The region of San Martín, located in Northeastern Peru, is a high jungle region, where organic cacao has found a natural place to develop, turning into an alternative for the region’s inhabitants and improving their quality of life. It is helping them overcome poverty and times when terrorism and drug trafficking dominated their lives. This area has become Peru’s most important cacao producing region, with cacao encouraging the population to write a completely different story.
How to get there:
All points on the Cacao Route are relatively closet to the city of Tarapoto, which will be your center of operations during the trip. While Chazuta and Lamas are accessible by land, Pucallpillo requires a boat ride long the Huallaga River. You can contact various car services to get to some of these areas, but we recommend you work with the tourism operators listed below.
The Huayabamba River is the entrance to Pucallpillo, one of the characteristic and best-organized communities living on cacao growing. In Pucallpillo, cacao growing dominates peoples’ lives. In this community of about 1200 inhabitants, cacao influences people’s lifestyle and their relationship with nature: It is unlikely that there is any other community in the Amazon rainforest which is living in greater harmony with their natural environment without ignoring the need to adapt to modern times. More than 60 hectares of the community’s lands have been destined to native Creole cacao crops.
At the same time and with the help of foreign cooperation, Pucallpillo has managed to lead the environmental development in the Huallaga region based on the education of their inhabitants who have formed one of the most important cacao growers’ associations in the country: the Cooperativa Agraria Cacaotera Acopagro, whose headquarters are in the town of Juanjuí. The cooperative created the so-called chocoproductos: cereals or banana with cacao (rice, wheat and corn), and even chocolate soap. All products are available in Juanjuí.
Besides cacao-related sights, adventurers can visit the El Breo waterfalls, the torrential Huallaga river and the Río Abiseo national park. Those who feel like it can camp in the jungle. A village situated in this area is Sanambo, on the Alto Huayabamba river, in the province of Mariscal Cáceres, also part of the “cacao Route”. You can get there after a two-hour riverboat trip on the Huallaga river. This area is not only known for cacao, but also for its mystical activities and the famous ayahuasca.
From Juanjuí, you will reach the Alto el Sol community, famous for a type of organic cacao with a persistent aroma and a fruity, unusual flavor which is known here as “the good one”. All cacao here is sold via fair trade. You can visit the community plant nursery and demonstration fields and can participate in the production process from pruning to harvesting. Then the inhabitants will show you how to cut the cacao fruit with a machete to taste the cacao pulp. You will also visit the clonal garden, fermentation modules, the drying patios and the storage area. You can taste drinks based on jungle tree bark and cacao cream.
"Ven ciudadano peruano, ven amigo a consumir el chocolate Mishky Cacao, elaborado en Chazuta, San Martín… ¡Ay qué rico!” (“Come Peruvian citizen, come try the Mishky Cacao chocolate made in Chazuta, San Martín… Oh so yummy!”)
This is the song the women from Chazuta will sing to both welcome you and to bid you goodbye. This district, located 45 minutes from Tarapoto, includes 14 communities which share one characteristic: here, cocoa is a women’s issue. The women of the region founded the Mishki Cacao association, which has managed to promote its cocoa production at a regional level through the manufacturing of bonbons, couverture, jams, jellies and chocolate bars.
These women, led by Aylin Quinteros, started helping their husbands, all farmers, harvest their Cacao. Then they noticed that they had better administrative skills, so they created the Mishki Cacao company with the backing of the US, which works together with the Peruvian state to eradicate the cocaine industry.
The investment in alternative crops was accompanied by training, which has seen the production shift from artisanal to semi-industrial methods. Since 2012, a small laboratory with basic equipment (grain roaster, peeling machine, concher, cooling table and granite table) has been used for the processing of the beans. Here, they also process majambo, a wild relative of cacao. The fruit is dried and used to make a delicious paste that will surely become a sought-after gourmet product once it is more widely sampled.
Mishki Cacao’s medium-term objective is to become the main supplier of couverture for the city of Tarapoto and later to export its products. To reach this aim, these tough women take care of every detail of the presentation and marketing of their product, including the distinctive packaging and labeling. What’s more, they have composed songs and choreographies that thank the earth for the cacao it gives them – and promise happiness to those who consume it. Certainly, the cacao experience in Chazuta is something to be enjoyed with all the senses.
Less than an hour from Tarapoto you will encounter a village which excels thanks to its community's efforts. Although this village has been urbanized, the native Lamista communities living here have preserved their customs, clothing, language (Lamista Quechua) and have improved their agricultural tradition, turning Lamas into the town with the biggest cooperative on the Huallaga river: Oro Verde (green gold).
This cooperative started out as a coffee initiative, the local community soon realised the region's cacao boom and included it among their crops, using their knowledge of production and export they gained from the coffee business.
Cacao from Lamas is characterized by its variety of flavors and aromas. The Lamista lands produce the country’s highest-quality Creole cacao. Visits to the cocoa fields have been included in the list of tourist sights of the village, making it one of the most interesting cacao tours of the region. Only in Lamas, there are four thousand cacao producers, turning this product into the main crop of the region.
If you want to meet a big fan and connoisseur of cacao, dedicated to supporting the “Cacao Route”, you should visit engineer Hidérico Bocangel’s plot of land: the Ecoperlacha Farm. With unmatched patience, Hidérico is growing more than 15 different varieties of Creole cocoa on only three hectares.
He laughs when we ask him if he’s a collector, and he takes us on a tour from plant to plant, each of them labeled. He knows all of them since planting the seedling. He knows about their virtues, deficiencies and the flavors they produce. In Ecoperlacha, you will have a unique opportunity of trying diverse types of cacao beans in their original form, of learning about each part of the fruit and of sensing even the most subtle flavor nuance after one or two… but watch out because they can be addictive!
Lamas: Girasoles. Eco-Lodge. Jirón Chancas, 502 - Lamas - San Martin. Tel.(042)54-3439 firstname.lastname@example.org
Chazuta: Puma Rinri, Amazon Lodge. Carretera Shapaja-Chasuta Km. 16 Tarapoto - San Martín. Tel: (042) 526694 www.pumarinri.com
Juanjui (Pucallpilo): Hostal Capricornio. Jr. Eduardo Peña Meza 1185, Juanjuí – San Martín . Tel: (042) 545056 www.facebook.com/Hostal-Capricornio-Juanju
Visit to a Hacienda: Both Puma Rinri Hotel and Los Girasoles, can organize guided visits. Alternatively, you can use tourism operator - “La Patarashca”. Jr. San Pablo de La Cruz 362 - Tarapoto - San Martin. Tel: (042) 527554 www.lapatarashca.com