If you’re going to Amazonas in the Colombian Amazon, you’ll almost certainly need to book a tour. This post will tell you a bit about when to visit, what to bring, and what some of the best tour options are, in addition to some important questions to ask tour operators.
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About the Colombian Amazon
Compared with Peru and Brazil, Colombia has a very small slice of the Amazon, but one that packs a big punch. It’s also likely cheaper to visit the Amazon in Colombia than in its neighboring countries, as the cost of living is cheaper.
Visitors will arrive in Leticia and from there can decide what to do and see. The port city of Leticia, on the eastern edge of Colombia’s Amazon River real estate, is surprisingly big, at around 50,000 inhabitants. The only way in and out of Leticia is by air or water. Fortunately, there is a large, modern airport and good flight connections to Bogota. Plan on spending at least one night in Leticia before or after your tour. Depending on the season you’ll be able to get a flight on LATAM, Avianca or budget airline VivaAir for around $100 US.
Going west up the river, you’ll reach the town of Puerto Nariño. It’s home to about 5,000 people, mostly indigenous, and the only other town of any size after Leticia. Public ferries, which are long speed boats, take passengers to and from Puerto Nariño daily. Stops at villages along the Amazon River make it almost a two-hour trip.
When to visit the Colombian Amazon
As a tropical location, Amazonas has wet and dry seasons. The dry season is June to August and the wettest season is January to April. Temperatures are a tad bit lower during the dry season, but it’s hot year round. Your experience may be quite different if you visit in the heart of one of these seasons, as water level determines your transportation. An attraction you can walk to during the dry season may require a boat during the wet season. And in-between the wet and dry season? Well, plan on making use of your rubber boots.
In terms of the number of tourists, I booked my trip only a few weeks in advance during the Easter Semana Santa in April and was still able to find flights, tours and hotels without many issues, although a few of them were full.
Should I Book Amazon Jungle Tours or Do It On My Own?
The Amazon is definitely a place that you can’t just show up without some advance planning. For one, frequent cell service outages mean that you may not have cell service or internet, even at the “luxury” hotels. Don’t expect to make last-minute reservations or use Google Maps without downloading them first.
Second, you’re going to need someone who knows the area to guide you and tell you what is and isn’t poisonous (only partially kidding there). But certainly, you’ll want someone that knows the area and the best places to stay and eat. There just isn’t the infrastructure set up for tourists to come and do many activities on their own. That being said, you can easily walk around Leticia alone and also cross the border into Brazil and the town of Tabatinga.
If you’d like a bit more freedom and down time, you can do day trips from Leticia instead of multi-night overnight trips. In fact, your first big decision when visiting the Colombian Amazon is deciding if you want to do an overnight tour or not.
Should you do a multi-night Colombian Amazon Tour or Day Trips from Leticia?
There are pros and cons to each of these. If you are traveling with children, are unaccustomed to roughing it, or only have two or three days, I would recommend staying at one of the nicer resorts in Leticia and doing day trips so you’ll always have a familiar place and access to better services.
Some of the best places are the Decameron Decalodge Ticuna (all inclusive) and the Hotel Amazon, which is a bit up the river and more of an ecolodge. Waira Suites Hotel and Hotel Anaconda are the nicer hotels near the port in Leticia. These hotels have tour desks where you can easily book tours at your hotel, but you’ll usually pay more there than if you book in advance directly with the company.
If you have the time and desire, book an overnight tour. You’ll get to really know the area and cover more ground in a more efficient way. If you don’t like large group travel, don’t worry, there are no mega buses here. In fact, I was one of only two people on my tour, so these are all very small groups. Outside of Leticia I only saw about 30 other tourists in three days.
The Best Leticia Amazon Tours (overnight)
Here are some of the best jungle day tours from Leticia. Because there are so few English-speaking tourists, most of these tours are private. If you have a family or a larger group, the price per person will be less. If you speak Spanish you will also likely save money by booking directly with the Colombian tour operator or joining a Spanish language tour.
4 Day/3 Night Tour around Puerto Nariño Spend two nights in Puerto Nariño and one off-grid at Lake Tarapoto. You’ll get to paddle in traditional canoes, see giant ceiba trees, and search for nocturnal creatures on a night hike.
3 Day/4 Night Tour around Leticia and Puerto Nariño This tour spends the first night around Leticia before heading through Puerto Nariño for the off-grid night on Lake Tabatinga. You’ll visit the indigenous community of San Antonio across the river in Peru.
2 Day/1 Night Tour around Puerto Nariño If you are short on time, this tour is a good option. Head straight through Puerto Nariño and spend the night off-grid at Lake Tarapoto. This would be a lot of time on boats in 36 hours, but you’d get a better feel for the Amazon.
I also found that tours through the Spanish booking platform Civitatis were half the price of those booked through North American platforms and had more options. This is the exact tour that I did and I felt like we got to see so many amazing and diverse things in four days!
