Elevation: 125m / Population: 450,000 / Telephone Code: 065
Nearly 2,000 miles up-river from the mouth of the Amazon lies the jungle-locked city of Iquitos. Accessible only by boat or by plane Iquitos still displays evidence of the wealth created during the 'rubber boom' of the 1860's. Houses both near the main plaza and the river are still faced with the beautiful glazed tiles imported from Portugal along with many other European luxury goods.
Just a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas down on the river front is Belen, Iquitos' floating neighborhood and market. Almost as interesting as the jungle itself, Belen is the center of an incredible variety of Amazon products; tropical fruits (the likes of which you've probably never seen before), fish of all shapes and sizes, turtles, birds, frogs and herbal medicines. For a few dollars you can take one of the small canoe-taxis for a tour of the waterways, some being paddled by small children eager to practice their English.
But it's the promise of vast virgin forest that brings the city its visitors, although getting to anywhere even resembling untouched jungle can require plenty of money and time.
To see wildlife such as caiman, monkeys and macaws, you really need to travel well beyond an 80km radius from Iquitos and preferably off the main waterways. Some animals such as pink dolphins are found only in some of the more remote tributaries of the upper Amazon.
For the traveler wanting to experience the rainforest there are really only 3 possibilities: take a river cruise, visit a lodge or organize a trip with an independent guide.
Perhaps one of the most comfortable and luxurious ways of seeing the jungle is to take a river cruise down the Amazon. You may not see loads of animals or even virgin jungle but you will have time to relax, enjoy a good book and watch the world go by. You may also wine and dine in style or take an afternoon siesta in your air conditioned private cabin. Some cruises also include day walks into the jungle and visits to local villages. All these home comforts come at a price. For details of boats, itineraries and rates see Amazon Tours and Cruises (www.amazontours.com), the most professional and well known of the river cruise operators.
Staying at a jungle lodge is one of the most popular ways of visiting the jungle. After a quick walk around Iquitos you'll be amazed at the number of lodges and tours on offer. Probably one of the largest, most efficient and long established companies is the highly recommended Explorama Tours. One of the advantages of booking into one of the Explorama lodges is that they also provide access to the canopy walkway at the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research (ACEER). The aerial walkway is now around 500m in length and over 35m from the ground, offering breathtaking views for bird-watching. Monkeys can also be spotted.
Other lodges in the area offer river trips to the beautiful Rio Yarapa, while others can arrange special shamanic tours. For the more adventurous some lodges offer night hikes or 'survival' trips in which participants catch their own food and construct their own shelters. For more information see Iquitos-local tour operators.
Listing individual independent guides in Iquitos is beyond the scope of this web site, and employing their services is, as a whole, not recommended unless: 1) you have a specialist interest and want to go somewhere where tour companies can't arrange; 2) you're on a very tight budget or 3) you have reliable information about the quality and reliability of the guide.
Care has to be exercised when employing a guide as not everyone is as honest or knowledgeable as they may first appear. The tourist office maintains a record of blacklisted guides and may be able to help in finding you a suitable one. Always make sure that you have a written contract and that you have noted the guides name from his identity documents. It's always a good idea to avoid paying for the trip in full up front.
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