life cycle of butterflies and get to see main of the stages.
They also tell you a lot about how their animals came to be at the sanctuary. Most of the time someone is selling them in Iquitos, either along the malecon or at the market of Belén. Many of the animals are not cared for correctly and often times become sick. Tourists will think it is cute to buy a little monkey or other animal at the market, but this only encourages a nasty cycle which harms many of these animals habitats and populations.
Smells mingle and sounds clash as I wander through the packed market of Belén in Iquitos, Peru. Everything seems to be sold here. Hand-rolled cigarettes in large bundles, fruits, vegetables, clothes, DVDs (mostly bootleg), herbal medicines, meats—chicken, fish, and turtle were the most common I saw—, and animals. Tourists should be careful in the market, it\‘s supposedly very dangerous and has a high number of pick-pockets. When I arrived a young man offered to give me a tour of the market. I only came with 30 soles so I decided to chance it, he seemed nice.
It ended up being the right decision. He showed me some of the different areas and took me on a small canoe tour of the floating city of Belén, eventually to his house on stilts. It was a good experience to see the area and talk with a local. He told me about the rainy season and what life was like there.
There is so much to Iquitos I didn\‘t get to see. Many of the other backpackers stayed in jungle lodges for a few days. This sounds like the way to go, and next time I come to Iquitos this is what I\‘ll do. You get to see many of the animals you would see in the zoo or Pilpintuwasi, but in their natural environment. I went to the zoo, which was pretty cool, but zoos always make me a little depressed. It\‘s great to check out many Amazon creatures though. There are many tour companies and you can schedule trips to many parts of the surrounding jungle or any other type of adventure surround Iquitos.
Iquitos can be very tourist-friendly and many restaurants near the malecon or the plaza have English menus. Dawn of the Amazon, a block away from the plaza on the malecon, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and always has gringos hanging around drinking a beer. It\‘s a good place to check out if your Spanish is shaky or non-existent. Durning the night, it\‘s great to get a beer and watch the action of the malecon, a very active and interesting spot in Iquitos.
For lunch, I almost always went to Huasi. This restaurant is half a block from the plaza and has menu for around 11 soles. This comes with either a delicious salad or soup, main dish—which they have about five or six options that change each day—and a jar of fresh, thirst quenching juice. A great place for a nice, filling lunch.
Moto-taxis are Iquitos\’ main form of transportation, and quite fun. The front half consists of a motorcycle without its back wheel. Instead the motorcycle is connected by metal frame to a small, covered coach with a luggage rack on the back. They are noisy little vehicles, but the front of the coach is open and your get a nice breeze because of this, which is very welcomed in the heat. Always ask how much they want to take you somewhere, then try for a little less. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn\‘t, but I found I could shave 50 centimos off some rides.
Iquitos is definitely its own world, very different from the rest of Peru, but it\‘s fascinating and beautiful. I highly recommend making your way out here for a great experience.