Belén Mercado

Top choice in Iquitos

At the southeast end of town is the floating shantytown of Belén, consisting of scores of huts, built on rafts, which rise and fall with the river. During the low-water months, these rafts sit on the river mud, but for most of the year they float on the river − a colorful and chaotic sight. Seven thousand people live here, and canoes float from hut to hut selling and trading jungle produce.

The best time to visit the area is at 7am, when people from the jungle villages arrive to sell their produce. To get here, take a cab to ‘Los Chinos,’ walk to the port and rent a canoe to take you around.

The market here, located within the city blocks in front of Belén, is the raucous, crowded affair common to most Peruvian towns. In fact, because of the fluctuating water levels that make this market so muddy and mosquito-plagued, Belén is a level more squalid again. All kinds of strange and exotic products, from bottled ayahuasca to insect grubs are sold among the more mundane bags of rice, sugar, flour and cheap household goods. Look for the bark of the chuchuhuasi tree, which is soaked in rum for weeks and used as a tonic (it’s served in many of the local bars). Chuchuhuasi and other Amazon plants are common ingredients in herbal pain-reducing and arthritis formulas manufactured in Europe and the USA.

The market makes for exciting shopping and sightseeing, but do remember to watch your wallet.