Nestled in the “cloud forest” of Northeastern Peru, Tarapoto is the jewel of the San Martin Province. Sitting at 356 meters (1,168 ft.) altitude, this city is the prime jump-off point to enter the Amazon rainforest. Its potent mixture of outrageously vast biodiversity and vibrant nightlife make Tarapoto a truly seductive atmosphere. Including the surrounding areas their population exceeds 117,000, which creates a surprisingly modern city in the midst of the Amazon. This gorgeous location allows visitors to simultaneously get a dose of civilization and pristine parts of the jungle.
Even though the surrounding area is breathtaking, Tarapoto’s history is equally captivating. The city was originally founded by members of the Ayacuchan cultures Pocras & Chancas. Led by the valiant yet misguided commander Ancohallo, they participated in an ill-fated revolt against the Incan empire. While they managed to temporarily break free, the rebelling nations were inevitably defeated by the Incan army. Facing immanent annihilation for the attempted uprising, the remaining tribe members fled to the valleys surrounding the Mayo and Cumbaza rivers. While their exodus directly formed the modern day town of Lamas, it led to the birth of a satellite community.
Located in the dried up nucleus of the Suchiche Lagoon, this new outpost was filled with Taraputus palms. When Spanish conquistador Baltazar Martinez Jiménez de Compagnon reached the area in 1782, he named Tarapoto after the palm trees. This “City of Palms” was officially recognized by the Peruvian government in 1906, and has been a hub for jungle exploration ever since. Today it’s one of the key areas for tourism, and can’t be ignored by anyone who’s passionate about exploring the jungle. For this reason, we compiled a list of places that can’t be missed in areas surrounding Tarapoto. Prepare to get an intimate glimpse of the Northeastern Peruvian Amazon by examining Tarapoto’s main attractions!
Best Places Surrounding Tarapoto
Natural Wonder #1: Cataratas del Ahuashiyacu – A short 14 km outside Tarapoto is a series of waterfalls that are immersed in local myths. While the name Ahuashiyacu translates to laughing waters, the stories surrounding its creation are surprisingly dark. According to local legend, back in the day a powerful tribal leader had a gorgeous daughter named Ahuashi. Against all odds, she fell in love with a poorer member of the tribe named Shilly. This love was prohibited, since Ahuashi’s father wanted her to marry someone from a more prominent family.
When Ahuashi’s father found out about her forbidden affair, he turned to the local witch doctors for help. To make sure that Ahuashi never left her father, they turned her into a gorgeous waterfall. Shilly wasn’t as lucky, since he was transformed into a black bull that guarded the pool of his ex-lover. Eventually Shilly went mad and desperately tried to find Ahuashi. This led to him falling into an abyss where he was stuck forever, and his tears formed the neighboring river Shilcayo.
Despite being based on one of the most epic cock blocks of the pre-columbian era, Ahuashiyacu is too gorgeous to miss. A large statue commemorates Shilly’s final form as a black bull. This series of waterfalls are just one of the many natural wonders that are steeped in mystery and generous doses of local superstition. Just feeling the mist from this massive waterfall is invigorating, so don’t hesitate to visit this miraculous feat of nature!
Natural Wonder #2: Laguna Azul – Even though this lake’s official name is Lake Sauce, everyone calls it Laguna Azul. Located 45 km outside Tarapoto and a few minutes outside Sauce, this massive lake is a major tourist attraction. It’s 4.3 square km surface comes alive with jet skis and boats taking tourists on tours across the lake. On the tour visitors are shown a rock where a mermaid sits and sings at night.
According to local legend, the mermaid takes one male swimmer every year. Laguna Azul is used for military drills where soldiers have to swim across the lake. This steady stream of swimming soldiers provides plenty of opportunities for the legend of the mermaid’s vengeance to come true. The area is filled with restaurants and locals selling alcoholic brews that are mixed with local herbs. While they claim to cure every imaginable disease, they fail to combat the growing contamination this lake faces as it becomes an international tourist attraction.
Area #3: Catarata de Pishurayacu – This gorgeous waterfall is tucked away outside the town of San Jose, which is a 40-minute drive from Tarapoto. While the highway is well-paved, it’s guarded by armed militia men who ask for donations from passing cars. This odd presence of paramilitary members stems from when robbers used to assault passing cars before the road was paved. While many locals speculate that the militia-men used to be the actual robbers, they still pay them to avoid problems.
Once visitors are dropped off at the entry point to the waterfall, they are greeted by a long hike. A thin trail winds down the mountain until they reach a river that has to be crossed on a raft. Even though the hike to reach this point is an hour long, it’s surprisingly enjoyable. This is due to the fact that the path cuts through pristine jungle that’s bursting at the seams with wildlife. The perceptive hiker can see monkeys, tucanes, owls, butterflies, sloths, iguanas and vipers. This symphony of rare species if complimented by impressively lush jungle vegetation.
While being pulled across the river on a wooden raft is surreal, this is only the beginning of the adventure. A hot-spring pool sits directly on the river bank, but don’t let it distract you. Despite claiming to heal multiple ailments with its mineral dense waters, this is the least impressive part of the trip. A much more captivating natural wonder awaits those who continue hiking. After getting completely soaked crossing a large pool, visitors reach the first part of the falls. While its only about ten meters tall, you can jump over it into the surprisingly deep pool.
To reach the first waterfall, users have to climb up the side of the cliff on a wooden ladder that’s built into it. Once they reach the top, they are greeted with Catarata Pishurayacu. On top of being absolutely gorgeous, this cavernous waterfall looks eerily similar to a massive vagina. While you may feel like a pervert for making this mental connection, don’t be alarmed. This waterfall’s interesting presentation led to its name. Pishura means pussy in quechua, while yacu means water. Pishurayacu literally translates to “pussy water” so don’t book an appointment with your local priest yet.
From the epic hike to its silly name, Pishurayacu embodies everything we love about the Amazon. Literally every part of this journey is absolutely breathtaking. While the hike may be grueling for some, reaching the waterfalls and bathing in their ice-cold waters makes the sacrifice well worth it. It’s an adventure that can cleanse even the most rotten soul, since nothing is more powerful than the healing touch of the jungle.