The Amazon: the name conjures images of vast swathes of isolated jungle, indigenous communities and their unique cultures, and of course the mighty river itself. This is the classic image of the Amazon basin, but the reality can often be quite different.
Cities like Iquitos, Peru and Manaus, Brazil are quite large and cosmopolitan (Manaus has over 2 million residents!), and as a result it can take quite some effort to get away from all the hustle and bustle of these bigger settlements and experience the “real” Amazon. So, if you want more nature than civilization then you’re better off venturing a bit further off the beaten path. That’s what I personally was looking for, and I found just that in the Colombian region of Amazonas, particularly in the idyllic eco-village of Puerto Nariño.
What makes the Colombian Amazonas so special?
First of all, it’s quite isolated; the region’s capital, Leticia, is reachable only by plane or boat, and the airport is served by only a few flights per day to/from Bogotá. Secondly, while the economy is partly reliant on the money brought in by visitors, it is still refreshingly free of mass tourism. And finally, while I expect that this may change as word gets out, it’s still a surprisingly affordable destination, especially when compared to other parts of the Amazon basin.
The Colombian Amazonas doesn’t have a polished tourism infrastructure like some places may offer, but it more than makes up for that with authenticity, the natural environment and the friendly and welcoming nature of the local people. My family of four, who visited this area in 2018 while on a 2-month trip to South America, agreed unanimously that our time spent there was one of the highlights of our whole trip!
As I mentioned, Leticia is the capital of the region, it lies directly on the Amazon River and is right on the border of both Brazil and Peru (you can walk to Brazil, and if you cross the river you’re in Peru). To be honest we didn’t care much for Leticia. It’s very much a working city focused on cross-border trade and to some degree tourism, but it can be loud and rather smelly due to the exhaust from vehicles and the thousands of motorbikes that locals use to get around.
The reason we stayed there a full day, and this was most definitely worthwhile, was to visit Mundo Amazónico, an ecological park a few minutes’ drive from town. It served as a great introduction to the region and helped us get acquainted with the environment and local indigenous culture.
The staff at Mundo Amazónico also served us an amazing lunch of fish wrapped in banana leaves, cooked over an open fire. Yum!!
Oh, and our stay in Leticia also gave one of us (sorry, but it wasn’t me – maybe next time!) the chance to try the local specialty of mojojoy – I’ll let you guess what they are from the photo!
So my recommendation is to spend a day in Leticia, visiting Mundo Amazónico and checking out the city, and then move upriver to continue your visit.
In Part 2 I’ll share more about the best part of our visit to the Amazon: Puerto Nariño and its surroundings, and our visit to the Mocagua indigenous community and the Funcación Maikuchiga!