Iquitos is a really cool place, and we loved our 2+ weeks there. So much so, we were even tempted by a hostel that came onto the market looking for new owners! But we resisted. For now…!
Tropical city life in Amazonian Iquitos
A colourful, thriving city on the Amazon River, Iquitos is cut off from the rest of Peru (apart from via plane or boat), and has a really interesting history, as it was the centre of the rubber boom in the early 1900s which attracted loads of eccentric monied ex-pats to the city. You can still see signs of this era of excess now with the smattering of ornate colonial buildings around the city, one of which was designed by Gustav Eiffel and transported through the jungle in pieces!
Gustav Eiffel´s Iron House!
Iquitenos (or Iquitos locals) are also known as some of the friendliest in Peru, which is saying something! Everyone we encountered was super chatty and friendly, and watching them buzz around in the sunshine on their motorbikes and tuk-tuks, happily getting on with a simpler way of life, made us think twice about what we want in our own lives.
Our time there was pretty chilled, as we’d mainly gone there to find a shaman with whom to try ancient Amazon plant drug, ayahuasca (more of that in the next post!) and to relax for a while before our jungle lodge. We found a super cheap, friendly hostel ran by a total ageing hippy called Jorge, and spent most of our time err… ‘relaxing’ around town, on the sunny boulevard, and in our favourite cafe Ikaro where ‘relaxing’ was allowed in a treehouse-type extension out the back of the cafe! They also had a 1 pound burger+chips+fruit juice deal, which was ace!
Our favourite cafe Ikaro and chilling on the boulevard
As ‘relaxing’ often does to you, we ended up very hungry a lot of the time, so we also frequented a LOT of restaurants in our time there, from spenny Chifas to delicious lunchtime menus of traditional Peruvian foods, and also lots of 20p whipped icecreams and local tangy exotic-fruit lollies.
We did manage to muster up the gumption for a couple of sight-seeing days whilst we were there. Firstly we visited Belen Market, which was one of the most horrific experiences of my life! It’s a daily market where all the local villages along the Amazon come to buy and sell their jungle produce – anything from Amazon plants, medicines, exotic fruits, to endangered animal meats. I knew this before we went in, but was somehow still unprepared for quite how hideous it would be, and within 5 minutes of walking through the stenchy, busy, narrow market stalls, I encountered the first exotic meat – a butchered turtle. On seeing his little legs and toe-nails, and head, I found myself physically repulsed and outraged that this is so openly accepted. Obviously it’s the jungle, and much of life feels lawless, but killing endangered animals for meat or trade is unacceptable to me. We also saw crocodile, massive rare fish species, and apparently there are also monkeys, but we didn’t see them, thank god!
Crocodile on Belen Market…. uch
On the flip side to this, our other trip was to Pilpinturwasi Wildlife Reserve, which specialises in saving endangered or rare species, rescued from people keeping them illegally (and often mistreating them), or poaching for trade. One sad story was about a guy who’d trained up a monkey as a pick-pocket in Lima, but after the monkey got ill, just abandoned him. A huge jaguar at the reserve had arrived as a cub on the doorstep in a box sealed up with a metal chain.
Orangutan and the ex-thief monkey
The Reserve was amazing, and we were shown round by a Czech volunteer girl, who taught us all about the animals’ histories and behaviours, what they’d eat in the wild, and their lives in captivity.
We visited a huge butterfly house and saw tons of species, from blue morphos, to owl and tiger butterflies. We learnt about how the males do a mating dance to seduce the lady butterflies for over 2 hours (!) and that they need salt to survive, which explains why I got covered in butterflies when we arrived – they were drinking my sweat! We also took a close look at the cacoons, from embryonic stage to slug-like stage to almost-butterfies! Super cool.
Butterfly having a little drink of my sweat!
Advanced cacoon stage
Other than butterflies, we also saw orangoutangs, capuchin monkeys, the smallest monkey breed in the world (I forget the name), macaws, Amazon parrots, sloths, a beautiful wide-eyed ocelot, and a HUGE jaguar who’s roar sent chills down my spine, despite the strong metal cage separating us.
Overall, an interesting and relaxing time in Iquitos, a city which we found hard to leave, and one I feel we’ll definitely return to some day.