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Iquitos: Town, people and nightlife

White rubber boom architecture - museums and galleries - Francisco Grippa - Belén - the persecuted gays coming to Iquitos - restaurants and bars

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)

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from: Dilwyn Jenkins: The rough guide to Peru; Rough Guides, New York, London, Delhi; 6th edition September 2006; www.roughguides.com

The town

White rubber boom style in the old town of Iquitos

Much of Iquitos' appeal derives from its being the starting point for excursions into the rainforest, but the town is an interesting place in its own right, if only for the lively local people and magnificent rubber boom architecture. Like Manaus, Iquitos evolved into an almost European city during the rubber boom. Many of the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century buildings are decorated with Portuguese tiles (azulejos), some of which are (p.514)

brilliantly extravagant in their Moorish inspiration, and the Casa Khan, on block 1 of Sargento Lores, is a particularly fine example.

Plaza de Armas and around: Churches, painters, museums with native objects, Iron house from Eiffel

The central Plaza de Armas is still weirdly dominated by the towering presence of an abandoned and dilapidated high-rise hotel, built during the boom of the early 1980s - initiated by the then President Belaunde's drive to open up the Amazon in economic terms - before the economy slumped and terrorism temporarily slowed tourism in the region. These days, it has little function other than as a foundation for antennas. The plaza's modern fountain attracts strolling townsfolk when illuminated at night, though its sound is generally drowned out by the mototaxis and cats whizzing around the square.

On the southwest side of the plaza, the Iglesia Matriz, the main Catholic church, houses paintings by the Loretano (Loreto is the departamento Iquitos is located in) artists Americo Pinasco and Cesar Calvo de Araujo depicting biblical scenes. The Museo Municipal (Mon-Fri, 8am-noon & 3pm-5pm; free) by the tourist office on the plaza, has an interesting, albeit a little half-baked, collection of exhibits featuring manguare drums, stuffed animals, information on some tree and plant products from the forest, a large preserved paiche fish and some animal skulls.

On the southeast corner of the plaza, you'll find the unusual, majestic Casa de Fierro (Iron House), which was recently restored and is hard to miss with its silvery sides glinting in the afternoon sunshine. Designed by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 Paris exhibition and later shipped in pieces to Iquitos and reconstructed here in the 1890s by one of the local rubber barons, these days it's home to a quality restaurant located on the upper floor.

Plaza de Armas and around: Old riverfront - theaters - bakery - Amazonian Museum - rubber baron houses

One block southeast of Plaza de Armas are the two best sections of the old riverfront, El Boulevard and Malecón Tarapaca, which has been recently restored to some of its former glory. El Boulevard is the busiest of the two areas, especially at night, full of bars and restaurants and with a small amphitheater where some kind of entertainment occurs most nights, from mini-circuses to mime, comedy and music.

The Malecón Taarapaca boasts some fine old mansions, one of which, at no. 262, with lovely nineteenth-century azulejo work, is presently one of the town's better bakeries. On the corner with Putumayo there's the military occupied building (no photos allowed), which was one the Art Nouveau Hotel Palace, no longer open to the public but nevertheless one of the city's historical icons. Also on Malecón Tarapaca is the Municipal museum, Museo Amazonico (Mon-Fri 8am-1pm & 3-7pm, Sat 9-1pm; $1.50, 80 cents for students), devoted to the region's natural history and tribal culture. Its collection includes some unusual life-sized human figures in traditional dress from different Amazon tribes; each fibreglass sculpture was made from a cast that had encapsulated the live subject for an hour or so. There's also a gallery devoted to previous prefectos of Loreto, some oil paintings, a few stuffed animals and a small military museum.

Just around the corner you'll find the quaint one stored Casa Cohen, on the corner of [Jirón] Prospero with [Jirón] Morona, still a working shop, built in 1905 and beautifully adorned with iron work, colourful azulejos and pilastras - all reflecting the past days of rubber boom commerce and glory.

In a similar vein of interest, the Casa Fitzcarrald, at [Jirón] Napo 200-212, was once home to the legendary rubber baron of the same name but unfortunately is not open to the public; it was built of adobe and quincha and has a central patio with arches, plus ceilings of roughly sawn wood (p.515).

Amazon Art Gallery: Francisco Grippa with native motives

In the Punchana sector of Iquitos, the Galería de Arte Amazonica (Amazon Art Gallery), [Jirón] Trujillo 438 (call for an appointment T. 065-253120), exhibits the work of the Peruvian painter Francisco Grippa and a few other national and local artists. Grippa, who lives and works mainly in Pevas, arrived in the Amazon in the late 1970s after being educated in Europe and the US, and his work, described variously as figurative and expressionist, displays an obsession with light and colour, focusing on subjects such as Shipibo Indians, jungle birds and rainforest landscapes; you can see examples in the Internet when you search for "Francisco Grippa". There's more art to be found at Galería Amauta, [Jirón] Nauta 248, where there are exhibitions of oil paintings, caricatures and photographs, mostly by local artists (p. 516).

