Tarapoto is the main gateway to the northeastern high jungle, situated in the lower Río Mayo watershed, surrounded with pristine montane cloud forest that tumbles into the flat, steamy lowlands of the Amazon rainforest . This area, with daily flights to and from Lima , is well known for waterfalls, orchids, very good food  and unusual birds.
Tarapoto was founded in 1782, at the base of the Ríos Cumbaza and Shilcayo. It was named after the native palm tree, taraputus.The surrounding valley has rich agricultural lands that yield corn, bananas, manioc, cocoa, tobacco, tea, coffee, palm oil, and tropical fruits. Its role as a commerce hub between the Amazon and the northern regions of Peru was cemented by the construction of the Carretera Marginal (Marginal Highway) to the northern coast, known today as Carretera Fernando Belaunde Terry in honor of the president who built it in the 1960s.
Coca cultivation began in the nearby upper Huallaga Valley in the 1970s, and much of the area’s valuable lands were destroyed by slash-and-burn agriculture. Tarapoto became the place where all drug traffickers built their lavish homes and laundered their money in all kinds of real estate projects that dot the city. During the 1980s, Tarapoto was at the center of the territory dominated by the Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru (MRTA), a left-wing terrorist organization that occupied the cities and towns surrounding the city. Eventually, the MRTA developed close ties to the area’s drug lords.
During the Fujimori regime, Tarapoto’s prominent drug traffickers were jailed and the MRTA was completely defeated—a small remaining faction was wiped out after taking over the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Lima in 1996.
Tarapoto is now a safe place to visit and is making a dramatic comeback as a tourist destination, especially for those who fly in from Lima with a few days on their hands. The leader of the tourist comeback in Tarapoto is Puerto Palmeras resort (Carretera Fernando Belaunde Terry, Km 614, tel. 042/52-3978, www.puertopalmeras.com.pe ), which operates several excellent lodges in the region.
Tarapoto is connected by air to Lima  and Iquitos , and the airport is a US$3 mototaxi or US$5 taxi ride from town. LAN (Ramírez de Hurtado, tel. 042/52-9318, Lima tel. 01/213-8200, www.lan.com ) has at least two daily flights to Tarapoto. Star Perú (Lima tel. 01/705-9000 www.starperu.com ) has a daily flight.
Buses move in and out of Tarapoto on a daily basis on a good highway. Most of the bus companies are lined up along Salaverry (blocks 6 and 7). Movil Tours (Salaverry 858, tel. 042/52-9193) is the best and safest bus service to Chiclayo  (12–15 hours, US$23) and Lima (US$57), in three different schedules.
Transportes Gilmer (Alfonso Ugarte 1480, tel. 042/52-0464) has daily departures to Yurimaguas , 5 a.m.–6 p.m., every hour (US$5.50). The journey to Yurimaguas  takes two hours through a excellent paved but winding 120-kilometer highway.