Travel, Food & Books

Leticia the Gateway to the Amazon

Do you know that the nearest Colombian highway to Leticia is located about 800km away? This capital city of the Amazon province is on the banks of the Amazon River and getting away from this place is either by aeroplanes or river transportation.

  • Temperature: 25°C – 38°C with 85% humidity
  • Population: 67,756 inhabitants
  • Community: 26 indigenous ethnic groups

Visiting the Amazon had been on our bucket list ever since we moved to Colombia, and it was a blessing when we finally fulfilled the dream. However, there were two jungle delicacies that I didn’t get to try, Mojojoy, the fat jungle worms and also Piranhas 😅.

The flight time with Avianca was about two hours, and just about twenty minutes before approaching our destination, we could see the vast jungle below. However, we could not see the Amazon River. It was probably because of the dry season, and the river wasn’t swelling. Only a little part of the river was visible, which was on the other side of the plane.

Tips: During the dry season, the window seat on the right side of the Plane is the best seat for the journey from Bogota to Leticia.

Before leaving Alfredo Vásquez Cobo International Airport to Leticia town which was about 2.5km away, we had to pay 35,000COP per person for tourist fees even though we had our Cedulas. Guess, it’s only free for the locals.

It was a bit chaotic on the outside of the arrival terminal. A group of yellow-shirt people were dancing and chanting loudly, welcoming some VIPs. For one second, I thought it was a regular occurrence here to show hospitality towards tourists 😊 silly me.

Hotel Amazonas Real

The taxi cost 10,000 COP to the hotel, but our driver couldn’t drop us in front of the hotel as there was some road repair around the hotel, and it wasn’t the only place; There were many others who suffered the same fate around the town.

Upon entering the hotel, we’re presented with beautiful eye-catching decorations adorned the walls in the reception area. The check-in process was fast and easy. They checked the room to make sure everything was alright before giving us the key, and we got into our room before 11:30 am! We stayed for five days and four nights in this hotel.

The bed was comfortable, and it had a fridge in the room, a wardrobe, a flat-screen TV, and an outdoor swimming pool. The breakfast was pretty basic, we had the same menu every day – Juice, Coffee, bread, fruits and eggs.

Places to eat in Leticia

Having arrived almost noon, we couldn’t go for a day trip on that day. Hence, we lingered around town, trying to get our bearing right and also surveying places to have meals. Luck wasn’t on my side though, because, throughout our stay, I couldn’t find any restaurants that sold Piranha. All that was left was a picture of it on the menu with ‘not available’ writing on it.

Tierras Amazonicas Bar & Restaurante

This restaurant was located about 350m away from Hotel Amazonas Real. It had a pretty decoration all related to the Amazon. The food was delicious, but in terms of service, it was slow.

There were only three tables occupied when we were there, but I wasn’t sure if there were any customers on the top floor though. I had fried Tucunaré fish @ 27,000COP, and Mike had Pirarucu fish @ 28,000COP.

Asaderos Cali Pollos

We had our first night light dinner in this place. We shared a chicken while waiting for Parisa and Amanda to show up. Having arrived one day earlier than us, today, they went over to the neighbouring countries – Brazil and Peru to complete the Tres Fronteras tour.

When Amanda and Parisa arrived, we dug up some information on their trip to prepare ourselves for the upcoming visit. We also exchanged some money with Parisa in which we got R$15 for the exchange of 10,000 COP.

There were many dogs around the restaurant, and one of them was a cute black dog. We fed the cute dog some of our leftover food, and it wasn’t the only time we saw the dog.

Restaurante Amektiar

Not long after Parisa and Amanda arrived in Asaderos Cali Pollos, the four of us moved to this restaurant. It has an excellent ambience, suitable for gathering and chit-chatting.

We didn’t have any alcoholic drinks that night as we wanted to stay fresh the next day for our trip. However, I noted on the price for Club Colombia; that it cost 4,500COP. I had a Brownie with vanilla ice cream which cost 10,000COP, a perfect dessert to finish off our night.

Büetaré Gourmet       

The next day, when we came back from our tour, we stopped by this place for dinner. This place was about 260m from the hotel. Büetaré Gourmet was the place where we were supposed to gather with Parisa and Amanda yesterday, but it was closed.

The food price here was lower compared to the Tierras Amazónicas. Although the presentation wasn’t excellent, the food was lovely. I had Amazonica – fried fish with rice and Patacon which cost 17,000COP and Mike had an Araipama fish burger which cost three thousand more than mine.