Puerto Belén - stilts district at the Río Itaya inlet - poverty and trade

The most memorable part of town and best visited around 7am when it's most active, Puerto Belén looms out of the main town at a point where the Amazon, until recently, joined the Río Itaya inlet. Consisting almost entirely of wooden huts raised on stilts and, until a few years ago, also floating on rafts, the district has earned fame among travelers as the "Venice of the Peruvian Jungle". Actually more Far Eastern than European in appearance, with obvious poverty and little glamour, it has changed little over its hundred or so years, remaining a poor shanty settlement trading in basics like bananas, manioc, fish, turtle and crocodile meat. Whilst filming Fitzcarraldo here, Herzog merely had to make sure that no motorized canoes appeared on screen: virtually everything else, including the style of the barriada dwellings, looks exactly the way it did during the nineteenth century.

Ask for directions to Pasaje Paquito, the busy herbalist alley in the heart of this frenetic Río Amazonas economic community, which synthesizes the rich flavour of the place. Here you'll find scores of competing stalls selling an enormous variety of natural jungle medicines as well as some of the town's cheapest artesanía (p. 516).

Eating and drinking in Iquitos: Fish is going down in the rivers - "Little England" with English pubs and restaurants

Food in Iquitos is exceptionally good for a jungle town, specializing in fish dishes but catering pretty well to any taste. Unfortunately, many of the local delicacies are now in danger of disappearing entirely from the rivers around Iquitos - notably, river turtle, alligator and the enormous and very tasty paiche fish. Eating out is something of a popular pastime in the lively, even energetic evenings, which usually stretch out well into the early hours of the morning, particularly at weekends (we've given telephone numbers where reservations are advised). There are some good bars and pubs such as the Fitzcarraldo and the Arandu on the Boulevard, which serve excellent grub.

The first block of [Jirón] Putumayo, very close to the plaza, is surprisingly and rapidly becoming known as "Little England" because of a legion of English pubs and restaurants. This is always a busy spot at night and one of Iquitos' best areas for drinking (p. 516).

Nightlife in Iquitos: vibrant discos, clubs and bars - gay clubs by persecution of the gays during terror time

Whilst mainly an extension of eating out and meeting friends in the main streets, the nightlife in Iquitos is vibrant, and there are a number of highly charged discos, clubs and bars worth knowing about. They're quite easy to locate, especially if you are up and about after 11pm when things generally get going in the downtown areas, particularly around the Plaza de Armas and nearby Malecón Tarapaca.

Iquitos has an unusually active gay scene for a Peruvian jungle town, mainly due to many gays fleeing here during the terrorist years (the mid-1980s to the early 1990s), when they suffered persecution, and there are now four or five dedicated gay clubs (p. 518).

Restaurants in Iquitos

Al Carbon
[Jirón] Condamina 115
this is the most traditional of all restaurants in Iquitos, only open in the evenings and serving mostly meat dishes - try cechina (smoked pork) or tacacho (mashed bananas fried with bacon) - most of which are largely cooked over charcoals. Excellent salads are available, too.

Aris Burgers
[Jirón] Prospero 127, T. 065-231479
Actually serving more than burgers (though these are quite delicious), including plates with a variety of river fish and even caiman meat, plus the best French fries in town. It's the most popular meeting spot in Iquitos and a bit of a landmark for taxi and motokar drivers (p. 516)

Heladeria La Favorita
[Jirón] Prospero 413
A roomy café specializing in juices and delicious jungle-fruit-flavoured ice creams.

El Jardín
[Jirón] Loreto 453
This is the best vegetarian place in town, serving great combinations of jungle and regular produce; good juices too.

Jugería Paladar
[Jirón] Prospero 245
A small café serving excellent juices and local snacks. This is an ideal place to cool down for a bit and recover from the intense jungle heat.

Jungle Jim's Pub
[Jirón] Putumayo 168, T. 065-235294
If you're still in the mood for alligator after your jungle trip, this is the place to get it. The newest English pub in town, Jungle Jim's serves a superb range of drinks as well as great regional cuisine. There are tables inside as well as on the street. Accepts most major credit cards and stays open as late as customers want.

El Meson
El Boulevard, T. 065-231857
A popular restaurant serving a wide range of local dishes - try the tacacho (plantains and pork), or pescado a la Loretano (fish). It's not cheap, though a good meal can be had for well under $10, and the location is perfect, right at the heart of El Boulevard and with tables our front.

Nila - The Yellow Rose of Texas
[Jirón] Putumayo 180, T. 065-241010
Nila's serves tasty local dishes and has a reasonably priced menu and the location is handy, near the plaza, with tables outside on the street. There's great coffee, friendly service and late hours (usually until 1 or 2am).

Pizzeria Antica
[Jirón] Napo, between the plaza and the Malecón, T. 065-241988
A new Italian with extensive and delicious menu, including good vegetarian options; large space with ceiling fans [ventilation], driftwood decor and a nice bar on the second level.

