I’m immersed in the city life. As editor of Where South Florida, I am comfortable in busy nightclubs and bustling restaurants. My job is to explore the urban frontier; it’s a lifestyle of bright lights, Art-Deco designs and big city culture. Then a few months ago I received an invitation. Copa Airlines was starting flight service from Miami to Iquitos, Peru, and they were putting together a group of journalists to board one of their first flights to this mid-Amazon jungle town.
In accepting the invitation, I knew I would soon be stepping out of my comfort zone. Nervous and excited, I pored over the list of items to pack for a week in the jungle. There would be long-sleeved shirts and plenty of insect-repellent spray. Anxious thoughts ran through my head as I packed my suitcase to the brim. The trip itinerary included hikes and there were to be late-night canoe trips to listen to the sounds of the jungle. There was going to be a visit to one of the world’s highest, suspended-in-the-air, hanging bridges.
While I consider myself to be adventurous, I also admit to a fear of heights and a fear of snakes. And I have true respect and a bit of fear for the water for good reason: I cannot swim.
These three fears were bound to percolate on this trip, especially the apprehensions about water. Iquitos is a river town on the Amazon. Wherever a traveler goes, there is the water; it's world thoroughly surrounded by the waters of the converging rivers. Visitors and locals alike spend much of their time traveling from one location to the next in small boats. It's exactly the kind of town where knowing how to swim seems almost a prerequisite. And while it may seem obvious, it's worth restating: This is a town in the middle of the Peruvian rain forest, and there is a great deal of wildlife to encounter and experience ... and some of that wildlife is snakes.
My goal for the trip was to really get involved in my environment, but to earn that experience I would have to face my fears head on.
A week later, I was on my way back to an urban setting, and those fears were behind me. Despite a fear of snakes, an anaconda was placed upon my shoulders. I faced my fear of heights in canopy walkways through the jungle (after an extensive hike through deep woods packed with wildlife). Even as I shook from the fear, I still led myself across all the bridges; some were suspended nearly 100 feet above the ground. My worries of deep water subsided as I spent my time watching a gorgeous Amazonian sunset from a small boat in the river. At night, I listened to the sounds of the rain forest from a small canoe in the darkness. In the end I found I had more bravery than I thought possible.
Iquitos in Photos
(All photos by Aurora Rodriguez)
On the Amazon River in Iquitos, Peru, there are a number of “floating” restaurants where diners can dine and watch the boats pass by. Inside, you will find a variety of Peruvian dishes such as lomo saltado and ceviche.
At the Rainforest Lodge, a local tribe greets guests with singing and dances in their traditional outfits.
The rooms at Rainforest Lodge resemble “tiki” huts, surrounded by lush greenery and scenic paths.
At Piranha Park, travelers can catch the Amazon's most famous carnivorous fish.
In my Iquitos experience, I got up-close and personal with an adorable monkey, who found a home upon my shoulders at least for a little while.
Facing my fear of snakes, an anaconda is placed upon my shoulders. Anacondas may be one of the most feared residents of the Amazon, but with the help of local handlers, it's possible to get a picture to brag about back home.
The Amazon and the jungle combine to offer some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world.
Facing my fear of heights, I explored the Amazon’s hanging canopy walkways, where I earned a bird’s-eye-view of the rain forest.
Many indigenous communities dot the Amazon River near Iquitos; they're an eye-catching sight for river travelers.
Trip complete, I headed home on Copa Airlines ... and enjoyed a cocktail with fellow journalist Rosa Cordero to celebrate the adventure.
The WhereTraveler Guide to Iquitos
Where to stay:
Iquitos’ lodging options range from in-town to in-the-jungle. You’ll find modern lodges with electricity and all the comforts from home to the edgy ones where you can dine by candlelight and it’s “lights-out” until the morning sun—there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Most of the lodges around Iquitos are located in communities by the river, so expect to spend much time transported by boat. Lodges for rugged explorers (expect lights out, jungle sounds and dinner by candlelight) include Rainforest Lodge, Sinchichuy Lodge and Heliconias Lodge. Lodges with modern comforts (expect all the comforts of home) include Ceiba Tops and Dorado Plaza Hotel. The Dorado Plaza in downtown Iquitos offers a classy bar, featuring perfectly prepared martinis and cocktails, as well as a spa for your pampering needs.
Things to do:
- Piraña Park: The park features the famed Amazonian carnivorous fish. Visitors can catch the fish with the help of a tour guide.
- Canopy Walkway: The park indulges a sense of adventure, taking guests high into the canopy for a bird's-eye view of the jungle.
- Puerto Bellavista Nanay: The biggest port in Iquitos offers a nearby outdoor market, where locals sell fresh produce. This is a destination for homey Peruvian meals and shopping. From here, travelers can also hop on a boat for an Amazon River tour.
Traditional Peruvian dishes are often meat-and-rice combos, such as lomo saltado (a salty, marinated strip streak served with rice), but ceviche is also a core Peruvian dish that should be tried in its native country. Many hotels and lodges offer dining options on-site.