Some call this unusual neighborhood of 74,000 the “Venice of the Amazon,” which is more than a little misleading. The famed “floating barrio” is quite poor, and would be considered a shantytown on dry land. Nevertheless, the fact that the modest thatch-roofed homes, restaurants and bars rise and fall with the river, atop balsawood “foundations,” make Belen one of Iquitos’ top tourist attractions.
Hire a canoe and guide to take you through the canals, past homes, businesses, schools and churches gently rocking atop the water. A sturdier city center rises on stilts from dry land (during dry season, anyway). There, you can visit the famed Belen Street Market on Pasaje Paquito, known for herbal medicines and healing elixirs, made with natural rainforest products, that are brought in daily from more than 150 native communities upriver.
After shopping for unusual fruits, fish and more, you’ll head back onto the water. Several floating restaurants cater to tourists with fresh fish dishes and cold beer, perfect after a day of exploring. Remember that this is a very poor neighborhood, so leave your valuables at the hotel and be alert for pickpockets and petty thieves, particularly at the market.