Iquitos is a fantastic city to visit in northern Peru. This is Peru’s gateway to the Amazon Rainforest near the famous Amazon River. As this is often a favored entry point for the Peruvian Amazon, we have written this Iquitos Travel Guide to help first-time visitors have the best experience.
The first thing to note is that Iquitos is the largest city in the world unconnected to any other by road. Iquitos is an island in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest accessible by either plane or boat. This matters of course as these will be the ways you will arrive in this tropical jungle city.
The majority of people entering Iquitos arrive at the Coronel FAP Francisco Secada Vignetta International Airport. From here, you will be collected by your tour operator to be taken to your rainforest lodge or embarkation point of your Amazon River cruise.
Although the best thing to do in Iquitos is to head into surrounding Amazon Rainforest, there are some interesting things in the city itself. We will mention these later.
First, let’s go over some of the main questions for Iquitos travel and an introduction to Iquitos city.
After its foundation as a Jesuit settlement, the city of Iquitos reached prosperity during the rubber boom of the late 19th century. This is when the rubber trees native to the Amazon Rainforest were tapped to make tyres for the bicycle and automobile industries. The industry drew entrepreneurs and businessmen from all over the world to reap their fortunes at the expense of the indigenous population.
After the rubber boom collapsed in the early 20th Century, the city of Iquitos fell into disrepair for a short while before the advent of tourism. Iquitos is now the main gateway to the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest and draws over 100,000 visitors each year. One of the main draws for visitors is the abundant nature in the surrounding rainforest and the different protected areas of Amazonia accessible from the city.
The beauty of the surrounding protected areas and incredible animals and plants make Iquitos a fantastic place to visit. Some of the most loved protected areas are the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve (known as the forest of mirrors) and Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve, which we will mention farther down.
When to visit Iquitos
A fantastic place to visit year round as the temperature stays relatively constant from month to month, there are still some subtle differences to know about.
As Iquitos is in the tropics, there are no distinct seasons found at other latitudes. There is simply a wet and dry season. However, if you want to be really specific, there is not really even a dry season in Iquitos but there are some wetter months.
The wetter months in Iquitos are usually between October and June, but this can change by a few weeks either side. Often, the wettest month is April with a 50% chance of rain and the driest months are around August or September with a 30% chance of rain. As you can see, the drier season still experiences wet weather and is not dry enough to be officially classed as a ‘dry season.’ However, the driest months are between May and September.
Temperature in Iquitos stays relatively constant month to month at around 88 to 90°F (31 or 32°C). As with other tropical locations, the main temperature difference is between day and night, as temperature in the evening drops to 70 to 72°F (21 or 22°C).
Given the temperature change between day and night, we recommend packing some warmer clothing for the evenings. The other most important additional item is a poncho or good rain jacket as no matter if you’re in the driest months, you should still expect some rain.
Things to do in Iquitos
Although the best thing to do from Iquitos is to organize a tour or cruise into the surrounding rainforest, the city itself still offers some different activities easily accessible on day tours.
Visit the Manatee Rescue Center
The Manatee Rescue Center is a great place to visit from Iquitos city. The center itself is found on the Iquitos to Nauta highway and offers a chance to see Amazon manatees before they’re released into surrounding areas as part of re-introductions programs.
Manatees are the largest mammal in South America but pressure from hunting and habitat change have caused the animals to be locally extinct in some areas. With collaboration from different organizations, including the Dallas World Aquarium and Peruvian scientific organizations, work is underway to remedy the problem.
The center helps care for injured manatees and has breeding programs to help recover the manatee population in the wild.
One of the favorite activities at the center is hand-feeding the manatees with milk or lettuce leaves, which provides a way to get up close to these magnificent mammals. The center is free to visit, however, you can make a donation at the entrance and throughout the center to help with their much-needed work.
The Pilpintuwasi Butterfly House & Animal Orphanage
The Pilpintuwasi Butterfly House & Animal Orphanage was set up as an orphanage for animals that have had their parents killed from hunting, habitat destruction, or that have been rescued from the pet trade. The orphanage also features a butterfly house to see some spectacular butterflies and to learn about the butterfly lifecycle.
