There are countless waterfalls dotted around Tarapoto. Such a wealth of water-tumbling attractions inevitably leads to a psychological condition that I like to call the “not another bloody waterfall” effect. The main symptom is a distinct lack of motivation when contemplating a waterfall excursion that requires any great planning or physical movement.
With that in mind, I would like to declare that the daytrip to the Cataratas de Huacamaillo now sits near the top of my list of things to do in Tarapoto.
The Walk to the Cataratas de Huacamaillo
So, what’s so good about this particular waterfall? Well, it takes about an hour to walk from the nearby town of San Antonio de Cumbaza to the Cataratas de Huacamaillo, and the short trek is an absolute pleasure.
It’s a relatively easy stroll; you wind up and down, along paths and steps, through cultivated areas that soon turn into much denser jungle. Weird insects hide in the exotic vegetation, and strange sounds drift and chirrup as you move into the damper, darker slopes of the river valley.
Much of the trail runs along the riverbank. You will need to wade across the river twice, and the wading is at least knee deep. Other crossings involve hopping from rock to rock, so wearing decent walking shoes is a good idea.
The Huacamaillo Waterfall
The Huacamaillo waterfall is not as high or powerful as the Ahuashiyacu fall, one of Tarapoto’s most famous attractions. However, the lack of any tourist infrastructure (beyond the trail itself) creates a more natural, “away from it all” ambience.
There’s a good chance that you will be alone at the waterfall, free to swim around in the plunge pool without any screaming children, photo flashes or annoyingly amorous young lovers. You can climb up onto the rocks below the plunging water, look up at the sky as it breaks between the trees, and slowly become accustomed to the chilled water spilling down through the jungle heat. Tranquilidad: a refreshing escape from Tarapoto’s baking bricks and mototaxi buzz.
Finding a Local Guide
Unless you want to get horrifically lost, you will need a local guide (at least for your first visit). The trail splits in various places, and you’ll never know where to cross the river unless someone is on hand to point the way. You can find a guide when you arrive in San Antonio de Cumbaza. It’s a sleepy place, but ask around and someone will help you out.
When we went, our taxi driver took us straight to the home of Señor Crober. Señor Crober was fast asleep by all appearances, but his wife gave him a shout and he soon appeared from the depths of his house. As it turned out, Crober, despite being quite shy and a rapid walker, was an excellent guide.
His house is just off the main square in the upper part of San Antonio (Jr. Bolognesi no.3, in front of the Mimimarque on the corner of the square). Everyone in town seems to know him, so ask around if he’s not at home. He charged us 20 soles in total for his services (for a group of three and a total time of about three hours).
Getting to San Antonio de Cumbaza from Tarapoto
San Antonio de Cumbaza is a small town about 17 km from Tarapoto. The easiest way to get there is via shared taxi. Ask a mototaxi driver to take you to the taxi rank for San Antonio; cars leave as soon as they have four passengers (5 soles per person). Tell the driver that you want to go to the Cataratas de Huacamaillo and he will drop you off in the upper part of San Antonio (where the trail begins). Bear in mind that the last taxi back to Tarapoto often leaves at about 5 pm. You will probably pass by some men with guns on your way to San Antonio. Don’t worry, they’re just ronderos.