No trip to Peru would be complete without a visit to the jungle, and one of the most beautiful places to visit on such an adventure is Tarapoto, otherwise known as "City of Palms." Located in the San Martin region of Peru, Tarapoto sits on a high jungle plateau (la selva alta) between the Andes and the Amazon Basin. Tarapoto can act as a base for light jungle excursions in the surrounding areas, or can serve as the jumping-off point for more hardy expeditions deep into Amazon rainforest.
Climate and When to Go
As you might expect, Tarapoto is warm and humid all year round. Rainy season lasts from approximately January to May, which means that travel around this time may be wetter, muddier, and more mosquito-ridden than usual, but not impossible, or even unpleasant. Just be sure to bring with you a rain poncho, strong bug repellant, and a bit of patience!
Things to See and Do
There is not much to see in Tarapoto City itself, although this is not to say that it's without its attractions. Popular day trips from the city include visits to the local waterfalls, such as El Ahuashiyacu, where visitors can swim in the lovely lagoon at its base. Another popular trip goes to Laguna Azul, a picturesque lake located in a volcanic crater in the nearby town of Sauce. The drive from Tarapoto takes about an hour, and requires travellers to get out of their means of transport while it's loaded onto a wooden barge that travels across a fast-moving river—a big part of the fun, in my opinion! Once at Laguna Azul, travellers can take a boat around the lake, stopping at points of interest along the way to swim, take photos, and eat. Travellers can make these trips with one of the many tour companies operating out of Tarapoto or negotiate their own trip with a local taxi or colectivo driver.
Where to stay
There are a number of options for lodging in and around Tarapoto. A cheap, clean, and safe option for those wishing to stay in town is Hostal San Antonio, located around the corner from the Plaza del Armas, where a simply room with private bath (and WIFI!) will set you back around 15 dollars. The staff is friendly and helpful. A slightly more upscale option is Hostal Casa de Palos, located uphill from the Plaza del Armas. This boutique, minimalistic jungle-themed hotel has WIFI and a restaurant on site. For those wishing to have a jungle lodge experience, try El Shimiyacu Amazon Lodge, located 3 km from the city center and 5 km from the airport. Private baths, a kitchen, and internet access are available. If you want to stay the night at the Laguna Azul, there are a number of accommodation options in Sauce, including the posh El Sauce Resort, and the rustic Hotel Lago Lindo.
The handicraft market is a wonderful place to purchase locally made goods such as coffee, liquors purported to improve virility, dream-catchers, hand-carvings, jewelry, hammocks, and other items. In the Plaza de Armas proper, you'll usually find shipibo women selling beautiful, hand-woven fabrics depicting themes relating to the jungle and ayahuasca, the entheogenic plant medicine that forms an important part of their culture.
La Immaculada is a grocery store located on the lower right-hand corner of the Plaza de Armas. This is a great place to buy locally-made food items, such as honey made from the flowers of the jungle, chocolate made from cocoa grown in the region, coffee, andajis (hot sauces) made from special Amazonian peppers. For something different, try the mermelada de cocona (cocona jam), jam made from the small, yellow cocona fruit native to the region.
Tara Leigh has traveled extensively in South America, where she had a wonderful time enjoying the food, taking in the sights, and meeting the people of that fantastic continent. This article was written on behalf of the Tambo Blanquillo, a family-ownedAmazon jungle lodge.