In addition to fantastic butterflies, including the large and brightly colored blue morphos, you can tour the center to see tapir, jaguar, and many different monkeys.
You can reach the orphanage from a boat trip that takes you 20 minutes outside of Iquitos on Nanay River. To arrive at the boat, you can take a mototaxi to the Bellavista-Nanay Port and then board a boat to the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly House.
Visit the Boat Museum
The boat museum is an educational attraction with different artifacts housed within the Ayapua steamship, which once played a significant role in the rubber boom of the 19th Century.
Learn about the rubber boom that grew the city of Iquitos to prosperity, but also about the suffering and exploitation of the native communities. Within the ship, learn about the vessel itself, see books, articles, products, and newspaper excerpts from the time.
See the Amazonian Cultural Museum
The Amazonian Cultural Museum provides information on the different indigenous groups that have lived in the Iquitos region. See many different artifacts, such as clothing, ceremonial items, weapons, and tools from a variety of different tribal groups and communities.
The information is presented in both Spanish and English to help visitors understand the human history of the region. Due to colonization, missionary intervention, and the rubber trade, unfortunately many of the indigenous groups have now perished. Along with many of the Amazon groups, with their disappearance went their knowledge of the rainforest, language, and traditions.
The museum displays the similarities and differences between the indigenous groups, and provides information on their relationship with the surrounding rainforest.
Restaurants in Iquitos
Although you will find yourself in a city in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest and unconnected to other areas, you can still find some great restaurants. Some of the favorites include the Gran Maloca, Huasai Restaurant, Dawn on the Amazon Cafe, the Amazon Bistro, and Al Frio y Al Fuego. Given their uniqueness, we will mention a little more about these last two.
The Amazon Bistro
The Amazon Bistro offers a taste of France at the edge of the Amazon River. The restaurant acts as a memory of the rubber boom era with imported marble table tops, a chandelier, large mirrors, and hardwood furnishings.
Enjoy delicious cuisine for lunch and dinner, or simply sit and watch the river with a delicious hot chocolate and croissant. You can find the Amazon Bistro near the Boulevard at Malecón Tarapaca 268.
Al Frio y Al Fuego
Offering a touch of gourmet dining in Iquitos, Al Frio y Al Fuego offers a floating restaurant accessible from the restaurant’s own launch boats that are ready to transport you across the water for lunch and dinner.
Offering a variety of foods with emphasis of grilled meats and fish, enjoy the whole experience of this unique restaurant. You can also choose from a selection of regionally and nationally inspired dishes. The bar at Al Frio y Al Fuego is also worth the trip with a selection of liquors and cocktails.
The Wildlife of Iquitos
By far the biggest draw for many people to Iquitos is abundant nature. There are some incredible wildlife sightings, tall emergent trees, and delicate flowers to see as you’re guided around the Iquitos Amazon Rainforest.
Because Iquitos is a large city in the Amazon Rainforest instead of the smaller gateway of Puerto Maldonado, Peru’s gateway to the southern Amazon, the most untouched rainforest and highest wildlife levels are found over 100 km from the city itself.
When inside or nearby the protected Amazon Rainforest areas, such as the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve and Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, the animal and plant life you can find is nothing short of incredible.
See pink river dolphins, black caiman, turtles, and different fish in the waters and a variety of wildlife in the forest itself. One of the most loved animal groups are the different monkeys. In the Iquitos Amazon Rainforest, you can spot howler monkeys, tamarins, pygmy marmosets, titi monkeys, sakis, squirrel monkeys, and capuchins. You will then spot caiman lizards hanging from the branches over watery areas, tamandua tree-living anteaters, two types of sloth sitting in the trees, and many different plants.
There are many different birds to find in the Iquitos rainforest, including cotingas, paradise tanagers, oropendolas, different hawks, cranes, cormorants, hoatzins, macaw parrots, and toucans. The reserves themselves contain over 600 different species and make an excellent place for birdwatching.
