Don't Miss in Iquitos
Malecon: Hang out where the locals do, on this walkway along the Itaya River. Look out in one direction, and you'll see wooden houses on stilts, skiffs cutting through bright green vegetation on the water's surface and abandoned boats -- some quite large -- lurking like ghostly relics on the edge of the river. Along the other side of the Malecon are restaurants where you can enjoy a drink at a sidewalk table and crumbling mansions that were once home to the city's rubber barons. Stop in at Casa Morey, across from the Historic Boat Museum on Plaza Ramon Castilla, to see an example of a refurbished mansion that's been turned into a hotel.
Plaza de Armas: This pleasant square is another good people-watching spot, with a church (Iglesia Matriz) on one side and the Casa de Fierro, or Iron House, at the other. The latter building isn't particularly attractive, but this prefabricated house was designed in the late-19th century by Gustave Eiffel (the man behind the Eiffel Tower) and sent in pieces to be assembled in Iquitos. It now houses a pharmacy.
Museums: Iquitos has two small but interesting museums. The Museum of Amazonian Indigenous Cultures (Malecon Tarapaca 332, +51 65 23 5809, daily 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) offers a collection of ceramics, baskets, clothing, feathered headdresses and other artifacts of life among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon region. The Historic Boat Museum (Plaza Ramon Castilla, +51 65 22 3707, open daily 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) explores Iquitos' heritage with exhibits spread across three decks in a 1906 riverboat.
Animal Sanctuaries: Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm and Amazon Animal Orphanage (Padre Cocha, +51 63 23 2665, Tuesday - Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.), about 20 minutes outside of Iquitos by boat, shelters animals rescued from poaching or trafficking. These include monkeys, jaguars, ocelots and more. The Amazon Rescue Center (Carretera Iquitos-Nauta, kilometer 4.5, +51 96 58 34685, daily 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.) takes care of orphaned manatees as well as injured otters, snakes and other local wildlife.
Belen: The most fascinating district in Iquitos is home to a vibrant market that overwhelms the senses with sights and smells. Here you'll find tables groaning with colorful tropical fruits, mounds of fragrant spices, mysterious bottles of oils and herbs, and fish so fresh that in some cases it's still wriggling. (Those who are vegetarian and/or soft-hearted may be bothered by items like alligator heads, anaconda skins and various animal limbs with claws still attached.) For safety reasons we recommend going with a guide and leaving valuables back at your hotel. Visit in the morning, when the market is most lively.
Near the market is a neighborhood of houses that float on the surface of the water when the river rises in the rainier months (November through May). You can hire a canoe to take you around this watery district, where some 30,000 people live in wooden houses with tin or thatched roofs, perched on stilts, with laundry hanging out to dry over open-air porches. When the river is low the area is accessible on foot or by tuk tuk; again, however, we don't recommend visiting without a guide.