The city of Tarapoto isn’t a prime tourist destination. Stuck out in the high jungle region of Northern Peru, it’s a long way from the northern coastal circuit and even further from the popular Gringo Trail down south. The so-called “City of Palms,” however, is far from being a sleepy outpost.
Since its founding in 1782, Tarapoto has grown to become the main commercial, tourism, and transport hub for the San Martin region. The city has all but absorbed the two outlying districts of La Banda de Shilcayo and Morales, with the combined metropolitan area now home to a population of more than 150,000.
Why Visit Tarapoto?
Tarapoto rarely wows new arrivals with impactful first impressions. The city itself is a mix of non-descript, semi-modern facades and ramshackle tin-roof homesteads, while the immediate surroundings are agricultural and not the dense jungle that some visitors assume they’ll find. Throw in the often-oppressive heat and the constant buzz of mototaxis and you have a destination that some visitors find... disagreeable.
In Tarapoto, however, you need to dig deeper, explore further; you need to give the place a chance. The city itself is short on sights, but don’t miss the fascinating Tabacalera del Oriente cigar factory (Martinez de Compagñon 1138). You’ll need to head beyond the city limits for further attractions, including scenic waterfalls such as Ahuashiyacu and Huacamaillo, the petroglyphs of Polish, and culturally important towns such as Lamas and Chazuta.
Tarapoto also attracts visitors in search of more specialized forms of tourism. The region’s diverse flora and fauna is a big draw, with people coming from across the globe in search of everything from orchids to birds to frogs. There’s also white water rafting for thrill-seekers, and ayahuasca for those in search of enlightenment. (Tarapoto is home to the Takiwasi Center, a major center for the treatment of drug addiction and research into traditional medicine, in which ayahuasca plays a major part.)
Tarapoto has a wide range of cheap to midrange restaurants and a growing number of upscale options. You’ll find plenty of cheap eateries selling lunchtime menús for S/.4 to S/.6 nuevos soles, but the quality is hit-and-miss. Ice cream parlors are also popular due to the heat. If you’re looking for coffee, cake and an internet connection, head to Cafe Plaza on the main square.
Meat-eaters should make the most of the region’s exceptional pork and pork products, including cecina (slabs of cured pork) and chorizo sausage. These are often served with tacacho (balls of mashed plantain), another regional specialty. From the late afternoon onwards, keep an eye out for street-side grills selling cecina, chorizo and other meats at affordable prices. For a traditional jungle snack, pick up a leaf-wrapped juane.
Some recommended restaurants include:
- El Brasero: for excellent pork dishes (San Pablo de la Cruz 254)
- El Rincón Sureño: an elegant restaurant and the best place for steaks and other big chunks of meat (Augusto B. Leguía 458)
- Brava Grilled: excellent burgers (San Martin 615)
- La Collpa: overpriced, but a good option for regional dishes (especially fish) with a great view (Circunvalaciòn 164)
- Caja Criolla Restobar: sublime roast pork (with perfect crackling) cooked in a caja china (Jr. Rioja 328)
- Primer Puerto: one of the newer cevicherias in Ta5rapoto, and probably the best (Ramirez Hurtado 461)
- El Pollo Marino: a popular cevicheria near the main square; ceviche in Tarapoto can’t rival ceviche found on the coast, but El Pollo Marino generally does a good job (Grau 182)
- La Patarashca: a hot spot for regional dishes, albeit expensive and borderline-trendy (Lamas 261)
- Chifa Canton: one of the best chifas in town, centrally located (Ramon Castilla 140)
- El Norteño: it’s worth heading to the Banda de Shilcayo district just to try El Norteño’s Cantonese chicken (Santa María 246)
Drinking and Dancing
If you stroll around the city center on a Friday or Saturday night, you might think Tarapoto has little to offer in terms of nightlife. But just two blocks up from the square you'll find a block known as the Calle de las Piedras (Street of Stones) on Jr. Lamas.
This block is full of bars, including Stonewasi, a lively bar that has become something of a Tarapoto institution; the slightly more trendy and more expensive La Montañita; the comfortable Suchiche Cafe Cultural; and Huascar Bar, a friendly bar frequented by locals, Tarapoto expats, and foreign backpackers.
After a few beers in the Calle de las Piedras, jump in a mototaxi and head down to the Morales district. The road heading out of Morales is lined with lively discotecas, including Anaconda, Macumba, and Estación. Take your pick and prepare for a long night of dancing.
Tarapoto has accommodation options for every budget, although backpacker hostels (aimed at the international crowd) are limited. Hotel San Antonio (Jiménez Pimentel 126) is a good budget option right in the center; you’ll also find a number of affordable guesthouses along the second block (cuadra dos) of Alegría de Morey, a street just off the main square. La Patarashca (tied in with the restaurant of the same name, but a block away on San Pablo de la Cruz 362) is a charming option if you’re willing to spend a little more each night.
There are plenty of other hotels of varying quality dotted around the city. The towering Boca Raton Hotel (Miguel Grau 151) is a modern complex right in the center of Tarapoto. The three-star Hotel Nilas (Moyobamba 173) is another good option near the main square.
For a relaxing resort-style stay, consider Puerto Palmeras, located just outside Tarapoto (Carretera Fernando Belaúnde Terry, Km 614). It’s not cheap but it will keep you away from the constant hustle and bustle of the city.
When to Visit
The main annual event in Tarapoto is the Festival of San Juan, a festival celebrated throughout the jungle regions of Peru on June 24. Tarapoto’s Semana Turística (Tourist Week) takes place from July 8 to 19 (exact dates may vary), featuring street parades, music festivals, gastronomic fairs, and more.
In terms of weather, Tarapoto is hot and humid year-round (with some rare exceptions). March and April tend to be the wettest months, but shifts do occur. At any time of the year, it’s not unusual to hear a large crack of thunder followed by an hour or so of torrential rain.
How to Get to Tarapoto
- By air: Tarapoto’s Guillermo del Castillo Paredes Airport is located a short mototaxi ride from the city center (S/.6 fare). The domestic airlines LAN, TACA, and StarPerú have daily flights between Tarapoto and Lima; StarPerú also connects with Iquitos and Pucallpa.
- By land: From Lima, there are two overland options. You can head up the coast to Chiclayo and cut inland via Pedro Ruiz and Moyobamba. Movil Tours has buses direct from Lima to Tarapoto (28 hours approx.). Alternatively, you can head from Lima to Tingo Maria and then north to Tarapoto. This route involves a few changes but is quicker if you can avoid delays. You can do the Tingo Maria to Tarapoto route with the Pizana Express car company.
- By boat: Tarapoto can’t be reached by boat, but the port in the town of Yurimaguas (a two-hour ride from Tarapoto) has passenger boats to Iquitos.