1. Explore Iquitos on a Motocarro
Iquitos is a mad, mad little town. It is the gateway to the rest of the Amazon jungle, and is reachable either by plane (1 hour from Lima) or by boat (4 days from Lima). With a population of 422,000, it is the largest city in the world that is inaccessible by road. The architecture is a blend of colonial and ramshackle housing and each door makes a statement with its individual colour. Motorcycles and motorcarros manically whizz through the streets of the city around the clock. It is an amazing way to take in the manic beauty of this jungle town and get around while sightseeing.
2. Shop at the Artisan Market in Iquitos
If you’re anything like me and love to decorate your home with trophies from your travels, you would love to shop at the Arts and Crafts Market in Iquitos. It is full of stalls that sell a variety of handmade articles – from jewellery, to Ayahuasca paintings, to tableware and home décor. The prices are very reasonable and you can get a very good deal if you buy several items.
3. Go Dancing
What could be more fun that dancing in the tropics? From salsa in modern clubs like Noa in Iquitos, to traditional dances with the tribesmen of Yanomami, it is a wonderful way to connect to the culture and let your hair loose!
4. Visit a local tribe
One morning we had the opportunity to visit the local tribe of Yanomami and to learn about their traditions of dance, hunting and crafts. The women of the tribe lay out their handiwork – bracelets, necklaces, dream catchers, fans, masks, bowls, rattles, flutes for us to admire and purchase. There were so many beautiful pieces! It was a wonderful opportunity to do buy souvenirs for friends back home in the most meaningful way.
5. Discover the Jungle
For those who are fascinated with wildlife, the jungle is wonderland. Taking a peak into the abundance of life in the jungle is an awe-inspiring experience. It is also pretty impressive just how much knowledge locals have about their environment – how they can navigate by distinguishing animal calls, create a fan from a leaf with a swing of a machete and spot a horned frog that is so well camouflaged, it is virtually invisible to the untrained eye.
6. Cuddle a sloth
If you think you know adorable, you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve cuddled a sloth. In the jungle, families will keep baby sloths as pets for two or three years until they grow up. This saves the little ones from being eaten by predators, and makes the local children have some of the cutest pets on the planet!
7. Swim in the Amazon
“But what about piranhas? The Anacondas?” Actually, piranhas, like sharks, don’t attack people just for the fun of it. Anacondas tend to live inside the lakes of the islands in the Amazon. The current is strong, so you should only go about waist-deep, but the water is warm and it’s really fun to surrender to the mighty flow. The wet clay in the riverbed is a natural product that purifies, exfoliates and rejuvenates skin. So it’s a great opportunity to treat yourself to a de-toxifying mud-bath entirely free of charge!
8. Meet a local Paco
One of the most humbling and eye-opening experiences for me was meeting a local paco, or healer, seeing how he lives and listening to his story. Meeting the real deal makes you understand that being a shaman is hard work. It takes years of practice, self-sacrifice, perseverance, grace and humility. It is a service that the paco provides to his community on top of his day job, which is usually farming in these lands. They live very simply and yet there seems to be a glow about them that many of us with all the comforts in the western world seem to have lost.
9. Taste the traditional drinks
Each tribe in the jungle has its own specialty drink. There’s a tribe that makes wine out of bananas (no it doesn’t taste like bananas). In one tribe, visitors are welcomed with Massato – a drink from boiled cassava and the spit of a tribeswoman. After three days of brewing, the drink has the same alcohol content as a beer. After a week, we’re in the spirits territory with a heady 45% alcohol content! The Massato is served in a big bowl, which must be returned upside down. If you return the bowl facing upwards, you signal that you would like a second serving.
As you can see, there is a tonne of stuff that one can do in the jungle. Nonetheless, it is also a fantastic place to just unwind and reconnect with yourself. As there is no phone signal, you cannot lose yourself in the social media black hole. The jungle invites you to be with yourself. Present, aware and centered. And this, more than anything, is worth the trip out there!