Accounting for around a third of Colombia in size and largely inaccessible to visitors, the Amazon basin feels unlike any other part of the country, with its pristine rainforest, fantastic wildlife and indigenous groups living deep in the jungle, their cultures still preserved intact. The capital of the Amazonas province, the bustling jungle town of Leticia, is only accessible by air and river, and thus retains a somewhat isolated feel. Travellers come to Leticia for a taste of jungle adventure and also to cross over into Brazil or Peru, as this is where the three countries meet.
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Amazonas’ biggest attractions are found outside Leticia. These include the abundant wildlife of Parque Nacional Natural Amacayacu, jungle hikes and stays in Puerto Nariño, upstream of Leticia – a great base for dolphin-spotting trips.
There are numerous tour agencies in Leticia that can organize jungle and river trips of virtually any length, taking in flora, fauna and the area’s indigenous communities. However, that also means that there are a number of unscrupulous operators, so make sure you’ve agreed on exactly what’s included and avoid pushy “guides” who approach you in the street. Since the Amazon is such a vast area, odds are, you won’t see any big mammals, but you’re very likely to see monkeys and numerous bird species, and a three-day stint in the jungle is great exposure to a unique environment. Recommended operators include Amazon Jungle Trips (8 592 7377, www.amazonjungletrips.com.co), going strong after more than 25 years, and Tanimboca (8 592 7679, www.tanimboca.org), both with English-speaking guides.
Parque Nacional Natural Amacayacu
Around ninety minutes upstream from Leticia, the 3000-square-kilometre Parque Nacional Natural Amacayacu is a spectacular slice of wilderness, home to five hundred bird species, plenty of crocodiles, anacondas and other reptiles and 150 mammal species, including big cats. Here you can go hiking, kayaking and birdwatching, but come prepared for squadrons of mosquitoes.
Eco-friendly PUERTO NARIÑO sits around 75km upstream of Leticia and makes a great base for spotting the Amazon’s pink dolphins; half-day excursions to Lago Tarapoto cost around COP$55,000 for up to three people. You can learn more about the endangered creatures at the riverfront Fundación Omacha (omacha.org), located right near the docks. The village itself, peopled mostly by the indigenous Yagua, Tikuna and Cocoma, is a shining example of recycling, organic waste management and rainwater collection; other Colombian towns could learn a great deal here, and this may well be the only Colombian settlement with zero motorized traffic.
Into Brazil and Peru by boat
Many travellers come to Leticia en route to Brazil or Peru. To get to the former, you need only head to the port of Tabatinga, just across the border, which has virtually fused with the Colombian town; there are no checkpoints between the two and all you have to do is walk south along Av Internacional.
Boats leave for Manaus from Tabatinga’s port on Wednesdays and Saturdays at around 2pm (double-check times in advance and remember that the time in Tabatinga is 1hr ahead of Leticia time), taking three days and four nights and costing around R$180 if you have your own hammock, or around R$1000 for a double cabin. The reverse journey (upstream) takes around six days and is more expensive.
High-speed passenger boats connect Leticia and Iquitos in Peru, leaving from Isla Santa Rosa; since the boats depart early in the morning, it’s easiest to stay in Tabatinga the night before, especially since in dry season boats can only cross over to Isla Santa Rosa from Tabatinga’s Porta de Feira. Boats depart daily around 4am (double-check departure times), with daily Transtur (973 412 2945, www.transtursa.com) services, while Transportes Golfinho (973 412 3186, www.transportegolfinho.com) leave Tabatinga on Tuesdays and Thursdays, coming back on Wednesdays and Sundays. Price includes breakfast and lunch. Don’t forget to get an exit stamp and relevant visa (see Visas in Brazil for additional information) before departing Leticia.
Exploring the unknown
While parts of Peruvian and Brazilian jungle are quite well trodden by now, Colombian jungle remains pristine, and Leticia can be your launching point for multi-day jungle adventures: just you, your indigenous guide, and indigenous communities as yet virtually untouched by the outside world. Travel The Unknown (44 207 183 6371, traveltheunknown.com) can help you arrange your jungle trip, including local guide.