The Amazon isn’t just in Brazil. The lesser known town of Leticia, Colombia lies along the Amazon river where the borders of Colombia, Brazil, and Peru meet. Easily accessible by flight from inside Colombia, Leticia makes for a great place to see the natural wonders of the Amazon river and rainforest, and without the pesky visa requirements of Brazil. (And, you can still say you’ve set foot in not only Brazil, but also Peru). Read on for a complete travel guide to Leticia, Colombia, including why you should visit, how to get there, available accommodations, and what to do.
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Why You Should Visit Leticia
There’s something special about the allure of visiting the Amazon. Truly one of mother Earth’s natural wonders, the river and the rainforest call to our wild and adventurous side. A visit is something to be crossed off your travel goals, life goals, bucket, or whatever you want to call it list.
While your first thought of visiting the Amazon probably leads you to Brazil, Leticia is also a wonderful option. Sporting less crowds and a little less tourist development, it may offer a bit more of an authentic experience than the more popular destinations in Brazil. Also, although Leticia itself is not deep in the forest, you can use it as a starting point to tour deeper, where deforestation has taken less of a toll than farther down the river in Brazil.
Even if you don’t choose to rough it and go on a trek deep into the forest, Leticia makes for a great place to visit and offers the luxury of seeing the river and the forest. If you do decide to visit Leticia, read on. In this travel guide to Leticia, you will learn how to get there, available accommodations, and what to do while there.
How to Get to Leticia
Leticia is isolated from the rest of Colombia, sitting at the very edge of the borders with Brazil and Peru. In fact, in the early 1930s, people there feeling neglected actually defected to Peru, setting off a short conflict between the two countries.
While it remains part of Colombia today, there is still no road through the jungle to Leticia. However, the Colombian airlines LAN and Avianca both offer daily flights to Leticia out of Bogotá. While you’ll have to check your dates, flights are usually very reasonably priced.
It is also possible to take boats down the river from Iquitos in Peru to Santa Rosa, just across the river from Leticia, or up the river from Manaus in Brazil to Tabitinga, the town just across the land border from Leticia. You could also do a flight one way and a boat one way if you’re planning a longer trip that takes you through more than one country.
Accommodations in Leticia
Places to Stay in Leticia
In Leticia proper, there are a range of options of places to stay. There are backpacker and traveler hostels. There are standard hotels with all the amenities you would expect elsewhere. There are even boutique hotels, luxury bungalows, and an all-inclusive Decameron resort.
If you’re looking to get a bit more of the adventurous experience, there are hostels, lodges, and cabins outside of town as well. While not really in the jungle, jungle, more like the beginning of the beginning of the jungle, it’s still neat to stay out of civilization a bit. Remember, you are visiting the Amazon. There are even some places that offer tree houses to stay in!
We chose for one of these options outside of town, and stayed in Omshanty Jungle Lodge. Located about 10 minutes outside of Leticia, Omshanty has 5 small cabins nestled into the forest, each sporting a tiny kitchenette, a porch with hammock, bathroom with running water, and several beds.
I loved Omshanty, although Susana wasn’t crazy about sharing our cabin with a couple lizards and frogs who made themselves our houseguests over the 3 nights we were there. It is definitely closer to camping than being in a hotel, but for me the thought of being in a regular hotel in the Amazon would have been a letdown.
There are a few little stores and restaurants on the road around Omshanty where you can grab dinner or a couple beers. To get into town, you can catch a bus that runs routinely to and from Leticia.
The staff at Omshanty were great and very helpful. They set up our river tour and had a few tours of their own they offered. I wanted to do the night fishing, but the guide said the water was a bit too low to catch much. Still a night tour is supposedly the best way to get a view of most of the nocturnal wildlife.
Omshanty also offered several tours deeper into the jungle to visit indigenous communities, and whether through them or someone else, one of these tours would be another option for accommodations. These will take you to indigenous communities in the jungle and provide you with accommodations, and there are options ranging from a few days to a full week. If I were to ever go back, this is what I would want to do!
