Villages where cars and motorcycles do not exist. A local cuisine that includes living and fried worms. The interesting history of indigenous people in the rainforest. Crossing for hours in a boat down the huge Amazon River. Dolphin spotting. And spending days in a place where Internet is a luxury. Welcome to the Amazon of Colombia! You will start your journey in busy Leticia before taking a boat to the main village in the Colombian rainforest: Puerto Nariño. Not only do Leticia and Puerto Nariño differ like night and day, but here you imagine yourself in a world completely different from the rest of Colombia. What to do and see at the starting point of your journey through the Amazon? And how do you get to Puerto Nariño from Leticia?
Leticia: the capital of Colombia’s Amazonas
Okay honestly: we weren’t planning to spend a night in Leticia at all. However, the Amazon is such a remote area that even flights from Bogotá are scarce. To catch the boat to Puerto Nariño (into the Amazon) you have to be in Leticia on time. Although well planned, the flight was delayed about 2.5 hours and that messed up our schedule.
Bad? Not at all! We just booked a hotel last minute and have all afternoon and evening to explore Leticia. And that gave for some extraordinary experiences….
Multi-border point: on the border of Colombia, Brazil and Peru in the Amazon rainforest
Leticia is the capital of the department of Amazonas in southern Colombia. There are about 43000 inhabitants, 60% of whom belong to one of the indigenous tribes of the region. Leticia is a port city from where you explore the Amazon River. An important city, because it is from here that food is brought to the remote villages of the Amazon. Also, this is the only place from where you can explore the Amazon, so to get anywhere in the rainforest you have to go through Leticia first.
Leticia lies at the tri-border point where Colombia, Brazil and Peru come together. You can easily take a day trip to Peru (Santa Rosa) or Brazil (Tabatinga) or (if it is not closed due to any pandemic) leave the country via Leticia to continue your tour through South America.
Roads full of holes
The first thing we noticed about Leticia were the roads that resemble the holes on planet Mars. Or better say craters in the roads. It is sad to see this place, which is important not only for locals but also for tourism, being so neglected. The Colombian government could easily recover the craters in the road and give this city a better image, but they don’t. The town’s main street seems to be the only good road.
What to see and do in Leticia?
Well, quite a bit as it turns out.
Thousands of parakeets
We are tipped to be at Santander Park at 5 in the afternoon. There come thousands of lorosdescending on the trees. Or at least, loros (parrots)…. that’s what the locals call them, but actually they are parakeets. No less special, by the way, because they are quite impressive those parakeets.
The most special thing is to see this on video, which you can find in my Instagram account in the pinned stories “Amazon”. I will also soon be posting on my Facebook page share one of these videos. The parakeets all produce a deafening noise , and when we return to the hotel I even have a little ringing in my ears, like after a concert. Don’t miss these birds!
Tip: the thousands of parakeets together shit quite a lot. So it stinks pretty bad there, but more importantly, protect yourself from the poop. Put on a hat, for example, or hide under a shelter. When it is open, you can also view it from the church tower. You will have a beautiful view of Leticia and the sunset. And no problems with bird droppings. Unfortunately, the tower was closed when we were there.
Ethnographic museum in Banco de la República
Or the Museo Etnográfico del Banco de la República. A very interesting museum where you will learn all about the Amazon, the indigenous people, the culture and the history of it all. I would recommend visiting the museum before boarding the boat to Puerto Nariño, but if you can’t, you may have time on the way back before your flight to Bogotá.
You can recognize the museum by its bright pink front. If you go asking around Leticia where it is, ask for Banco de la República and not the name of the museum, no one knows that. By the way, it is very easy to find: when you get off the boat in the port of Leticia, walk up the main street. It’s the first road to the left. Then walk about 5 more minutes on that road and you will find the museum on your left(Carrera 11 No. 9-43).
You can visit the Ethnographic Museum for free. If you go inside, in the library you have several boards with information and a separate room with costumes and other items of the indigenous people. Don’t forget to also check out the outside part of the museum, where you will find much more information. In the park next to the bench, on colored signs. Can’t miss it.
In any case, really recommend the ethnographic museum!
The same park where you watch the parakeets, but during the day. Because of the parakeet frenzy, I hadn’t seen anything of this park at all, but on the way back to Bogotá we had time for a visit and it turned out to be for a good reason. A beautiful park with a lot of greenery, statues and even murals.
Local cuisine: venture into eating living worms
Do you love discovering the local cuisine? Then I guess I wish you good luck in the Amazon 😉 Here they have quite different dishes than in the rest of Colombia. Let’s put it this way: I am happy to be a vegetarian.
One of these typical dishes is Mojojoy. Typical of the Amazon. These are larvae of various beetle species that live in trees. Worms, in other words. And pretty big ones too, not mealworms. They are eaten both live and roasted. There are many who eat this.
