Floating City of Belen
Commonly known as “The Venice of the Amazon,” the floating town of Belén near the outskirts of Iquitos offers a unique cultural experience. A boat ride through the market of Belén will give you a rare glimpse into the lifestyle of the locals. A shantytown of modest thatch-roofed homes, restaurants and bars sit atop balsawood foundations, Belen is one of Iquitos’s top tourist attractions.
The only way to explore Belén is to hire a canoe and guide to take you through the canals, and the sturdier city center on stilts where the famed street market is located. Peruse the stalls for tropical fruits and herbal medicines and healing elixirs brought in daily from more than 150 native communities upriver. If you would rather let a guide take care of the arrangements, visit the town as part of a larger full-day excursion.
Most tours cruise along the Itaya river in a canoe, making stops in special places along the way such as the native community of Yagua to learn about the daily life of the Bora people, before navigating the Momon river to see the filming locations of Hollywood movies such as Anaconda and Terminator and visiting the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm. If you have more time, take a two-day tour that ventures to Monkey Island, a small island which shelters a large number of monkeys in their natural habitat, before overnighting in an eco-lodge.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Belén is an ideal spot for spontaneous travelers and photography enthusiasts.
- Use mosquito repellants since incidents of malaria and dengue are relatively common.
- Wear waterproof outdoor shoes.
- Don’t try the illegal bushmeat of endangered wildlife which are openly sold here.
- Be mindful of your valuables as this is a poor neighborhood and pickpockets may be operating.
How to Get There
Belén is less than a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the historic center of Iquitos in Peru’s northern Amazon. The best way to get there is to take a taxi from anywhere in Iquitos to Los Chinos. From there, walk to the port and hire a canoe to explore the floating town.
When to Get There
The famous market in Belén is open year-round. Go early in the morning (around 7am) when the residents of the nearby villages arrive at the port to sell their produce. Peak season in the Iquitos area coincides with the drier months, from May to September.
Iquitos and the Itaya River
Bound on three sides by rivers, Iquitos is nearly like an island, and the river that offers the most convenient boat access is the Itaya, which forms the easter border of the town. Most attractions are within a few blocks of the riverfront, while the Plaza de las Armas lies just one block inland and the Museo Etnografico overlooks the water, along with a smattering of restaurants and bars.