San Martín: Moyobamba and Tarapoto

The department of San Martín welcomed me with muggy weather.

There is a sudden change you can’t help but notice when traveling from sierra (the mountains) to selva (the jungle), and it’s not only the weather. As the temperatures get higher, trousers get tighter and shorter, and necklines get lower. The streets start to fill with motorcycles, and the plaza de armas with people chilling around.

Also, the selváticos are different from the serranos in their features. The jungle gives them a different beauty, and they lose their strong indio features and gain a totally different charme.

My plan to go from Leymebamba to Moyobamba changed on the combi, one hour before arriving. The man sitting next to me convinced me to stop in Nueva Cajamarca and visit some native communities the next day. So I got myself a room in a hospedaje and set off to explore the town.

There was not much to do, besides a quick tour of the market and hanging around the main square trying different kinds of street food, from burning papas rellenas to delicious churros surprisingly filled with caramel… Heaven!

I arranged an expensive taxi to take me to the native communities of Naranjillo the next morning.

If I was expecting indios wearing banana leaves and women going around showing their breasts, well, I was totally wrong. I imagined something similar to what I saw in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia, not people wearing the same clothes as me.

I visited the Awajún and the Shampuyacu communities, stopping every now and then to talk to people. A family invited me in their house made of straw. They gave me a bowl of masato, a drink made of fermented yuca, and a piece of smoked meat.

Kids from the Awajún native community

The next day, I took a car to Moyobamba. The city of the orchids was getting ready to welcome the new year. I booked a room in the Hostal Santa Rosa and met Steven, one of the guys who gave me a lift back in Gocta. Steven took me to the Recreo Turístico San Milán for a huge portion of avispa juane de gallina served with ají misquiucho and jugo de cocona (22 S).

Steven at the Recreo Turístico San Milán

With our stomachs full, we went to the Baños Termales San Mateo (3 S), crowded with locals.

Steven at the entrance of the hot baths

Eventually, I got a late reply from a Couch, and Miguel invited me to celebrate New Year’s Eve at his friend Milli’s place, later that night. As for Christmas, the Peruvian tradition is to eat dinner at midnight. Some people make pilatos, bundles of rags with a human shape, and burn them at midnight.

What's left of a pilato on New Year

We had a great time eating, drinking, and dancing under the heavy rain that started to pour and didn’t stop for the whole next day.

On January 2nd I moved to Miguel’s. He lives with his beautiful family (his mom, Ahurita, his brother Rodrigo, his sister Karla and his nephew Matthews, 2). I got a room all for me and felt completely at home from the very first moment.

After lunch (cicharrón de pescado and ceviche), a neighbor came in excited because “the ants had come out”. The siquisapas are big flying ants typical of the cities of Rioja and Moyobamba, and they are considered a true delicacy by the locals.

They live in underground holes and only come out during the rainy season, in the months of October and November. Due to the previous day’s heavy rains, they had exceptionally come out, and a bunch of neighbors were out to get them, armed with plastic bottles and rain boots.

I joined Rodrigo and Ahurita and filled my bottle with the ants. Kids were eating them on the spot, after removing the wings and the head, and so I tried, too. The next day Rodrigo fried them and we had them for breakfast, together with coffee and rice.

I spent a couple of more days in Moyobamba going out with Miki and his friends and family, or just chilling waiting for the rain to stop. We hiked the Morro de Calzada (3 S), went to the Baños Sulfurosos de Oromina (1.5 S), drank a lot of pisco sour (??? S) and had some pretty awesome chats (free).

Then, following my rule of the three days top, I took a I combi to Tarapoto, where Alex was waiting for me.

My Couch Alex

Miguel told me that it was a good day for traveling, and his numerology was not lying. It was Alex’ birthday, and after dining one more juane with his parents, we met his friends in a karaoke bar and then moved to one of the city’s discos, the Pachanga, where we danced until 5 in the morning.

Speeding on the wet roads of Tarapoto on Alex’s motorcycle, I was feeling more alive than ever. The rain was pouring like there was no tomorrow, relieving my Couch, his friend and me from the heat of the day and, of course, getting us completely wet.

One day we visited the village of Lamas, declared the folklore capital of the Amazon back in 2003. In the Waiku district a native community lives and keeps its traditions alive.

Alex explained about the local wedding tradition. The two lovebirds run away together and spend some time in a chacra, a farm. When they go back to their families, the boy goes ask permission to marry the girl to her father.

The boy’s father whips his son for running away, then the girl’s mother whips her. Eventually, the families agree on the wedding, and everyone’s happy.

Another peculiarity of Lamas are its houses. Like many others in Peru, they’re made of mud, but they have no windows in order to keep the bad spirits out.

Before embarking on this trip I promised I would try everything. So, when I walked in a handcrafts shop and saw a kid eating weird stuff from a cup and was offered to try, I gave it a go. He was eating the awiwa worm.

Showing the awiwa warm before eating it

I still would choose churros as a snack over it, but it was not that bad!

In Lamas, we visited Alex’ Venezuelan friend, Enrique. He showed us the simple process of producing of coconut oil by chopping up, drying and squeezing the coconut. Coconut oil is full of good properties, and can be used for both cooking and cosmetics.

Enrique's coconut oil production

My trip in Tarapoto ended with a birthday celebration by the pool roasting hearts and drinking rum.



  • Accommodation:
    • Nueva Cajamarca: Hostal La Chota (15 S)
    • Moyobamba: Hostal Santa Rosa (20 S)
  • Transportation:
    • Combi Chachapoyas – Moyobamba: 20 S
    • Taxi to visit the native communities: 60 S
    • Auto Nueva Cajamarca – Moyobamba: 5 S
    • Moto taxi inside Moyobamba: 2 S
    • Combi Moyobamba – Tarapoto: 10 S
  • Food and drinks:
    • Juanes
    • Ponch
    • Tacacho con cecina o con chorizo

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *