Overview: Amazon Region
The Amazon rainforest is a jungle and river region in eastern Peru. It covers 63 percent of Peru yet contains only about a tenth of the country’s population. The region begins high in the eastern Andean cloud forests and descends with rushing rivers to the low, forested Amazonian plains. The torrential rivers unite to form the Amazon River.
Here, the Ashaninka, Shipibo, Aguaruna, Machiguenga, Huambisa and 50 other nomadic tribes have lived in relative isolation for centuries. The tribal people of the Peruvian rainforest are desperately poor. Three-quarters of the indigenous people live in poverty. Living season to season — moving to the rhythm of river floods, ripening fruit, fish spawning, timber harvesting, and mineral mining jobs — they carry with them unique cultural traditions, languages and religious beliefs.
Iquitos, a noisy and colorful city with a population of more than 430,000, is the biggest Peruvian city in the Amazon. Belen, a river neighborhood of Iquitos, is a “floating” city. It can be reached by foot in the dry season (June to October) but is only accessible by boat in the wet season (November to May). Homes in this area are built on stilts or tethered to large poles and float upon the rising waters every year.
Few cultural traditions are more important to the people of the Peruvian rainforest than the San Juan festival in June. In the jungle, St. John the Baptist has taken on a major symbolic significance because of the importance of water as a vital element in the Amazon region. During this festival, colorful processions along the Amazon River give way to music, dance and abundant feasts.
People in the cities and the jungles also commonly drink from the river, bathe in the river, eat from the river, and put their waste back in the river. As a result, children are routinely afflicted with parasites, dysentery, tooth decay (soda is cheaper than clean water), and dengue fever.