Planning The Amazon
I’m a very independent traveller and tend to avoid organised group trips or package tours when I can, as they are usually very expensive and restricted in terms of what you can do. I prefer to go it alone. Finding information on how you can travel the Amazon on a budget was really really difficult. We didn’t have $100 a night for a room in an eco lodge, or $600 for some cruise that sounded awful.
After researching we found a great way of travelling the Amazon on a budget of approx. £50 a day p/p – including tours, food, drink and accommodation!
How we did it!
When I researched online I found a post on Trip Advisor that was really useful: The Rundown on Leticia Amazon – Leticia Message Board. It gives you a complete overview of the area and a summary of the trips you can take independently.
We travelled in February 2015. The water levels were quite high and some places were closed off because of flooding. This is common up until May/June. You are less likely to see as many animals when the water levels are high but we saw lots and the weather was actually great when we arrived. Clear, sunny mornings/afternoons, drizzle/rain in the evenings on some of the days.
An ideal time to travel is apparently from July to December as the water levels are lower, however July and August are in high tourist season so things may be more expensive or certain trips may be over-crowded or over-booked.
Our guide told us that November was the best time to visit as water levels are average and it is drier so you can hike more comfortably.
We chose to base ourselves in Puerto Narino, 2 hours up by boat from Leticia. The village, described by Lonely Planet as ‘living proof that man and nature can peacefully co-exist’ is beautiful. Motorised vehicles are banned and the whole town recycles. I’ve never seen anything like it on the continent. Eco-tourism at its best. The town is full of restaurants, little shops and bars – I couldn’t believe we were in the jungle. One of the most bizarre and beautiful places I’ve ever stayed in! The accommodation was just lovely – by far the best in this village – Maloka Napu.
It was easy to access all the places we wanted to visit from Puerto Narino, and the further away you travel from Leticia, the better for experiencing the Amazon and the wildlife.
We travelled to Leticia and stopped there for one night. We had to as our flight landed after the last boat for Puerto Narino had left. It was a good base for us to get ready for the next 4 days. There were plenty of restaurants, shops, ATMs and pharmacies.
We booked accommodation in advance – not entirely necessary for Leticia as there are many accommodation options, and the hostel owner didn’t even have a record of our booking anyway but if you’re travelling further out it’s a good idea to have something booked. There is little internet access outside of Leticia and it took a few days for the Puerto Narino accommodation to confirm.
Arrive in Leticia
Leticia is located on the Amazon River at the point where Colombia, Brazil and Peru meet.
It’s good enough for a night stop and to stock up on supplies. The town is very busy and quite polluted so I would not recommend staying there for long or making it a main base for exploring the Amazon.
Firstly you need a good and reliable taxi driver. If the driver who takes you from the airport is nice and charges a good price take his number down. We had Alexander Pinto. Super nice guy. On Sunday morning our hostel couldn’t get through to any drivers to take us to the pier so we could catch our boat to Puerto Narino. We gave him Alexander’s number and he picked us up within 10 minutes. His number is: 3104777900. In case that number doesn’t work try 3104777700 (the third from last could be a 7 or a 9) he works for the official Cootrans Amazonas taxi company.
Where we stayed:
Calle 7 nº 1-40 Leticia (Amazonas)-Colombia
E: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
We booked via Hostelworld as the owner didn’t reply to our emails. The location is nice as it’s a little outside of town and there is a small lake with some wildlife. It’s all quite pretty. The accommodation was very basic but good enough for just 1 night’s stay. You really don’t want to stay in Leticia for longer than that.
The Army Guy – Survival Treks into The Amazon Jungle
We shared a room with Juan, ex-military turned jungle guide/estate agent (his other job in Bogota). Juan acquired his survival skills back when he trained with the army and was stationed in the jungle. Following his stint in the army he lived in the jungle for 2 years. He now returns to The Amazon whenever he has free time from work and goes deep into the jungle (with or without a tour group) – the jungle is his life.
“To experience the real Amazon you must hike deep into the jungle – away from the indigenous villages. The indigenous people hunt and eat all the animals, therefore it is hard to spot them unless you hike for several days and sleep the night.” It sounded tough – not many people can make it past 1 night, explained Juan.
That’s one way of doing it!
I now know that some agencies run tours like this but in all honesty, I’d go with Juan if I wanted to do this kind of tour. In the Amazon, you really need an army man looking out for you! He was passionate and completely clued up. Maybe one day if I’m feeling brave, I’ll contact Juan and do a survival trek.
This is a link to Juan’s company, Coltrek.
Advice from the Army Guy:
- Go as deep into the jungle as you can for any chance of seeing wildlife. Most animals are nocturnal and will only come out at night. Try and organise a night-time hike if you can.
- Shine your torch into the trees and around the ground at night. You will see the eyes of all the animals around you. Spiders usually have blue/green eyes reflecting back at you, certain frogs have red eyes, and cats – jaguar, puma also have red eyes.
- If you’re sleeping in the jungle itself, in a hammock, you must have a net – to protect you from the mosquitos and the vampire bats. When vampires bite, their saliva has an anaesthetising effect so you may not know you are bitten until you wake up with 2 holes. Vampire bats may carry rabies.
