Here is our selection of the top things to do in and around Iquitos. As this is Peru’s gateway to the northern Amazon, the best attraction around Iquitos is the Amazon Rainforest, which you can explore on some of the top Amazon River tours from Iquitos. While in Iquitos itself, there are also a number of activities and attractions to occupy your time in the world’s largest city inaccessible by road.
Visit Pacaya Samiria National Reserve on a Luxury Cruise
One of the most pristine protected area in Peru, the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve is a vast expanse of flooded tropical forest home to a high number of animals and plants. The reserve covers around 20,000 km² of Amazon Rainforest and protects a vast number of birds, mammals (including jaguar), fascinating reptiles, and colorful amphibians.
Because this is such a large area of mostly flooded tropical forest, the best way to explore the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve is on a cruise, and there are a few different options to choose from. As this is our number one recommendation, the best thing to do is to enjoy a luxury cruise into the Pacaya Samiria Amazon.
A luxury cruise compliments the incredible environment and there are a few incredible tours, which all offer a slightly different experience. Explore the Pacaya Samiria in luxurious comfort aboard:
On the above luxury cruises into the Pacaya Samiria, not only are you spoiled with comfortable cabins, gourmet food, fine wine, and comfortable living spaces, but you will also explore this fantastic ecosystem. Enjoy guided expeditions led by some of the best tour leaders in the rainforest to find many different animals and plants. Aboard motorized skiffs or on forest walks, spot several different rainforest monkeys, colorful toucans and parrots, caiman crocodiles, pink river dolphins, and many sloths hanging to the trees before returning to your vessel for a delicious lunch or dinner.
Both the Delfin I and Delfin II offer an incredible experience of the Amazon Rainforest. Another recommended option is the Amazon Discovery Cruise, which is a larger vessel and one of the most affordable luxury river cruises in the Amazon Rainforest.
Visit Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve from the Tahuayo Lodge
The Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve is an adjacent protected area to the Pacaya Samiria’s flooded forest, but contains more higher ground rainforest where you can enjoy walks through the Amazon. The Tahuayo area ranks as one of the world’s best areas for seeing different primates.
The monkeys you’re likely to see while exploring the Tamshiyacu are the saki monkeys, titi monkeys, howler monkeys, capuchins, squirrel monkeys, and a diversity of tamarins and marmosets. You may get lucky and find the uakari monkeys, which were a big reason to why the area was protected. Interestingly, the uakari was named by a now extinct tribe and language, and so we will never know what it means. The uakaris are very rarely seen but a number of visitors catch a sighting. However, one of the favorite monkeys to find here in abundance are the pygmy marmosets, which are the smallest monkey in the New World and are a monkey not found in the southern Amazon. Other wildlife of the reserve include a number of poison dart frogs, fantastic birdlife, black caiman, tamandua anteaters, and much more.
The only lodge to explore the reserve is the highly regarded Tahuayo Lodge where you receive a private guide and custom itinerary as standard. You can then explore the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo in your own time and focus on your interests, such as photography, bird watching, adventure, or wildlife watching. On tours of six days or more, you will also split your time with the lodge’s ARC located in more pristine rainforest and home to a 1000 acre primate trail grid to see a diversity of monkeys.
Visit the Manatee Rescue Center
Located a little distance from the city on the highway to Nauta is the Manatee Rescue Center. This is where different organizations, including the Dallas World Aquarium and a number of Peruvian scientific organizations are working together to protect the population of Amazonian manatees, the largest mammal in South America.
Manatees themselves are found throughout the Amazon Basin and live in Peru, Brazil, Colombia, the Guiana Shield, and the Orinoco Basin in Venezuela. A large cow-like mammal, manatees are docile, herbivorous, and feed on plant species, such as the water hyacinths you can find in Pacaya Samiria National Reserve.
The Manatee Rescue Center helps care for injured manatees, helps with breeding programs, and releases manatees into their natural environment, such as the Pacaya Samiria and the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve. Many of the Amazon tours from Iquitos include a visit to the Manatee Rescue Center or a tour can be arranged as an add-on experience.
While at the Manatee Rescue Center, you will hear a talk about the manatees and the work the organization is doing. Enjoy seeing some other animals the center is helping, have a chance to bottle feed some manatees, and to hand-feed them their much-loved lettuce leaves.
To get to the center, you can ask your tour operator for your Pacaya Samiria Reserve cruise or rainforest lodge visit if the experience is included or you can visit independently. To visit yourself, you simply need to take a moto taxi and ask for km 4.5 on the Iquitos-Nauta highway, which will take around 20 to 30 minutes to reach from the Plaza de Armas in Iquitos.
Try the Canopy Zipline at the Tahuayo Lodge
The largest canopy zip line system in the Amazon Rainforest can be reached from Iquitos by enjoying a minimum of 4 days at the Tahuayo Lodge with a recommended time of 8 days. This has been ranked as one of the world’s most exciting ziplines by Fox News.
