I’d never seen anything like it. Teeming with wall-to-wall people packed so tightly it is hard to move around. The section of Iquitos, Peru, known as Belén, is amazingly built on water.
Belén is the poorest section of Iquitos, a bustling port on the Amazon River. Estimates are that 60,000 people live in Belén, attracted by its low property taxes. They farm the rich soil of the Amazon basin here during the dry season. During the wet season — from November to June each year — the river routinely floods this area. So people have come up with two solutions. One is to build homes on floating rafts made of balsa wood, held in place by a tether to a high pier. The other is to build their homes high on piers, above the height to which the water rises.
Even the church is on water
When I visited in May, the flood waters were starting to subside. You could see the water line on the wooden walls of the homes above the actual water level. During the wet season, Belén is a city entirely built over water. Schools, churches, taverns and gas stations all exist on piers. Surprisingly parts of the city even have street lights on the waterways that form its streets. In the morning, you can see the school boat (as opposed to bus) taking children to school. Evidence is visible at the church that the waters are sometimes higher. Its front steps start about 6 feet above the water. When the water goes down, parishioners enter by a fire escape stairway in the back that goes straight into the water. (more…)