Enjoy spotting tall emergent trees like wimbas, lupunas, and strangler figs. There are also attractive flowers to see. These include the delicate orchids and Oncidiums, monkey brush, passion flowers, and more. If you want to see the most flowers in bloom, we recommend visiting between January and June when the wetter season is underway, as this is when the rainforest fruits and flowers.
Protected Areas from Iquitos
There are some fantastic protected areas accessible from Iquitos. These include the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve and Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve, which you can explore on an Amazon Cruise or by staying at an Amazon Rainforest lodge. From these, you will enjoy guided expeditions into Amazonia. However, there is also the smaller and closer Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve. Despite not as diverse or pristine as the other two, this reserve still makes a nice day trip from the city.
The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve
Probably the most sought after protected area to visit from Iquitos city, the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve cover over 1 million hectares of mostly flooded Amazon Rainforest.
The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve is the largest reserve in the country and is famous for beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife. Known as the forest of mirrors, you can see almost perfect reflections of the treeline and sky in the dark, nutrient-rich water.
Given its vast size and abundant wildlife, the best recommendation to explore Pacaya Samiria National Reserve is to take an Amazon River cruise from Iquitos. You will then travel deep into the reserve and stop at different areas.
While inside the reserve, enjoy guided expeditions aboard skiffs and on forest walks through higher ground areas. Your highly trained guides will be on the lookout for howler monkeys, capuchins, sakis, tamandua anteaters, pink river dolphins, black caiman, and beautiful flowers. See the bromeliads and epiphytes clinging to the trees as you explore the incredible area.
To complement the Pacaya Samiria Reserve, we recommend a luxury Amazon tour, such as the Delfin II or Aria Amazon Cruise. There is also the Delfin III (Amazon Discovery), which offers one of the most affordable luxury-class cruises. This is also a great option for solo travelers due to individual rooms and no single supplement.
The Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve
The Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve covers 420,000 hectares and is an area of connected rainforest adjacent to the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve mentioned above.
One of the differences of the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve is more accessible higher ground forest that you can visit. This means it’s a better choice for rainforest hikes and heading into the rainforest on foot.
The Tahuayo Reserve is rich in wildlife and you can find 600 bird species living within the protected area. This is also a fantastic place to see a variety of abundant rainforest monkeys, including howler monkeys, capuchins, tamarins, pygmy marmosets, titi monkeys, sakis, and even the mysterious uakari monkeys.
The protection of the rare uakari monkeys was one of the main reasons for the reserve’s foundation. Uakaris are a unique looking monkey with a hairless and bright red face. Although rarely seen, some visitors who trek deep within the reserve from the Tahuayo Lodge get lucky enough to see them.
You can explore the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve from the Tahuayo Lodge, which is the only lodge that provides a deep experience of the protected area. On tours of 6 days or more, you will also visit the Tahuayo River Amazon Research Center. The research center is located in more pristine rainforest and has a 1,000 acre primate research grid. You can walk the grid to see primates demonstrating more natural behavior and a variety of other animals and plants.
The Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve
The Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve is the closest protected area to Iquitos and can be visited on a day trip from the city itself. Unlike the other protected areas from Iquitos, you can reach the Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve from the road as the reserve is located on the Iquitos to Nauta highway.
The reserve covers an area just under 60,000 hectares, but protects some fascinating species. It is this protected area where in 1988 Alwyn Gentry found the world record for tree diversity at one site. Home to an area of rare white sand forest, the Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve is mostly known for protecting a number of white sand specialists. These include the mishana tyrannulet and allpahuayo antbird, which are thought to only exist within this protected area.
Activities in the Iquitos rainforest
Within the Iquitos Amazon Rainforest, there are some fantastic activities to enjoy. Below we have included some of the top activities and favorites attractions of this incredible forest.
Walk the Tahuayo Research Center primate grid
Behind the Tahuayo River Amazon Research Center over 150 km from Iquitos in the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve you can find a 1,000 acre primate research grid.
