When you think of Peru, what comes to mind? Machu Picchu of course, maybe a well-dressed lady in colorful garb leading a pet llama. Maybe the city of Cusco, or the wild (and weird) Nazca lines. What likely does not come to mind is a tropical paradise with strong German culture. And that is okay, because the town of Oxapampa is the perfect place to get off the beaten path and have an adventure.
First, a bit of backstory.
We had been traveling in Peru for quite a while when we realized we had to leave the country, at least for a bit, because of our visa. So we hopped on a bus in Arequipa and headed south towards Chile, where the plan was to spend a week on the beach just hanging out. Now the landscape in southern Peru and northern Chile, can be described with one word: dry. In fact, the area, known as the Atacama Desert, is one of the driest deserts in the world. We realized that first hand as our bus drove for hours (and hours) through nothing but empty, sandy wasteland.
After a week in the awesome beach town of Arica, Chile, we crossed back into Peru, took a bus all the way up to Lima and then picked up another bus that took us to the Oxapampa region (in truth, it took us to the slightly larger town of La Merced and then we had to grab a van to take us to the actual town of Oxapampa).
So why Oxapampa? Well, after spending a week in a place where the only two colors you saw were brown and blue we were looking for a bit of green in our life. Plus, we are both naturally drawn to more forested, lush areas and though we had been in Peru for a while, we hadn’t gotten to experience the “jungle” yet. In the end, the fact that Oxapampa was in the jungle, was surrounded by cool natural features (including a national park, but more on that in a bit) and it wasn’t tooooo hard to get to, made it seem like the perfect place to ventre to after being in the desert.
Once in town, we were quickly shuttled to our Airbnb that sat just on the outskirts of the main community, off a dirt road that also randomly passed a local cheese shop. Our Hosts were absolutely amazing: Lima transplants who wanted to get out of the big city and get back to the easy way of living in a place surrounded by nature.
And Oxapampa has some pretty sweet natural areas surrounding it - as well as a neat culture, history and food. Here is why we think everyone should add Oxapampa to their Peru itinerary.
One of the first things you notice about the Oxapampa region is the heavy European influence, specifically German culture, architecture and food. A really unique experience is to head 50 miles north - on a questionable single lane dirt road through the jungle - to the town of Pozuzo.
Founded in 1859 by German and Austrian immigrants fleeing their homeland due to war and famine, and after promises of land by the Peruvian government if they settled in the region, in the end, of the 302 colonists who had departed Europe together only 172 made it (either due to people deserting in route, or death). 30 years later the population had grown to over 500, with almost all of them being farmers (main crops were and still are, tobacco, coffee, coca and rice).
Today, though only 15% of the total population in the Pozuzo district claim to have Germanic heritage, you can still get a feel for what “old” Pozuzo would have been like in the form of architecture (of the Tyrolean style) and cuisine. When we visited we stopped at Restaurante el Tipico Pozucino, a restaurant that serves traditional German food, including different types of sausages, meatballs, and Pilsner style beer.
Other sites to see are the historic bridge and trail that span the Huancabamba River and lead up to an observation point, the local brewery, Cervezeria Artesanal Dorcher Bier, and a historical museum that goes into detail on the settlement and growth of the area.
You can also get a good sense of the Germanic culture closer to Oxapampa. Including, visiting a local cheese maker, an awesome brewery (seriously, so good and CHEAP!) and checking out the town's main plaza, which has an obvious German influence in the buildings, specifically the church.
While there is a strong German influence today in the area, it is still very much "Peru." This is extremely evident in the weekly markets, the nearby coffee farms (or fincas) and the restaurants that line the town's streets.
For a place to stand out to us it has to have some pretty awesome outdoor attractions. Luckily, Oxapampa has that in droves. A great place to start is heading north into Yanachaga-Chemillen National Park, which borders the town.
The park covers 110,658 hectares, most of which is cloud forest. Within its bounds you can find close to 5,000 different types of plants, which accounts for 25% of the total plant species in Peru! In terms of animals, if you are lucky, you might be able to spot a jaguar, puma, jaguarundi (a small wild cat), spectacled bear, capybara and a brown woolly monkey. Similarly, there are 550 different types of birds living in the park, including the striking Cock-of-the-Rock, toucan and Harpy Eagle. Learn more about the diversity, and cultural significance of the park, here.
A good thing to note is that you need to go to the parks office in town to get your pass before heading into the park itself.
On our visit we sadly didn’t get to see any of the aforementioned animals, but had an amazing time nonetheless. We went for a nice long hike up through the cloud forest and to a viewpoint before being turned around by heavy rain (make sure to bring good rain proof shoes when hiking because it can be really muddy). The landscape was totally different than anything we had experienced before: layers and layers of plant life in hundreds of shades of green.
Besides adventuring in the national park, some other great options are visiting local caves, like Cueva Tunqui or Cueva Sia Sia (cueva is cave in Spanish), or waterfalls like Catarata Rayantambo or Catarata Rio Tigre (catarata is waterfall in Spanish). And if you just want to go exploring and get off-the-beaten-path, why not rent a motorbike and venture out on some of the back (dirt) roads? That is one of our favorite ways to adventure and one that has led us to many exciting places.
The town of Oxapampa is a great place to visit if you are looking for good food, good beer, good adventure and good people. During our week long stay everyone was very welcoming (we even were invited to a local river clean up that was way cool). Plus, there is so much to explore in and around the area, especially if you have a motorbike.
So while Peru might be famous for ruins, weird lines in the desert (jk) and well-dressed llamas, we believe the amazing jungle town of Oxapampa should also be on your must-see list.