Tips for Booking Colombia Jungle Tours
Try to research the tour or the company to see if there are good reviews.
If animals are involved, research if they are being well treated and if it’s actually ok to touch them (spoiler: it’s usually not). Many tours visit Isla de Micos (Monkey Island) but it seemed a bit questionable to me, so I chose a tour that went to a monkey sanctuary instead.
The port where the public boats leave from is hard to see on Google Maps. It’s actually at the end of Calle 8, near Orellana Park. The map doesn’t look like the river comes up that far, but I suspect that there are major changes in water level depending on the season. Look for Malecon Turistico (tourist boardwalk) on the map. The whole street is full of vendors and currency exchange places, as Leticia is the meeting point of three countries.
Questions to ask before booking Colombia Amazon Tours:
- Where will I meet the tour group or guide?
- How much time will we spend at each place? (understand that Amazon time is flexible and relaxed)
- Is there a possibility of a change of plans due to weather?
- What number can I reach the tour company or the guide at?
- What health/emergency protocols are in place?
- Who else will be on the tour?
- Does the guide speak English? How well?
- Will the guide be with the group the entire trip or will participants be with other providers?
- Will I be provided with rubber boots or should I bring my own?
Amazon Jungle Packing List
Visiting the Amazon Rainforest in Amazonas requires some pretty specific things. Here is a lists of clothes to wear in the rainforest and other helpful things to bring.
DO NOT bring a rolling suitcase to the Amazon Jungle. Your luggage will be thrown on the top and bottom of boats and you’ll need to carry it over rough terrain. I bought a waterproof duffel bag like this one at Decathlon in Medellin right before I left, and I was so thankful that I did. My clothes stayed dried the whole trip and I could carry the bag like a bag pack when we had to walk a long way.
Health and Safety
You should have the yellow fever vaccine to come to Amazonas, as it is a high risk area and you want to protect yourself and others. I also took malaria pills, although I was told by one Colombian that I probably didn’t need them (really?). You will get lots of mosquito bites, so better safe than sorry and I didn’t suffer any side effects from taking the pills.
There is a hospital and drugstores in Leticia and a small clinic-hospital in Puerto Narino. In other places, don’t expect to be able to buy any medical supplies. You’ll want to make sure you have any necessary medicines and a first aid kit for emergencies at all times.
Be prepared for mosquitos with powerful mosquito repellent. When I tried to buy mosquito repellent in Medellin, I had a hard time finding anything stronger than citronella spray, so stock up before coming to Colombia. I also brought my Bug Bite Thing that, I swear, really works to make bug bites not itch and swell less.
Puerto Narino has a filter station with potable water for the whole town. I felt extra safe by filling up my Lifestraw water bottle that has a water filter. I also bought additional drinking water and of course, my Coke Zero at small kiosks. The best bottle I’ve found for keeping cold drinks cold is a Hydroflask.
Electricity and outlets may be scarce, so you’ll want a good flashlight/lantern. I love this solar powered lantern from LuminAid that also charges your phone! It was perfect for my trip when I needed an emergency phone charge so I could keep taking photos.
Rice, farinha, meat and fish are the staples here, along with tropical fruits, most of which you’ve probably never heard of. Even in Leticia, there is not much in terms of vegetables, so vegetarians would be wise to bring supplemental food and snacks (try this plant-based jerky). There are small stores in Puerto Nariño, and even in the indigenous communities there is usually someone selling snacks and cold drinks.
Bring cash. There are plenty of banks and ATMs in Leticia, but nothing outside of Leticia, so cash is king. And because of potential outages it’s a good idea to bring cash from Bogota or from home, instead of planning on withdrawing it in Leticia.
Bring light, breathable clothing as it is hot and humid all day and night. You’ll need long pants and at times will want long sleeves for sun and bug protection. A lightweight, quick dry sun shirt is a good choice.
Shorts and tank tops are good for sleeping, and most of the locals wore shorts and flips flops. You’ll want a pair of flip flops for showers, boat rides, and when in local communities.
A lightweight, wide brimmed hat protects from the sun and from bugs, and you’ll want one with a chin strap so it doesn’t fly off when you are riding boats.
The must-have item I could not have done without is knee-high rubber boots. My tour provided these, and when the rest of my body was covered in sweat or rain, my feet were dry. These are especially important because you’ll be stepping in and out of boats that often require you to put a foot or two in the water, not to mention the mud. Ask if your tour will provide these or if you’ll need to bring them. Here’s a more colorful women’s option that I’ll be buying for my next trip.
The one thing I packed and didn’t use? A pair of jeans.
I hope this post helps you feel better prepared. You’re sure to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience in the Colombian Amazon!
Like off-the-beaten-path gems? Read about visiting San Basilio de Palenque, near Cartagena, the first free black town in the Americas.