Iquitos, capital of the department of Loreto, is Peru’s main port along the Amazon River. The city founded in 1757 began to boom from 1881 onwards as a result of the rubber tapping industry. One can still see signs of that economic bonanza in biuldings such as the old Hotel Palace built in Art Nouveau style with materials brought from Europe, and Casa de Fierro, designed by French architect Gustave Eiffel. These constructions contrast with rustic homes that line the Belen quarter, where all constructions rest on pilings due to the fact of the river rising several meters during the rain season. A boatride, along the major rivers and lakes around Iquitos, is particularly bewitching for visitors. Native tribes mainly live along the banks of the Amazon, Napo, Ucayali, Marañon and Nanay Rivers.
The most popular beaches are Tunchi Playa, on Lake Quistococha, and Santa Clara and Santo Tomás along the Nanay River, which are ideal for water sports.
The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve lies some 150 km ( 93 miles) from Iquitos and is the largest reserve in Peru, the second largest in the Amazone Basin and the fourth-largest in South America, its area is home to an astonishing biodiversity of fauna and flora.
The Festival of San Juan in June is an ideal time to taste the local cooking at some of the many good restaurants in the city, as well as to buy superb quality arts and crafts and take in the joyful music of the people of Iquitos.
:: IQUITOS: FOLLOWING THE ROUTE OF THE RUBBER BOOM
The Peruvian jungle guards amidst steamy foliage and the mysterious murmur of the Amazon River, a collection of architecture jewels that take visitors by surprise, both for their beauty as well as their unique style: these are the legacy of the past of the rubber barons, the powerful landholders who turned the Peruvian jungle into a veritable commercial paradise at the end of the nineteenth century.
It was the era known as the rubber boom, a golden age for European adventures who amassed vast fortunes from the gum trees that covered hundreds of hectares in the region, and supplied the raw material that was indispensable for the flourishing industry of the time. Cities like Iquitos which up until then had been a small port town-turned into one long party, where no expense was spared, nor eccentricity nor luxury lacking.
Iquitos still bears traces of the extravagant taste of the rubber barons such as mosaics tiles in Italian-style palaces, the bustling riverside walkway and the famous residence designed by Gustave Eiffel which was built from metal sheets carried by hundreds of men throuhg the jungle. Today, in the city of Iquitos, the modest local homes - not without a certain kitsch charm - exist alongside French mansions, today largely used as public offices.
Over time, demand for rubber dwindled, with the invention of nylon and other alternative products, signifying the end of the rubber barons. The memory of this past filled with abundance, however, lives on in the eccentric buildings which testify to an exuberant and wild era.
:: PACAYA-SAMIRIA NATIONAL RESERVE:
Pacaya Samiria located in the department of Loreto, covers an area of 2,080,000 hectáreas, and is the largest national reserve in the country. It is considered the jewel of Peru’s northern Amazon jungle and is home to an abundant and varied wildlife, particularly the myriad fish species, the main source of protein in the region. The countless lakes, swamps and water holes area - refuge for 130 types of mammal, 330 bird species - and an as-yet unknown number of reptile and amphibian species.
Some of the attractions of the area all of which are endangered species include the huge river turtle, the manatee, the pink river dolphin, the giant river otter, the black cayman and the paiche-the largest freshwater fish species on Earth.
• Ensalada de chonta or palmito. Chonta palm-heart salad.
• Tacacho con cecina. Roast or fried plantain cooked and jerky.
• Inchicapi. Chicken soup with peanuts, fresh cilantro and manioc.
• Cecina. Salt-dried bef or pork.
• Patarashca. Fish wrapped in banana fronds and roasted over the fire.
• Juane. Seasoned rice and chunks of chicken wrapped in corn husks.