In hindsight you could say I’d become mildly obsessed, I suppose. I had my eyes set firmly on one of the most undiscovered, inhospitable corners of the earth and I couldn’t help but dream of someday getting to the Amazon. As it turns out, it’s much more straight forward to plan a weekend getaway in the Colombian Amazon than one might think.
It was my thirty second birthday and we’d come to Leticia. Before our plane even landed, I was enamoured. A city that lines the corners where Colombia meets Brazil and Peru, one built on stilts around the magnificent Amazonas and celebrates diversity, multiculturalism, and traditional jungle life.
A lively hub of multiculturalism meets jungle and South American life. A laid back and easy going life on the river where the markets are flush full of pineapple and brightly coloured canoes park up at the riverbanks to trade in riverfish.
Initially the first two nights were spent up in a treehouse, admiring new-growth jungle from our teetering traditional Maloka, then we moved into Leticia for the rest of the week.
“The rain forest was not a garden of easy abundance, but precisely the opposite. Its quiet, shaded halls of leafy opulence were not a sanctuary, but rather the greatest natural battlefield anywhere on the planet, hosting an unremitting and remorseless fight for survival that occupied every single one of its inhabitants, every minute of every day.”― David Grann, The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
When to Visit Leticia
Leticia has two seasons – the high water season (or the flooding season) and the low water season. The High Water season starts on February and lasts through late June. This is when I visited (In May) During this season, the Amazon river and its tributaries rise more than 20 meters, flooding all of the Varzeas areas. This was an incredible opportunity to navigate through the jungle in areas that aren’t normally doused in water, and visit different lakes via canoe.
What to do in and around Leticia
Leticia is tiny, but boy is it mighty – it packs so much vibrancy and energy into a small space, and holds so much culture and diversity within it. Many people who recommend a visit to Leticia only suggest a day (at most) to explore this town, with the rest spent on tours out into the wider Amazon. But I disagree – give at least a full day to this magical town, but probably more. It may just surprise you.
- Get yourself to the otherworldly bird show at Parque Santander, from 5.30pm each night many thousands of parrots come home to roost in the park, it’s more incredible that you can imagine (or than I can explain here)
- Pay a visit to the Museo Etnográfico. A small, free museum which is packed full of fascinating cultural and historical information and artifacts from Leticia and the surrounding Amazon region
- Wander on over to Brazil and visit Tabatinga, a town that’s connected to Leticia by road (and footpath) but is part of Brazil.
- Take a quick boat to the middle of the river and visit the Peruvian island of Santa Rosa de Yavarí to eat some ceviche
- Walk the riverside boardwalk, especially lovely around sunset! And see boats trading goods, and people hanging out by the water enjoying the evening.
- Visit the market for fresh fish, fruits and other produce
- Get out on a boat trip to Lago Tarapoto, where you can spot magestic botos – endangered Amazonian river dolphins.
- Take a trip out to Isla de los Micos (Monkey Island) a natural reserve on an island that’s home to over 5,000 friendly (but wild, not contained) squirrel monkeys
- Visit the magnificent Victoria Amazonica (giant waterlilies) of the Amazon at the Victoria Amazonica natural reserve, a quick 15 minutes boat trip from Leticia
What do you eat in the Amazon rainforest?
- Fish from the river no surprises here – river fish is one of the most abundant food sources around, and you can get yourself a delicious grilled fish at just about any restaurant in town. You can try pirarucu (one of the largest freshwater fish on earth) and even piranha (which are delicious, it turns out)
- Plantains fried up and served with everything plantains are the ubiquitous starch of Central and South America. Leticia is no different, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t indulge. Also make sure to try fish cooked in a parcel of plantain leaves – so delicious!
- Yuca (manioc/cassava) another starchy vegetable that holds high regard in the region is the yuca. There are so many different varieties, and ways to use or eat it. It can be roasted and mashed, used as a thickener, even fermented into a spicy paste. The yuca is also used for ceremonial purposes, and different varieties are grown by various indigenous groups widely throughout the Amazon.
- Limonada de coco is a Colombian staple, and you’ll find it all around the country. But it feels especially refreshing here amidst the sticky heat of the jungle and is perfect after a long day of hiking and canoeing.
Where did I stay in Leticia?
Whether you’re looking for an authentic jungle camp, or something a little more familiar, there are a number of choices for stays in Leticia. Hotel Anaconda is a famous tourists choice for a little more luxury, but I opted to stay first in treehouses, then in a reasonably priced guesthouse/hostel with fan cooled rooms and a pool.
- Reserva Natural Tanimboca: This is a nature reserve built on new-growth jungle. I stayed two nights in their traditional Amazonian treehouses and took advantage of the night jungle tours, included meals, and zip-lining/river canoeing package.
- Hostel Casa de las Palmas was my stay in the Leticia township. They were fun, friendly, even spoke great English (unexpected! but helpful to know) and provided well priced rooms, with a fan and a shared kitchen/bathroom/pool in great walking distance from downtown Leticia. Also organise some excellent tours there that I really enjoyed.
Languages Spoken in Leticia
The primary language of Leticia is Spanish. However, many indigenous people bring their own languages with them which are spoken here, so you can often hear the languages of Tucano, Nukak, Witoto , Inga, and Ticuna people spoken.
Due to the proximity to the Brazilian border, Portuguese is also quite widely used; and due to the tourism sector you will find some people around who speak English. But it’s far less common than other more heavily touristed parts of South America.
How to get to Leticia
There are very few ways to arrive here. By plane from Bogota is the most common, but because Leticia is not connected to anywhere via road it’s not possible to bus, drive, or train. The airport is serviced by two airlines, both fly only to Bogota. The only other way to come is by the way of a river boat from Peru or Brazil. Some of the possible ways by boat:
- Take a Peru water taxi from nearby Santa Rosa de Yavarí, Peru.
- Catch twice per day boat ( ~4 hours upstream, ~2 hours downstream travel time) from Caballococha, Peru.
- There are some boat services running from Iquitos, Peru. They vary in time, the fast boat is around 12 hours and the slow boat 3 days.
- You can come from Manaus, Brazil via slow or fast boat, both options are long journeys! It will take around 5-7days for the slow boat, and 1.5 – 2 days for the fast boat It arrives into Tabatinga, where you can then cross into Leticia (and therefore, into Colombia)
Important notes on Yellow Fever
It’s essential that you have been vaccinated against yellow fever at least 15 days before coming to Leticia, so make sure you do that well in advance and carry your yellow fever certificate with you.
For more information on Leticia, the Amazon, and Colombia:
General: 31 exciting things to do in Leticia, Colombian Amazon | Three Ways to appreciate the Amazon from Leticia, Colombia |The Colombian Amazon on a Backpacker’s Budget | Books to Read:The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon | Eating: Lonely Planet Leticia Restaurants | From the Tribe to the Table in the Colombian Amazon | Leticia Itineraries: Leticia, Colombia: A Three-Day Itinerary in the Amazon | Tours: Tanimboca tours & packages | Amazon Experience Jungle Tours | Other parts of Colombia: Salento: In the Heart of Colombia’s Coffee Region | 21 things to know before you visit Cartagena | A guide to Medellin, Colombia | The Top 5 Museums in Bogotá