After being hoisted one hundred feet above the jungle floor into the trees, you will be securely fastened to the harness and zip line, which was made using strong aircraft cables. You will then zip down the cables between the four emergent Amazon Rainforest trees that support the system. The trees have platforms to observe the surrounding rainforest and function as canopy towers for spotting colorful birds flying over the forest.
Recent research in the canopy environment has revealed a completely different set of animals and plants from the rainforest floor with many previously undescribed species. While on the canopy platforms, you can take your time to observe life at this level and it’s a great place to bring your binoculars.
A team of construction specialists, arborists, and scientists built the zip line, which goes through regular inspections and upgrades. The cables are capable of supporting over 12,000 pounds and to take every possible precaution, guests are strapped to a secondary safety cable.
The zip line is one of many itinerary options you will have from the Tahuayo Lodge, but all guests have unlimited access to the zipline system while on their tour.
Visit Allpahuayo Mishana Reserve
The Allpahuayo Mishana Reserve is a fantastic protected area to visit if you have a day or two to spare in Iquitos itself. A small reserve at around 60,000 hectares, the Allpahuayo Mishana Reserve is located very close to the city and can be reached by hiring a mototaxi to the entrance.
Many different ecosystems are protected by the reserve, including the highly threatened white sand forests, which accommodates many forest specialists. In addition to these, the reserve contains many other endemic, rare, or endangered species, such as the equatorial saki and Goeldi’s marmoset. The real treat in the reserve, however, are the birds, for instance the Allpahuayo antbird, Mishana tyrannulet, and the elegant pompadour cotinga.
Research and conservation initiatives are continually being run within the reserve, which helps preserve this incredible stand of forest so close to the city. In addition to the diversity of animals and plants, the reserve contains an fruit collection to see around 50 different types of Amazon Rainforest fruit.
Walk the Canopy Walkway at Ceiba Tops
Another great way to experience the canopy over a few days is to arrange a stay at the Ceiba Tops lodge where you can book an add-on experience to enjoy their canopy walkway. Ceiba Tops offers a more resort-style experience of the Amazon, which means fewer animals but a more comfortable hotel-like accommodation.
The canopy walkways itself is 35 meters (115 feet) above the rainforest floor and extends 500 meters through the forest. The walkway is attached to 14 of the largest emergent trees in the forest and is one of the world’s largest canopy walkways.
Anyone can enjoy the walkways and no equipment is needed, but we recommend taking some binoculars and a camera. Not only a much loved tourist attraction among Ceiba Tops guests, the walkway is also used by scientists and researchers studying the Amazon’s flora and fauna.
Visit the Boat Museum
A relatively recent addition to Iquitos attractions, the boat museum is inside the historic German-built Ayapua steamship. The Ayapua was of great importance to the city itself and played a large role in the rubber trade during the great Amazon rubber boom.
The rubber boom is what built these Amazon cities, such as Iquitos, Manaus, and Belem due to their base for tapping the Amazon’s rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis). The rubber was tapped for use in tyres for the bicycle craze and rise of the automobile industry. Rubber was first identified from its use by the Amazonian Omagua tribe for a native ball game. With the invention of vulcanization to make the rubber more durable, the industry could take off. This attracted businessmen, entrepreneurs, and adventurers from all over the world looking to make their fortune in South America’s steamy rainforests.
The museum contains a lot of information on the steamship, but also on the days of the rubber boom with fascinating pictures of the time. The museum also depicts the darker side of the industry, which saw large numbers of indigenous people enslaved and exploited. While the local populations suffered, their labour meant rubber barons could display their vast wealth in the form of exuberant mansions and grounds. The Iron House for example on the Plaza de Armas was shipped from Paris by a rubber baron who fancied it on the Amazon River and moved it all the way to South America.
See the Amazonian Cultural Museum
A little further down the boulevard, you will find the Amazonian cultural museum, which displays a range of artifacts from indigenous groups of the Amazon Rainforest. The artifacts and paintings are accompanied by descriptions in both English and Spanish to help you understand the history of these fascinating groups.
The museum shows the traditional clothing of Amazon tribes and displays weaponry and other artifacts, such as ceremonial items. Many of the region’s tribes are represented in the museum, which highlights the diversity of the many groups that called the rainforest home. Unfortunately, due to colonization and missionary intervention, many tribes have now perished. These groups have left only artifacts and the occasional animal name from a now extinct language to signify their existence.
Not only displaying excellent pictures and artifacts, the museum documents the relationship these groups had with the surrounding forest, while displaying their methods of hunting and fishing and the fascinating diversity between cultures.
