Introduction to Iquitos
Iquitos has a population of 300,000, and is Peru’s largest jungle city, although Pucallpa has grown rapidly in recent years and now vies with Iquitos for this title. However, there is little doubt that Iquitos is the most interesting of the jungle cities, and in its heyday it was one of the grandest cities in the whole of the Amazon basin.
The jungle area around Iquitos was quite densely populated before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, and it is estimated that there could have been as many as 300,000 natives living here. However, the arrival of the Spanish, and European diseases with them, decimated the population. The first European to see the Amazon River was the conquistador Francisco de Orellana, who arrived at the river on 12 February 1542, after having left from the Peruvian highlands.
Although missionaries moved into the area, the jungle was largely ignored by the Spanish, and it was only in 1864 that Iquitos was founded. The city quickly found itself at the center of world interest, as the process of vulcanization made the rubber tree, indigenous to the Iquitos area, one of the most valuable commodities in the world. Iquitos prospered in the rubber boom, and much wealth was created in this period, when the rubber barons were born. However, this wealth did not last, and when seeds of the rubber tree were smuggled out of Peru, the monopoly enjoyed by Iquitos ended.
Unlike in most of the Peruvian Amazon, Iquitos does not have distinct dry and rainy seasons as it is so close to the equator. Instead, it can rain throughout the year, but it is unusual for there to be several days of uninterrupted rain. Therefore, the area is a good jungle destination at all times, especially when it rains heavily further south from October to April, making jungle trips to other destinations more difficult. Despite the uniformity of rainfall in Iquitos, the water level of the Amazon River varies tremendously throughout the year. This is affected by the rainfall in the areas feeding the tributaries of the Amazon, and the Amazon River increases in width by several hundred meters between the months of November and April. These are the best months for viewing wildlife, as the available land area is significantly reduced. Therefore, the wildlife is forced onto a smaller landmass, making it easier to spot.
The city of Iquitos is the only interesting jungle city in Peru, and it is worth spending a day wandering round exploring it. The Boulevard (**) along Malecón Maldonado is a lovely pedestrian area alongside the river, with many bars, cafes and restaurants, often with live music at weekends. There are beautiful views across the Amazon River, although the river is quite far away in the low water period.
Iquitos has many wonderful tiled houses from its high period around the end of the 19th century. Among the finest of these is the former Hotel Palace (**), now army barracks, on the corner of Jr. Putumayo and Malecón Tarapacá. From the same boom period in Iquitos’s history is the Casa de Fierro (**) on the Plaza de Armas. This interesting, although not beautiful, iron structure was built by Gustav Eiffel, and was brought over from Paris at the end of the 19th century. The building now houses shops and restaurants. The Plaza de Armas itself is quite spacious and also has the Iglesia Matriz on it.
The Museo Amazónico (**) (entrance $1, open Monday to Friday 9am – 1pm, 3pm – 7pm) contains an interesting collection of statues of native tribes people from the surrounding jungle. It also contains interesting exhibitions on the native cultures of the area. The Museo Municipal (*) on the Plaza de Armas has a collection of stuffed fish and animals as well as some native art. Entry is free. The Biblioteca Amazónica (Malecón Tarapacá 345) contains a large collection of documents on the Amazon Basin.
Puerto Belén (**), a large shantytown by the edge of the Itaya River, is one of the most interesting districts of Iquitos. Many of the houses here are built on stilts because of the major changes in the river level between high and low water, and some houses are even built on rafts, so they float up when the river rises. The district is called the Venice of the Amazon as most people get around by boat on the river, although it is far more similar to a far-eastern river market. It is worth taking a trip around the port in a canoe, which will cost around $0.50 for a 15-minute ride. The market is also worth wandering around and has many wonderful fruits. Be careful with belongings, however, as the area is very poor. A mototaxi to the port costs about $0.60 from the center.
2 kilometer west of the center is the Lago Moronacocha, which has beautiful sunsets.
There are several spots close to Iquitos that make for good escapes from the city. One of the most popular is Quistococha (***) (open 8am – 5pm, entrance $1) a park/zoo set on the shores of a beautiful jungle lake. The zoo contains many jungle animals, including pumas, jaguars, ocelots, tapir, river otters, monkeys, snakes and caiman, although the cages are often far too small. There are also several good walks on jungle trails. The lake itself is beautiful and there is a lovely white sandy beach from where it is possible to swim or hire a boat. There is a basic restaurant with limited choice, and it is better to bring a picnic. Combis for Quistococha leave from Belén market and from Parque 28 de Julio and charge $0.30. There are several other bathing spots close to Iquitos. The small port of Bellavista Nanay, 2km from Iquitos, has a good, sandy beach from June to November, and also has some Boras and Yaguas native communities nearby.
There are several native villages near Iquitos, including San Andrés, Santo Tomás and Santa Clara. These can be reached by taxi or by combi from the corner of Jr. Próspero and José Gálvez.
Biodiversity is the word that covers everything that Madre de Dios contains infinite forest, immense rivers and vast variety of animals and vegetation. Its capital, Puerto Maldonado is an obligatory stop along the way to the national parks and reserves located in the area to gain the entrance and authorizations. Years ago Madre de Dios have been an important exporting site rubber, wood, gold, and petroleum; today the eco-tourism and chestnut harvesting are the two main economic activities in the department.
About ten kilometers from Puerto Maldonado and an hour and half walking you find the Lake Sandoval, surrounded by aguajales (swampy areas full of palm trees), orchids, kapok trees, caoba trees, and Mauritanian palm trees that grow up to thirty meters tall. The lake is the home for a vast variety of animals like parrots, macaws, toucans, egrets, turtles, tapirs and the refuge for black caimans and otters, two species threatened with extinction.
60 Kilometers from Puerto Maldonado by the Madre de Dios River is Lake Valencia, in the areas around of the lake there are several native communities. These natives are extraordinary fishermen and living from that activity, fishing for tiger shovelnose catfish, gilded catfish and paiche. This area is full of flora and fauna, too.
One of the most important national parks in the world is The Manú National Park with 1,716,295 hectares, located in the departments of Cuzco and Madre de Dios, protects more than 800 bird species, 200 species of mammals, gigantic trees and it is the home of many native communities. This park has the world record of the number of species seen in one day at one spot with 324 species.
Other national park in the area is The Tambopata-Candamo National Park con 274,690 hectares, which is known to possess the greatest diversity of mammal, tree, insect, and bird species in the world, as well as the world record for the amount of butterfly species.
But, The Manú and Tambopata-Candamo national parks are not the unique, The Bahuaja-Sonene national Park with 1,091,416 hectares, is the third park in the area, which has the unique humid tropical savannah in Peru. In this live two species threatened with extinction, the manned wolf and the marsh deer, as well as the giant river otter, the bush dog, the black caiman, the giant anteater and the harpy eagle.
Capital:Puerto Maldonado (183 masl / 600 fasl)
Lowest point: 183 masl / 600 fasl (Puerto Maldonado)
Highest point: 500 masl / 1640 fasl (Boca Manu)
The city of Puerto Maldonado has a hot and wet climate. The average annual maximum temperature is 26ºC (77ºF) and the minimum is 8ºC (24ºF). The rainy season is from December to March.
DISTANCES FROM THE CITY OF PUERTO MALDONADO
Salvación(Province of Manu) 1 hour to Puerto Laberinto by road and 3 days by river
Iñapari(Province of Tahuamanu) 244 km (152 miles) / 4 hours by car.