We also ordered the regional fruit drinks – Arazá and Camu-Camu, which cost 5,000 COP each. I loved Arazá, but not so much on Camu-Camu because it tasted sour.

While having our dinner here, we saw the French group who were also on the group tour earlier on, and they said hi to us. Our tour guide was always saying ‘Oh La La’ whenever he finished talking to them, which was why I could easily remember the group.

Attraction in the Amazon

During our five days and four nights in Leticia, we did not manage to visit all of the attractions places that this place offered. To visit places such as the Tarapoto Lake for the Walking trees and do an activity such as Zip-Lining and Canopy Tour in Reserva Natural Tanimboca would take an extra day which we didn’t have. Below were the activities and places that we managed to do and visit.

Catedral Nuestra Señora De La Paz

Located opposite the Park Santander, this Catholic church, with its unique design that looks like a rocket (in my opinion) was the first structure that caught my eyes on our way from the airport.

Entry to the viewing platform in this church costs 3,000 COP.  We didn’t go up though, but I bet it would be a great place to see the sunset and also watch the birds returning home to the many trees around the park.

Santander Park

This park is a must-visit here in Leticia. In the daytime, when we were there, they had a Feria Artesanal de la Region Amazonica, happening from the 8th until the 14th of October with a variety of the Amazon region’s handicrafts on sale.

There’s also a concrete pond in the park that has the Victoria Waterlily. However, it wasn’t properly maintained, and it looked like the plant was dying.

It was during sunset or early morning that the park came alive with thousands of birds such as parakeets and swallows flying around looking for a place to rest for the night or leaving the trees to start a new day. The noise was incredible!

A Day Trip with a Local Tour – Amazonas Extremo

On our second day here in Leticia, José, a guy who’s recommended by Dan, Mike’s work colleague took us to register at the office situated opposite the hotel where we stayed.

José had met us at the airport yesterday, welcoming us and helping us to get a taxi to the town. It wasn’t long before the others who were also on this day trip to five interesting places arrived. Together, we strolled down to Malecón Turístico and walked to the Isla de La Fantasia for our boat ride along the Amazon River.

At the platform, we could see Santa Rosa Island, Peru, on the other side of the swelling river. While waiting for our boat to arrive, we saw the cute black dog again whom we fed some chicken at Asaderos Cali Pollos last night.

It wasn’t long before our ride arrived and we got on the boat when they called our name. Around 20 minutes after we left the platform, we had to turn around again as something was wrong with the engine. We waited for a new boat to arrive on a different platform, and thankfully, it didn’t take a long time before our new ride, which was a much bigger boat came to the rescue.

Can you spot the dog?

Isla de Los Micos

Around forty-five minutes later, we arrived at our first stop – the Squirrel monkey heaven. Our tour guide told us to remove any earrings, hats and accessories before disembarking the boat. Before we were allowed to get inside, we listened to a brief talk by the officer in charge of the place, and he stressed out about mosquito spray being harmful to the monkeys.

However, we saw many people spraying their skin because there were so many blood-sucking insects hovering nearby. Anyway, before we even got into the centre of the meeting point which was a large clearing area, we saw many monkeys running toward the place, getting ready to be fed with some peanuts from our tour guide.

There were so many of them, and they kept on coming from all over the direction. It was very entertaining to see the monkeys jumping from one person to another. They weren’t heavy when they sat on my shoulders, but it was a different story when they sat on top of my head!

Before leaving this place, we stopped by to look at the locally made handicrafts. A group of indigenous people started pouring into the open space, and I presumed they had some performance for us. However, because we arrived late and ran out of time, our guide informed them of our situation, and I could see the disappointment on their faces.

Victoria Regia Natura Park – Victoria Amazonica (Biggest Water Lily in the world)

I first read about this giant water lilies in the book called Plants from Roots to Riches. It had a chapter called Taming the Exotic which was dedicated to this plant, telling the story about discovering this gigantic plant, their effort to grow it in England and how it got its name. Ever since I read the story of how majestic this plant was, it fueled my desire to witness it with my own eyes.

Finally, on our second stop, I got to see it, and it was such a beautiful sight. I got to see its large white flower but didn’t get to smell it. According to Lara Jewitt, Kew’s Science Collections Coordinator, it had a smell of pineapple! At this stage, it still hadn’t yet been pollinated by the beetles; it turned to pinky-purple when it was done.

In this nature park, there were over fifty of them floating on the ponds. Some of them almost disintegrated, though. Nearby, there’s an empty pond, and maybe in future, they would plant some in it. Having a leaf that could grow up to ten feet in diameter, they need a bigger space to grow!