I myself stuck to taking photos and videos. You can find the video of the larvae still alive in my pinned Amazon stories on my Instagram account.
You can eat Mojojoy at several restaurants. We went to the famous restaurant Tierras Amazónicas. Where they have delicious vegetarian dishes in addition to live worms.
Want to try more unusual local dishes in Colombia? Visit Pasto and surroundings for guinea pig or eat roasted fatback ants in Barichara. And have you had the famous hot chocolate with cheese already tasted?
Hotels & hostels in Leticia
There are plenty. From very cheap to very expensive. With or without a pool. Something for everyone. We kept it cheap and found a nice hotel for a low price: Casa Hotel Maüne. Private room and bathroom, wifi (only in the main hall and only usable for WhatsApp) and air conditioning. A cold shower, but that doesn’t matter in this heat.
The staff was incredibly friendly and helpful. On the wall is a large map of Leticia drawn with useful points, such as restaurants, banks and the museum. That way you know exactly how to walk to get to your destination. Casa Hotel Maüne is a very basic hotel, nothing special, but good, in the center and cheap.
Here you will find all hotels and hostels in Leticia:
How to get to Leticia Colombia?
There is only one way to get to Leticia: from Colombia’s capital Bogotá with a direct flight to Leticia. You can book this flight with Latam and Avianca, among others. We flew with Latam. There are not many options, including flight times. As mentioned earlier, if you want to fly from Bogotá to Leticia and take the boat to Puerto Nariño on the same day, you must arrive no later than 12:30PM. This is inconvenient, but if the flight is not delayed doable.
From Leticia into the Amazon
Of course, you are already in the heart of the Amazon when you set foot on earth in Leticia, although you don’t notice much of that with all the traffic. Now you can choose to stay in Leticia and take a day trip into the Amazon every day. To the special monkey sanctuary for example, which can also be done on a day trip. This does require spending hours in the boat back and forth each time. Besides, you miss out on the real Amazon experience if you stay in Leticia. After all, spending the night in the rainforest is quite an adventure. I mean, this night hike through the jungle you don’t want to miss.
So my advice is: stay no longer than 1 night in Leticia and actually discover the Amazon in the Amazon.
By boat across the Amazon River from Leticia to Puerto Nariño and back again
To get anywhere in the Amazon, the only option is by boat. Don’t think of a luxury cruise ship, but keep in mind more of a small boat with at least a roof over your head.
The boat to Puerto Nariño takes about 2 hours and costs 32,000 pesos per person. Along the way, you won’t encounter much boating traffic, but you will fully enjoy this huge river and the huge size of the rainforest.
The last boat leaves at 1:30PM. So you must arrive by plane no later than 12:30PM (preferably earlier). Can’t you manage that? Then stay a night in Leticia and take the first boat towards Puerto Nariño at 7 a.m. the next morning. It is wise to make a reservation, as there is limited space in the small boat. For us, this was arranged by our residence.
On the way back, you can take the first boat to Leticia at 7 a.m. from Puerto Nariño. You will then arrive at 9AM, so make sure you don’t have a flight back to Bogotá until 11AM at the earliest. Is your flight not going until the afternoon? No problem, you’ll have time to see something more of Leticia. The Ethnographic Museum, for example.
You will find the express boat towards Puerto Nariño in the port of Leticia, at the end of calle 8. In the rainy season the boats leave right there, but in the dry season you still have to walk about 10 minutes across bridges and through the mud on Fantasy Island to get to the boat. Do you have a lot of suitcases? Then ask someone to lift your bags to the boat for a few thousand pesos.
Traveling to Leticia Amazonas requires some extra preparation
Normally you can find what you need anywhere in Colombia. Groceries, Internet and banks to withdraw money, for example. The Amazon, however, is a different story.
Arrange your trip in advance: there is virtually no Internet in the Amazon
Before boarding the plane in Bogotá, it is a good idea to have your stay in the Amazon well arranged. Even in capital city Leticia, Internet is scarce. Indeed, both of us of course have Colombian phone cards (Tigo) and both didn’t work in Leticia. Just no coverage. In our hotel, there was wifi. It kind of worked. In other words, we could send an app home that we had arrived.
If you leave Leticia, you can forget about the Internet altogether.
So it is a good idea to at least plan your trip and preferably arrange your stay in the Amazon. Because once you land in Leticia, there is virtually no online communication.
We ourselves arranged everything at Casa Gregorio.
Bring plenty of cash from Bogotá
There are a few banks in Leticia where you can take money out of the wall (if there is money in stock), after that, it’s game over. This means that if your flight is not delayed and you take the 1:30PM boat directly, you won ‘t have time to withdraw money in Leticia. After Leticia, there are no more banks, so you have to pay everything in cash. Also your hotel. So make sure you have enough cash.