Places to Eat and Drink in Leticia
In town there are a number of restaurants and cafes, all with pretty standard fare at reasonable prices. Most of them are centered around the main plaza or the streets running in or out of it. There are a few little bars by the main plaza as well where you can grab a drink.
If you do stay outside of town like we did, there are a handful of restaurants along the road as well that you can try.
What to Do in Leticia
The main attraction here, and the can’t miss activity is a cruise on the mighty Amazon River, but there are other activities you can check out as well.
Amazon River Tour
We took the all day river tour, and while it is pretty touristy, it’s absolutely worth it to see the river and the tour makes several interesting stops along the way. We set our tour up with Omshanty, where we stayed, and I imagine just about hotel or hostel should be able to set it up for you. Or you could just head down to the docks and get on the next departing tour.
Below, I’ll give you a run down on what you can expect on the tour.
Stop 1: Puerto Alegría, Peru
Remember that Leticia sits in a little triangle formed by the borders of Colombia, Peru, and Brazil. The border of Brazil sits on the edge of town, and the river marks the border with Peru. After taking you out to the middle of the river, the guide should point out where the borders are and stop right where they meet in the river, putting you in three countries at once.
After heading a bit upriver, the first stop of the tour as at the little village of Puerto Alegría on the Peru side of the river. Here, they will bring out some examples of the wildlife you can see up close and personal. We got to see some parrots, a toucan, a porcupine, a couple monkeys, an anaconda, the largest rodent in the world the capybara, and even a small ocelot. One of the monkeys in particular was especially playful. As the tour guide should tell you, you should wait to put on sunscreen or bug spray until after this stop as the chemicals in them irritate the animals’ skin.
Stop 2: Indigenous Village
The next stop a bit further upriver was a small indigenous village, I don’t recall the name. The inhabitants will tell you a bit about their culture, perform a traditional dance, and you will have the opportunity to buy some artisan crafts.
The first two stops are definitely very stereotypically, whistle-stop, touristy, but it’s worth keeping in mind that these small communities are extremely isolated and largely neglected by the national governments of Colombia and Peru. Therefore, they rely on your small tips for taking pictures with them or the animals and buying their crafts. We got some cool wooden and fish scale magnets, which made terrific gifts for friends and family.
Stop 3: Isla de los Micos (Monkey Island)
Besides just cruising the river itself, Isla de los Micos was the highlight of our Amazon River tour. It is a bit of a curious place. Basically, some monkeys got together and took over this island and now require that all humans that go by on the river pay homage with offerings of bananas.
Ok that’s not what happened. Apparently at some point, someone brought or left some monkeys on this island and they’ve multiplied but been stranded ever since. Now it is a tourist attraction. When you go in, they will give you some bananas. Then watch out! The little monkeys will swarm you trying to get to the bananas.
It really is a riot, and they go hard after those bananas. They don’t seem to differentiate much between humans and trees and will be climbing up your legs, over your shoulders, arms, head and even jumping from one person to the next. Do be careful holding the bananas too tight in your hand, as the monkey might even nibble on your fingers a bit trying to get at them.
Isla de los Micos will undoubtedly give you some laughs and let you get some great pictures with monkeys crawling all over you.
Stop 4: Puerto Nariño
Around midday, you will arrive to the town of Puerto Nariño, a small, but well developed and pretty little town on the Colombian side of the river. You’ll be able to have lunch in the restaurant at the center of town (our lunch was included, but you should double check that with your tour).
After lunch, you will have a bit of time to explore. It’s a bit of a hike up the hill, but at the top of town, there’s a great observation tower you can climb up and get a great view out over the river. There was also a guide there who gave a short talk on the river, the wildlife, and the community.
Stop 5: Pink River Dolphin Watching
After the stop at Puerto Nariño, you will head back downriver towards Leticia. On the way the boat will stop and try to catch some glimpses of the Amazon’s pink river dolphins. We didn’t have the best luck since the water level was down, and only got a few quick glances. Hopefully, you’ll have better luck.
