In the last decade, Tarapoto has emerged as one of Peru’s most promising tourist destinations. Blessed with a strategic location in the San Martin province, it provides visitors with the best worlds. Boasting a vibrant culture and exceptional natural attractions, Tarapoto’s charm is undeniable. Recently the city has grown exponentially as it fills with high end lodges and multiple restaurants. Despite this unprecedented wave of modernization, Tarapoto hasn’t lost its style. The Tarapotinos are warm and inviting. As long as you aren’t causing trouble you’ll be welcomed with open arms.
Another point in its favor is this city is just small enough to avoid being invaded by choros(delincuentes). When talking to locals, they happily brag that anyone caught stealing cellphones will get their ass publicly beaten before the police can save them. While this may sound extreme to an outsider, Peruvian fiscals are notorious for letting armed robbers go free dozens of times. The complete failure of Peru’s justice system forces citizens to take the law into their own hands to keep their barrios safe. It’s a sad reality that showcases how rural communities routinely enforce laws more effectively than the government.
This street vigilance keeps petty crime low and maintains Tarapoto’s reputation as it grows at a rapid pace. It’s a welcoming place to bring the entire family and is surrounded by some of the most pristine jungle in the world. The ample amount of rainfall provides enough precipitation to feed countless waterfalls in the surrounding areas. More waterfalls are being facilitated for visitors every year by native communities, which provides something new no matter how many times you visit. Since we were last here in 2018, dozens of new attractions were being offered. To showcase the sheer abundance of waterfalls in Tarapoto, I compiled this list. Prepare to be acquainted with some of Mother Nature’s most impressive feats with this enchanting list of waterfalls!
Explore Tarapoto’s Best Waterfalls
Waterfall #1: Catarata de Pucayaquillo – Out of the waterfalls we visited, this was the most impressive. The Catarata de Pucayaquillo is located 45 minutes to the South of Tarapoto right outside the Shapaja locality in the Comunidad Nativa Mashuk Lamas. After paying the 8-sol entry fee, the hike through the jungle begins. It’s only 2 kilometers, but don’t let it fool you. This trail goes straight up the mountain, so it will put your willpower to the test. Fortunately, the excursion is filled with an amazing amount of endangered animals and rare insects that are highlighted by the lush rainforest.
As soon as you make it to the falls, the surprisingly taxing hike immediately becomes worth it. By any definition, this waterfall is breathtaking. Its crystal-clear waters cascade down 20 meters of orange-reddish rock and form a large turquoise pool. This place isn’t as heavily promoted as other easier to reach waterfalls, which allows you to swim in peace without having to fight your way through other visitors. Pucayaquillo makes an impression, so don’t miss it on your next trip to Tarapoto!
Waterfall #2: Cascadas del Progreso – In this area you don’t just get one waterfall, you get 5! This collection of waterfalls is located in the cacerío Progreso in the Banda de Shilcayo district. It consists of the cascadas Mikski Wuayra, Quinti Yacu, Chami Yacu, Urpi Yacu, and el Vencidor. These waterfalls are all connected by a freshly built trail that winds around the mountain to find each one of them. Some have pools to bathe in while others just provide great shots to take pictures and soak in their mist. This collection of waterfalls only became open to the public recently, which allowed us to experience them without seeing a single other visitor. That will undoubtedly change quickly, so take a tour of these falls before they become mainstream!
Waterfall #3: Catarata de Huacamaillo – Between the adventurous hike and impressive size of the waterfall, la catarata de Haucamaillo was the best adventure of our trip. Despite only being a 30 minute drive from Tarapoto, this was easily the most complicated waterfall to get to. On top of being a 2-hour hike from the jump off point at San Pedro de Cumbaza, you have to cross a river to reach it. This means that if it rained heavily the night before, the trip is off because the Río Cumbaza will be too rebellious to cross on foot.