El Pollon
[Jirón] Prospero 151
A spacious restaurant and café fronting the Plaza de Armas. Popular with locals, especially at lunchtime, it serves a wide range of tasty meals, cool juices and ice creams.

Regal Restaurant
[Jirón] Putumayo 282, T. 065-222732
Upstairs in the Casa de Fierro, this is a busy place with a very pleasant, almost colonial ambience run by the British Consul and his wife. The food, consisting mainly of traditional local dished, is great, plus there are ceiling fans [ventilation], fine views over the Plaza de Armas from Eiffel's iron balcony, and a large pool table inside. Paiche fish is a house specialty.

Restaurant Fitzcarraldo
[Jirón] Napo 100, T. 065-243434
A great place, close to the nightly action and located on the corner of the Malecón in the old headquarters of the once very successful Orton Bolivian Rubber Company; it was bought from them by Fitzcarrald in 1897, just two months before he drowned on a trip into the jungle. It isn't cheap but serves some of the best salads in town plus good pastas, fish and comida criolla.

Restaurant Gran Maloca
[Jirón] Sargento Lores 170, T. 065-233126, e-mail: maloca@tvs.com.pe
One of Iquitos' finest restaurants, lavishly decorated, with jungle paintings adorning the walls and a high-ceilinged, cool interior. Food is excellent, with nice jungle ice creams (p.517).

Restaurant El Huaratino
[Jirón] Huallaga 490, T. 065-223300
Some of the best comida criolla [Creole] in town with great set-lunch menus; so popular with locals that it's often hard to get a table. Large and airy in a fairly central, ventilated location.

Restaurant Manguare
Jirón Prospero 251
Set-lunch menus here are inexpensive and the food is pretty good, it's busy and often full of office workers in the early weekday afternoons.

Royal Coffee "Me Paiche"
[Jirón] Putumayo 133, T. 065-231304
Decent pizzas, pastas and sandwiches, plus a range of other meals, snacks and drinks. Reasonably priced and usually fairly quiet. If you phone in an order, they can also deliver to your hotel.

El Sitio
[Jirón] Sargento Lores block 4
A very creative snack bar / restaurant, it's inexpensive and has delicious anticuchos, tamales, juanes and fruit juices; best to get there before 9pm, or you'll miss out on the tastiest treats (p.518)

Bars and clubs in Iquitos

[Jirón] Pablo Rosel 300, T. 065-236113, Open Fri and Sat 10pm-late; $1.
A smaller version of Complejo CNI and perhaps less vibrant, this is none-the-less a great and much more centrally located place to enjoy the local live music scene.

Amauta Café Teatro
[Jirón] Nauta 250, T. 065-233109, Mon-Sat 10pm-2am.
Different music - from jazzy jungle creole to folklore and female singers performing romantic ballards - from day to day. It also serves drinks and snacks, and there are tables outside.

[Jirón] Putumayo 467
One of the newest and flashiest nightclubs in Iquitos; very central and pretty hectic. It plays good rock and Latin dance music most nights, serves cool drinks at several bars on different levels by different dance floors. Good air-conditioning, which is pretty important here.

Complejo CNI: Salsa, chicha, cumbia
[Jirón] Mariscal Cáceres, block 13
More of a covered outdoor arena, this gives a flavour of what the Iquitos youth get up to at weekends, with over 1000 people dancing all night to mostly live salsa, chicha and cumbia bands, but with significant Brazilian influence creeping in.

The Lunge
[Jirón] Putumayo 341
A very popular Australian-run lounge bar with great cocktails and up-to-the-minute rock, dance and trance sounds; some good inexpensive food too, including curries.

Noa Noa
[Jirón] Fitzcarrald 298, T. 065-222993, Mon-Sat 10pm-late; $6 entrance
Easily identified after 11.30pm by the huge number of flashy motorbikes lined up outside, this is the liveliest Iquitos club, attracting young and old, gringo and Iquiteño alike. It has three bars and plays lots of Latino music, including the latest technocumbia.

Papa Pirana
[Jirón] Loreto 220, T. 065-242333, Tues-Sun opens 10pm
This club has the biggest dance floor and frequently presents live shows of music, dance and comedy; very popular with locals and tourists alike. One of the hottest scenes in town at weekends.

Gay clubs

Bar La 4.40
opposite the Hospital Regional, in Punchana. Goodmusic and a reasonable bar.

[Jirón] Putumayo block 10, Thurs-Sat midnight-5am, 50 cents.
Another fun gay - though not exclusively - bar, located in an old house and playing ambient and tropical music

Las Castañitas
in front of the electricity power plant in the suburb of Punchana. It has a good range of cocktails and combines rock with Latin music. Best to take a taxi to this glitzy little joint, as it's a little hard to find.

Discoteca 2003
[Jirón] Putumayo block 25, Thurs-Sat after 11pm
Located a little way out of the center of town, but a lively and pleasant spot playing pop and dance music which usually gets going after 11pm.

Tragoteca La Jarra
on Avenida Quinones, from around 10pm Thurs-Sun evenings
near the Pamachicha restaurant. Small but popular (p. 518).

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