TARAPOTO, known as the "City of Palms", is a well-developed jungle settlement about 18hrs by road from Chiclayo. It has surfaced roads, fairly good hotels, a large market and an unexpectedly high proportion of young professionals and business people. This is due to the wealth of agriculture, and ultimately the soil, in the Rio Mayo valley around here. Tarapoto is a good base from which to explore this part of Peru, visit the folkloric locus of Lamas, prepare for a jungle trip, or do some whitewater rafting on the Río Mayo (ask the tour companies for details).
The town, founded in 1772, lies just 420m above sea level and has an agreeable temperature range of 29–37°C (85–99°F). The Río Huallaga flows on from here, via the Amazon, until it finally empties into the Atlantic Ocean many thousands of kilometres away. A strange sort of place, Tarapoto has a large prison and a big drug-smuggling problem, with people flying coca paste from here to Colombia. Nevertheless, the locals tend to be friendly and pleased to see tourists, themselves still few and far between.
The best accommodation in Tarapoto, with a rooftop pool, large rooms, cable TV and private baths is the Hotel Nilas, Jr Moyobamba 173 (Tel:042/527321Enilasemail@example.com; Price: $25–50); there's also the mid-range options like the clean La Mansion, on Jr Maynas 280 (Tel:042/530471Einfo@altamirahotel.com.pe; Price: $15–40), which is very comfortable, has a swimming pool, garden, private baths and TVs; or the more basic Hostal Pasquelandia, at Pimental 341 (Tel:042/52290; Price: $5-10), the Hostal Melendez, C Ursua block 4 (Price: Up to $10), and the Hostal Central, on Jr San Martín (Tel:042/522234; Price: Under $5).
The restaurants here are surprisingly good, especially the Rea Grill, Jr Moyobamba 331, which serves superb evening meals including a mix of standard Peruvian dishes augmented with jungle produce. The El Manguare, Jr Moyobamba 161, on the main plaza offers a good, cheap lunch menu, while El Camarón, on Jirón San Pablo de la Cruz, is renowned for its delicious Amazon River shrimp.
The route south from Tarapoto via Juanjui (150km) and Tingo Maria (a further 350km) through wild frontier jungle territory is not currently recommended for travellers. It passes through one of the most dangerous areas in Peru, dominated by the illegal coca-growing industry, and the army have been present in the region for years. Now and again there are confrontations and shoot-outs, and the region remains pretty well beyond the control of law and order. On some parts of the road from here to Tingo Maria, buses suffer regular armed robberies, some involving fatalities. It's simply not worth the risk of travelling here at the moment.