You could simply pass through the small city of Tarapoto on your way to Amazon adventures in northern Peru. We decided to stay for a few days and explore this jungle town at the end of the road.
End-of-the-road towns always seem more romantic, more adventurous. They’re also more complicated. For example, to reach the heart of the Amazon Basin in northern Peru from Tarapoto you have to get on a boat or a plane to the city of Iquitos (or fly directly to Iquitos from Lima). We were headed to Iquitos by plane, but we spent a couple of days in Tarapoto before moving on.
Hikers, rafters, and campers will find ample options in the rainforest around Tarapoto, but we spent our days in the town itself, wandering the streets in the steamy heat looking at a wide variety of street art–from the cultural to the political. Oh, and eating.
We’ve certainly eaten plenty of great food in Peru, but Tarapoto was the first place where we got an in-depth introduction to distinct Amazonian dishes and ingredients.
For nearly 30 years, the breezy, multi-level, open-air La Patarashca restaurant has been celebrating Amazonian cuisine including ingredients like a smoky pork called cecina and beloved dishes like juanes (hearty balls of rice, meat, olives, and spices). At La Patarashca we also had a wonderful salad made from tender strips of thinly shaved hearts of palm (called chonta) and the namesake patarashca dish of river fish steamed with tomatoes, onions, and peppers in a large leaf from a bjiao plant.
There are plenty of budget accommodations and backpacker hostels in Tarapoto, but if you’re looking for modern style and full services head to Tucan Suites.
Opened in 2012, the hotel offers duplex rooms, 2 bedroom/2 bathroom apartments, and spacious King suites with huge patios. The Panoramic Suite has a huge Jacuzzi, walls of windows, and a full kitchen. There’s a large central pool and all rooms have at least a kitchenette, a balcony or terrace, air-conditioning, and a lot of style including graphic stencil-like paintings of toucans perched on jumbled electrical lines on the walls of each room. This work, by a local artist, cleverly mimics the typically chaotic electrical wiring (and the birds) we saw all over town.
The hotel’s owner, Luis, came to Peru from Spain as a backpacker and never left. He helped update an early edition of the Lonely Planet guide to Peru and he remains a great source of local information.
The one-hour drive from Tarapoto to Pumarinri Amazon Lodge, the first hotel opened by the same man who created Tucan Suites, took us through a tight and scenic canyon carved by the mighty Huallaga River–part Amazon, part mountain range at the point at which the landscape shifts from the Andes to the Amazonian lowlands.
Pumarinri Amazon Lodge is located on that same river with views of Pumarinri Mountain. The 14 large and simply-decorated rooms all have balconies or patios and ceiling fans. Suites have air-conditioning. There’s a large lap pool plus a rustic pool built in a refreshing nearby stream. The hotel’s location on a 62 acre (25 hectare) private reserve gives the place tranquility and the opportunity to hike and swim in nature.
If you want an easy and comfortable experience in the tropical dry forest and low Amazon plain, Pumarinri is a good choice. Multi-day packages including meals and activities are offered in addition to nightly rates.
Check out Pumarinri from above in our drone travel video, below.
From Tarapoto, we flew to Iquitos (don’t miss our City Travel Guide to Iquitos) and explored the Amazon Basin from there including a luxury Amazon River cruise, a tour of the ground-breaking Explorama Lodges and famous Canopy Walkway, and, finally, a 4-day ferry journey from Iquitos to Yurimaguas, a small town upriver from Tarapoto.
Here’s more about travel in Peru
Here’s more about Amazon Travel