Travelers in the Peruvian Amazon's largest city, Iquitos, have plenty of opportunities to immerse themselves in the local culture, history, and wildlife:
Immerse Yourself in Local Culture
Belen Market should be a first stop for travelers who want to experience local culture firsthand.
Here, locals go about their business buying and selling a fascinating array of products, including exotic fruits and animals that you might not be familiar with.
After the hustle and bustle of the city's largest market, why not visit the Yagua and Bora tribal villages to learn about traditional Amazonian culture. These two tribes interact greatly with Iquitos, but still preserve their local traditions. You can learn about the Boras traditional dances and receive blow gun lessons from the Yagua- just be sure to support their chosen semi-independent lifestyle by purchasing some of their handicrafts.
During the weekend, locals flock to the Malecón (Boulevard) to relax in its restaurants and bars and to watch its street musicians, dancers and comedians. This is a great time for people watching in general, and to sample a little of the city's vibe.
Interact with Wildlife
During your jungle tour, you should not handle any animals, despite the temptation to drape an anaconda around yourself or hug a monkey. It is very unethical to engage with wild animals in this way, but you can still get the photo opportunity you crave at the Amazon Animal Orphanage and Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm, a veritable tropical garden located a short boat ride and hike from the city. These animals are already domesticated in some way, so you won't harm them by getting up close and personal. Most of the animals roam freely, meaning you can socialize with the tapir, anteater, and monkeys. Only the jaguar is caged (in a spacious habitat with trees and a pool). The pond houses manatees and caiman, and macaws fly overhead.
If you haven't the time to make it to the orphanage, you can always stop by the zoo to see the large jungle cats that you are unlikely to spot in the wild during your jungle tour. Jaguars, ocelots, and marguays are nocturnal and prefer the dense forest, so only the luckiest among us spot one. The zoo can at least allow you to see these animals at close range. The zoo also boasts an aviary, serpentarium, botanical garden, and a lake where you can swim. If your inability to carry the sloths and wear the snakes saddens you, a smaller but more interactive option is Las Boas Jungle Menagerie on the Momon River.
Get to Know the Rivers
As the main source of transport, rivers are the lifeline of the Amazon. Iquitos itself grew into the rainforest's largest city thanks to its privileged location on the confluence of three rivers, one of which is the famous and massive Amazon River. You can take a Ã¢Â€Â˜cruise' along the three rivers to look for the pink and gray river dolphins, explore the floating city of BelÃƒÂ©n, and observe the busy Iquitos ports.
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