Tarapoto Travel Guide

Updated January 24, 2014.

The citizens of Tarapoto, Peru, have a good excuse for taking life at a relaxed pace. Quietly baking in the heat of the high-jungle sun, the town and its inhabitants go about their business with minimal fuss, buzzing around on motorbikes and mototaxis. The lack of in-your-face tourist promotion may leave new arrivals wondering what there is to do, but dig a little deeper and you will find a good mix of cultural and natural attractions.

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The view across Tarapoto, Peru (photo © Tony Dunnell)

Overview

Tarapoto is the largest settlement in the San Martin department of Peru. The town itself has a population of approximately 66,000, but the wider urban area includes the districts of Morales (22,500) and Banda de Shilcayo (27,200). Tarapoto is the main commercial and transport hub in San Martin – since the town’s foundation in 1782, the immediate surrounding area has undergone extensive clearing for agricultural use.

Tarapoto Attractions

Tarapoto is certainly not the place for colonial architecture and pretty cobbled streets. The main square is large but lacks any real charm, and bare brick walls and tin roofs abound. There are a handful of attractions within the town, but most of the main draws are dotted throughout the surrounding area.

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Rolling cigars at the Tabacalera del Oriente, Tarapoto (photo © Tony Dunnell)

Museo Regional Universidad Nacional de San Martin – Tarapoto’s small and slightly peculiar museum is located just off the main square on Jr. Maynas 177 (underneath the Universidad Nacional building). The displays are eclectic and worth a visit, especially considering the S/.2 (nuevo sol) entrance fee.

Tabacalera del Oriente – A must-see destination for cigar aficionados, the Tabacalera del Oriente is arguably Tarapoto’s most overlooked jewel. Get there early in the morning to watch the 30 or so female workers hand rolling the region’s finest cigars (many of which are exported to the U.S. and Europe). Entrance is free, but it is customary to buy something in return for a relaxed guided tour. Ornate boxes of fine cigars are on sale for bargain prices (Jr. Martinez de Compagñon 1138).

Petroglyphs of Polish – The petroglyphs of Polish are located about five miles from Tarapoto. Tucked away at the side of a bumpy road, this fascinating archaeological site receives surprisingly few visitors. The site’s “caretaker” doubles as a guide of sorts; there is no entrance fee, but a tip is customary.

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Cataratas del Ahuashiyacu (photo © Tony Dunnell)

Cataratas del Ahuashiyacu – There are plenty of waterfalls in the hills surrounding Tarapoto, but none are as well-publicised as the Cataratas del Ahuashiyacu. A standard tourist destination, the impressive waterfall sits up in the hills above Tarapoto, a short ride from town. A picturesque jungle trail leads from the roadside to the fall – take a dip in the chilly plunge pool to cool down after the walk.

Cataratas de Huacamaillo – If you prefer trekking to your waterfalls, take a trip to the Cataratas de Huacamaillo from the village of San Antonio de Cumbaza (about 11 miles from Tarapoto). The scenic one-hour trail runs along the banks of the Rio Cumbaza before penetrating deeper into the jungle towards the cool and shady waterfall. You’ll need to find yourself a guide in San Antonio de Cumbaza.

The town of Lamas and the lakeside settlement of Sauce provide more attractions within easy reach of Tarapoto – these will be covered in separate posts.

Eating in Tarapoto

Budget backpackers will find plenty of cheap set-lunch menús in Tarapoto, but standards vary greatly. For a more reliable but more expensive feast, try one of the following:

El Pollo Marino – A good, central place for lunchtime ceviche, El Pollo Marino is a popular eatery with a wide variety of fish-based dishes (Jr. Grau 182 – a couple of blocks from the main square).

Caja Criolla – Superb pork and chicken (Jr. Rioja 328).

El Norteño – For truly awesome Cantonese chicken down in La Banda de Shilcayo district (Jr. Santa María N° 246, half a block from La Banda’s Plaza de Armas).

Real Grill – A tediously obvious choice right on the main square, Real Grill is nonetheless a good place to sit and watch the world go by. Food and service can be hit and miss, but the general standard is okay (the pork, at times, is exceptional – and the salads are immense). They also make good Pisco sours (Plaza de Armas a.k.a Plaza Mayor 237).

