In Iquitos

Although the Plaza de Armas is perhaps not Peru's most distinguished, it is, as always, one of the focal points in town. It is marked by the early-20th-century neo-Gothic Iglesia Matríz (parish church), built in 1919. Many of the church's most attractive elements, such as the tower, were later additions. Across the square stands the Casa de Fierro, or Iron House, which was designed by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 Paris Exhibition. The walls, ceiling, and balcony are plastered in rectangular sheets of iron. Said to be the first prefabricated house in the Americas, it was shipped unassembled from Europe and built on-site where it currently stands.

One block back from the plaza, facing the Amazon River, the riverfront promenade Malecón Tarapacá was enlarged and improved a few years back with fountains (one a giant pink dolphin), benches, and street lamps, making it the focus of Iquitos urban life. The malecón is lined with several exquisite 19th-century mansions, relics from the rubber heyday, lined with Portuguese glazed tiles, or azulejos. The most spectacular is probably Casa Hernández, nos. 302-308. Other houses worth checking out along the boulevard are Casa Fitzcarrald, Napo 200-212, an adobe house belonging to a famed rubber baron; Casa Cohen, Próspero 401-437; Casa Morey, Brail, on the first block off the malecón; and the Logia Unión Amazónica, Nauta 262.

The Museo Amazónico, Malecón Tarapacá 386 (tel. 065/231-072), occasionally has interesting exhibits of Amazon folklore and tribal art, and a curious collection of 76 Indian statues made of fiberglass but fashioned as if they were bronze. Reportedly, some of the mothers whose children served as models for the works freaked out when they were covered in plaster for the moulds, thinking the children would be buried alive. The museum building, which dates to the mid-19th century, is a nicely restored example of the malecón's period mansions. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 8am to 1pm and 3 to 7pm, and Saturday from 9am to 1pm. Admission is S/3.

The waterfront Barrio de Belén, about a 15-minute walk south along the malecón, is Iquitos's most unusual quarter. Known for its sprawling, colorful, and odiferous open-air market, where you'll find a bounty of strange and wonderful Amazon fish, fauna, and fruits, Belén's residential district is a seedy and extremely poor but endlessly fascinating shantytown. Houses are constructed above the waters of the Amazon, and when the river is high, transportation is by canoe. Visitors are free to walk about in dry season (or, for much of the year, to take a locally arranged canoe trip) and see the houses -- some on stilts, others floating during the rainy season; for safety's sake, though, go in a group and during the day only. It's an atmospheric and photogenic place, akin to Calcutta -- you'll see scrappy kids tumbling out of clapboard houses and playing with pet monkeys, and a few houses proudly outfitted with cable TV and other modern conveniences. Exercise some caution and restraint if walking around the area with expensive camera equipment. Most residents of the neighborhood, while perhaps puzzled at foreigners' interest in the aesthetics of their dilapidated streets, are more than approachable for photos, if you ask respectfully. The animated market, which extends over several blocks, is itself a wild place to visit, with all sorts of extraordinary exotic items for sale, including potions used by faith healers, paiche fish, and yummy Amazonian fruits such as maracuyá (passion fruit), aguaje, cocona, and others. Look for the stands set up with blenders, cranking out fruit juices and smoothies (refrigerios and jugos).

Biblioteca Amazónica -- The Iquitos municipal library, Biblioteca Amazónica (Malecón Tarapacá 354, 2nd Floor; tel. 065/242-353), is a handsome public space inhabiting an old rubber baron's mansion and overlooking the malecón and Río Amazonas. The reading room features lots of carved wood and colorful tiles. If a visit to the Amazon has whetted your appetite for old maps or information on the jungle, you can find it here, in the largest collection of historical documents on the Amazon basin in Peru. It's open Monday through Friday from 9am to noon.

Attractions near Iquitos

Puerto Bellavista & Rio Nanay -- This Río Mañon port and suburb, a couple kilometers from downtown at the northern edge of Iquitos, has a pretty white-sand beach (Playa Nanay) that locals enjoy and that is safe for swimming during summer months. It's also a good spot to hire a boat and cruise down to the confluence of the Amazon and Nanay rivers, where you can appreciate the difference in water colors (muddy brown and black), passing beaches, and a handful of local communities -- among them the Boras and Yaguas -- along the way. To get there, take a colectivo marked BELLAVISTA/NANAY, which leaves from points along Próspero.

Parque/Laguna De Quistococha -- A resort complex about 13km (8 miles) south of Iquitos, the Quistococha Lagoon and Tourist Park has a nice beach and swimming area. It's mostly a spot for local families to hang out on weekends. Attractions include picnic grounds, paddleboats, an aquarium, a walking path around the lagoon, a zoo with exotic jungle animals and fish, including monkeys, serpents, jaguars, and pumas, and a fish hatchery that's populated by giant paiche fish. There's a restaurant on the grounds, as well as informal food stalls set up near the entrance to the park. To get there, you can take a 20-minute ride in a motocarro (about $3) or catch a colectivo marked QUISTOCOCHA (S/2) on the corner of Moore and Bermúdez.

Lago Moronacocha & Santo Tomas -- Southwest of Iquitos, the lake at Moronacocha is little more than a place to relax at a couple of bars by the water, although locals head out there to swim and water-ski. Another 16km (10 miles) or so south of Moronacocha is another lake complex, Rumococha, and the small fishing village of Santo Tomás, known for its pottery artisans. It also has a lake (Lago Mapacocha) and resortlike activities, such as paddleboats and dugout canoes. To get there, board a colectivo marked AEROPUERTO on Tacna/Grau; ask to be let off at the turnoff to Santo Tomás. There are colectivos waiting at the intersection that ferry people back and forth to Santo Tomás. You can also get there by motocarro; the 20-minute ride is about $4.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.