There surely could be no more fitting place for an Amazon vacation than in Iquitos, Peru – a city that can only be reached by air or water; there are no roads from the outside leading to this settlement in the rainforest. Located on the confluence of 3 rivers, the Nanay, Amazon, and Itaya, Iquitos is a unique and intriguing city with many points of interest, as well as excellent restaurants and lodgings.
The mere mention of the word ‘Amazon’ conjures up a multitude of images in the mind – waves of trees stretching to the horizon, rivers winding sinuously through the forest, the calls of birds and mammals, and exotic flowers. There is no place on earth like the rainforest and the Peruvian Amazon around Iquitos provides all of this and more. It’s not so much a question of if you should visit, but when you should visit Iquitos.
The temperatures and climate in Iquitos generally mirror those of the surrounding Amazon. On average, the temperatures in Iquitos are high, ranging from 70 – 90 °F (21 – 32 °C). However Iquitos regularly has microclimates, meaning, rain can be present in one area of the city, and sunshine in another. Lastly, Iquitos suffers from a phenomenon called “urban heat island.” It’s where heat has difficulty dissipating into the night hours, since the urban climate of Iquitos is hotter than the natural climate of the Amazon jungle, leading to some warm and sticky nights when you will appreciate the invention of air-conditioning.
Unlike the Northern Hemisphere with its summer and winter, Iquitos has a wet and dry season, slightly confusing as there is only slightly more rainfall in the wet season than in the dry, but the rainfall can have a big impact on Amazon river water levels and any cruise or jungle trekking activities you have in mind.
The Summer in Iquitos between the months of November and May are rainy and humid, and this is when the rivers are at their highest. In fact, Amazonian rivers can rise nearly 25 feet during this time, allowing increased access not only to otherwise impassable creeks and streams, but also permitting penetration into the rainforest itself by boat. In May, the Amazon river that surrounds Iquitos reaches its highest point and is a great time for exploring the rainforest in a flooded state. At this time it’s easy to see why the region has earned the nickname of the “Jungle of Mirrors”.
This will probably be the best time to observe the incredible wildlife that Amazon River travel can show you; pink dolphins, giant river otters, Amazonian manatees, night monkeys, pygmy marmosets, giant river turtles, and ocelots, and many other species are all to be found in or near the rainforest rivers. Birds also present a dazzling spectacle when the water is at its highest – white herons, toucans, jacamars, and brilliantly colored macaws abound.
Winter in Iquitos falls between June and October and offers a drier climate, sunny days and nice warm weather, especially the month of August when rainfall is at its lowest (but note that it will still rain every other day on average). It is argued that the lower rainfall may mean fewer mosquitos, but you will still need to take precautions at any time of the year.
The dry season is when the water levels recede and jungle trekking comes to the fore as boats aren’t able to travel as far into the rainforest. Wildlife will still be flitting through the trees or swimming through the water, although it may not be as obvious as it was during high water. If you enjoy fishing (or just want to try your hand at piranha fishing) this is the perfect time to cast a line into the water as the lower water levels serve to concentrate the fish.
If the number of tourists around you is a consideration, then you may want to take note of Iquitos’ peak tourist periods. These are usually around the December holidays, the month of March, and between June and August.
If you can coincide your visit to Iquitos with a major festival, then you will see something different to the average tourist as the locals reveal their rich cultural heritage. Iquitos’ big event is the San Juan Festival, a birthday bash for John the Baptist (San Juan Bautista), the Patron Saint of the Amazon. As Saint John is associated with water he is revered throughout the Amazon where the waterways are the lifeblood of the communities.
The festival takes place annually on June 24th, but festivities begin on the evening of June 23rd as men and women flock to the rivers to submerse themselves in a “blessed bath” in hope of good health and prosperity. On the big day itself, there are street processions and much relaxing and revelry by the rivers, with drinking and dancing aplenty, as well as feasting on tasty Juanes, a specialty of the region.
Whatever others consider the best time to visit Iquitos, you can never be disappointed regardless of when you go. Just choose a date that best fits your schedule and we are sure you’ll enjoy visiting Iquitos and the surrounding Peruvian Amazon in any season!
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