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My home base for most trips to Peru since 2005 has been Iquitos lying not-so-quietly at the confluence of the Rio Amazonas, Rio Nanay, and the Rio Itaya. The bustling city of well over half a million people is the largest city on the world not accessible by road. If you want to get there, you’re only choices are by air or boat.
Obviously, the biggest draw for people coming to Iquitos is the Amazon River and the rainforest. Just by walking, you can be go from anywhere in the city and in a few minutes be on the edge of the rainforest. It is a truly magnificent place that has to be experienced.
This is perhaps my all-time favorite place to go in the Iquitos area, Quistococha has both a fascinating zoo with lots of animals native to the rainforest and a park with a large beach next to a lake that is filled on the weekends with families enjoying the cool water formed by a long ago shift in the river.
To get there, you can catch a moto from anywhere in the city. Keep in mind that even though it’s only about 15-20 minutes past teh airport, because of the distance many moto drivers do not want to take the trip unless you want a ride back, too. (I wouldn’t recommend this.) For a more typical experience, just catch a bus (1-2 soles depending on where you get on) going to “Terminal” which is the west end of the main city routes and then hire a moto that will take you the last couple of miles for about 3 soles.
Pilpintuwasi (Padre Cocha)
My second favorite place to visit is also known as the Pilpintuwasi Mariposaria or Butterfly Farm across the Rio Nanay in the village of Padre Cocha. What started as a butterfly farm evolved into a magnificent animal rescue center where monkeys run free and a number of animals are cared for in a very humane, loving way.
I’ve known the owner, Gundrun Sperrer, for many years and I always stop in to see her and the animals when I’m in town. I’ve known some on the monkeys for many, many years!
Getting there is easy. Take a moto or a bus to Bellavista Nanay — look for “Nanay” written on the board in the front windshield of any bus. Expect to pay about 1 sol. Once there, look for the boats heading to Padre Coacha. Ignore the your guides as they will charge you a fortune. Check with the boat, but expect to [pay no more than 3 soles for the 15-20 minute boat ride up the Rio Nanay. Once there, anyone can tell you how to get there. I usually walk, but there are motos who will take you there. Be sure to go the one all the way at the end of the sidewalk through town. Look for the sign and avoid the one on the way. It was started by a former employee and has a terrible reputation for the animals and there have been reports of guests being injured there.
Mercado Belen (The Belen Market)
Nowhere is the “wild west frontier” culture of Iquitos more on display than the huge, boisterous Mercado Belen where, if you look hard enough, nearly anything can be had.
Tamshiyacu (pop. 8000) is a village about 1 hour up the Amazon River from Iquitos in a rapido (fast boat) or 2 hours in a paguera (slow boat).
The Yellow Rose of Texas (Putomayo 174, right behind the Iron House on the Plaza de Armas)
tThis was the first restaurant I visited when I arrived in Iquitos for the first time in May, 2005 and it still is my favorite place to eat and hang out in Iquitos.
The owners and their family who run the place are close friends and I know most of the workers as well so that going to the Yellow Rose (or “Texas” as the locals call it) is basically like eating at home. While a little more expensive than most places, the servings are very generous and food is good. Even the lunchtime “menu” selections are enough to fill you up anytime.
The restaurant was started by a retired petroleum engineer from Houston (and the University of Texas) who married a Peruvian woman and began this icon of Iquitos’ tourism. The place has grown significantly over the years as the owners have expanded into next door properties as the became available. The only place in Iquitos with outside sidewalk seating, the best place to sit and do some “people watching” is outside where fans mounted on the walls help keep the heat at bay. Inside the original section, however, is a vast collection of Amazonia including termite nests, native masks, stuffed animals, etc. worth checking out while waiting for your order to be brought out.
Next door is an air-conditioned room that is used a lot by groups because of the larger tables, but really doesn’t feel all that cool to me. Upstairs is a sports bar called Margaritaville that can get quite busy in the evenings because of the large number of big-screen TVs showing all types of US and Peruvian sports. (Just ask if there’s something you’d like to say since the Peruvian staff probably aren’t aware of
In Peru, my first choice of food is always lomo saltado —beef strips, vegetables, and french fries — and the best I have ever had can be found at the Yellow Rose. It comes with white rice that mixes perfectly with the delicious juice that fills the bottom of the plate. When I return to Iquitos, this is always my first meal.
