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In the heart of the Amazon rainforest: Iquitos and its floating shantytown

Allow yourself to be enchanted by the sticky humidity and the warmth of the local inhabitants: a foray into Iquitos is to discover quite a different side of Peru.

Iquitos, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest

This town with a population of 400,000, the largest in Loreto and the fifth largest town in Peru, can only be reached by boat or by air. There's no overland route that links Iquitos, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, with the other regions of Peru!

Iquitos is the ideal departure point for an excursion into the jungle. From here, visitors have many different options. As far as excursions go, you will surely have heard of ayahuasca, the hallucinogenic plant so popular with tourists. Well, Iquitos is a little corner of paradise for those who want to try out shamanic medicines but still you need to be careful when opting for this type of spiritual experience. Certain "shamans" are above all excellent charlatans and the experiment could turn turn out to be dangerous. 

However, for a more traditional visit, it's a good idea to discover Iquitos onboard a motorbike taxi! These colourful vehicles have completely overtaken the town! On a tour of Iquitos you can see some beautiful buildings, dating from a time when the once flourishing rubber industry was in its heyday. These days the buildings seem to have been abandoned.

You must also go on the Malecon, a walk along the banks of the river. This is the most touristy part of the town and it also offers a good view of the floating neighbourhood of Belen.

The floating neighbourhood of Belen

Belen and its floating shantytown

To get acquainted with Belen, it's a good idea to begin with its extensive market. Its a unique place, where you can discover previously unknown fruits, see fish with an air of the prehistoric about them and eat turtle, alligator, larvae etc. ! In short, an excellent place to familiarise yourself with the typical cuisine of the selva.

The « Venise du Loreto » isn't in the least comparable with the romantic Italian version. The houses, built on stilts or rafts, out of wood and with reed or galvanised roofs, have something exotic and attractive about them for visitors. The floating neighbourhood of Iquitos follows the movements of the river in the flood plain. Year by year the neighbourhood gets bigger, welcoming new inhabitants from far away communities. These people often come to the town to find more opportunities for their families, to send their children to secondary school for example, something that's rarely possible in their indigenous communities. They also sometimes come to trade their produce and to procure foodstuffs that aren't found in the jungle. This area suffers from extreme poverty, which can lead to more violence, than in Iquitos, so be very careful during your visit.

Watch out too, because duringyour stay in this region of Peru, you will probably be a target for the numerous mosquitos that show no pity for visitors to the rainforest. I suggest that you bring long, lightweight clothing and some excellent mosquito repellent!

Emilie Couillard
129 contributions
Updated 28 September 2015
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