The Belen Market is one of those places that when you first hear about it, you’re not really sure if you want to visit. Sure, it sounds pretty neat, being an Amazonian market and all. But a little digging reveals that it doesn’t have a very good reputation. At all. But the question, then, is that reputation deserved?
What Is This Place?
Belen Market is a teeming, heaving, giant outdoor market. From what I saw, one can get pretty much anything and everything here. All sorts of fruits and vegetables are displayed, many of which you’ll probably not recognize. Even something simple as a lime may be a bit unrecognizable – it’s at least twice the size of what we normally find in North American grocery stores! For the carnivores, there are many types of meat from which to choose including plucked chickens, whole and dried sliced fish, pig hooves on bloodied cardboard, and quartered turtles. But between the smell, the sun, the flies, and the possibility that these meats may not be fresh, you may want to skip trying anything here. Same rule applies for the many street food stalls you will see – choose uber carefully.
Food items aren’t the only things at this market. If you need a thing of some sort, you’ll probably find it here. Household items galore, clothes, tools, and Amazonian tobacco and cigarettes are some of the things you’ll see as you wander around. Most interestingly, though, there are a number of stalls that sell various plants and medicines. Whatever your ailment, someone has something that will fix it. So they claim. If your ailment is not physical but is about things like love and money, someone has something for that, too. Be warned, though, you may see things that you don’t like (assuming the food section didn’t get you first). Animal parts are often used for rituals and superstitions. In North America, we have things like the “lucky” rabbit foot. Here, you may find preserved animal parts, pelts, and skins. Myself, I saw snakeskins and jaguar paws.
Not Convinced Why You Should See This Place?
A visit to this market is very much off the beaten tourist track. In fact, more often than not, you won’t see another tourist. If local travel is your thing, then, Belen Market is your place to go. And likely, if you’re in Iquitos, you’re here because you do want the “off the beaten track” experience. But you have to go with an open mind – and shoes that you can clean. Walking here is a “fun” mix of wanting to look where you step and seriously not wanting to see what is on the ground.
From the market, you can also access the boats that take you through the Belen Floating Village. These boats are more like long shallow dugout canoes with a small motor. We went with a guide so he took care of haggling and choosing a boat. Once settled, off we went. It was quite the experience. You quickly learn to not focus on the water which was indescribably filthy and smelly. Traveling the waterways here will likely create conflicting feelings. On the one hand, it was fascinating to see a way of life and neighbourhood that is foreign to me but on the other hand, I wondered if I was objectifying poverty. On the third hand (imaginary), we look at fancy homes when we travel so should poor ones be treated any differently? On the fourth hand (also imaginary)….See what I mean about conflicting? What are your thoughts on this?
Seven Tips For A Successful Visit
- Bring only small change if you plan to purchase anything. Scatter the money in different areas on your person (in zipped locations) and bag as a precaution against pickpockets.
- Wear closed toed shoes. Trust me. You don’t want your bare feet open to the ground. At all.
- Use anti-bacterial wipes or equivalent if you will eat something there as well as after leaving the market.
- If you tend to get overwhelmed by smells, bring Vicks with you and swipe some under your nose when necessary.
- Go early (i.e. 8-10am) to see the morning bustle. Also, the sensory bombardment should be a bit less in the morning than in the afternoon when everything has baked for hours in the hot sun and humidity.
- Watch your stuff and be alert. The usual state of being for crowded areas.
- Plan to return to your hotel afterwards – you will want a shower. And to clean your shoes. And to change your clothes.