DAY 1: A day in Leticia
Bogotá => Leticia
From any city in Colombia, to visit the Colombian Amazon, it is absolutely necessary to pass through Leticia, a small town on the edge of the Amazon, bordering Brazil and facing the Peruvian island Santa Rosa.
There is no road leading to Leticia and the only Colombian city “linked” to Leticia is Bogota, 2 hours by plane, or 27 days by boat. The small cars that drive to Leticia arrived by plane; and the big ones (like trucks) by boat.
However, Leticia is linked to two other “hubs” of access to the Amazon: Iquitos in Peru (13 hours by boat) and Manaos (a huge city of +2 million inhabitants in Brazil, 3 days by boat).
I don’t know if you have the same impression as me, but the river systems on the map below of the Amazon look like a lung. The Amazon is the lung of our planet.
The Amazon occupies 1/3 of the Colombian territory but the Colombian cities are all crowded on the northern side of the country, while the South is left to the FARC and the indigenous peoples. Since the signing of a peace treaty with the FARC, the preservation of the Colombian Amazon is threatened because the FARC leaves many territories abandoned, and very poor people cut down trees to plant coca (for cocaine).
From the plane (once again, I have the immense chance to be placed next to a window), you can see the vastness of the Amazon: for more than 1h30, we see only that: trees as far as the eye can see! One perceives just the river, and very rarely, indigenous villages at the edge of the water.
Note: the dark areas are shadows of the clouds.
I’ve already seen from the plane the wide open spaces not so busy like this: the Sahara desert and Greenland, but here I am suddenly overwhelmed by emotions and my tears start to rise. This is what our Planet should look like, if we were not all busy destroying and exploiting it constantly.
The closer you get to Leticia, the more you see “holes” in the forest, and less dense areas.
While we freeze them in Bogota, as soon as we get off the plane in Leticia, we have the impression to be in a giant hammam: hot and humid. While it isn’t so hot as that (about thirty degrees), the skin becomes all sticky.
We have been warned by the agency, we have to pay the city’s conservation taxes as soon as we arrive: 35 000COP/person, in cash only. Otherwise, we don’t leave the airport. This tax is used to finance the infrastructures of the city.
Sergio, the boss of the agency, is already waiting for us and calls us a cab to take us to the agency. The ride costs 8000 COP to the city center (fixed fare, no meter), but if you take a tuk-tuk, it will be half price. The agency has covered these costs for us, but I’m telling you this in case you are traveling independently.
We pay the tour fee at the agency and receive a waxed, super heavy raincoat and rain boots. These extra kilos will be very useful for our expeditions because we are constantly walking in the mud. The rain in Amazonia isn’t rain like the one we know, it’s the deluge!
We drop off our belongings at our hotel. The owner is so relaxed that he doesn’t even check if we have actually booked. The room is very simple but equipped with air conditioning. The water of the shower is cold, but nobody takes a hot shower here, it is hot outside all the year.
The owner of the hotel recommends us the restaurant Tierras Amazonicas, and we stop a tuk-tuk to get there (4000COP the race). The decoration is quite kitsch, there are several “instagram” corners, but this restaurant is very well known for its many fish dishes, typically Amazonian. It’s de.li.ci.eux.
If you want to have lunch for less, go to the central market, near the port, there are plenty of boui boui (but beware of pickpockets, we saw a robbery when we passed there in touk touk).
The city center is super quiet, not very commercial and quite ugly and rather polluted actually, because of the many motorcycles / scooters. We don’t have at all the impression to be in Amazonia (it is said that Iquitos in Peru is worse).
We take refuge in the shade of the trees of Parque Santander, but a bird dropping can quickly happen (come with a hat), because this park is invaded by hundreds of birds all the time. At nightfall, we can see thousands of them here.
We continue on foot to the Museo Etnográfico del Banco de la República, with walls as pink as the pink dolphins of the Amazon (the emblem of the city of Leticia). There is a small room exhibiting feathered hats, the ceremonial clothing of the indigenous peoples. And there are photos and explanations in the garden, translated into English. I confess that I haven’t read anything. The locals come here mostly for the free Wifi.
The heat becomes unbearable, we walk to our hotel. While we complain that we don’t feel enough in the Amazon, we have to cross this ground which, I hope, isn’t full of snakes.
In the evening, barbecue stands come out of nowhere and our street turns into the HQ of street-food. The skewers are huge, so before ordering 3 skewers, it’s better to think about it. The skewers are all served with rice and a small salad. The drinks aren’t very varied: fresh pineapple juice, and that’s all. Dinner costs us 8000 COP per person.