Al Frio y Al Fuego (La Marina 138)
This popular place is the upscale restaurant in Iquitos. The food is good and a little expensive for here, but it’s worth it for the ambiance like nowhere else. This restaurant is actually a few minutes’ boat ride out into the lake formed by the Rio Itaya. And to top it off, there is even a swimming pool. Yes, this floating restaurant has a real swimming pool!
The fish is particularly delicious, though I’ll admit I had not idea what kind of fish I was eating on my last trip. Fresh fish from the Amazon is amazing!
Buffalo Wings (Calvo de Araujo 836)
This small place became my favorite in January, 2018, as a great place to get some “comfort food” (i.e., BBQ wings) only a few hundred yards from my hotel and about 2½ blocks from the city’s main stadium.
While they have a variety of hot wings available at different levels of “heat”, I’m not a fan of really spicy food so I stuck with the normal BBQ wings that are very much in the style of wings from back home in Texas. They were just as messy and delicious as any wings I’ve had in the U.S. While a bit expensive compared to other restaurants in Iquitos, the wings were more than worth it.
The service was always friendly and food was brought out pretty quick as I waited for my take-out orders. They didn’t appear to be open except in the evenings as I never saw the restaurant open in the afternoons so drop by in the evening if you’re close by.
Chifa Polleria Lay Kong (in front of Plaza Roja, San Juan Bautista)
This large chifa — a kind of Peruvian restaurant known for Peruvian-Chinese dishes — is a great place to get a huge meal for not much money. It sits in the community of San Juan Bautista in front of the Plaza Roja on the main road from the airport to Iquitos, Avendia Quiñonez. Plaza Roja is the main plaza in San Juan and the center of the huge Fiesta de San Juan each June.
They offer tons of variations on chicken including family size meal offerings. My favorite is arroz chaufa con pollo — rice with soy sauce and a a healthy infusion of chicken chunks! There’s more spices involved and I’ve made a few times at home, but they do a fantastic job and the servings are huge! One order is plenty for two people. If you get too much to eat in one sitting, simply ask for a caja para llevar (to-go box) as it will still be good heated up in a microwave later.
Another plus for Lay Kong is that they keep their drinks extremely cold. After a long day, nothing tastes as good as am ice cold pitcher of maracuya (passion fruit juice). In my opinion, they have the coldest and best maracuya in all of Iquitos.
Kikiriki (corner of Napo and Huallago, 1 block from the Plaza de Armas)
Extremely popular place for chicken. Come on a weekend night and the place will be jam packed with locals, but service is pretty quick and there’s a ton of seating both up and down stairs. They’re cooking chickens on the rotisserie grill constantly so there always plenty to eat and it’s always fresh. Once I hosted about 10 people for dinner and the entire bill including drinks came to about $35! The servings are big and come with a huge helping of french fries.
Selva Suites Hospedaje (Calvo de Araujo 743)
I stayed her for the first time in December 2017/January 2018 and was quite happy during my stay. Getting hold of the owner/manager Alan took a bit at first, but I think because I tried to contact him initially through their Facebook page which he didn’t check as often. Once we did connect, he gave me his email and was very responsive to all my questions.
I stayed in a single room for 60 soles (about $18) a night. (The price has since gone up to 70 soles or about $21. The room was small, but that was not a concern for me. The keys were the air conditioning and the hot water. The air was off during the day allowing the room to get pretty warm, but it didn’t take long to cool off once I returned and turned the AC back on. The hot water was a bit of a concern until I learned how to use it properly. Since the water is apparently heated electrically — a very common and safe method — I had to learn to turn down the pressure just a little bit to make it easier for the water to heat up. Once I did that the water pressure drop was barely noticeable, but I was able to get nice, hot showers every day when I returned to the room or each morning.
Not sure if it was the bed or the fact that I was away from a stressful job, but I slept better each night than I had in a very long time.
Hospedaje Las Amazonas
Las Palmeras Inn