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A visit to the urban Amazon in Peru: Vacation in Iquitos

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Since Iquitos is so hot, I recommend getting accommodation with air conditioning or at least a fan. The best way to stay refreshed is with a delicious ice cream. Try one of the regional flavors. My personal recommendation is camu camu, a sour fruit. It is very tasty and healthy with more vitamin C than an orange!

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The Iron House, designed by Alexandre Eiffel, was brought to Iquitos from Paris. click to enlarge
Dancers from the Bora tribe.
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Floating houses on the Itaya, a tributary of the Amazon river. click to enlarge

Fortunately the rain stopped and I could walk to the main square, which looked bright and charming with the yellow lights. What caught my attention was the architecture of some the buildings, particularly the one with iron balconies. The Iron House, designed by Alexandre Eiffel, was built for an exhibition in Paris and brought to Iquitos by a wealthy dealer.

The promenade is two blocks away and borders the Itaya River, an impressive tributary of the Amazon. Among the several bars and restaurants around, I chose the Fitzcarraldo, the only one reviewed on a gourmet guide. Food in Iquitos is different, so this was the perfect way to get introduced to it. I was amazed by the tacachitos, fried mashed plantain and yucca with pork, and the chonta, a local palm soufflé. This gourmet restaurant was cheaper than similar ones in Lima.

The next day started early, the best way to avoid the heat. It was quiet and you can notice the mosaics on the houses.

In the 19th century, Iquitos was a city where wealthy dealers lived during the rubber rush. Iquitos has been growing lately. Nowadays it has approximately half a million inhabitants, mostly descendants from Amazonian tribes. One of the main characteristics of the people is their kindness and friendliness.

As it was getting late, the streets were getting crowded. Traffic was heavy not with autos, but with mototaxis. This is the most popular form of transport. It’s cheap (just one sol) and convenient due to the hot weather. Be careful when you cross the streets as the colorful stampede of mototaxis don’t stop.

Next to the Iron House there is a restaurant owned by an American who decorated it with souvenirs from his beloved Texas — even the waitresses wear uniforms like the Texas Longhorn cheerleaders. The rainforest food and Texan atmosphere is quite a combination. The name of the place: The Yellow Rose of Texas.

You also can visit the Bora’s tribe, 15 minutes away by boat. To announce your arrival, ring the local “bell,” a manguare (similar to a drum). The chief of the tribe gives a speech first and then a group will dance and sing. The visitors are welcome to join the dance. It’s touristy. If you want to learn about the tribes, check the Museo Amazónico on the boardwalk.

For the last night in Iquitos, I went to a restaurant recommended by the locals. No need for the address, just the name Zorrito. It is located in Belen — not a very fancy area and maybe even a bit dangerous. The place was crowded and the smell of the food was delicious and tempting. The menu was simple and local. I tried the traditional juanes, but instead of the popular rice version I had the chonta one, very tasty! This place is definitely a hidden gem.

I saved time for visiting the open market the next morning. At the entrance, girls from several juice stands battle for customers. Despite the heat, it’s a good idea not to wear sandals. It was muddy and dirty. Before going into the market building, walk around and you’ll find food ready to eat, even drinks in a plastic bag with a straw! Mainly the products you find here are regional ones. Banana leaves are used to wrap the different dishes: fish, bright yellow chickens, fruits, herbs, local liquors, etc. This market is famous for being not-so-safe, so be careful with your camera.

I had to fly back to Lima although I didn’t get a chance to see the pink dolphins – a good reason to come back. Before going to Iquitos, I was skeptical about spending two days in this city, but this was a great experience and proved every place has its own charm to surprise us.

Read more travel stories from Peru by Yadira Salazar.

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