If you were to visit the small jungle village of San Roque De Cumbaza. Only a 45-minutes drive from the city of Tarapoto. You will be welcomed by such a friendly community and quickly feel part of an extended family. With only 1500 residents. Finding your way around is easy – everyone knows everyone. Local people are accustomed to strangers from out of town and are patient with those who can not speak Spanish. Even though not a word of English is spoken. It is a great place to sit in the plaza (public space) and practice your Spanish with the village children. Who are often playing after school: hide and seek, football, skipping and tag. Local shops and family restaurants are all owned by a patient and kind host.
So what to do in the jungle?
There is so much to see in the district of San Roque De Cumbaza. Home to six indigenous communities: Chiricyacu, Aucaloma, Aviacion, Yurilamas, Alto Shamboyacu and Chunchiwi. You can explore these villages through local tour operator Sacharuna Adventure. Who offer: nature trails, cultural routes and agritourism – visit local coffee and cacao plantations. Sacharuna Adventure also offers courses with local indigenous artisans. Chumbe weaving, a traditional belt made to carry heavy loads and worn around the waist to exhibit cultural identity. Basket weaving and local ceramics, learn how to make a simple bowl with clay collected locally.
The district of San Roque De Cumbaza is situated alongside nature reserve Cordillera Escalera. You can visit ecological viewpoints and swim in crystal-clear river springs, along the way. Hike through primary rainforest. Home to a variety of bird species: aracari (small tucan,) blue-headed parrots, rainbow-coloured tanagers, hawks and many more. Situlli Birdwatching and eco-lodge offer specialist birdwatching routes. Designed so that you can focus your time looking and recording birds with their team of enthusiasts.
One of the most spectacular waterfalls I have ever visited. Is based around a three-hour hike from the village of Chiricyacu. There are distinct routes to get to the waterfall. Which you can walk to with a guide. Tour operators Sacharuna Adventure offer different options – with a translated guide. When you reach the waterfall there is a basic Tambo, where we can camp. You can explore the bottom of the waterfall. There are several smaller waterfalls and river pools. Close to the main hundred and thirty-meter drop. You can refresh after the long walk – recharging your energy.
Atun Rumi – Big Rock
One trail leading towards Torotacu Waterfall passes by Atun Rumi – Big Rock. Which appears like a freak of nature out of the jungle landscape – like a surreal dream. It could be mistaken for the main road. Water that runs along the rock-road journeys on towards the waterfall. You have to be really careful while walking along the rock. As in the rainy season, a walk along it could turn out to be fatal. I know a group who left without a guide and was nearly washed away. Pushed by a gush of water which came out of nowhere. The rock surface is smooth and impossible to grip onto. The unfortunate adventurer was heading towards the – one hundred and thirty-meter waterfall. Luckily no-one was hurt. The rivers can rise at an alarming rate in the rainy season. You don’t even expect it. As the rain begins to fall high on the mountain. The river can just flood in a second. I know of people who died in that way. It is so important to find the right guide during jungle excursions. The jungle is no laughing matter. She can be a really tough host.
The village of San Roque is blessed with a beautiful river – golden sandy beaches and deep river pools for swimming. There are many places to go where you can hide and feel alone in nature. The weekends are a bad time if you would like peace and quiet. As the river becomes full of Tarapoto city tourists. My advice is to go during a weekday.
Where to stay
There are actually many places to stay in the village of San Roque. The more low budget hostels are a little run down. Some local people are happy to house tourists. If you would like to stay in the homes of local people for a very low price – just ask around.
Albergue Municipal – Bungalows
The local Municipalidad (government) bungalows. Situated in a great spot right by the river. There is a kitchen you can ask to share. The river can get a little noisy at the weekend. Monday to Friday is the best time to stay.
A small hostel situated at the entrance to the village, close to the school. You can share the kitchen and make a deal with the owner to stay for a longer period. Campowasi is quiet and close to the river. The rooms are clean with an en-suite bathroom. Sach'a Caffe is just next door if you would like to order breakfast.
Sachaqa Centro De Arte
Have a small house for couples and also a larger house for families. At Sachaqa you can feel part of an artist community. Based in a small forest, you are surrounded by nature. Situated a five-minute walk uphill from the first plaza. A place to go if you would like to immerse yourself in nature and have time to yourself.
Chirapa Manta Ecolodge
You will not be disappointed staying at Chirapa Manta. Sitting in a hammock on their lodge balcony. Looking out to the sounds of the river. They offer detox-juice cleanses and yoga classes. A place for relaxation and transformation. Their team of staff really take care of their guests. You will soon feel at home. Their yoga temple is out of this world.
Where to eat in the village.
Most visitors are amused by the local restaurants. As in fact, you are really having dinner in someones home. You feel looked after as you would in your own home. With your own mother serving you a meal. At the restaurant-home of William and Yolanda. Situated on the corner of the top plaza. You will be served vegetables, chicken, and rice. The only place in town which really serve a good vegetable dish. Most places you ask for a vegetarian option. The mother cooks can be creative and cater to different needs. Ailith Vasquez serves an amazing vegetarian ceviche. With coconut and lettuce mixed together with the regular ceviche tasting recipe. Which is traditionally made with raw fish. There is often a local dish called juane being sold outside the houses around the village. Juane is one of the main dishes of the Peruvian jungle. Which is rice cooked in a Bijao leaf. You can ask for a vegetarian option, with egg and olive or if you are not veggie just the regular chicken. For a more touristic place to eat try Sach’a Caffe. A small cafe which you will see on the right of the road as you come into the main village, close to the local school. Here you can buy pizza, fruit juice and the best local coffee in town. They often run cultural events and activities. A gathering place for visitors from different lodges. Here you will also find internet and tourist information. Open Thursday to Sunday: 9am – 6pm.