Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Visit to Tarapoto

While being heavily rained on in a mototaxi for the second consecutive day, I asked the driver if it rained every day in Tarapoto. His response was…”sometimes.” The ambiguity of his answer for me sums up our entire visit.

Tarapoto is built on a series of hills in a valley surrounded by mountains. The city itself is pretty much indistinguishable from any other Peruvian city of similar size in terms of architecture, design and content. It doesn’t have much to offer in the way of tourist attractions beyond a small museum, the Orquidea Chocolate factory, and the Tabacalera del Oriente cigar factory which we didn’t have the opportunity to visit. The information office located across the street from the principal park is not very helpful regarding information or maps. To determine where an attraction was located and how to get there it was always necessary to ask several people – police, motodrivers, passersby before finally getting an answer, and that not usually very clear. For a city that encourages tourism, it seems to me there has been no effort made to put even a minimal tourism infrastructure in place.

That’s not to say a visit to Tarapoto isn’t worth the effort. There are several attractions outside of town that are worth seeing. The Ahuashiyaku waterfall is one example.

I like waterfalls. I especially enjoy jungle waterfalls. The pungent sweet aroma of wet, decaying vegetation; the calls of exotic birds; the dozen shades of green mixed with a sprinkling of other spectacular colors kept vibrant by mist from the falls all combine to create an attraction that I think appeals to my primitive being. There are many waterfalls located close to Tarapoto. We didn’t get to them but hope to on a future visit.

The town of Lamas located 22km from Tarapoto is regarded as a tourist attraction. Outside of a castle under construction there isn’t any one thing to create lasting memories in my opinion. The view of lower Lamas from the El Mirador tourist park offers spectacular scenery while enjoying a meal or drink.

The petroglyphs of Polish are located just a few miles from town. To reach the site we were told by several mototaxi drivers (who didn’t go there themselves) to look for “a new moto because the road is bumpy and don’t pay more than 15 soles round trip.” We ended up paying 40 soles to the only driver we could find who would take us there. The site is very small and comprised of a few large boulders with petroglyphs on some of them. The caretaker said the petroglyphs date back to the Inca period and were probably roadmaps of a sort. An incident while leaving the site deserves some comment.

When we had arrived at the petroglyphs I noticed two men sitting at the side of the road. They were manning a road barrier which was raised when we entered. In response to my question the caretaker told us the men were Ronderos; self-appointed vigilantes who exist to combat crime. When we attempted to leave the site, the men would not raise the barrier until we gave them a tip. The distinction between Rondero and robber is not clear to me.

Close to town is Laguna Venecia. Other than a small chocolate colored lake there is nothing to see or do. It has the look of what was or could be a tourist park, but the entire facility has the forlorn appearance of something from days gone by. It was deserted the morning we were there. To boot, the two motodrivers we had contracted to take us there and back voiced their unhappiness with our agreement and insisted on more money. As I write this I’m trying hard not to let these occurrences color my viewpoint, but there were simply too many blatant money-grabbing instances like this to ignore them.

We didn’t get to the village of Chazuta because the road was under construction, nor did we see what various tourist publications describe as a “must see” – the town of Sauce and Laguna Azul, mostly because we were short of time but also because we were tired of laying out exorbitant amounts of money for transportation. All of the tour services we saw charged 85 soles per person for transportation and lunch. We were told we didn’t need a tour service, but we’d had enough of dealing with private carriers.

Beside the Ahuashiyaku waterfall the highlight of our visit was something we hadn’t planned on - a very pleasant evening spent with new friends Tony, Herb and Luis at the Stonewasi bar. Mucho gracias amigos.

We will return to Tarapoto to see the waterfalls we missed and the village of Chazuta. And we’ll probably see Laguna Azul. But if someone were to ask me if I’d recommend a visit to Tarapoto, my answer would be an unequivocal …”maybe.”



  1. Hi Tom,

    It was good fun having a few beers with you at Stonewasi – we'll have to do it again if you make a return visit to Tarapoto. If you do, I definitely recommend the Tabacalera del Oriente and a trip to the Cataratas de Huacamaillo.



  2. Hi Tony,

    There is no if – we will be back. I’m looking forward to the cigar factory and a few more beers at Stonewasi. Are Herb and Luis still there?


  3. Hi Tom,

    Herb and Luis are here for about 2 more weeks. I expect they'll both be back again next year. More beers at Stonewasi sounds good - just let me know!