You may not have heard of Nauta, but virtually all Peru Amazon River cruises depart from this small port on the northern bank of the Marañón River, 11km from its confluence with the Ucayali River. Lying some 100km south of its more famous neighboring city of Iquitos, this dusty riverside port town is in fact the primary commercial and river cruise hub of the Peruvian Amazon. In this guide we aim to take a closer look at Nauta’s history and main attractions, and add some color to a town so often overlooked by travelers as they pass through on their way into the Amazon Rainforest.
The town owes much to its founder Manuel Pacaya, a bronze bust of whom can be found in the town’s plaza (he also has a school named after him). Pacaya was the leader of the local Kukama tribe, the indigenous group that still today predominates the villages of the lower Marañón River. He was so upset by his tribes’ displacement and historical mistreatment at the hands of the conquistadors that he sought permission from the region’s prefect, Don Damián Gaspar to authorize a permanent settlement for them.
He was successful and on 30 April 1839, the town was founded. There were some caveats to the agreement in an attempt to ensure the town was ‘civilized’, namely that the locals had to sleep in houses, cover a part of their bodies and agree to not practice some of their more ‘unsavory’ traditions.
According to local legend the town gets its name from the word mauta, the local Kukama tribe’s word for ‘jar’, as a jar was found protruding from the ground at the site of the prospective settlement. Others argue the town takes its name from the latin word nauta meaning ‘sailor’, a reflection of Conquistadors admiration for the town’s local boatmen and their great skill making and using the peque-peque canoes used for river transportation throughout the region to this day.
Towards the middle of the 19th century, the town became the main commercial center of the Peruvian Selva Baja (lower jungle), and towards the end of that century became of logistical importance for the rubber tapping industry, something that continued until as recently as the 1960s.
In 2005 the construction of the paved road between Iquitos and Nauta opened the town to tourism, its proximity to protected rainforest reserves making it the ideal embarkation point for Amazon river cruises.
Nauta is most famous as the launch pad for exploring the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. This remote and unique corner of Peru’s pristine section of Amazon Rainforest is a vast protected area of jungle spanning over 20,000 square kilometers (5 million acres).
The flooded forest in this region – which has given rise to its nickname “Jungle of Mirrors”, owing to the striking reflections in the water – is home to an astonishing array of wildlife including iconic Amazonian species such as pink river dolphins, caiman, macaws, and giant river otters, and is recognized as one of the most biodiverse places on earth.
Most visitors to Nauta bypass the town on their way to one of the many surrounding jungle lodges or awaiting riverboats, and indeed those embarking on luxury Amazon river cruises such as the Delfin or Aqua vessels have little need to go into town as they have their own piers with custom built departure lounges where passengers are served refreshments and cooling towels before they board.
However those travelers that do while away some time in the town can see a more traditional Amazonian riverine way of life, especially around its bustling market. There are a handful of attractions too, most located around its beautiful central Plaza de Armas, decorated with murals of Amazonian myths and legends, representative of the native culture of the area. Here you will find the first Catholic church built in Loreto, dating back to 1832, with a rather remarkable crucifix carved from a huge tree trunk. Today it is used as the parish theater.
Just past the main square the town’s busy marketplace is a hive of activity and color, attracting customers and merchants alike from all over the region to exchange their wares. Three blocks from the main square you will find the main tourist attraction in Nauta, the Sapi Sapi lagoon. This scenic and serene artificial lagoon is home to rare species of turtles and fish like the Yellow-spotted river turtle, Arrau turtle and arapaima. According to legend its waters are also home to a mysterious mermaid that lures locals to stay a while with her bejeweled necklaces and natural beauty.
Nearby travelers can also get a spectacular 360° bird’s-eye view of the rainforest at the Mirador de Nauta, a 10-story lookout tower located at the confluence of the Marañón, Ucayalí, and Mantaro Rivers. For those that want to get away from it all, a short 15-minute canoe ride from town will take you to the relaxing rainforest getaway of the Quebrada Gasparito (Little Gaspar Creek), an ideal spot for a picnic by the water.
A couple of decades ago there was no road connection between these two cities, with locals and travelers having to embark on a 12-hour boat journey along the Marañón river to reach Nauta. But in 1999 a dirt road was constructed linking the two destinations, and later upgraded to asphalt in 2005. Thankfully now, the journey between these cities is a straightforward 90-minute drive south along the 84 kilometer highway. As part of your Amazon cruise package, you’ll be met at Iquitos airport by our guides and transferred to Nauta in a comfortable air-conditioned private van.
Nauta can still be reached by boat, should you prefer a more traditional and authentic, though undoubtedly slower transfer. There are a couple of speedboats departing Iquitos daily, with a journey time of 8 to 10 hours. Small aircraft also charter the route between the two cities, with a flight time of just under an hour and a half.
If you’d like more advice about Nauta, Peru, how to get there from Iquitos, or indeed about any of our Peru Amazon river cruises, please contact our destination specialists.
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