The research center was a collaboration with various institutions including Yale University and the Tahuayo Lodge to learn more about the area’s primate population. The research undertaken by different researchers and universities is helping to protect the area’s wildlife with particular attention on primates.
On tours of 6 days or more from the Tahuayo Lodge, you can walk the grid to see different monkeys displaying more natural behavior. In addition to several different monkeys, there are many other animals living on the grid. The animals include tayra, deer, coati, tamandua, giant anteater, tapir, jaguar, peccary, ocelots, pacas, agoutis, agouchis, armadillos, pygmy tree squirrels, Amazon tree squirrels, opossums, two different sloths, kinkajous, and around 70 different bats.
Enjoy your personal spa pool on a luxury cruise
What better way to cool off in the Amazon Rainforest than in your personal spa pool built into the deck of your large and luxurious Amazon cruise suite. Aboard the Delfin I, which is more akin to a floating luxury boutique hotel than a cruise, two of the vessel’s suites come with their own private whirlpool.
As the Delfin I travels deep within the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, you can relax in your private pool watching the Amazon Rainforest and wildlife around you. Enjoy a cocktail or drink from the bar and relax in utmost comfort aboard the Delfin I.
See poison dart frogs
A favorite animal to find in the rainforest, the small and colorful poison dart frogs are well known to many people and to see them in the wild is a fantastic experience.
Although you can find poison dart frogs on many tours from Iquitos if you’re far enough away from the city, a great place to have almost guaranteed sightings is a poison dart frog conservation section deep within the rainforest near the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve. The area is known as Frog Valley and can be reached on one of a 6-day tour from the Tahuayo Lodge. In Frog Valley, you can see yellow, red, and orange poison dart frogs and also the equally colorful harlequin toads.
See pink dolphins in the Amazon River
Pink river dolphins are another of the favorite wildlife sightings for many Amazon Rainforest and River visitors. Many people are even surprised that dolphins live in the Amazon River and tributaries. The pink river dolphins are a large dolphin species and many have a pinkish skin giving them their common name. The dolphins also differ from their oceanic cousins by having a flexible neck that enables them to feed on a higher diversity of animals, as they can search around submerged rocks and logs.
Pink dolphins are featured prominently in Amazonian folklore and their existence is still somewhat mysterious with little known about their natural history. You have a chance of seeing the dolphins on many Iquitos Amazon River tours and also from the Tahuayo Lodge where they are often seen playing near the Tahuayo River Amazon Research Center.
Canoe or kayak the reserves
Although you have a lot more hiking opportunities in the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve than the larger Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, you can still enjoy canoeing or kayaking both protected areas from different tours.
Aboard the luxury cruises from Iquitos, such as the Delfin II, Delfin I, or Delfin III (Amazon Discovery Cruise), you can enjoy modern kayaks and paddle down a small rainforest tributary, in calm creeks and oxbow lakes inside and nearby the fantastic Pacaya Samiria National Reserve.
Within the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve at the Tahuayo Lodge, you will also explore the rainforest in traditional dugout canoes. Enjoy paddling the reserve to stand a chance of spotting giant river otters, neotropical river otters, caiman, various snakes, and the flooded forest. Enjoy paddling between the trees and even see animals moving through the canopy high above you.
Enjoy camping in the Amazon Rainforest
Camping in the Amazon Rainforest is one of the most recommended activities for the more adventurous. It’s an incredible experience to fall asleep listening to an Amazon night and to be woken with the sound of howler monkeys and many different birds. Listen to the paca or agouti shuffling through the leaves near your campsite and watch the incredible constellations before you sleep. One of the additional advantages of camping is that you can get deeper in the Amazon Rainforest, as you don’t need to worry about making back to the lodge before dark. For camping, we recommend the Tahuayo Lodge and Tahuayo River Amazon Research Center, which started as one of the Amazon’s first adventure camping tours. Enjoy a two or more day camping experience as part of the Tahuayo Lodge 8-day itinerary.
