Iquitos is a small city in the Amazon Rainforest of northeastern Peru. The city sits on the mighty Amazon River, which begins only 60 km west of the city and is located between the Rio Nanay and Rio Itaya Amazon tributaries. The city of Iquitos is surrounded by incredibly diverse tropical forests filled with wildlife. The main Iquitos reserves to find these animals and plants are the smaller Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve, the more biodiverse Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve, and the flooded Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, the largest in the country. Here we will introduce Iquitos, the Amazon, and these reserves then mention our recommendation for top iquitos Amazon River Tours.
The city of Iquitos is reached by an hour and half flight north from the capital city of Lima. You can also fly direct from Cusco, which is the hub for many tourists to Peru wishing to visit the incredible Incan monument of Machu Picchu. Once you have arrived, you will be very aware you have landed somewhere tropical as the warm humid air hits your skin. The city has a few interesting attractions, such as the Iron House built by Gustave Eiffel and the manatee rescue center, but the real attraction is the incredible Amazon Rainforest. If you have booked one of our recommended Amazon tours from Iquitos, you will be met at the Iquitos airport and securely escorted to your rainforest lodge or the dock of your Amazon River cruise to begin your adventure.
Amazon Rainforest Introduction
The Amazon Rainforest is the world’s largest tropical wilderness and is fed by the nutrient rich Amazon River. Containing more animals and plants than anywhere else on Earth, the most diversity has been found in this western section of Amazonia. Tributaries from the Amazon branch into this diverse forest and pass a great diversity of Amazonian mammals, snakes, lizards, butterflies, and birds. The tributaries are the best way to get deep into the forest either on river cruises or from lodges positioned by the waterways to easily escort you to the best areas for wildlife watching.
Because wildlife is less common around the city itself due to the impact of the population, the highest density of animals and plants, including sightings of rarer Amazon animals, is found in the Iquitos reserves. The largest reserve is the Pacaya Samiria, best explored by river cruise due to its expansive area and flooded nature. For a lodge based visit, we recommend the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve with its incredible diversity of Amazon Rainforest monkeys. There is also a reserve very close to Iquitos favored for birding experiences to see some endemic white sand specialists.
The Allpahuayo-Mishana National Reserve
Allpahuayo-Mishana National Reserve is a small protected area at about 60, 000 hectares but provides a look at Amazon Rainforest very close to Iquitos city. You can reach the area by getting a motocarro taxi to the entrance. When here you can then hire a guide at the entrance who will show you the reserve and its wildlife. There are various trails through the protected area leading through different types of habitat.
Many years ago this reserve reached fame as containing the highest level of tree diversity anywhere on Earth. The reserve also contains a particularly high diversity of amphibians and birds. The favorite birds to see here include the pompadour cotingas, saffron-crested tyrant-manakins, and northern chestnut-tailed antbirds among many others. Aside from the birds, the reserve is also fortunate to contain a few monkey species, such as titi monkeys and squirrel monkeys. However, if wildlife is your main interest, we recommend heading to one of the larger reserves further from the city, such as the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve or the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve.
The Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve
Founded to protect the range of the rare uakari monkey, a monkey whose name became a mystery after the tribe identifying the animal went extinct, the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve is a fascinating area to visit. Enjoy finding one of the highest levels of monkeys of any protected area and boat trips to spot colorful birds, pink river dolphins, fascinating reptiles, and tree-living mammals.
Bordered by the Tamshiyacu River in the north and the Tahuayo River in the west, the reserve protects a little over 300,000 ha of Amazon Rainforest including both flooded and higher ground areas. New species are constantly being found in the reserve, such as a new species of saki monkey and the uakari poison dart frog. The reserve has a fantastic conservation section nearby to protect and study these small brightly colored frogs, which you can visit from the Tahuayo Lodge – the only lodge with access to the reserve.
A great place to make the most of the primate diversity within the reserve is the Amazon Research Center, which you can visit together with the Tahuayo Lodge on visits of 6 days or more. You can then explore the reserve to see many different monkey, such as squirrel monkeys, capuchins, titi monkeys, howler monkeys, saki monkeys, and hopefully a chance sighting at the unusual-looking uakari monkeys.
Rainforest Lodge for the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve
The only lodge with good access to the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve is the Tahuayo Lodge on the bank of the Tahuayo River. The Tahuayo Lodge is rated one of the best lodges in the Amazon Rainforest and provides private guides, a custom itinerary, highly trained Amazon guides, and the longest canopy zipline system in the rainforest. Around the lodge, you can visit different Amazon lakes to see black caiman, some fantastic large trees to see pygmy marmosets, the smallest monkey in the New World, a high chance of seeing tamarins and squirrel monkeys, and visit communities to learn about living in the Amazon Rainforest.
On tours of six days or more you will also visit the Tahuayo River Amazon Research Center, which is located in more pristine Amazon Rainforest. Here you will visit the 1000 acre primate trail grid to see many different monkeys and other wildlife. While exploring the waterways, you can enjoy spotting many different birds, such as kingfishers, tanagers, macaws, and birds of prey. The mammals you can easily spot include three-toed sloths, tamandua anteaters, and troops of monkeys making their way through the rainforest. Pink river dolphins are seasonally seen playing in the waters and often visit the lodge itself.
The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve
A vast area of protected flooded Amazon Rainforest, the Pacaya Samiria is a beautiful reserve to visit on Amazon River cruises from Iquitos. Enjoy spotting several different monkeys making their way through the rainforest, such as howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, capuchins, saki monkeys, titi monkeys, and hopefully some or the rarer spider monkeys. In addition to the primates, see beautiful orchids and bromeliads clinging to the trees, fascinating caiman lizards or iguanas laying on the branches, hoatzin birds, giant water lilies, tamandua anteaters, and more. The bird life of the reserve is incredible with herons, kingfishers, colorful cotingas, macaw parrots, parakeets, and tanagers, and majestic birds of prey easily seen while exploring the waterways.
The reserve contains over two million hectares of Amazon Rainforest and houses around 100 different communities who make their living by sustainably harvesting reserve resources, such as different fish and collecting various rainforest fruits. On your cruise into this diverse forest, you are likely to visit these communities and enjoy some of the flavors from fruits growing inside the Pacaya Samiria, such as the camu camu. Camu camu is a small citrus berry famous for its medicinal properties and high concentration of vitamin c. It makes a tasty flavoring for different drinks and ice creams.
Pacaya Samiria National Reserve Cruises
There are some very good river cruises into the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve and here we will pick two of our favorites. These are luxury Amazon River cruises, but other options are available and you can contact us for more information.
The first cruise we will mention is the Delfin II Luxury Amazon River Cruise, a fantastic vessel providing fine dining, comfort, and excellent guided tours over three or four nights. Enjoy expertly guided tours either on skiffs or forest walks in the dry season to see some impressive wildlife of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. Head out on rainforest expeditions during the day and even venture into the darkness on night expeditions to find caiman crocodilians. After your adventures, enjoy delicious cuisine and superb service before retiring to the comfortable observation deck and bar area or your very comfortable luxury suite.
Another cruise we highly recommend is the Aria Luxury Amazon Cruise for 4, 5 or 8 day adventures. Enjoy skiff expeditions led by highly skilled Amazon guides, fine dining in a beautiful dining area, and very elegant and comfortable suites. The Aria is fitted with the latest eco-sensitive technology and each room features floor-to-ceiling windows to keep you constantly connected to this incredible environment. Lay back on your very comfortable bed with the finest linens gazing into the rainforest as we voyage to the next wildlife-filled destination of the Pacaya Samiria.