The Lonely Planet describes Tarapoto as “a sweltering jungle metropolis”. While it is a bit far from being a metropolis, this is definitely a hot vestige of the vast Peruvian jungle. Whether you have been traveling in the cool Northern highlands, or along the coast which is cold during our summer months, or perhaps just finished trekking in Huaraz, Tarapoto is a welcome change in climate where you can finally put on some shorts and get an ice-cream of an exotic flavour (granadilla? guanávana? chirimoya? — it’s your pick!).
However, what this city is most famous for, at least among Peruvians themselves, is its exquisite cuisine. If you are getting weary of rice and chicken, head to Tarapoto to try some surprising jungle dishes. Right off the bat you will notice street vendors selling barbequed plantain stuffed with crushed peanuts. The famous patarashca – a stew of seafood cooked in a palm leaf – will blow your mind. You can try it at the eponymous restaurant, La Patarashca, on jiron Lamas. This street is strewn with cool places, such as the elegant and cozy Suchuinchi Hotel and the loud and fun Stonewasi bar. And if you are craving to further your knowledge of the jungle flavours, try La Alternativa on jiron Grau. This bar serves Amazonian cocktails made from tree bark, roots, flowers, and even some animals. Intrepid gourmands can try the snake liqour with a dead snake right there in the bottle (but be warned: it really does taste like dead snake).
Other food options are Tio Sergio and La Collpa. The former is a brightly coloured cheerful place with impeccable service, cheap (at only 10 soles) lunch menu, and a good-looking chef, in case you are wondering. La Collpa, on the other hand, is a bit pricier, but it offers a beautiful view of the jungle and you can try paiche there: a seasonal fish native to the zone and considered a delicacy. But please, make sure that you order it during the months it is allowed to be fished, because it is endangered. Street food lovers should ask a mototaxi to take them to the road to the hospital, where every evening the stands sell various kinds of fish cooked as you desire, juanes, and even pig face – snout, ears, cheeks and everything – all served with delicious sauces (try the one with crushed peanuts).a delicious and surprisingly
Of course, a famous place such as Tarapoto is much more than just cuisine. You can go white water rafting (the best agency for that is Chancas – a bit more expensive than some others, but they provide truly good service) or exploring the jungle.
There is a protected natural reserve just outside town that is easy to get to on a mototaxi for 8 soles. Pay the entrance fee and you are free to walk among giant trees, wade across numerous brooks, and swim under waterfalls (there are several). You can take a free guided tour of a small tobacco factory and see the birth of a hand-rolled cigar, as well as buy some for bargain prices. A piece of advice: do not bother with Laguna Sauce. It is a big selling point for all the tour agencies, but in reality it is not that great at all; you will probably be bored there.
In short, Tarapoto is a delightful little corner of Peru and a wonderful way to get one’s first taste of the jungle. There are comfortable direct buses from Lima (100-200 soles, depending on the company) and even flights, which are only an hour long, compared to over twenty-four hours on the bus.