La Collpa – Not cheap, but one of the best places in town for regional fish dishes. The menu also includes some interesting meat dishes such as venison and picuro (a large rodent also known as the lowland paca). The views down into the valley below provide an atmospheric dining experience (Circunvalaciòn 164).

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The view from La Collpa, Tarapoto (photo © Tony Dunnell)

Drinking and Dancing in Tarapoto

The most central drinking strip in Tarapoto is along the calle de las piedras (block two of Jr. Lamas, a few blocks up from the main square), a cobbled street that’s home to an ever-increasing number of bars. Stonewasi (Lamas 222) is a popular institution and a good place to kick start your night. Then there’s Suchiche Cafe Cultural across the street, a relaxed place to eat and drink (but not really my kind of scene).

For my kind of scene — drinking, talking, music, more drinking — come to the Huascar Bar (Jr. Lamas 244, opposite Suchiche). This is my wife’s little bar, so I’m hugely biased, but it has good music, reasonably priced beer (as well as whisky, rum, tequila, Baileys…) and a mixed crowd of friendly locals and expats.

Later on you should think about taking a mototaxi down to the Morales district. Here lies disco-central, with a number of big and boisterous venues lining the side of the road. The Anaconda Discoteck (Jr. San Martin 580; anaconda.com.pe) is a good option with a mixed crowd and a lively atmosphere. If Anaconda doesn’t look too hot, check out the nearby Macumba Latin Grill (grill by day, classy dancing joint by night). The Bunker and Estación discos are also on hand – take your pick.

Tarapoto Hotels and Hostels

Tarapoto is short on typical backpacker hostels, but there are plenty of affordable guesthouses and hotels.

Hotel San Antonio – Simple and central, Hotel San Antonio is a decent option for budget backpackers. Despite the lack of dorm rooms and bunk beds, the place has a distinctly relaxed and hostel-like atmosphere. A single room costs S/.30 per night (approx. $11); double rooms and matrimonial rooms cost S/.40 per night (Jr. Jiménez Pimentel 126).

Totti Alojamiento – Located a couple of blocks from the main square, Totti Alojamiento is a friendly guesthouse staffed by young and helpful Tarapotinos (and a slightly stern female owner). Rooms range from S/.40 to S/.60 per night. The same street is home to four or five more guesthouses of similar quality, making it a good option if you are arriving in Tarapoto without a reservation (Jr. Alegría de Morey 251).

La Patarashca – Rustically sophisticated, La Patarashca is a comfortable and charming guesthouse/hotel in the town centre. A single room will set you back S/.50 per night (S/.90 for a double; S/.120 for a triple) but the extra cost is worth it if you want a more memorable accommodation experience (Jr. San Pablo de la Cruz 362; lapatarashca.com).

Getting to Tarapoto – Flights and Overland

There are three or four scheduled flights between Tarapoto and Lima each day, some of which go via Pucallpa. LAN and StarPeru also have regular flight to Iquitos. Tarapoto’s small airport lies just on the outskirts of town.

The bus trip to Lima is an epic 28-hour voyage (in good conditions). From Lima, buses head up the coast to Trujillo and onto Chiclayo before cutting inland to Pedro Ruiz (get out here for buses to Chachapoyas), Moyobamba and then Tarapoto. Movil Tours is the best bus company operating along the Chiclayo to Tarapoto route (they also have direct departures from Lima to Tarapoto). The road south from Tarapoto heads down to Tingo Maria – the buses along this route are not recommended, so consider going with a shared taxi company such as Pizana Express (daily departures, 12-14 hours).

If you want to head to Iquitos by boat (4 days approx), first make the two-hour trip by land to Yurimaguas. Here you can arrange passage along the Río Huallaga, which connects with the Río Marañón before heading all the way to Iquitos.

More Tarapoto Information

For more information about things to do in Tarapoto, accommodation options and general happenings, head over to my other blog, Tarapoto Life. As the name suggests, the site is all about Tarapoto, Peru (where I’ve been living for five years and counting…).