At 3am, I am woken up by a nightmare and realize at the same time that the electricity has been cut off. The next day, everyone talks to me about the power cut and they all mention precisely “the electricity was cut at 3am”. I am not the only one who woke up at 3am.
I’m very intrigued by this story because we were not using the air conditioning or the fan, and a power outage was not supposed to have an impact on me. Maybe we are in the Amazon, and less exposed to waves and magnetic fields of all kinds (unlike the city), that the sudden disappearance of the city’s most important magnetic field has more impact on the body?
In any case, the locals explain to me that electricity is generated in Leticia itself and that in the event of a blackout, the whole city is deprived of power, which was the case in the morning.
DAYS 2, 3, 4
The corresponding travel books are available here :
- day 2: The agency brings us to the port. Journey of 2 hours by boat to Puerto Nariño. Morning: drop off of our stuff at the hotel. Visit of the jungle. Lunch at the hotel. Rest 1 hour. Afternoon: admire the pink dolphins. Swimming at the beach in the middle of the Amazon. Rest 1 hour. Early evening: explore the jungle in search of insects. Dinner. Night in Puerto Nariño. Cf. our travel notebook
- day 3: Morning: boat to another village. Visit of the jungle with a healer/chaman from the village. Lunch. Rest 1 hour. Afternoon: Boat trip: visit of Lake Tarapoto, piranha fishing, night observation of caimans (crocodiles). Dinner. Night in Puerto Nariño (or at the inhabitant’s house if the water is high enough – which was not the case for us in October). Cf. our travel diary
- day 4: Morning: boat to the Peruvian village Santo Antonio de Cacao located on an island. Visit of the Peruvian jungle. Lunch in Peru. Rest 1 hour. + Some small isites in the afternoon. Cf. our travel notebook
It is already the end of our little trip in Amazonia. The guides come to pick us up at the hostel at 6:30 am to bring us to the port. It is super pro, they waited until the departure of the boat to make sure that everything went well. The boat leaves on time at 7 am; we still see some dolphins (snif snif) and in two hours, we returned to Leticia.
An employee of the agency is already waiting for us at the port and pays us a tuk-tuk that brings us to the agency. While getting into the tuk-tuk, I notice a man running behind a motorcycle cab… carrying a tourist in the back. At first I thought that he knew the driver and the tourist, but he didn’t call out and wanted to touch the tourist’s pocket. I had confirmation that he was actually a pickpocket, because he was then yelled at by a local. Anyway, even if Leticia is a quiet town, it’s still a border town, so you should never let your guard down.
Arrived at the agency, small surprise: we are offered a home-made breakfast. We return the boots and raincoat to the agency and as our flight is only at 12:30 pm, the boss of the agency pays us a cab that takes us to the Brazilian city next door. It’s not a big deal but it’s this kind of small attention that makes the difference! It is there that we understand why this agency is n°1 on Tripadvisor.
The border between the two countries is marked by a symbolic concrete thing. There is no immigration, no post office, no police. As we are between Colombia, Brazil and Peru, the three currencies circulate at the same time. And with the current rates, the cab driver tells us that he goes shopping in Brazil because it’s cheaper
Indeed, the Brazilian side has more shops and if you’re looking for Havaianas, this is the perfect opportunity because these flip-flops don’t cost much in Brazil (only 4€) and are sold for 20€ in Europe.
We pass in front of the port of Tabatinga, from where the boats leave for Manaos in Brazil and opposite is the Peruvian island Santa Rosa.
Finally, we finish the short tour by the airport of Tabatinga, passing in front of the Brazilian military. In spite of a peace and love atmosphere, there is a strong military presence on both sides: Colombia & Brazil. We didn’t go to Peru but I think it must be the same. As the Colombian regional elections approach, there is even a military boat stationed just in front of the quiet village of Puerto Narino
The Tabatinga logo is the jaguar, the emblem of the Brazilian Amazon, while the emblem of the Colombian Amazon is the pink dolphins
In Parque Zoobotânico, you can see a military plane, an anaconda and a real cute jaguar
On this, we return to Leticia, and take the plane to Bogota.
Prices & advices are already detailed in this article
Practical advice for Leticia
Free movement is the rule here, it’s almost like the Schengen area, but if you want to have stamps :
- colombian stamp: if you enter/exit via land/river: on the floating platform from which boats leave for Puerto Narino (the stamp at Leticia airport is only for people leaving by air)
- peruvian buffer: on Santa Rosa Island and/or on the floating platform from where the boats leave for Puerto Narino
- brazilian stamp: on the main street separating the two countries
- tuk tuk : 4000COP the race
- motorcycle cab : 2000COP the race
- cab: see the rates here, save the photo to zoom in and out