One of the best ways to experience the Amazon Basin is to hike right through it, appreciating the majesty of the towering trees and diversity of wildlife on a very human scale. Keep in mind, however, that Iquitos is an island populated by more than 400,000 people; there aren’t really any wildlife trails that leave right from town. If you’re in the mood for a stroll, the Tarapaca River Walk, along the Itaya River, is the most popular place to stretch your legs.
Happily, there are several operators and independent guides who can take you, usually by boat, to a fantastic array of trails. Remember that Iquitos is hot (22°C/72°F to 28°C/88°F) and humid, quite a change if you’ve been spending your time in the Andean highlands. Start out early and stay hydrated, taking it easy if you’ve just arrived. During rainy season (February through May), many popular trails flood and operators may need to take you further afield to find the perfect hike for you.
Budget travelers who can’t afford a guided excursion should head to Quistacocha Zoological Park, located 6.5km (4mi) from town on the Iquitos-Nauta highway. In addition to being one of the region’s most fascinating destinations, a sprawling 425-hectare (1050-acre) park populated by all sorts of Amazonian animals, it also has a short hiking trail. Ask at the entrance for specifics. The hike begins from the shore of Lake Quistacocha, opposite Playa Tunchi and leads to the Itaya River.
Area operators can recommend guides who will arrange the perfect hike for you. They can cater to not only your fitness level, but also your interests. For example, naturalist guides can take you to trails known for their biodiversity; the Bushmaster Trail through Reserva Nacional Alpahuayo Mishana may have the highest concentration of tree species in the world. Others can introduce you to the Amazon’s wealth of medicinal plants, perhaps visiting with indigenous experts who’ll explain how certain herbs are prepared and administered. Birders and other wildlife watchers have many more options.
Into The Jungle Canopy
The vast majority of the rainforest’s wildlife lives close to the sunlight, in the canopy high above most hiking trails. Many animals spend their entire lives suspended in the branches, never once touching terra firma. If you’d like to visit, book a trip to the Amazon Conservatory Field Station and Canopy Walkway, a series of suspended bridges that span some 500m (1,640ft) of the forest canopy, 35m (115ft) above ground.