As the largest city of the Peruvian Amazon, Iquitos is a mecca for tourists and the central hub of the entire region. Aside from being an interesting city to visit for its own sake, it is also the departure point for many treks and lodges deeper into the jungle, making it the perfect destination for your trip to la selva.
Despite its large population of nearly a half million people, Iquitos is actually fairly isolated from the outside world in terms of transportation options. It is said that it’s the largest city on Earth that is completely inaccessible via road. For this reason, the easiest and most popular way to arrive in Iquitos is, by far, via airplane. There are flights running daily from Lima (as well as many other cities in Peru) that will have you in Iquitos in just a couple hours. If you have a limited amount of time, catching a flight will be your best bet for seeing the jungle.
If you do have some time to travel at a leisurely pace, the other option to reach Iquitos is to travel by boat through the region’s system of rivers. This is a great way to see more of the wildlife and towns lining the tributaries of the Amazon, and really have the chance to enjoy your surroundings.
About the boats
Taking a boat up the river to Iquitos, though an incredible and unforgettable experience, may not be for everyone. The trip is not what anyone would describe as luxury travel, to say the least. Typically, travelers are boarding cargo boats which carry numerous other items in addition to their human cargo. Sleeping happens on hammocks hung on one of the boat’s decks rather than in cabins, which are usually only available for an extra price. There will be several bathrooms onboard supplied by river water, though the cleanliness standards may be a bit lacking. The price of the ticket does usually include three meals per day, but water and any extra food required is not included.
ENTERTAINMENT TIP: If looking for fun at night, or to watch sports during the day, or even a taste of home, visit the Wild Rover Hostels for great food, sports and beer! Entrance to their bars is free even for non-guests
What to bring
- A hammock (easily purchased at the departure points)
- Plastic container and silverware
- Plenty of water
- Extra food
Where to catch the boat
There are only two main routes to Iquitos via river if you’re coming from Lima or elsewhere in Peru. We’ve listed a little more information about each route below, along with instructions on how to get there.
Traveling from the west via Yurimaguas
This is the most popular river route to get to Iquitos. First, it’s necessary to get to the city of Tarapoto in the region of San Martín. It’s possible to take a bus directly from Lima to Tarapoto, but there are also a number of great places to stop along the way (Chiclayo, Cajamarca, and Chachapoyas, among others) so it’s definitely possible to divide the long bus ride into a few parts.
Once at Tarapoto, you’ll need to catch a colectivo (shared van or car) to Yurimaguas, a ride of a little over two hours. Once at Yurimaguas, you’ll be able to find a lancha to take you to Iquitos. This river route from Yurimaguas to Iquitos travels via the Huallaga and Marañón Rivers and usually takes from 2-4 days depending on the river levels. The boat will eventually make a stop at the town of Nauta where it is possible to disembark and finish the rest of the trip to Iquitos via bus (about 2 hours) or remain on the boat all the way to Iquitos (14 hours).
Traveling from the south via Pucallpa
First, you must arrive to the city of Pucallpa. It’s possible to take a bus directly from Lima to Pucallpa, but there are also several towns and cities along the way that you can use to break up the trip (Huánuco and Tingo María, among others). From Pucallpa, you’ll travel along the Ucayali River, making stops at the ports of Requena and Contamana. This trip will take around 4-5 days, depending on the current of the river.
Once you’ve made it to Iquitos, there are a million different adventures, activities, and sights that you can find from there. A good jungle tour is essential, of course. The city itself also has an amazing amount of cultural offerings such as historical museums, traditional markets, and great food.
Once you’ve had the chance to enjoy what Iquitos has to offer, you can easily catch a flight back to Lima or other points in Peru. Alternately, you can reverse our instructions above to find your way back to Lima via river and road. Once back in Lima, we recommend exploring the other regions of Peru by booking a seat on Peru Hop. Since it’s a hop on hop off style bus, Peru Hop allows you to travel across the whole southern region of Peru on a flexible schedule. If you like a particular spot, you can stay as long as you want and then just catch the next bus whenever you’re ready. We hope you’ll enjoy your trip to the jungle and the rest of Peru!