See the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly House
One of the best attractions in Iquitos city itself is the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly House. Starting as an animal orphanage to care for abandoned or injured Amazon Rainforest wildlife, you can still see some Amazonian icons being well cared for at the orphanage.
To help raise money to care for the animals, the orphanage incorporated a fantastic butterfly house to show the diversity of butterflies found in Amazonia. The area opens to visitors from Tuesday to Sunday between 9:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.
You can enjoy tours of the butterfly house to see many different varieties and also see the pupae area to learn about butterfly reproduction and metamorphosis. After seeing the butterflies, you will then see the orphanage to see some icons of Amazonia, such as jaguar, tapir, and a variety of monkeys.
The orphanage and butterfly house can be reached from a boat trip 20 minutes outside of Iquitos on the banks of the Nanay River. You can take a mototaxi to the BellaVista-Nanay Port and then board a boat to the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly House.
See the Iron House
To mention one particular building in this list to see, we have chosen the Iron House or the Casa de Fierro. The building has a fascinating history and is located just opposite the Plaza de Armas on the river side.
The Iron House was built at the end of the nineteenth century and its ceiling, walls, and balcony are covered with sheets of iron giving the building its name. As mentioned above, the Iron House was seen by a rubber baron while in France who had the building shipped all the way to the Amazon River.
The building was seen at the International Exposition of Paris and dismantled then shipped to the jungles of South America. Although it’s a much celebrated fact that the building was designed by Gustave Eiffel, there is a frequent tendency in South America to attribute every steel or fancy building to the famous architect.
The building demonstrates the wealth and power of the rubber barons at the time. As the building sits across from the plaza, you can enjoy simply imagining the building at the time of its prosperous past and the lengths taken to position it where it now stands.
Have a Hot Chocolate and Croissant at the Amazon Bistro
There are some fantastic restaurants in Iquitos and one of the favorites with a beautiful view over the rainforest and river is the Amazon Bistro. The Amazon Bistro is a French-Belgium restaurant serving delicious food with both indoor and outdoor seating.
Although the restaurant has a delicious dinner menu, it’s also a great place for lunch or a simple coffee. Being a French restaurant, we recommend a coffee or hot chocolate with a tasty croissant or pain au chocolat.
Relax with your food looking over the Amazon Rainforest, reading a copy of the Iquitos Times, or simply people watching as Iquitos residents walk up and down the malecon. An advantage of the Amazon Bistro is its free WiFi, so you can also send an email or catch up on work.
Try Some Traditional Jungle Food
One of the must-try things in Iquitos is the traditional jungle cuisine and the best places to do this are in some of the city’s restaurants, such as El Mijano, La Gran Maloca, or La Restaurante Fitzcarraldo, which all serve some local delicacies.
Some favorite foods to try in the jungle include juane, which is a rice dish made by wrapping chicken or egg with rice and cooking in a leaf. Another is tacacho, which is made from pork-flavored mashed plantain and served in a ball. Soups feature a lot in rainforest cuisine and Peruvian cuisine in general, but the real favorite among most Iquitos residents is fish. There are many types to try, which are cooked in a variety of ways. For refreshment, try some local fruit juices, such as cocona juice, camu camu, or maracujá.
Visit a Native Market
A great idea for rainforest souvenirs are the handicrafts from the talented local artisans. Some of these works are made deep in the rainforest by Amazon villages and shipped to Iquitos for market. One of these can be found on kilometer 4.5 of Avenida Abelardo Quiñónez.
The markets contain fantastic examples of traditional crafts, such as wood carvings, pottery, beautiful paintings, traditional clothing, and also animals and plants knitted with different materials. Take care not to purchase items made of animal origin, however, as you will be unintentionally supporting illegal hunting of threatened species.
Amazon tours such as the luxury Delfin I Cruise, the fantastic luxury Delfin II Cruise, and the Tahuayo Lodge include a visit to a traditional market. Here you can see some fantastic examples of traditional handicrafts. Purchasing the items not only gives you a wonderful and locally produced souvenir but helps support these local communities and allows tourists to play a role in community development.
Walk the Boulevard
The boulevard in Iquitos is located just behind the Plaza de Armas and is where you find a number of hotels, bars, bistros, and restaurants. Not only loved by tourists, this is often where Iquitos residents come to relax of an evening. The playground is often full of children and vendors are constantly found selling ice creams, sodas, and snacks.
The boulevard is a relaxed place to visit with fantastic views over the tropical rainforest and the Itaya River. There is also a market selling handicrafts and other products. As this is a jungle city, be careful about buying produce from animal origin, such as bones, skins, teeth, feathers, or hair as this supports the non-sustainable hunting of wildlife. If you buy a product containing this material, it places a demand on more animals being killed. The same can be said about photographing orphaned animals in surrounding villages.