  9 comments for “Tarapoto Travel Guide

  1. tania
    August 20, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    hi tony!
    Peru is my destination for 3-4 weeks this januari/februari. Im born there but lived in europe all my life,im 27. I have mixed feelings about this trip. I speak and read exellent spanish though. My concern is to get lost,robbed,raped,beaten….I have travelled before to other countries such as thailand and gambia, for several months and not being this afraid, perhaps its because its my “roots”country? Well, however, I would like to start in Lima, some beaches and some family reunion.After that I planned to travel to naszca,machu pichu,colca canyon, titicaca lake, cuzco and some amazonas adventure! =) about the amazonas sleeping and stuff like that.. do you have any suggestions about how and where? If you have time could you just suggest some useful things?not only for amazonas but for all the good places to go? perhaps not only turist attractions? It would be great if you could e-mail me directly.

    Thank YOU in advance!!!

  2. August 27, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Hi Tania,

    I’ve sent you an email. Feel free to email me directly if you have any more questions.

    Cheers,

    Tony.

    • adriana
      May 22, 2013 at 1:47 am

      Hi
      I would like too a litttle bit of information. I want to go to cuzco tarapoto arequipa and which agency is the best for it

      thanks a lot

      adri

      • May 22, 2013 at 7:32 am

        Hi Adri,

        Do you want to travel overland (by bus) or fly? Cusco and Arequipa are both down south, Tarapoto is way up north. You can fly to Tarapoto from Lima. Or you can go by bus, either up the coast and cut inland from Chiclayo (Movil Tours bus company goes all the way) or make your way to Tingo Maria (various smaller bus companies) and then on to Tarapoto (with a car company like Pizana Express).

        Let me know if you need more info.

        Cheers, Tony.

  3. Donny
    September 19, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Hi Tony,

    I have been exploring the idea of making a trip to your area of the world. I have really been intrigued by Ayahuasca and have felt called to the experience. I believe a man by the name of Maestro Orlando Chujandama spends some time in Tarapoto. His blog says he has a small compound called “The New Rising Sun” in a village called Llucayanacu on the banks of the Huallaga River, near Chazuta, Peru. Do you know where this is or of him? Or, alternatively, do you know of any other shamans or Ayahuasca destinations in the area. I am interested in finding less “touristy” curandero. Any help would be appreciated.

    Donny

    • hugh
      September 2, 2012 at 7:30 am

      HI!

      I saw your post about ayahuasca at Orlando’s new RISING SUN. Did you end up going? Can you tell me abit about how it went?

      Cheers
      Hugh

  4. September 19, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    Hi Donny,

    That’s really interesting — I’ve never heard of Maestro Orlando Chujandama, and never saw his blog until now (this one, right? http://thenewrisingsun.wordpress.com/ ).

    Chazuta is a village about 43 km from Tarapoto. It’s famous for its traditional ceramics (and a good area for dart frogs, apparently). The road to Chazuta has been totally clogged by road works for a few months, so you need to leave really early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Otherwise, shouldn’t be too hard getting there and finding a place to stay.

    You’ve probably already heard of the Takiwasi Center (http://www.takiwasi.com/) — that’s the most famous ayahuasca place around here. Probably not what you’re looking for — it’s very professional, but bordering on “touristy” I guess.

    One other place I know of is http://www.peruayahuasca.com/. I’ve never been there and can’t vouch for it, but it could be an option. There are loads more curanderos scattered around the region, near Tarapoto and out towards Yurimaguas, but finding a reliable one can be tricky. I’ll let you know if I think of some other options — feel free to ask more questions here or by contacting me directly (through the contact page here or at tarapotolife.com).

    Cheers,

    Tony.

  5. joey
    September 11, 2012 at 6:57 am

    Hey Tony,
    Great Tarasiki info. Just a small correction. Overland TPP to Yuri is only two hours by car, not six. The rest of your info is spot on. I will be in Tarapoto end of this week. Wanna get together for a beer? Chau.

    • October 5, 2012 at 5:16 pm

      Thanks Joey, correction made — I must have been suffering from brain fade for a moment there. Sorry about the late reply, been back home in the UK for three months, just got back to Peru. Let me know if you head back to Tarapoto at any point, I’m normally available for beers…

      Cheers.

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