We paid for our entire stay, i.e. hotel and excursions, all at once at Casa Gregorio. That’s about 2,300,000 pesos. More than 2 million pesos, in other words. A lot of money and not nice to travel with. Keep it in a safe place and have some extra change to pay with, without people around you seeing what you have actually with you. Here are more tips on how to withdraw and keep money safe in Colombia.
Travel to Leticia with all your needed supplies and medicine
If you have some time in Leticia you can still find some things to buy, but if you go straight on deep into the rainforest you will find almost nothing. So it’s best to think carefully in advance about what you need, so you won’t forget anything. Because the question is whether you have time to buy it in Leticia and if so whether it’s available at all.
In Puerto Nariño or even deeper inside the Amazon, like where we stayed, there is very little to buy. Indeed, in the village of San Martin there is nothing at all to buy.
Bring things like your daily medicine, anti-mosquito cream, sunscreen, all necessary clothing, flip-flops, shampoo, soap, toothpaste and your toothbrush. Again: in Leticia, basic products can be found, but after that it gets tricky.
You find more information in the mini guide Amazon Colombia.
Puerto Nariño: an indigenous village in the middle of the Amazon of Colombia
After a 2 hour boat ride on the Amazon River and 87 kilometers away, you will arrive at the indigenous village of Puerto Nariño.
Puerto Nariño can only be reached by boat and there are no cars or motorcycles. The only cars with engines are the garbage trucks. The village is recently build. In fact, Puerto Nariño was not founded until 1961. Today, the Amazon village has only about 9,000 inhabitants. Walking around Puerto Nariño is therefore a very relaxing experience. Especially compared to crowded Leticia. There is no motorized traffic, quiet and little air pollution. Delicious. In addition, this is truly a beautiful place to be.
What to see and do in and around Puerto Nariño?
At the port of Puerto Nariño, we met with our guide Johan. As mentioned, there is no Internet and no phone signal everywhere, so you have to coordinate everything beforehand.
Johan takes us on a walk through this beautiful village. Totally different from crowded Leticia which is full of holes. This village is a lot better maintained. And you really feel in the middle of the Amazon here. A great experience!
Painted Tikuna houses
In particular, Puerto Nariño is home to the Tikuna indigenous people, one of the largest indigenous tribes of the Amazon region. The Tikuna live in wooden houses, often on stilts, with beautiful murals. Like the indigenous village of Mocagua a must-see for the street-art lovers among us.
View of Puerto Nariño and the Amazon River
But the best part is the beautiful view from the observation tower. It takes some climbing in the heat, but it’s worth it. You can clearly see how small the village is and especially how beautiful the surroundings are. Suddenly you imagine yourself in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.
Museum Fundación Natütama
Also on the schedule was the Natütama museum, but unfortunately no one was there when we arrived so we could not enter. The museum tells you all about the underwater world of the Amazon River and seems to be very interesting. Hope you have better luck!
Scattered throughout the village you will find extraordinary sculptures that all tell a story. Here a few highlighted. During the walk, ask your guide what the meaning of the images is.
Hiking during the dry season
We are here in the dry season, where there is a lot more ground to walk on. But the many bridges and tall houses tell you that this village looks completely different in the rainy season. But in whatever season you visit the Amazon: this village will always be beautiful.
A half-hour boat ride from Puerto Nariño you will find Lake Tarapoto. A place known for its many birds and dolphins. Because it is dry season when we are there we do not see any dolphins, but still it is a wonderfully beautiful place.
Johan moors the boat at a spot from where we walk to the extraordinary curious walking tree. A huge tree in both width and height. If you like playing hide and seek, this tree is all you need.
As early as the port of Puerto Nariño, you can already spot them: gray and pink dolphins. We saw only the gray dolphins, but how special in that mighty rainforest.
Hotels & hostels in Puerto Nariño
There are obviously fewer hotels and hostels in Puerto Nariño than in Leticia. To avoid running out of places to sleep, it is convenient to book in advance. As mentioned earlier, there is no Internet available so locally you will have to do your own research to find something.
Here you will find hotels & hostels in Puerto Nariño:
What else is there to do in the Colombian Amazon?
- Visit the Maikuchiga monkey sanctuary
- Discover the animals in the Amazon rainforest during a day and night hike
Where to stay in the Colombian Amazon?
Rather than stay in Puerto Nariño, we board the boat to sail another 45 minutes to our lodging. Far away from everything in the indigenous mini-village of San Martin de Amacayacu in Casa Gregorio. There are no stores here, only electricity a few hours a day, and the river is the place to both wash yourself and your clothes and do the dishes. But more on that later.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
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