The best time to visit the boulevard is on Saturdays and Sundays in the early evening and late afternoon. It’s a great place to enjoy a drink, such as a Pisco sour and to see the locals. It’s also a great place to simply sit down in the daylight hours and watch out over the rainforest wondering what animals are to be found on your Amazon tour from Iquitos.
Visit Lake Quistococha
Quistococha is one of the much loved Amazon lakes from Iquitos and is a frequent relaxation spot for Iquitos residents. Located at kilometer 7 of the Iquitos – Nauta highway, the lake area is open to visitors between 8:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.
Quistococha includes the lake and beach area for relaxation, paddle boats, and swimming. Make sure you only swim in the designated area, however, as there are reported to be some strong currents draining the lake. There is also a fascinating botanical garden filled with tropical trees and plants. Another part of Quistococha is the zoological area, but because of poor housing for the animals, you may choose to avoid this section.
Next to the lake there is a bar and restaurant to enjoy some traditional jungle cuisine, such as juane, tacacho, and some delicious camu camu juice. You can also enjoy a hiking trail from Quistococha to the Itaya River.
To get to the lake, you can just hop into a mototaxi and say Quistococha. After a 15 minute ride, you will then arrive at the entrance.
Visit Other Lesser Known Lakes
In addition to Quistococha mentioned above, there are also many different Amazon lakes around Iquitos with a less touristy feel. One of the most known of these is Lake Zungarococha. The lake sits on the edge of the Nanay River and is another much loved lake among Iquitos residents for swimming, canoeing, and simply relaxing. Like Quistococha, there is a nearby restaurants serving local food.
The reason there are so many lakes in the Amazon Basin is because waterways of the Amazon River frequently changed direction over the centuries. When the river altered its course, it sometimes left behind pockets of water that later became lakes. In protected areas, it’s these lakes that attract wildlife and are often a much loved tourist destination for visitors, such as Sandoval Lake, which is the most famous oxbow lake in Peru and located near the town of Puerto Maldonado in Tambopata National Reserve.
Lakes like those very near Iquitos are usually missing the wildlife because of the abundance of people, but the areas present some beautiful scenery and are great places to relax. These places are also great to experience Iquitos as a local and to see what Iquitos residents enjoy doing in their free time.
See the Meeting of the Waters
Although not as magnificent as the meeting of the waters accessed from Manaus in the Brazilian Amazon, the site is still fascinating and worth a visit. These areas are where two different colored waterways meet to form one river. This is usually where waterways differing in temperature, speed, and water density run side by side. From Iquitos, the meeting is between the Amazon River and the Nanay River.
The tannin rich black water of the Rio Nanay is carried to Iquitos from deep within the Amazon Rainforest near the border with Ecuador. The tannins are from the huge quantity of rainforest leaves washed down the Nanay, which decompose to create a water black with life-giving nutrients. When this meets the Amazon River just outside Iquitos, it creates clearly distinguishable rivers running side by side until they slowly begin to merge further down the Amazon. In addition to visiting the waters independently, you will also see the spectacle aboard cruises from Iquitos or while heading to the jungle lodges, such as the excellent Tahuayo Lodge mentioned above.
Visit the Iquitos Museum
In addition to the Amazon cultural museum and the steamship museum, there is also the Museo Iquitos. Iquitos was founded as a Jesuit mission and the museum shows the 150 year history from 1864 until 1920.
The museum displays a fascinating amount of artwork, sculptures, and information on the indigenous communities. Because of the city’s location close to the border of different countries, the museum also shows the significance of Iquitos to Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil. To visit the museum, you simply need to take a mototaxi to the Parque Zonal (City Park).
Tour the Colonial Buildings
There are many fascinating colonial buildings in Iquitos, such as the elaborate and ornately decorated mansions of the rubber boom’s barons. You can walk the city by the boulevard and down Prospero to see many different examples. We recommend picking up a copy of the Iquitos Times, which is a local expat newspaper containing many different stories and facts about some of these buildings.
Some of the most easily identified are the beautifully tiled buildings such as the supermarket on Prospero, which was once a baron’s mansion. Others include the buildings of the Amazonian cultural museum and the famous hotel Casa Morey. Many of the top restaurants in Iquitos now occupy these premises and it adds to the experience to know a little about the history of these fascinating places.
Relax at the Plaza de Armas
Finally, you may enjoy simply relaxing at the Plaza de Armas watching the fountains or weekend activities, which is often when the locals visit to relax on their days off. The plaza is frequently visited by vendors selling ice cream and drinks and makes a great place to relax or people watch.
Across from the plaza is a neo-gothic church where the church tower lights up with changing colors of an evening. The church is then frequented for Catholic mass by residents. Adding to the atmosphere of this small park, the plaza is really the heart of the city and is surrounded by restaurants, hotels, and shops.
The Plaza de Armas also features many rubber boom style buildings, including some of the elaborate mansions of the rubber barons.