Remote and fairly unknown to tourists, Tarapoto is perched on the high jungle plateau – Selva Baja – at the foot of the Andean hills. And, at a height of 356 metres Tarapoto is known as the “Cloud Forest”.
Getting to Tarapoto
If you find yourself in Chiclayo, the basic and uncomfortable overnight Movil bus to Tarapoto is scheduled to take around 12 hours.
Tip: This article is now available as a mobile app on iTunes and GooglePlay. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.
This stretch of road is notorious for bandits stopping buses to rob tourists. If this road’s reputation is not enough, the story goes that bus drivers are also in cahoots with bandits.
Luckily our bus isn’t stopped by scary bandits and the sunrise provides a brief distraction to the road’s dangerous myths…
…but in true South American style, we arrive in Tarapoto 3 hours late after a long journey of 15 hours.
The Bishop of Trujillo, Baltazar Martínez Jiménez de Compagnon founded Tarapoto in 1792 and the town probably hasn’t changed a great deal since then…
Locals are very relaxed and friendly, and there isn’t the badgering that travellers experience in other Peruvian cities such as Cusco.
Melt into the coolness of your air-conditioned room, whilst escaping the heat and humidity seeping out of the jungle that swelters through this town.
Easy to understand why Tarapoto has earned the title ‘Cloud Forest’ – the city’s dampness swirls around you whilst drenching your body…
A little on Tarapoto’s transport
Noisy mototaxis – 3-wheeler adapted bikes – whizz around you whilst coughing a trail of black smoke in their wake, managing to break the city’s rustic pleasantness.
In addition to motorbikes, the mototaxis are your main form of transport in Tarapoto and are also cheap. Everything is transported in a mototaxi…
…and sometimes, it’s quite incredulous to see a mototaxi towing a trailer laden with goods or building materials.
Some mototaxis have inbuilt bars that almost resemble a cage – guess these are to keep passengers from falling out as they swerve around corners…
…or just carry tons of balloons, which seem quite popular in the streets these last few days.
Be careful as drivers are reputed for ignoring road rules but also as being reckless in these flimsy vehicles.
Mototaxis here remind me so much of SE Asia as many places still use these as cheap transport.
What to see?
Although a pleasant town, sights surround this city and are not in Tarapoto itself, which is the gateway to delve deeper into the Amazon.
A taste for you of Tarapoto in this short video by perusensacional: Paisajes de Tarapoto – Perú:Vida Natural.
Quench your adventurous thirst in beautiful lagoons, cascading waterfalls, and gorgeous lush surrounding natural vistas neighbouring Tarapoto.
Rest assured, you’re left alone in Tarapoto as it’s not touristy at all, in fact during our stay of a few days, I’ve only seen one other gringo.
Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas provides a lovely respite and very peaceful spot to enjoy its well-maintained gardens, although there isn’t anywhere to shelter from the sun or heat.
With current renovations around the plaza during our short stay, I’d love to return and see the finished result.
This city space is great for taking photos of locals and if you’re into candid photography.
Fabrica de Chocolates Orquidea
Of course, when in Tarapoto a visit to the chocolate factory is a definite must – and what better philosophy to support than Orquidea’s, which is to cultivate Tarapoto’s coca instead of the coca leaf (Cocaine).
Braving the heat and with the lack of rain, we set out in search of Orquidea. Today’s main objective? Eat chocolate.
Trekking out of town in the confronting wall of humidity, we finally bump into Orquidea but sadly it’s shut today.
Extremely disappointed at missing an opportunity to eat chocolate but also a tour of the chocolate factory, we head back to town empty handed as we leave tomorrow.
Tabacalera del Oriente
This cigar factory is hailed as the ‘finest cigar factory in Peru’. Regardless of this title, it’s well-worth a visit and to watch the fascinating process of hand-rolling cigars.
In its infancy, the factory imported tobacco seeds and cigar techniques from Cuba. On your leisurely stroll through the factory, fragrant cigar vapours curl around your nose and it’s not long until you feel the urge to indulge in one.
Operating since 1997 and with its expansion in 2004, the factory now also exports cigars. One-hour tours of the factory are offered.
Some of the many festivals you might catch in this lazy city include the Orchard Festival, The Patron Feast (July), Crafts, Folklore, Feast of San Juan (June), Mss Tarapotan, and Carnival (any time in February to March) – we manage to miss all of these famous festivals.
A taste of the raunchy Miss Tarapotan Festival from the previous year by RCA Studio Films – it’s all in Spanish but perhaps the banter is not required.
Sharing a few street scene images to give you a taste of a local’s life around Tarapoto…
Many shops in Peru are typically barred and locked although open. To enter, you need to ask the shopkeeper’s permission and this is just to buy groceries.
Mototaxis are an integral bloodline of the city.
Where to sleep
The Hotel Monte Azul proves an excellent find, which includes a good breakfast in the spacious room’s price and staff are also friendly, providing excellent service.
View from our hotel…
Slowly making our way deep into the Amazonian jungle so it’s time for the 2.5-hour mini bus to Yurimaguas in the north-eastern Peruvian Amazon.
Hoping that this short trip will be without any problems today – it’s going to be an interesting trip as everything is loaded on to the roof of the colectivo (minibus)…
From Yurimaguas, the sketchy plan is to take a barge for a few days down the amazon river as far as we can go until the tri-border meets Peru, Colombia, and Brazil. Word on the street is that this tri-border is quite seedy…