History of Iquitos

Iquitos (Listeni/ɪkɪtɵs/) is the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest and the fifth-largest city of Peru. It is also the capital city of the Loreto Region and Maynas Province. Located in the Amazon Basin, the city borders the Amazon, Nanay and Itaya rivers. Its name in Iquito language translates to “the people.”


Many mansions are decorated with exquisitely painted ceramic tiles imported from Portugal, and with mahogany shipped to Italy to be carved by skilled Italian artists, then shipped back to Iquitos.

The city proper with its four districts has a population of 422,055; 462,783 live within the Iquitos Metropolitan Area, making it in the sixth-largest metropolitan area of the country. The official city nickname is Capital of the Peruvian Amazon.

Between 1880 and 1912, a rubber boom  attracted many European immigrants; they contributed to a period of wealth and great social and commercial development that resulted in its unique urban and cultural identity.

The city originally was developed from an Indian Reduction developed by Jesuit missionaries along the Nanay river circa 1757 with the name San Pablo de Napeanos. The town was inhabited by the Napeanos and Iquito people. (The plan of the Spanish Empire was to gather native populations into centers called “Indian reductions” — reducciones de indios — in order to Christianize, tax, and govern them.)  


The Belén Market

The city has become a destination in the Peruvian Amazon due to historic architecture, cuisine, landscapes, accent, nightlife and diverse culture. It is a cosmopolitan city with strong Amazonia roots. The city was number 6 on the list of “top 10 cities for 2011” by Lonely Planet.

Downtown Iquitos is considered the starting point for the city tour. The Belén Market is described as the largest traditional market in the Peruvian Amazon. Several neighborhoods and landmarks of Iquitos are prized for their Amazonian, European, and bohemian atmosphere.

More than 250,000 visitors came to Iquitos in 2012, a number that is expected to rise since the ranking of the Amazon River as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. In 2012 Iquitos inaugurated international flights with the major hub in Panama City, with shared destination to Miami and Cancun.


A modified motorcycle with a cabin behind supported by two wheels, seating three.

The city can be reached only by airplane or boat, with the exception of a road to Nauta, a small town roughly 100 km (62 mi) south. It is the largest city in the world that is inaccessible by road. Ocean vessels of 3,000 to 9,000 tons and 5.5 metres (18 feet) draft can reach Iquitos from the Atlantic Ocean, 3600 km away.

Most people travel within the city via bus, motorcycle, or the ubiquitous auto rickshaw (mototaxi, motocarro or motocar). Transportation to nearby towns often requires a river trip via pequepeque, a small public motorized boat.


Image from DawnOnTheAmazon.com, which leads guided tours through Belen and to Pilpintuwasi and The Amazon Animal Orphanage.

The town of Belen is comprised of rustic houses built on wooden stilts or balsa rafts that float up and down as the water level rises and falls. Local traffic moves about in canoes. Around 7,000 people currently call this part of Iquitos their home, with traditional canoes often floating between the huts, selling their very own Amazonian jungle produce. Tourists will find that the unusual attractions within the Belen Quarter are best viewed early in the morning, at around 07:00, when market traders from neighbouring villages arrive. A great way to tour the area is by guided canoe, and these are available for hire at Belen’s port. 

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