When it comes to hidden jungle towns in the center of Peru, Satipo is the tip of the iceberg. Most visitors only make it to Satipo & get lost in its dozens of attractions, with a few making it as far as Pangoa. This is understandable since Satipo is enchanting enough to seduce even the most jaded traveler. It boasts a spectacular amount of biodiversity that’s complimented by a vibrant community of various Ashaninka tribes. During the last 8 years, it’s become the most iconic attraction in Junin. Despite easily exceeding our expectations, we couldn’t shake the urge to go deeper into the jungle. This is where Betania & Atalaya come in, as they are both accessed by passing through Satipo.

The closest to visit from Satipo is the Comunidad Nativa de Betania. This comunidad Ashaninka consists of about 200 families and is nestled on the banks of the río Tambo. Before even leaving Satipo, visitors have to get permission to enter Betania from the Comunidad Nativa de Betania. Once your paperwork is in order, it’s time to hit the road for about an hour & a half until you reach Puerto Ocopa(Puerto Chata). From there you take a boat down the río Tambo straight to Betania. Depending on the time of year & the rains, this takes about 5 to 7 hours. Once you hop off the public transportation, you quickly realize that you’re in a different world. We’ll cover its main attraction further in this article.

For those who think a 7-hour boat ride is too easy, the road to Atalaya will provide your fix of adrenaline. This route puts you directly at the mercy of Mother Nature, and can only be completed in a 4×4 Toyota Hilux. It’s 160 km of unpaved surprises that winds through multiple Ashaninka communities. The time it takes varies wildly depending on what time of year you go. On a good day during the dry season, you can make it in as little as 8 hours, but in temporada de lluvias you’ll be lucky to complete the trip in 11 hours. We wanted to get the full experience, so we went in the middle of the rainy season. This put our driving skills to the test as we careened around corners and skidded through muddy stretches that almost left us stuck and stranded multiple times.

Through hell and high water, we made it to both destinations. To say it was a taxing trip was an understatement, but the unforgiving travel conditions only added to the adventure. By the time we arrived in each community, we were just happy to still be alive. Both Betania and Atalaya are blessed with vibrant cultures and epic biodiversity, but each one has its undisputed top attraction. Get acquainted with their best places to visit with this short but informative list!

Best Places to Visit in Betania & Atalaya

Attraction #1: Cueva de Tambo Ushco- The province of Atalaya is home to 146 native communities, and its natural attractions are just as robust. Thanks to its remote location, this is one of the most biodiverse parts of the Peruvian jungle. Undeniably its top place to visit is the Caverna de Tambo Ushco, also known as “El Último Bastión Inca”. This nickname stems from multiple tales of the Incas commandeering the cave to hide their treasures. Allegedly the caverns stretch kilometers and are filled with gold that was hidden from the Spaniards. Multiple people have ventured into the depths, but only a few have made it out of the deepest parts alive. At a certain point, an earthquake closed off part of the cavern. For this reason, by fate or divine intervention, the truth of the Incan treasure rumors is forever shrouded in mystery.

Even though you can spend hours speculating what lies deeper in the caverns, there’s no disputing the mysterious beauty of Tambo Ushco. An impressive length of the cave is still available to explore with areas ranging from fairly large to so small that you have to crawl through. This labyrinth is filled with 19 “tinas” that resemble natural jacuzzies filled with crystal-clear water. As you wind further into the depths of the earth, visitors are greeted with cute little bats, subterranean spiders, and crabs. Climbing through this cave feels like you are entering a different dimension, so make the journey with a local guide to avoid becoming an urban legend!

Attraction #2: Piscinas Naturales de Betania – As the boat pulls into the Comunidad Ashaninka de Betania, you hop off into a different world. Sporting only one rustic roof to provide shade to residents waiting for the next lancha, this entrance more resembles a jungle river bus stop than a port. At specific times each day, commercial boats pass by and pick up anyone waiting at this spot on the side of the river. While access to this community is limited, its natural beauty knows no bounds. Betania is nestled in the heart of the jungle and is the gateway to the piscinas naturales del río Samaireni.

Due to incidents where drunk visitors got washed away by flash floods, every group needs to be accompanied by a local guide from the community. This rule is welcome since having a local join the team provides an in-depth look at your surroundings. From showcasing medicinal plants to pointing out the best places to cross the river, our guide was awesome. His upbeat personality was contagious as he shared various anomalies that otherwise would have been overlooked during the 1-hour hike to the pools.

After a stunning journey through the jungle, we made it to the pools. This myriad of unique rock formations appeared to be tailored by the gods. They boasted deep cuts that crisscrossed through both sides of the river rocks. These geometric shapes can go as wild as your imagination wants since countless designs resembling animals were pointed out by our guide. The area sporting the waterfalls was even more breathtaking since it consisted of a long row of at least 12 different falls. In contrast to the unforgiving jungle sun, diving into the crystal-clear water felt like a baptism. This catarata extravaganza is too mesmerizing to miss, so make a point to make the excursion to reach them!