How to take kids to the Amazon … and live to tell the tale

With proper planning, kids can have a great time in Colombia's Amazon region.
With proper planning, kids can have a great time in Colombia's Amazon region.

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]olombia is full of “once-in-a-lifetime” travel. With children in tow, it’s slightly trickier. Like many, my husband and I had dreamed of visiting the Amazon, but it seemed daunting and difficult — something childless people did.

But after an intrepid friend did the trip with a baby and a toddler, we were determined to follow suit.

We got our yellow fever jabs, packed everything we thought a toddler and a four-year-old would need in the rainforest and flew-off to the capital of Amazonas department, Leticia.

Monkeys aren't shy in Colombia's Amazon region.
Monkeys aren’t shy in Colombia’s Amazon region. (Photo by Amy Ridout)

Our excursions from Leticia up the river and into the rainforest were like nothing we’d done before as a family. The magic of the Amazon has stayed with us — and so have the lessons we’ve learned.

If you’re planning a trip of your own with small children, remember to “take every stop.”

The touristy aspect of the all-day boat tour from Leticia to the quaint town of Puerto Nariño makes a great outing for children. Lots of stops along the majestic river present ample opportunities for toilet breaks and a chance for little legs to stretch.

The indigenous towns that line both sides of the river welcome visitors with traditional dances. Our toddler basked in the attention of fellow tourists and was petted by a group of elderly women, who plaited her hair and tied a bracelet around her wrist. She sat quietly and entranced while the locals showcased their hand-carved wood souvenirs.

Although we thought we were on top of it as we headed further up river, we forgot to remind our four-year-old to use the bathroom in Puerto Nariño. Which is why, while everyone else was leaning over the side of the boat, exclaiming at the unforgettable sight of cavorting pink dolphins, I found myself holding a strategically placed bottle after the four-year-old informed me she needed to “go”…“right now.”

The first boat stop on the Peruvian side was a petting zoo village with sloths, an armadillo, caiman, anaconda and a rather aggressive monkey who heckled us for fruit.

The two-year-old kissed a caiman and then cuddled a sloth — who promptly wrapped its wiry arms around her back and fell asleep. The four-year-old was slightly warier, keeping her distance.

Monkey Island, as its name suggests, is a natural sanctuary for a common Amazon primate, known as the Titi. At this leafy knoll in middle of the meandering river, you can wander at leisure, admiring how the monkeys have become expert pick pockets, and as to be expected, my four-year-old asked if we could take one home.

Both kids reached their animal limit at a small park where we were invited to hold a tarantula and put a goliath beetle in our mouths. Probably sensing the primal fear the tarantula engendered in their parents, the children gave the spider a wide berth. As for the goliath beetle, the owner of the park took the wriggling creature out of his own mouth and offered it to us to try.

“It’s already been in his mouth, hasn’t it Mummy?” The four-year-old whispered. “That’s not very nice.”

You’ll get bitten

The first rule of walking in the rainforest is keep walking. “Look at the huge ants!” cried my four-year-old, dropping to a crouch. “Don’t stop!” I called. “Keep going!” But it was too late, biting ants swarmed over her feet and up her legs, biting the exposed skin.

The screams were probably heard in Peru.

Bugs and other creepy crawlies are everywhere, and some of them bite. “Look, don’t touch” was the motto but the kids were naturally wary of any new creatures. We travelled to Leticia in rainy December, and while the climate was bearable the mosquitoes were rife.

Long sleeves and trousers didn’t do much to prevent the beasties. Mosquito nets and the strongest repellent are essential.

Take provisions

Child-sized life jackets weren’t available on the tours leaving Leticia. Fortunately my intrepid friend who’d been the year before loaned us some. The only problem after that was preventing the four-year-old from pitching over the side to see whether her jacket worked.

Lunch is provided on the Puerto Nariño trip, but it was on the late side after such an early start, and the kids were rumbling with hunger by the time we finally stopped. Stock your bag with muesli bars, fruit pouches, raisins and bread. Bring goods from Bogotá if you can, as there are no big supermarkets in the port of Leticia.

Stepping out of your comfort zone

Long days sightseeing left us exhausted, sweaty and smelling like the bottom of a pond. We had quick cold showers or bucket baths at our budget hotel. It wasn’t comfortable but then, we weren’t expecting a luxury trip and we were prepared for that.

Some things, however, are beyond preparation. Being winched 35 metres into the tree canopy at Tanimboca with my four-year-old attached to me was one. But the kids were fearless. Once safely ensconced on the rickety tree platform they ran back and forth, tethered like dogs to the central trunk. “Wheeee!” the toddler shouted, jumping up and down in a way that made my stomach flip.

“Mummy, why are you scared?” The four-year-old asked as we swung-off the platform for the descent and looked down at the tiny figures below. “I’m not.”

With imaginations that can conjure up river monsters and rainforest dragons, the sudden appearance of an armadillo or a dizzying ride into a tree canopy doesn’t faze the average child. In fact, it’s more likely the parents will be the ones knocked out of their comfort zone.

If there’s a next time we’ll be more relaxed about the real versus the perceived risks and just try to enjoy being in the heart of the “lungs of the world”.

Oh yes..and more wet wipes!


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