Like any other jungle city, Iquitos is steamy and lively, yet it is also famous for its incredibly friendly inhabitants and for its magnificent natural surroundings, not to mention being the gateway to the extensive jungles of the mighty Amazon River.
The first reports concerning the Amazon Rainforest came from 16th century explorers who, driven by legends of cities covered in riches in the midst of the jungle, took to the rivers that flow through the Amazon in search of them, passing through the ancient territories of the Iquitos, Cocamas, Boris, Huitotos, Quichuas, Candozis, Yaguas, and Ticunas. In 1539, Francisco Pizarro heard about the country of the Quijos or The Country of Cinnamon, where it was rumored he would surely find immense amounts of gold. So, he organized an expedition and gave command of it to his brother Gonzalo, who headed towards Quito, and from there it entered the jungle. After two months of hardships, during which time several soldiers died from unknown diseases and from attacks by various indigenous groups, Pizarro decided to send Francisco de Orellana with 57 men to ask for food and materials to continue the expedition. Thus, Orellano sailed down the Coca River and, without realizing it, entered the Napo River; 300 days after departing Quito, he navigated into the Amazon River. The group continued sailing this great river all the way to its mouth at the Atlantic Ocean and from there they departed for Spain to tell their adventure to the king.
The outcome of this expedition encouraged Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries, who began the greatest evangelization project in history, which reached its peak in the 17th century. The Jesuits founded missions throughout their journey along the Amazon, one of which actually laid the foundations for the city of Iquitos.
Due to the rubber boom (1890 – 1911), Iquitos was transformed into the great city it is today. “Rubber fever” attracted thousands of immigrants and export companies to the city, and what we see today from that period of opulence and waste is the remains of mansions decorated with tiles imported from Seville, Art Nouveau buildings featuring Carrara marble and European furniture, and even a house made out of iron (the Iron House) that the French architect Gustave Eiffel designed and built in his own workshop.
Iquitos is a city in perpetual motion – a fact that is accentuated by the constant buzz of the thousands of motorcycles operating in the city. It is the departure point of top end cruises on the Amazon River and also of excursions to lodges located in the midst of the jungle in famous protected natural areas: the Pacaya-Samiria and Allpahuayo-Mishana National Reserves.