Below is a list of ingredients the army use as a repellent for mosquitos. Buy these ingredients from any drug store in town and use as a repellent:
- 1 x bottle of alcohol (70%) from the pharmacy (approx. 300ml)
- 1 x bar of Nopiquex soap (small black bar)
- 1 x bar of Alcanfor (small white bar)
- Tobacco (only if you are going on a proper jungle trek)
- Empty roughly a quarter of the bottle of alcohol out (so there is enough space to fit the other ingredients).
- Roughly chop up the bars of Nopiquex and Alcanfor and put into the alcohol bottle. Shake vigorously and leave. It will all disolve over night.
We did this and it worked, although I did use 50% DEET as a back-up. When you get deep into the jungle the mosquitos are everywhere and they are relentless. It’s hard work.
Things to See and Do in Leticia
Bird Watching at sunset (5:15-5:45pm). Thousands of small parakeets fly to Parque Santander to spend the night in the park’s trees. The church next to the park will let you see this spectacle from the church’s bell tower. A small donation is required (COP 5,000). The tower also offers a nice view over the city and the Amazon river. The sight and sounds of the birds arriving is amazing.
2. Tabatinga. Brazil city next to Leticia. About 1.5km to walk – or you can take a tuk-tuk.
Not much to see or do – it’s just fun to cross the border. We actually did this on our last day before going to the airport.
Before you leave Leticia
- Buy any outgoing boat tickets a day in advance. You can reserve your place on the boat in an office located by the pier.
- Take out cash.
- Buy supplies – water and insect repellent ingredients (for ingredients see above – Advice From the Army Guy)
Journey to Puerto Narino and Swimming in Lago Tarapota
Boats to Puerto Narino
It takes about 2 hours to go upriver to Puerto Nariño, and just over 1 hour to return. It costs 29,000 pesos each way. The boats depart Leticia for Puerto Nariño daily at 08.00, 10.00 and 14.00, and return to Leticia at 07.30, 11.00 and 15.00.
Where We Stayed
We stayed in the lovely Maloka Napu
Calle 4 #5-72
t. 57 315 607 4044 / 57 311 271 4802
Definitely the best accommodation option in town! The owner of the hostel, Ismael lives with is wife and 3 young children. He speaks little English but is incredibly friendly and speaks slowly and finds a way to talk and gesture to ensure you understand. A rare thing in Colombia. Ismael was also our guide for all of our trips. It was just us and him in a little boat. No big tour groups, no people, no noise. It was perfect!
Lago Tarapoto and Around
After putting down our bags and grabbing some breakfast in town we met with Ismael at 2pm for a trip to Lago Tarapoto and the surrounding area in a ‘peque-peque’ (small motorised boat).
COP 30,000 p/p (about £8 p/p)
2pm – 6pm
The lake is famous for its pink dolphins, however due to tourism the chances of seeing the dolphins in this lake are very slim. We were lucky enough to see two in the lake. Ismael did take us to other areas where the dolphins have moved to but because of the high water levels we didn’t see any more.
Swimming in the lake was an unforgettable experience, and not only did we see pink dolphins but also gray dolphins, sloth carrying their young, eagles and toucans. Not bad for less than £10!
Day trip – River Amacayacu, hike Parque Nacional Amacayacu and visit to the indigenous village of San Martin
The next day we headed deep into the jungle along the river Amacayacu.
Total trip – COP 170,000 (aprox. £35 – £17 p/p)
We visited the indigenous village of San Martin
And went for an hour-long trek into the jungle of the national park, Amacayacu – home to about 7 different species of cat (Jaguar, Puma…), deer, rats, vampire bats and another million species of animals:
Day 4: Day of Rest and Night-Time Hike
7pm – 10pm
COP 30,000 p/p (about £8 p/p)
We ended our Amazon Adventure in style on a night-time trek where we spotted scorpions, tarantula, a baby boa-constrictor and a ridiculous amount of disgusting bugs.
And first prize goes to anyone who can tell me what in the hell this weird and gross looking creature is:
Day 5: Boat, Tuk-Tuk, Brazil, Take-off
On our last day we took the earliest boat back to Leticia and hired a tuk-tuk to take us down the road to Brazil before catching our flight back to Bogota.
Puerto Narino – Places to Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Warning – Amazonians, like all Colombians do breakfast and a massive lunch so it’s hard to find dinner. In Puerto Narino breakfast was served from about 7am – 9am and lunch from 12pm – 2pm. Hard if you’re out on a trip during the day. However, we managed to get some pretty decent street food and a few places were open by the pier, selling hotdogs and burgers.
Las Margaritas is a good restaurant, serving breakfast and lunch.
For ice-cream – GO HERE!
A great ice-cream store located near the town’s watch tower
…and buy one of these:
The coconut ice-cream is INCREDIBLE. The local favourite – Copoazu was always sold out. Try it if you can!
Then climb up the watch tower (Mirador) and catch the beautiful sunset over the Amazon.
Check out my highlights and travel tips for everywhere I travelled to in the world: Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, The Galapagos Islands, Argentina, LA, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Japan.