Stop 6: Reserva Victoria Regia
At this final stop on the tour, you will get to see giant water lilies. Originally named the Victoria Regia, for Queen Victoria, the Victoria Amazonica is the largest water lily in the world. At the Reserva Victoria Regia, there are boardwalks where you can see the giant floating leaves and some of the blooming lilies.
After that, you should head back to Leticia, arriving late in the afternoon. If you do not want to do the whole tour, you should be able to arrange transportation to all of these places independently from the riverfront in Leticia. However, unless you’re planning on trekking up river and staying somewhere else, the tour is definitely worth it as a great way to see the river and the main sites near Leticia.
Watch the Birds Feed and Explore the Central Plaza
Around sunset each day, flocks of birds fly into Leticia to feed. There are absolute swarms of them, and the sound of them all is crazy. It’s a really neat sight, although you’ll want to avoid thinking about that Alfred Hitchcock movie or short story you read in the 8th grade!
Be sure to be there on time as well, as after about 45 minutes, they clear out as quickly as they arrive. If you get there early and are willing to pay a few pesos, you may even be able to get a birds eye view (see what I did there) from the church steeple. After you’ve watched the birds, you can explore the main plaza and the monuments there, then grab some dinner.
Just up the road from Omshanty, we went canopying at the Reserva Natural Tanimboca (which also has tree houses available to rent). After the tough rope climb up, you get to walk across a few swinging bridges and take a few zip lines through the tree tops before finally repelling back down to the ground. It was a fun way to spend a couple hours.
Since the area is so isolated, the borders are open. If you head a few blocks from the main plaza in Leticia, you will find the border with Brazil. Just keep walking a bit further and pass the marker and you will be in Tabatinga, Brazil. There’s no checkpoint and its not necessary to have your passport.
Tabatinga, well at least the part along the road just across the border, honestly wasn’t nearly as pretty as Leticia. However, we stopped at the Casa do Chocolate and a little tourist shop and got some chocolate, a bottle of Brazilian cachaça cane liquor and some other trinkets to take home. And although we didn’t get the passport stamp, we can still say we’ve been to Brazil.
If you did the river tour, then you’ve already technically crossed into Peru. However, you can also take a short water taxi (read little boat you can catch down by the docks) across the river to Santa Rosa, Peru. We did just that and had lunch there one day. Susana had a great chaufa, Peruvian fried rice, and I had some tasty fish. Plus, we got to sample some Peruvian beer, and again although no passport stamps, say we’ve been to Peru.
See the City’s Annual International Festival
We actually got lucky and were there during the Festival de la Confraternidad Amazónica. Held every year from the 15th to the 20th, it’s an international festival celebrating the cultures of Colombia, Brazil, and Peru and meant to promote ties between members of the three nearby communities.
In true Colombian fashion, each of the nearby communities nominates a beauty queen to represent their country. Each also gets a night devoted to them with performances of traditional dance and music, and the festival culminates in the crowning of the international beauty queen of the Amazon.
We had no idea the festival was going on, so only got to see the inaugural night and the Brazilian night. If you’re already planning to go to Leticia round midyear, then try to arrange your visit to coincide with the festival. You can check out the website Leticia Hoy to confirm the dates and events. Honestly, you really should always check these types of things when you travel, since we not only missed the rest of the festival but also missed the Olympic torch passing through Tabatinga before the 2016 Rio games several days later.
Practical Tips on a Visit to Leticia
- There are ATMs in Leticia.
- Be sure to bring insect repellent! As you would expect in the Amazon, there are tons of mosquitos.
- Bring comfortable walking shoes, especially if you’re planning to trek into the jungle.
- Bring sunscreen, you’ll want it when you’re on the river.
- If you choose to go on from Leticia to futrher into Brazil or Peru than Tabatinga or Santa Rosa, look into if you will need visas and/or the exit stamp out of Colombia.