Iquitos is the world’s largest city that cannot be reached by road – only by air or sea. It is a crazy little town at the mouth of the Amazon and is distinctly different from the rest of Peru. When we visited, it felt like a place that time forgot that Buckaroo Banzai or Tarzan would visit in his free time. Tourists typically visit for an excursion into the rain forest or river trip down the Amazon.
Iquitos was founded in 1750s as a Jesuit mission. The settlement survived and grew slowly until it had 1500 settlers by 1870. Then came the great Rubber Rush (much like the California Gold Rush) which led to a 16 times increase in population by the 1880s. Rubber barons became insanely rich while rubber tappers lived like slaves. By World War I, the rubber bust began and the Iquitos economy tanked. Its been struggling ever since living mostly off oil and tourism.
We took a quick tour of the local town as well. Not much to see except for a few bars and clubs that reminded me of Mexico. However, one very cool place is run by an ex-Longhorn from University of Texas. He claims to have the coldest beer in Iquitos and is pictured below.
We had the opportunity to visit a real life witch doctor. He showed us all manner of potions and concoctions that presumably cured everything from the common cold, to snake bites, to male patterned baldness! Lots of herbs were grown near by and most of the animals used as ingredients were never too far away. Its like having your own supermarket in your backyard!
We also visited a local village near our campground where we had an opportunity to learn how to use blow guns. Needless to say I was pretty lousy. However, Lauren had a natural knack for it! The main souvenir they sold was…you guessed it…blow guns!
Excursions into the jungle fall into three key categories: jungle lodges, cruises, and camping. We elected for the first category which is great for wildlife viewing. There are a wide range of options available and many of the lodges are far from Iquitos. You typically have to take a boat or some form of river transport to get to your lodge as the area within 50 kilometers of the city is still considers “city jungle”. As we would pass by in our boats, there was no shortage of local Amazonians gawking at the strange tourists from beyond. Although they probably shouldn’t have, some of our companions gave the local children chocolate…next up donuts!
After much investigation, we decided to sign up with Explorama Lodges. This is a well established company that owns and operates lodges and is a sponsor of ACTS (Amazon Conservatory of Tropical Studies) which has a lab at the famed Canopy Walkway. Our trip included a trip to the Walkway and several lunch and dinner buffets!
We stayed at Ceiba Tops, Explorama’s most modern and largest lodge. There are 75 rooms and suites with airconditioning! If you don’t want to rough it, this is the lodge to book. Even though the lodge where we stayed was largely enclosed, there were signs of jungle life everywhere. It wasn’t uncommon for us to see birds that would come right up to us and try to feed on our leftovers. While we were at camp we had an opportunity to fish. Unfortunately I wasn’t very good. The natives seem to be able to catch fish with their fingers!
Some of the nearby wildlife is truly breathtaking. We hope much of it will remain but alas with deforestation of the Amazon occuring at an alarming rate, much of what we saw may not be around in 50 years…or less. Eighty kilometers away on the Amazon, near the Rio Napo, is the Explorama Lodge. This was one of the first lodges (1964) and is very “rustic”. That’s a euphemism for lots of bugs, open air toilets, air au naturael and lighting by kerosene. At this lodge, you can really experience even more of the jungle environs. We took a quick walk around the area and saw some pretty amazing wildlife.
Canopy Walkway Until the 1970s, biologists working in the rainforest made their observations and collected specimens from the forest floor. Unfortunately, they weren’t aware that most of the action was occurring not at ground but above. When they ventured into the treetops, they discovered so many new species that the canopy became known as a new frontier in topical biology. Now tourists can visit the canopy through a series of intertwined walkways. The walkway stretches over 500 meters through the rain forest canopy.