How did a quaint town in the Peruvian Amazon, some 280 miles from Lima, come to play host to the nation’s top annual music festival? Based on its history, Oxapampa knows how to charm. The high jungle town was able to make rolling stones stay put when Austrian and German colonists settled there in the mid-19th century.
Oxapampa makes for an excellent spot to unwind © Erick Andía / Lonely Planet
In the 1950s, Argentine revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, was driven to put pen to paper when, en route to Lima, he strolled through the botanical kingdom and was impressed by the hillsides “covered with valuable woods” decorated with “beautiful climbing plants that should be displayed in an exhibition” (Traveling with Che Guevara: The Making of a Revolutionary). Today the town continues to keep modern day visitors under its spell as offerings in adventure, gastronomy and entertainment make it an attractive getaway. Here we've listed five reasons to check out Peru's sweetheart jungle town.
The El Tigre cascade is a worthy reward after a good hike © Erick Andía / Lonely Planet
El Tigre Waterfall
Coming in at a height of nearly 30 meters, El Tigre is certainly a tall drink of water. The waterfall is just 14 km from the city center, which translates to a short (15-minute) car or mototaxi ride away. Want to earn your dip into the cool cascading water? Intrepid pedestrians can take a 45 minute jaunt across gravel roads and appreciate the gradual change in scenery as the wooden, A-framed houses typical of the area begin to fade into the lush foliage. Upon arrival at El Tigre, a set of fairly new steps and handrails aid visitors in safely descending to the pool of water. There’s also a romantic bridge, suspended over the stream and set directly in front of the waterfall, providing a photo op for the (story)books.
Yanachaga-Chemillén National Park
Flirt with Peru’s national bird, the scarlet gallito de las rocas (Andean cock-of-the-rock), in this protected natural area. Winged creatures not your type? You’ll find a diverse range of flora and fauna to suit you, from orchids to insects to spectacled bears (oh my). Covering some 120,000 hectares (470 square miles) of moist forest land, the Yanachaga-Chemillén National Park is the focal point of the Oxapampa-Asháninka-Yanesha Biosphere Reserve, established to protect native communities that have lived in the area since time immemorial. Camp on site and live that relaxing off-the-grid life (if only for a night), or intensify your day with an 8-10 hour trek through the park, resulting in postcard-worthy views of the valley below and the dark mountains that surround it (S/10 admission for adults, S/3 for children).
Taste Oxapampa's local spirit at El Wharapo © Erick Andía / Lonely Planet
Located in the district of Chontabamba, this artisanal distillery produces guarapo (or huarapo), a sugar cane liquor so natural it’s said it won’t leave you with a hangover. Though drinks of fermented sugar cane are fairly common throughout Latin America, the Peruvian version is made by using a trapiche (manual press)to extract the liquid from the stalks. This family-owned business is one of the few places that still produces guarapo in the country, and visitors can easily watch the process which takes place in a fairly small, open-air facility surrounded by green lawns and tall trees. Small samplers are available for the weary, or you can purchase large bottles to go or drink on site. El Wharapo can be reached from the town center of Oxapampa by a 10-minute bike ride.
The lush gardens of Carolina Egg Guesthaus © Erick Andía / Lonely Planet
Rest your head at one of the handful of cozy and eco-conscious hostels and inns in Oxapampa. Ulcumano Ecolodge is a great example of sustainable comfort done right, as funds from visitors’ stays in any of the six cabins go towards forest conservation efforts. Immerse yourself in the jungle and focus on you and yours (or just you, if traveling solo) as there is no television or internet available.
Just blocks from the town’s main square is Carolina Egg Guesthaus, a family-owned hotel set in a large garden that provides many of the ingredients seen on the menu in the dining hall, including granadilla (passionfruit). Solar panels, lighting controls and other efforts are made to conserve energy, and frequent nighttime gatherings around the fire pit encourage visitors to interact in a way that social media could never match. On these nights the owners have been known to retell the family history, which is deeply rooted in Oxapampa, while wearing traditional clothing of the German settlers – you’ll be convinced you time travelled.
Selvamonos attracts music lovers from all over with its live performances and idyllic setting © Erick Andía / Lonely Planet
For ten years now, this music and culture fest has taken over a green space the size of four hectares (think four soccer fields) to put on one of the most unique live performance events in Peru. From rock to cumbia, national bands give a live soundtrack to picturesque nights lit by a bright moon, a few strands of twinkle lights, and positive energy. Leading up to the two-day music fest is a week full of cultural activities that are free and always family-friendly. From photo exhibits and theater performances by day, to outdoor movie screenings and three stages for live bands by night, this alternative festival is just as eclectic as its host town.
How to get there:
From Lima, Oxapampa can be reached directly by car (eight hours) or bus (9-12 hours). The closest airport to Oxapampa is Jauja (half an hour plane ride from Lima), and from there travelers can take a three hour bus ride. Recommended bus companies include Cruz del Sur, Oltursa and Movil Tours.
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