Welcome to Iquitos. Located in the Loreto department of north Peru’s Amazon Rainforest, Iquitos is both the largest city in the world unreachable by road and the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon. So if you can’t get here by road, how else can you get to Iquitos? The most popular option is to fly from Lima, Peru’s capital city. You will then land in Iquitos at the C. F Francisco Secada Vignetta International Airport. The flight lasts around two hours and takes you over outstanding sections of the Amazon Rainforest seen from the window. This will usually be your first glimpse of the world’s largest container of wildlife. As you gaze out over the vast carpet of green forest stretching to the horizon, it’s not hard to imagine how so many species can live here.
The rainforest surrounding Iquitos is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth containing record numbers of species. The lack of a road helps protect the rainforest, as roads open up otherwise inaccessible tracts of forest for logging, hunting and development.
Getting To Iquitos By Plane
At the moment, one of the more reliable airlines for the flight between Lima and Iquitos is LAN and there are currently no direct flights from Cusco. Because Cusco is Peru’s most popular tourism destination, and no doubt many of you will visit Machu Picchu either before or after your jungle visit, there are talks for a Cusco to Iquitos flight in the future.
When you arrive at the airport in Iquitos, if you haven’t already arranged your rainforest tour and are not being collected by the tour operator, be careful about touts within the airport environment offering guide and taxi services. To avoids scammers, it’s best to choose one of the recommended Iquitos tour operators and to hail a taxi from the road. The fixed rate for a taxi from the airport to the Plaza de Armas in central Iquitos is eight soles, but check the latest fare on signs at the airport to avoid being overcharged. The taxis here are mostly three wheeled motorcycles known as ‘motocarros’ with a seat for two in the back and a roof to keep most of the rain off. These vehicles are now closely tied to Iquitos and add a certain charm to the city.
Getting To Iquitos By Boat
Iquitos is the world’s most inland deep-river port. The tributaries that surround Iquitos are the Rio Itaya in the east and south (visible from the boulevard) and the Rio Nanay in the north, which then flows along the west of the city. As this is a port of the Amazon, you can reach Iquitos by boat from either Ecuador, Colombia or Brazil.
About 550 km north west of Iquitos, up the Amazon River, is the port of Coca in Ecuador. Coca is Ecuador’s gateway to the Amazon Rainforest and is about seven days travelling by slow boat from Iquitos. Slow boats are a very basic way of getting around and are the main way locals navigate the rivers. Most people onboard set up their hammock on the main deck, but it is also possible to pay a little more for a private cabin. From Coca, you can experience protected areas like the Yasuni National Park and Cuyabeno National Park. Along with Peru’s Amazonian protected areas, such at Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve and Pacaya Samiria National Reserve near Iquitos, as well as the more famous Manu National Park and Tambopata National Reserve in southern Peru, these sections of the forest contain the highest diversity of life in the entire Amazon and more wildlife than anywhere else on Earth.
Directly east of Iquitos city, up the Amazon River, you will find the furthest town accessible by road from Iquitos, the sleepy rainforest town of Nauta, which is the base of some Iquitos cruises. If you continue further west, you will reach the impressive Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve (150 km from Iquitos) and then the flooded tropical forest of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve where biologists and local communities are reintroducing the impressive giant Arapaima fish. If you were to continue along this route, you will eventually reach the foot of the Andes from where the Amazon begins as a small trickle at a few different locations. To get to Iquitos from Ecuador, you would first travel down the Rio Napo and then the Amazon River.
If travelling to Iquitos from the east (Brazilian side), you will either cross or depart from the Tres Fronteiras where Brazil, Colombia and Peru meet. This trip can either be done on a slow boat (3 days) or a fast boat (24 hours). The boats are better quality on the Brazilian side so if you’re planning on combining fast and slow boats, the recommendation is to use a fast boat on the Peruvian side and the slow boat for Brazil. The Peruvian border town is Santa Rosa, which is simply a sleepy little border town with a few restaurants and basic hotels. And then across the river, you will find the nice little Colombian border town of Leticia, Colombia’s gateway to the Amazon Rainforest. Brazil’s border town of Tabatinga merges with Leticia and accounts for the eastern half of the city. As you cross from one side to the other, you will notice changes in currency, language and time. To see these changes is a fairly bizarre and interesting experience in itself.
Further east, deeper into Brazil, you will encounter the small town of Tefé where you can enjoy rainforest lodges and tours, as Tefé offers some of the best Amazon Rainforest experiences in all of Brazil. Travelling further east still, about 1470 km east of Iquitos along the Amazon River, which now changes its name to be known as the Rio Solimões, is Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon Rainforest. If walking around Manaus, you will have no idea that this is an Amazon Rainforest city as it is now a major industrial hub for the country. The slow boats from Manaus to Iquitos take a few days but there are a few cruise liners that travel the route. The flight between Manaus and Iquitos is very expensive and much longer than expected because there are no direct flights. The plane therefore travels south to the larger cities such as São Paulo before heading to Lima, Peru’s capital city, and up to Iquitos.