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
There are 56 indigenous nations living at in the Peruvian Amazon basin , many of which can be traced back thousands of years. Still, it is largely a mystery as to when and exactly how human civilization fanned out through the waterways of the rainforest.
The Inca were aware of the geographic challenges and the skilled archers that were hidden in the Antisuyo—“land of the east,” as they named the Amazon in Quechua. Garcilaso de la Vega, a mestizo chronicler of the 16th century, reports that Inca Túpac Yupanqui crushed an insurrection of the Manu tribes and ordered the construction of two fortresses that have yet to be discovered.
Apart from Pilcopata, the Inca conquered, in some of the most bloodiest campaigns they waged, other jungle fringe areas including Moyobamba  and the montane cloud forests where the Chachapoya flourished. As a result, the Inca had jungle archers in their army, as the Spanish learned the hard way at the battles of Sacsayhuamán  and Ollantaytambo .
But even before the Inca, trade routes were established from the jungle to the coast to export exotic woods and animals, cacao, natural dyes, and medicinal plants, among other products.
The Spanish conquistadors explored the jungle recklessly and paid a heavy cost in their feverish search for fabled gold cities such as Paititi and El Dorado. One of these adventurous deeds was conducted by Francisco de Orellana. If Vicente Yañez Pinzón was the discoverer of the Amazon River in 1500, Orellana was immortalized as the first European to navigate the whole length of the “sea river,” 41 years later.
A cousin of Francisco Pizarro according to some historians, Orellana accepted in 1541 to head an expedition in search of El Dorado. With a party of only 49 men, and under constant threat from the Omagua tribes, Orellana sailed down the Río Napo until he finally reached the confluence with the Amazon in 1542, not far away from present-day Iquitos .
According to the Spanish friar Gaspar de Carvajal, who traveled with Orellana’s men, they were attacked by “women warriors.” The Spanish Jesuit Cristóbal de Acuña wrote that the area close to the Amazon River, rich in gold, was dominated by Yacamiaba Indians, which in their language meant “women without husbands.” The tribe of fierce women that battled against Orellana’s expedition inspired the explorer to baptize the river as Río de las Amazonas, after the Greek myths of the mighty Amazons. Orellana never found any golden city, but managed to sail the complete length of the Amazon to the Atlantic, one of the great epic journeys of human history.
Orellana’s report of vast uncivilized territory triggered what is perhaps the largest missionary effort ever. Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries hacked their way down into nearly all of the Amazon’s important tributaries from Peruvian cities such as Cajamarca, Chachapoyas, Moyobamba , and Huancayo , which became important bases for these evangelical missions.
The suppression and expulsion of the Jesuits from Latin America in 1767 left not only an intellectual abyss but also large tracts of the Amazon nearly abandoned. At one point, much of what is now the Peruvian Amazon was attached to the Viceroyalty of Santa Fe (present-day Argentina ). But because access to the Amazon was easier from Peru, a royal dictate of 1802 transferred much of the Amazon basin to the Viceroyalty of Peru.
In 1839, the U.S. citizen Charles Goodyear vulcanized rubber by heating natural rubber and sulphur to create an elastic, durable substance that could be fused into objects for real use. Suddenly caucho, as the gooey, white latex from the rubber tree was known, became a valuable commodity. First Brazil  and later Peru became the center of the rubber boom (1879–1912), which caused Iquitos  to explode in size and fortunes overnight. Within a decade, Iquitos became the second-richest city in Latin America after Manaus , another rubber boom town, in Brazil.
During the rubber boom, Iquitos’s wealthiest families built elaborate mansions decorated with tiles imported from Seville and Portugal, and large public buildings were commissioned, such as Gustav Eiffel’s Casa de Fierro  or Iron House. Rubber barons, such as Julio César Arana del Águila and Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald, headed a class of “new rich” that accumulated big fortunes, founded on slavery and extremely cruel treatment of indigenous populations.
Extravagant stories from this time abound, such as families who sent their laundry each week to Paris, or the rubber baron who ordered a crate of expensive beaver skin hats from Europe and tossed all but the perfect-fitting hat into the river.
During the rubber boom, millions of Indians were coerced to collect caucho in the forest. These workers became some of the most abused, wretched workers in Peru’s history, and their sufferings have not been sufficiently researched and studied. Enslaved by debt, malnourished, and diseased, the workers often faced the choice of perishing or attempting an oft-fatal escape through the jungle.
The rubber boom collapsed in 1912 as rapidly as it had begun. The Dutch and English smuggled caucho plants out of Peru and Brazil and successfully cultivated them in Malaysia. Thanks to a railroad network and orderly rows of trees, collecting latex became far easier in Southeast Asia than among the wild vegetation of the Amazon forest.
A decade after the rubber collapse, oil was discovered in the Amazon around the 1920s. Engineers from international petroleum companies, along with Mormon missionaries, were among the first outsiders to explore many remote headwaters of the Amazon. Since then, huge pipeline projects such as the North Peruvian Oil Pipeline, completed in 1996, and the Camisea Pipeline, operational since 2004, have brought foreign revenue to Peru but have also affected huge areas of virgin Amazon. Whenever a large pipe has to be filled with fossil fuel, a network of roads, platforms, testing paths, helicopter pads, and pumping stations springs up in front of it.
The future of Peru’s Amazon  is quite uncertain, trapped between an unstoppable exploitation of resources—a result of the country’s modernization and need for foreign currency—and the urgent need to protect the most biodiverse rainforest on the planet.
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.