The Ultimate Guide to Iquitos for Ayahuasca Travellers
The majority of people who come to Peru to experience ayahusca each year make their way to Iquitos where most of of the Peruvian retreat centers are located. Of course, it’s also possible to experience ayahuasca in places such as Pucallpa, Tarapoto, Puerto Maldonado and even Cusco in the mountains. However, Iquitos is where we’re based and it’s the city we know well.
We’ve created this guide to be useful to anyone who wants to visit Iquitos, no matter which ayahuasca center you intend to visit. After reading this guide you should know what to expect when you arrive here and feel less apprehensive about visiting this somewhat crazy, chaotic, exotic but also very charming city.
A City Like No Other
Most people who come to Iquitos say it’s like nowhere else they’ve ever been. It is a city completely surrounded by jungle and it is the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road. Your only way to get here is by boat or by plane.
Iquitos originally began as a Jesuit missionary settlement in the early 17th century. In 1870, just before the so-called rubber boom, the population was believed to be around 1500 people.
The rubber boom period which only lasted about 40 years brought people and prosperity during that period and the population increased significantly. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before boom turned to bust as demand for Amazonian rubber collapsed due to the fact that rubber plantations in Malaysia were producing far greater quantities at much lower costs. This caused a big depression in Iquitos which lasted some time.
The Iquitos of today has a much healthier economy. The region exports timber, fish and their products, oil, minerals, and agricultural crops. It also derives considerable revenue from tourism, which has increased significantly since the Amazon was named one of the seven wonders of the natural world in 2012.
Iquitos is a vibrant, colorful and energetic city and is a fascinating tourist destination in itself. Make sure you give yourself a bit of time to see some of the sights either before or after your ayahuasca retreat. The rest of this guide will tell you where to stay, where to eat and what to see.
How to get to Iquitos
As stated, there are no roads to Iquitos. You have to fly or take the boat!
Unless you are an experienced traveler with a love of adventure, taking the boat is not advisable. It usually takes about four or five days from either Yurimaguas or Pucallpa. The food provided on the boats is often pretty bad and not something to recommend straight before an ayahuasca retreat. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you fly to Iquitos. The direct flight takes about 100 minutes from Lima. There are currently five domestic airlines running daily flights between Lima and Iquitos. These are LATAM, Star Peru, Peruvian Airlines, VivaPeru and Avianca.
You can usually book your flights all the way to Iquitos using a travel agent or flight-booking website such as Expedia. However, please be aware that almost all travel agents and flight booking websites use LATAM and Avianca as the airlines for the Lima to Iquitos leg of the journey and they both have the highest prices for tourists.
If you are on a tight budget and want to save money, then explore the option of only booking your international flight to Lima with your travel agent and then booking your flight from Lima to Iquitos separately with Peruvian Airlines or Star Peru. Usually, the best deals are with Peruvian Airlines, where you can sometimes book a round-trip from Lima for less than $100 (average price is about $150 when booked inside Peru).
NOTE: Please be aware that some airlines do not make clear whether there is a stopover in Pucallpa or in Tarapoto. You may get the impression you’re booking a direct flight to Iquitos, and then accidentally get off the plane too soon. A direct flight takes about 100 minutes, while a flight with a stopover can take up to 250 minutes.
Arriving in Iquitos
When you arrive at the airport in Iquitos, you will need to take a taxi to the city center. The ride takes about twenty minutes. It is wise to make a hotel or hostel reservation before you arrive so that you know exactly where you are going. We’ll give you some hotel recommendations later.
Your first impression of Iquitos is going to be a little chaotic and slightly annoying. As you walk out of the airport you’re going to be accosted by around 30 taxi drivers vying for your attention and business.
It’s come to our attention that many people are getting ripped off by the taxi drivers, so it’s important you know what you ought to pay. Always agree on the price before you get in the taxi. We’ve heard of people being charged as much as $30 for a ride into the city. This is more than 3 times what you should be paying.
There are two types of taxis in Iquitos. There are car taxis and three-wheel motorcycle taxis (like the Tuk-Tuks common in Thailand). Don’t pay more than 15 soles (about $5) for a motortaxi and don’t pay more than 30 soles (about $10) for a car taxi.
Pro-tip: When you exit the arrival section of the airport, ignore the throng of taxi drivers and walk to the left to where the departures are. You will never have to wait long to get a taxi who is dropping someone off at the airport. These guys will usually charge less (no more than 10 soles). Or even better, get your hotel to arrange a pick-up for you.
A final annoyance to deal with is that many taxi drivers will often try to recommend other hotels (where they get a commission). Just say a polite but firm ‘no’ to their recommendations and insist they take you to where you want to go.
Where to Stay
Like any city, Iquitos has a large variety of hotels and hostels to suit all kinds of budgets.
Before booking a hotel it’s always a good idea to check the ratings and reviews on sites like TripAdvisor or Booking.com
Here are some of our recommendations
If you’re a seasoned backpacker and are used to sharing a bunk bed in a room full of strangers then consider the following places:
Eating and Drinking
Healthy eating / Ayahuasca Diet
The following cafes are good places to find healthy food, juices & smoothies that are ayahausca diet friendly.
Other Recommended Restaurants
The following restaurants don’t offer much in the way of health food or ayahuasca diet food, but if you don’t care about that, give these places a try:
There are three main modes of transport for getting around the city.
Iquitos is surrounded by rivers and if you want to get further out of the city then the only way to travel is by boat. Your choice of river transport depends entirely on where and how far you intend to do.
Health and Safety
Whenever we travel we always hope we don’t suffer any kind of misfortune, whether that be accidents, unexpected health problems, or being a victim of crime. However, no matter where you go in the world, unexpected things can happen and sometimes we need help.
The following are places that can help:
For any kind of medical treatment, we recommend going to Clínica Adventista Ana Stahl. It also has an emergency wing if you need urgent treatment.
The address is Av. La Marina 285 and it’s less than 5 minutes in a motortaxi from the center of Iquitos.
If you need to report a theft or crime, or contact the police then you should first go to the tourist police. The police don’t speak much english, so if you don’t speak Spanish then take someone to act as a translator.
If you feel you have been treated badly by a company or haven’t received what you paid for and wish to make a complaint and seek a refund, the best thing you can do is take it to Indecopi. The Iquitos office is located at Calle Putumayo Nº 446. Indecopi is a national organisation and one of its roles is to protect consumers against fraud.
Tips for staying safe in Iquitos
Surprisingly Iquitos is generally a very safe place to be. I say surprisingly because it has most of the ingredients of being a dangerous place – high amounts of poverty and a fairly disinterested and corrupt police force. Violent crime, particularly against tourists is very rare. You’re probably far more likely to get mugged in an average American city than you are in Iquitos.
However, one thing that is quite common in Iquitos is opportunistic theft. Pickpocketing can be common in some areas particularly at markets like Belen. If you leave a bag or something unattended for even a minute, then the odds of it being there when you get back are quite low.
As long as you take sensible precautions, just as you would in any unfamiliar place, then it is unlikely you will become a victim of crime. Here are a few tips for enjoying a crime-free visit to Iquitos:
Don’t wear expensive jewelry or watches. Keep anything of high value hidden from sight. Even better, don’t bring valuable stuff with you.
If you have more than one credit or debit card, then don’t keep them together in the same wallet. If one card does get lost or stolen, you will hopefully still have a backup. Do the same with cash if you carry large amounts.
Don’t carry large amounts of cash. ATMs are everywhere so there’s no reason to carry large cash amounts unless you don’t have an ATM card.
Don’t leave your luggage or possessions unattended at any time.
Don’t use the money changers (people who change money) who work on the street. They may give you fake money, or use sleight of hand techniques to give you less than they are supposed to.
Don’t help out a stranger who wants to change a large bill for smaller ones (the bill will often be fake).
Carry a photocopy of your passport and any other travel documents.
Don’t go wandering outside of safe neighborhoods, particularly at night (research the safe areas or ask the locals).
Get travel insurance that will cover the loss of any expensive items you might want to take with you, such as cameras, tablets and smart phones.
Make sure a friend or family member is aware of your itinerary. If you don’t have an itinerary, then agree to stay in regular contact.
Don’t ever go with anyone you meet at the airport, in a taxi, or on the street who offers you an ayahuasca ceremony.
Sights & Landmarks in Iquitos
View of the Itaya
The Iron House
Plaza de Armas
Things To Do in Iquitos
It’s fair to say that there is not an abundance of tourist activities in Iquitos, however, there is certainly enough to keep anyone occupied for a few days at least. Here are some of the best attractions and things you can do in Iquitos.
Shopping in Iquitos
Exploring the Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon rainforest is the largest rainforest on earth, and Iquitos is bang in the middle of it, so it makes it an ideal place to explore some of it. Most ayahuasca retreat centers are located close to the city, in secondary rainforest, so they don’t really give you an experience of the real rainforest. If you have some additional time outside your retreat, and wish to have a real experience of the Amazon then here are some of the best options: