If you want to see the elusive cock of the rock, head out at dawn or dusk to Aguashiyacu Waterfalls (US$1 admission at trailhead hut), about 14 kilometers outside Tarapoto on the winding new highway to Yurimaguas. If you are quiet, you have a good chance of spotting these crimson birds flyong in and out of their nests on the rock wall below the waterfall.
If you have a bird guide, available at Puerto Palmeras (Carretera Marginal Sur Km 3, tel. 042/52-3978, cta [at] puertopalmeras [dot] com, www.puertopalmeras.com), there is also excellent bird watching on nearby ridges.
This area, along with Huacamaillo Waterfalls, is part of the Área Regional de Conservación Cordillera Escalera, which protects big patches of cloud forests, indigenous communities, flora, and fauna. The Huacamaillo falls can be reached after a two-hour walk from the village of San Antonio de Cumbaza, 18 kilometers north of Tarapoto. This waterfall jets forth from a stunning rock gorge and is well worth the walk.
An interesting destination is Laguna Sauce, a two-hour trip from south Tarapoto that involves crossing the Río Huallaga by steel barge. There are several hotels and restaurants around the town of Sauce, and canoe rental is available. At the far end, accessible via narrow channel, is the more remote Lago Lindo, a 5,300-hectare private reserve , accessible only through Puerto Palmeras. The beautiful bungalows resembling an Amazon lodge are surrounded by 15,000 mahogany trees that have been planted in an effort to reintroduce this endangered species. The place is peaceful and ideal for bird-watching. There are rafting opportunities on the nearby Río Huallaga and Río Mayo.
Tarapoto is also home to two unusual sites. The first is the village of Lamas, 21 kilometers north of Tarapoto, an isolated village of people known as the Lamistas who speak a mixture of Quechua and jungle dialects. They are grouped together in one half of the town, have their own museum, and have a sense of community and identity that never fails to impress visitors.
The second is the Takiwasi Center (Alerta 466, tel. 042/52-2818, www.takiwasi.com, call before visiting), a drug rehabilitation center that uses ayahuasca and other hallucinogenic jungle medicines as a central part of its treatment. The center also caters to the growing number of travelers interested in taking ayahuasca. Because of its highly experienced staff of authentic jungle curanderos (healers) a and serious philosophy that includes post-experience debriefing with a psychoanalyst, participants almost invariably have a safe, meaningful experience.
Outside of Tarapoto is the nationally renowned Orquídea Chocolate Factory (Santa Mónica 200, tel. 042/52-6573, mayo [at] aice [dot] org [dot] pe, hours vary). Here you can see demos and hear explanations of how cacao is processed into chocolate, melted into a bar, and eventually prepared for export. Most of the chocolates are organic.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition