The road ends and gives way to thousands of miles of Amazon forest. In this realm of nature, your only option to continue traveling is by navigating the complex river system. You can go days without seeing any signs of human life, it’s just you and the dark, dense, rain forest. In the center of it all is one of the final frontiers in travel, Iquitos, Peru. This city is only reachable via boat or plane and is one of the most remote communities on our planet. Ever since travel was made possible here, hippies and adventurers alike have been making the long journey here to indulge in the hallucinogenic trip of Ayahuasca. For me, Iquitos is, Bustling markets filled with Amazonian delicacies, the smell of motorbike exhaust mixed in with fried fish, countless tribal minorities and a frontier feeling that fills that young boy adventure void for me.
Getting to Iquitos
With the new airport in place, it’s never been easier to get to Iquitos. There are daily flights from Lima weather depending.
For those looking for a bit more adventure getting to Iquitos by boat is half the fun of this Amazon destination. From Yurimaguas boats depart on a 2 – 2.5 day journey downriver all the way to the port of Iquitos. This is the way travelers used to get here and is a classic Amazon journey.
Final Frontier, Iquitos Town
Iquitos is a sleepy city sitting on the banks of the Amazon River. Originally created as a refuge for missionaries when local tribes would attack their new colonial “friends”. These days it’s an important trading port in which ships can haul cargo from Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and even to Brazil’s Atlantic Coast.
The first thing you will notice as you arrive in Iquitos is the heavy military and police presence. Being such a valuable trading port and so very close to the world’s largest cocaine production regions makes Iquitos also a valuable location for Narco’s. With saying this I never ran into any dangers in Iquitos nor did I feel unsafe at any point.
Exploring Iquitos is best done on foot. Walking along the waterfront from Joaquin Boulevard Abensur to Belen you pass by the historic decaying colonial neighborhoods, many of which have been converted into hippie’s style cafes or restaurants.
On this same street, you will find the Indigenous Culture Museum Amazonicas where you can get valuable insights into the people’s native origins who still inhabit this region.
Sights and Smells of the Amazon in the Belen Market
Walking the waterfront pomade is a pleasant experience, but those looking for the true Amazon experience like I was must look into a place more sinister. As I continued to walk the pomade it slowly turned into gritty traffic-clogged streets before the dark entrance came into view. This is the entrance to one of the Amazons best-kept secrets, behold! The bowels of Iquitos, the Belen Market.
It’s loud, grungy, smoky and full of intriguing dark alleyways where illegal activities are clearly happening, but it’s also the place to see the true culture of this region. Care for local delicacies like crocodile, grub worms, fish the size of an adult man? Or how about finding yourself in an alleyway that specializes in shamanistic magic and the hallucinogenic drug Ayahuasca, look no further Belen has it all.
The sights, smells, and sounds of this market are intoxicating. I came back here several times and each time I found something more fascinating than the other. Often locals would guide me around for free!
A word of caution you need to watch your belongings here, pick pocketing is rife and the police told us not to venture down the “quieter” streets.
Iquitos Floating City of Belen
Immersed and lost in the bewildering maze of Belen market it eventually ends at the foot of the Amazon River. Here walking becomes obsolete and to continue on you must board one of the thousands of wooden boats that locals use to get from the Belem floating city a stilt villages that occupy the river.
At the main boat launch which is located at one of the largest exits to the river somewhat halfway through Belen market, you will find locals who will take you for a village tour. Price is negotiable, but tours are cheap…. Trust me.
Our boat guide was so well versed in the village’s politics, functions, and current situation that I ended up doing the tour twice. One to learn about the area and visit a few homes and another to catch the perfect lighting for photography at 6 am.
Slowly gliding pass buildings that seemingly defy physics, kids fishing from their porch and exotic house pets like a baby any eater being pampered by their owners as if it was a normal thing, but it is here in the floating city of Belen. There is so much life here and it’s an incredible sight to see.
Eating Grub Worms in Mercado Nanay
Belen is where you come to explore Amazonian Markets, but Nanay Market some 10 km from Iquitos is where you can enjoy all the flavors of the region. Giant Amazonian snails, yes, please. How about 3-inch grub worms or freshly caught piranha fish! It’s a quick rickshaw ride to get here and defiantly worth the afternoon to taste all the unique flavors the Amazon has to offer.
My first Amazon snack was the ubiquitous Grub Worm locally known as “Suri”. Seeing them squirm in a bucket before being impaled and fried over a charcoal BBQ was off-putting, but honestly the taste was not so bad, reminiscing hints of egg and nuts is the best way to describe the enormous worm.