The capital of Peru’s Maynas Province is the world’s largest city (population approximately 422,000) not accessible by car. While Iquitos’ growth was spurred by demand for Amazonian rubber in the 19th century, many visitors today are tourists who arrive by plane with plans to cruise the Amazon River and its tributaries. Most such cruises, some of them five-star luxurious, begin and end here, offering a glimpse of a city that while aesthetically crumbling remains a colorful, charming, and relatively prosperous jungle outpost.
What We Love
Floating Restaurant: Al Frío y Al Fuego is a floating foodie oasis at the mouth of Río Itaya, with indoor and outdoor seating and its very own swimming pool. The fish dishes are all sublime — as is the local Peruvian potato dish causa — especially with a glass of white wine.
Animal Rescue Centers: If you’ve always wanted to cuddle a sloth or pet a manatee, you can do it at these two small centers, which rescue poached or illegally captive local animals: Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm and Amazon Animal Orphanage, and the Manatee Rescue Centre.
Best Known For
Local Markets: The strong-stomached can have a culinary adventure at Iquitos’ colorful and decidedly non-touristy food markets — best explored with a guide — where local delicacies such as giant fire-grilled grubs (suri) on a stick, as well as crocodile and piranha, can be sampled.
Belén Shantytown: The city’s shantytown is a maze of huts built on stilts or atop rafts, which rise and fall with the river. A boat ride through Belén, especially early in the morning as jungle villagers arrive to sell produce, is a fascinating look at life and commerce at its most basic.
The Iron House: Designed by Gustav Eiffel and shipped to Iquitos piece by piece in 1890, this mansion built during the rubber boom now houses retail shops and a restaurant.
Shop for Cruises
Who It's Best For
Photo Buffs: What remains of Iquitos’ rubber-baron splendor is highly photogenic — as are the locals, zooming about on motorbikes or navigating the river by skiff and dugout canoe.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
It’s Hot and Buggy: This is the Amazon jungle after all, so wear light pants and long-sleeve shirts, and carry insect repellent.
Donna Heiderstadt is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Coastal Living and Islands.