Tour different Amazonian oxbow lakes
Oxbow lakes are areas where tributaries of the Amazon River once flowed and when the water changed course it left behind arc-shaped bodies of water known as oxbow lakes. These area became very attractive to Amazonian wildlife and provide the correct conditions for a number of lake-side plants.
The lakes are often visited by different rainforest monkeys and other animals that come to feet from fruits on lake-side plants but also to drink from the constant water source. These area are especially popular with animals during the dry season if you can reach the lakes themselves.
Some lakes have become home to giant water lilies, black caiman, hoatzins, horned screamers, and many lake-living birds. You can visit different lakes on each of the Amazon River tours from Iquitos and also on excursions from the Tahuayo Lodge.
Enjoy gourmet cuisine on a luxury cruise in Pacaya Reserve
One of the advantages of an Amazon cruise is that aboard the luxury-class vessels, they can provide gourmet cuisine, which is often to a higher standard to what you would expect from 5-star hotels.
Peru in general is famous for its cuisine and a few of the world’s top rated restaurants can be found in the country. Enjoy carefully crafted dishes with regional, national, and international influences. As you’re traveling through the Amazon, you will also taste some desserts and juices made with sustainably harvested fruits from the Amazon Rainforest itself.
Aboard the Delfin I, Delfin II, and Aria Amazon Cruise specifically you will be treated to an incredible dining experience while you watch the Amazon Rainforest from the windows that encircle the tastefully designed dining room.
Try the Tahuayo Lodge Canopy Zipline
Offering one of the largest canopy zip lines in the Amazon Rainforest, on itineraries at the Tahuayo Lodge from 4-days or more you can experience their incredible zipline system. Enjoy whizzing through the canopy and even using the canopy platforms to spot interesting canopy wildlife. The walk to the zipline itself is fascinating and you are likely to spot squirrel monkeys or capuchins as they come down to investigate your presence in their jungle home.
Research in the rainforest canopy has revealed many animal and plant communities that live their entire lives high in the treetops. The zipline system provides a novel way to experience this mysterious section of the rainforest. The zipline at the Tahuayo Lodge has been experienced by children right through to their grandparents and the lodge’s knowledgeable and experienced guides will assist you with this exciting activity.
Learn jungle survival at the Tahuayo Lodge
Offering one of the most adventurous and challenging experiences in the Amazon Rainforest, jungle survival has become a popular activity with rainforest visitors owed to the increased number of survival programs available. Learn how to find water in the rainforest by recognizing various water vines, how to build shelter from the frequent rains, and how to fish for food. On one or two days on the Tahuayo Lodge 8-day itinerary, choose to head deep into Amazonia to test yourself against the elements in one of the world’s most challenging environments.
Rainforest Lodges from Iquitos
A rainforest lodge allows a little more connection to the Amazon Rainforest and can allow you to better explore a certain area. Some of the best lodges have been carefully positioned after years of research to show visitors the highest areas of animals and plants.
The Tahuayo Lodge
The Tahuayo Lodge is the highest rated lodge in the Iquitos Amazon Rainforest and can be found 150 km from the city up the Amazon River and along a tributary of the Amazon called the Rio Tahuayo.
From the Tahuayo Lodge, enjoy almost exclusive access to the wildlife-rich Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve. The reserve has a very high abundance of primates, including saki monkeys, howler monkeys, capuchins, titi monkeys, pygmy marmosets, tamarins, and squirrel monkeys.
On tours of 6 days or more from the Tahuayo Lodge, you can also spend time at the associated Tahuayo River Amazon Research Center where researchers are studying primate behavior. Behind the research center is a 1,000 acre primate research grid, which you can walk to have better chances of seeing monkeys displaying normal behavior, such as eating, grooming, and even playing.
The Tahuayo Lodge offers customized tours and a private guide to explore the reserve. Enjoy seeing many different animals and plants, including the monkeys mentioned above, but also tamandua anteaters, otters, two different sloths, caiman, colorful butterflies, delicate orchids, dolphins, and much more. The reserve is especially high in birdlife with 600 species seen on guided tours from the lodge to date.