Nearby the ponds surrounded by palm trees, I could see bird nests at the edge of the branches. It was their weird tones that drew us at first. It sounded like a phone ringtone, and soon enough, we identified the culprit and saw some of them flying back and forth fixing their nest.

I wasn’t sure of the bird’s name, but it had yellow and black colour feathers which might be the Yellow Oriole (Icterus Chrysater) or the Yellow-rumped Cacique (Cacicus Cela). There’s also a treehouse, but it was under maintenance, and we couldn’t go up to enjoy the view from the top.

Macedonia Indigenous Community – Celebration and Traditional Dance

Our third stop was the Tikuna community of Macedonia, located 57km away from Leticia. When we first arrived there, we were welcomed kindly by the indigenous representative. He taught us some of the useful phrases in their language, such as the numbers and some other commonly used words. But I could only remember two words: Nuama – goodbye and moxẽ (sounded like Moici) which means thank you.

Among our group members, there were a few of them celebrating birthdays on that day or on that month, and they received special treatment – guest of honour and got to be on the stage. It was my birthday month too, but I was too cowardly to step out when they announced it 😅.

There’s no stage, though, so they stand in front of us – the audience. Our first song was a Spanish birthday song and followed by the native Ticuna language. After the songs, they performed a traditional dance, and one of the musical instruments that caught my interest was a big tortoiseshell!

Once the performance was finished, we walked freely around the village for about twenty minutes. Mike and I took the opportunity to have a quick bite of a fresh grilled fish. The Pintadillo or Bagre (Catfish) that the lady had prepared was excellent, and it only cost 8,000 COP. It was accompanied by some fried bananas and also corn.

Dolphins Watching – Grey and Pink River Dolphins

Before continuing our journey to our last stop – Puerto Nariño, we stopped in the middle of the river to watch the river dolphins. Earlier, during the ride, we also saw some dolphins but didn’t stop for it, and I also saw it while waiting for the boat at the platform.

Our tour guide made some whistling noise to draw their attention, and it was fun watching them swimming in a pair. We saw the grey and also pink dolphins which was a fantastic experience.

Puerto Nariño – Eco-friendly Town

Puerto Nariño was an eco-friendly small village located about 75km upriver from Leticia. Aside from ambulances and trucks collecting recyclables, no other motorized vehicles were allowed in this place.

The village laid out on a grid of landscaped pedestrian-only sidewalks was spotless. We could see trash bins placed on practically every corner of the street.

Before arriving at this place, our tour guide had told us to go to Las Margaritas Restaurante. Located almost at the end of the street, we weren’t sure where it was at first, but after asking around, our group finally found the place.

When we got to the restaurant, we immediately queued up to get our meal. They served the lunch in a buffet style, but with the staff controlling the portion of dishes. However, because we arrived quite late, most of the food wasn’t warm anymore.

I had fried fish, and it was paled compared to what we had in the indigenous community earlier. One positive thing here was the freshly made Araza juice which was refreshing and the spacious space to accommodate our group.

Mirador Puerto Nariño

After the meal, we wandered around in this pretty little town by ourselves, and one of the places that was worth visiting was the Mirador Puerto Nariño. Before you get to enjoy the view, you must be brave to step inside the giant jaguar head!

The fee for adults was 5,000 COP and 3,000 COP for those aged 10 ~17 years old. The height of this viewing platform was about 3-storey, and it offers a beautiful 360° panoramic view of the municipality of Puerto Nariño and a portion of the Amazon River.

When we were at the top, there was no one else there except for one local guy, a keeper of the place who would gladly provide you with information as well as keep an eye on the visitors.

Once we finished admiring the view of this peaceful village, we walked back to the boat to find some of our tour group members had already arrived and were ready to go back to Leticia. Overall, we enjoyed this excursion and highly recommended this tour agent.

Walking in the Amazon Rainforest and Piranha Fishing

A trip without cruising the Amazon river or stepping inside the Amazon rainforest was like a trip to London without visiting Big Ben or the Tower Bridge. Leticia which was in the heart of the Amazonian forest provides easy access to the rainforest, and though on this day trip it wasn’t deep inside the jungle, it’s still part of the Amazon rainforest 😉. Read more.

Amazon Three Borders @ Tres Fronteras

Another must-do activity while in Leticia was to visit the two neighbouring countries, Brazil and Peru. The trip could easily be completed in one day due to the proximity between the two countries, and with no physical border between the places, you didn’t have to worry about documentation when crossing over. However, no passport needed means no stamp collected for the trip!

Travel date: 14th ~ 18th October 2019

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