We ended up having to postpone our visit 1 day due to the rains, but it was well worth the wait. The hike alone was an adventure worth taking, since it took us through some of the most gorgeous rainforest I’ve ever seen in Peru. From tarantulas to bullet ants, there were plenty of things to keep us on our toes. It was a gorgeous day and all of Mother Nature was on full display for us. By the time we reached the waterfall we were so enchanted that the falls was just a bonus. There were rocks to jump off into a massive pool, which made it feel like a private adventure park.
However, it wasn’t all sunshine & butterflies. Crossing the Río Cumbaza was surprisingly treacherous. Even though it looks calm its undercurrent is powerful enough to take your legs right out from under you. There are only certain areas that are safe to cross even without rain, so go with someone from the area who can show you. During our hike we came across one hippy couple who was just about to cross in the wrong spot. Luckily we talked them out of it, because if the river took them there’s no salvation. It’s better to pay a little extra for a guide than to get lost and make it on the news, so don’t be a hero and visit this waterfall with a local!
Waterfall #4: Cascadas el Salto de la Bruja – I almost didn’t include this waterfall, but it’s an important point to highlight. In many ways, this attraction showcases the how more tourism isn’t always a good thing. Against all odds, this beautiful series of waterfalls has managed to turn into a nightmare due to rampant overpromotion. During the last couple years, this attraction has taken center stage on Tarapoto’s tourist scene. While no one knew where the hell it was in 2018, today every tourism agency will push this waterfall on you.
On one hand, it features a gorgeous waterfall with a series of smaller falls that are scattered amongst an easy to walk trail. Unfortunately, this is where the problem lies. This easy to reach destination has exploded in popularity because it’s a tour that can literally be taken by anyone. It doesn’t matter if you are on your death bed or can only walk with crutches, the nurses can wheel you out to this waterfall. It’s the perfect tour for someone who wants as little contact with nature as possible while still getting that perfect photo for Instagram.
This easy access has led to it getting flooded with huge groups of tourists. The price for the tour is cheap, because you are going with half the people on the plane you took to Tarapoto. When you arrive its entrance is filled with vans from other tours, and it doesn’t get better from there. Literally every step to reach this waterfall was congested with groups of 20+ visitors who were nearly getting in a fist fight to take a selfie. We had to escape from our tour and dodge other tours to get any shots without being photobombed. It was the only waterfall during our trip that managed to make us happier to leave than experience.
This could easily be avoided by putting a limit on how many tours enter at a time, but that obviously wasn’t a priority. The local community is milking the recent popularity for what it’s worth, and you can hardly blame them. There’s always going to be another hot waterfall, so they are cashing in while they can. For this reason, I recommend waiting a couple years until they find a waterfall that’s even easier to reach that they can flood with lazy tourists.
Bonus: Mirador de Taytamaki – For those who just want a kick ass picture, this is the spot. Over the years the classic shot of the giant hand at the Taytamaki mirador has become synonymous with visitors’ trips to Tarapoto. Pictures of this mirador are flooded on Facebook, IG, and TikTok by hundreds of Peruvians, and it’s actually for good reason. This is a very well taken care of park that boasts an epic view of Tarapoto. Unlike Salto de la Bruja, Taytamaki is designed to comfortably host large groups of visitors. The park covers a massive area, and each part is spread out far enough that you don’t have to physically assault someone to get a picture.
When visiting, it immediately becomes obvious that the owners had a vision. Through sheer perspicacity, they managed to create a booming attraction in the middle of nowhere. It’s a fun park that was brought to life with a keen eye to detail. It boasts sculptures depicting colorful characters from Amazonian myths and various extreme sports. There’s a restaurant, multiple levels of miradors, and each area has something to see. Even though it’s packed with people, there’s enough room to act like you’re the only group there.
This is a fun tourist trap that’s worth falling into. Even we had a blast, and we’re the most jaded travelers in Peru. We’ve seen it all and don’t get excited about miradors, but Taytamaki was engaging enough to keep us interested. It’s refreshing to see something that’s well designed and manages to avoid being watered down and generic. This park has a vibrant style, so take the family to get their new profile pictures at the Mirador de Taytamaki!