Some have traveled days on the river to hear their favourite musicians perform on stage. For others, the journey is that much closer, a walk to the center of Leticia, Colombia’s Amazon port, and meeting place for the night time concerts of the 28th International Popular Music Festival El Pirarucú de Oro.
The Festival is named in honour of the largest fresh water fish to inhabit the world’s greatest watershed, and commemorates the start of the fishing ban. It is held in the Orellana Park facing the majestic waterway that joins Brazil and Peru with Colombia’s southern-most corner. The music resounds to the rhythms of three culturally diverse nations living in harmony, united by a common border and by the challenge of living in one of the world’s most biodiverse regions.
Just a few street blocks from the pounding of drums and cheering spectators, flocks of luminescent green parrotlets chipper away on the branches of the trees of Santander Park, a daily spectacle that begins around 5:00 pm and ends after 9:00 pm, becoming one of Leticia’s most eye-catching and sensorial attractions to both locals and tourists.
A visitor to the Colombian Amazon will spend many hours on water to reach remote villages, which are constructed on wooden stilts to prevent flooding when the water level rises (up to 14 meters) during rainy season. In Leticia, the municipal dock offers two- hour trips up river to the country’s only other municipality, Puerto Nariño, which flanks the Loretoyacu, a tributary of the Amazon River.
Puerto Nariño is a town of neatly paved streets with no cars and no motorbikes. Everything that comes ashore to this community of Tikuna Indians must arrive by boat. Stroll through manicure lawns and check out the local market where fishermen proudly display the day’s catch, and farmers sell an incredible sort of native tropical fruits.
Enjoy lunch at Las Magaritas, one of the town’s most traditional restaurants, and head on a boat to the Tarapoto lagoon, which is home to another remarkable animal of these waters: the long-nosed pink river dolphin.
On your way back to Leticia, visitors are encouraged to meet the intensely curious Squirrel Monkey –“Titi” – which has over-run the Isla de los Micos. As your boat moors by an outcrop of towering trees, a park warden delivers a bag of bananas so that the monkeys get inside the frame of that obligatory “selfie”, but be careful they don’t run off with your cellphone into the thick canopy of trees. Ware clothes you don’t mind ruining as the encounter with these friendly animals can leave you wishing for a refreshing shower.
The three neighbouring nations enjoy an open border for tourists to skirt around the river within a 150 km radius of Leticia, Tabatinga in Brazil and Santa Rosa, a small Peruvian settlement on the southern bank. An hour by boat down river, where the Amazon meets the Yavarí, Colombia is no longer in view, and two larger towns, Benjamin Constant (Brazil) and Islandia (Peru), are gateways to a more placid river, which snakes its way through lush jungle and narrow estuaries where eco-lodges provide outdoor activities, from bird watching to piranha fishing, and encounters with wild animals on jungle walks.
At Aldea Zacambú, an indigenous hamlet constructed of small wooden huts in a marshland of the Peruvian Yavarí, Arturo Torres, an enthusiast and empirical conservationist wel- comes visitors to get acquainted with some of the rescued monkeys. Petting a large anaconda and checking out a small collection of jungle curiosities, including caiman skulls and dried pirarucú skins, are educational activities visitors can experience.
For those new to the jungle, Leticia’s back yard is a great place to start exploring it. Mundo Amazónico, just off Km 7 on Leticia’s only road out of the city, is the first environmental education complex in the departmental capital where some of the most endangered flora is being catalogued and protected, and a necessary first-stop on a visit to the Colombian Amazon.
Get a detailed look at life in the rainforest thanks to experienced guides from several of the 27 indigenous tribes that live in the Colombian Amazon. On 27 protected hectares of land, visitors can enjoy five hiking paths and explore a botanical garden where medicinal plants and their curative powers are explained in detail. The facility also offers lunch prepared by a local cook using ancestral indigenous methods. The complete program and prices for tours is available on the official website: www.mundoamazonico.com.
Exploring the Colombian Amazon is a trip of a lifetime. From fending off screeching monkeys to navigating along giant Victoria Regia water lilies, and watching Tikuna craftsmen carve palo sangre objects in the locality of Macedonia.
The capital of Amazons, Leticia, which comes from the Latin greeting laetitia meaning joy, deserves more than a footnote. It is a happening town of busy streets and plenty of friendly charm. Home to the Banco de la República’s Ethnographic Museum, an exciting indoor market, and a port from where to best enjoy unforgettable sunsets.
Recommended accommodation: Finca Hotel Yakuruna (Km 5, Leticia.) with spacious cabins and pool. Hotel Pachamama Amazonas (Km, 3.5, Leticia). Decameron Dekaloge Tikuna (Cra 11 No.6-11).
All visitors arriving to Leticia by air must pay a $30,000 pesos tourism fee valid for multiple entrees for up to six months. If entering Colombia from Brazil, make sure you have your Yellow Fever vaccine certificate.
This article was made possible thanks to the Ministerio de Comercio, Industria y Turismo (MINCIT) and Fontur.