Amazon Cruises from Iquitos
Another way to experience the Iquitos Amazon Rainforest is aboard a comfortable Amazon River cruise. The cruises from Iquitos head to the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, which is a fantastic protected area of flooded Amazon Rainforest. Known as the forest of mirrors, the reserve offers some beautiful scenery and a very high diversity of animals and plants. Some of the top cruises from Iquitos include:
The Delfin II
The Delfin II cruise is a luxury vessel that takes you deep into the flooded Amazon Rainforest of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. Enjoy high quality service, excellent food, luxurious comfort, and some of the best guides available to explore this incredible section of rainforest.
After you enter the reserve, enjoy guided skiff expeditions and forest walks to find some fascinating animals and plants. See delicate orchids and bromeliads clinging to the trees, several different monkeys, beautiful butterflies, and much more.
The Delfin II vessel itself has 14 large guest suites with 4 large master suites at the front of the vessel for even better views of the reserve. All the suites feature large windows to allow the rainforest to decorate your room. Enjoy laying on your very comfortable king size bed watching the rainforest pass by.
In addition to luxurious suites, the Delfin II features an elegantly designed dining room for gourmet cuisine, a bar to enjoy a cocktail or drink, an observation deck with comfortable seating, a lecture and games room, small gym area, massage area, and a small library section to learn more about the forest.
The Delfin I
The Delfin I is the more spacious and exclusive version of the Delfin II mentioned above. The Delfin I offers the same high quality service and luxurious suites, but with only 4 oversized suites, the Delfin I offers a lot more space and exclusivity. What’s more, two of the Delfin I suites offer your own private whirlpool to cool off after your expeditions in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve.
In addition to the comfortable vessel, enjoy excursions deep within the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. With some of the best guides in the Amazon Rainforest, enjoy skiff expeditions, forest walks, and even kayaking tours. See an incredible diversity of animals and plants, such as orchids, pink river dolphins, howler monkeys, saki monkeys, bromeliads, and tall emergent trees.
When not on excursions, you can relax in your luxurious suite with whirlpool and private panoramic terraces, enjoy the bar for a refreshing cocktail, the entertainment center, very comfortable observation deck with large white sofas, and dining room where you will enjoy delicious breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
The Aria Amazon Cruise
The Aria Amazon Cruise offers longer voyages in the Pacaya Samiria Reserve than the above cruises. Enjoy elegant interiors throughout the Aria Amazon with large floor-to-ceiling windows in all living areas.
The Aria Amazon features 16 comfortable cabins, lounge areas, outdoor jacuzzi, and a spacious dining room to enjoy delicious cuisine and a selection of fine wines. Your suite includes an ensuite with bio-friendly toiletries and a large comfortable bed fitted with the finest Peruvian linen. From your bed, you can gaze our the floor-to-ceiling window in your suite that provides a wall of glass to keep you connected to this astounding environment.
Suites can be interconnected to accommodate families or to create your own private apartment aboard the Aria Amazon for the ultimate indulgence on your Amazon River cruise.
The Delfin III
The Delfin III (or Amazon Discovery) offers several different suite options for cruises in the Pacaya Samiria Reserve or Tamshiyacu rainforest (depending on itinerary length). The cruise is one of the most affordable luxury cruises on the Amazon River and is a great choice for single travelers due to the specific single cabins, which means there is no requirement for a single supplement.
The vessel was custom built for the environment and offers a range of suite types from cabins for single travelers to the Owner’s Suite on the top deck. This is at the front of the vessel for a very spacious and comfortable cruise experience with incredible views.
Enjoy delicious cuisine in the vessel’s dining room, a drink at the bar, the plunge pool, deck area, the spa and a gym. The vessel then offers both indoor and outdoor lounge areas to relax when not exploring the incredible forest.
As with the other cruises on this list, you will leave the vessel each day to explore the Amazon Rainforest. Your expert guides will help you find several different monkeys, sloths hanging from the branches, attractive plants, reptiles, and many beautiful birds.