My wife and I spent 2.5 days in the area around Leticia in late April 2012. The most frustrating part of planning the trip was the dearth of information on the internet. It appears to me that the majority of information on the internet about the Leticia area is put out by travel companies who want to whet your appetite but not give you so much information that you can really know what you want to do or pick and choose activities. We have never been crazy about taking packaged tours, and prefer to just wing it somewhat, but it was very hard to find enough information to even know what there was to do in advance. In the end, it worked out just fine. I will try to provide information that may be useful for others.
First, some general info. (1) Leticia is on the Amazon river where Colombia, Brazil, and Peru come together. It has about 35,000 people. It is bordered on the south by the Brazilian city of Tabatinga, which has about 45,000 people. Crossing between Tabatinga and Leticia is seamless. Peru is across the river. (2) The Leticia area is not the best place for someone who doesn't speak any Spanish. You can get by, but it will be a bit of a struggle if you don't have a prepackaged tour. My wife and I speak decent Spanish, so we don't know firsthand how it would be not to speak Spanish, but few people we interacted with spoke English. (3) Don't plan to spend much time at all in the town of Leticia. Other than the birds at Parque Santander at sunset, there is nothing to write home about. It is merely a springboard to get to know the jungle around it. (4) Leticia is safe. There is a huge military presence, and virtually everyone I talked to agrees that Leticia is very safe, at least nowadays. (5) There is GSM cell phone service in Leticia (Comcell, I believe). I also surprisingly enough got a roaming signal on my CDMA Verizon phone. I presume that was from a Brazilian tower. Don't expect any cell service in the jungle, of course. Internet access in Leticia is very slow. Perhaps because of that, few of the hotels or travel companies seem to ever answer their emails. (6) Some people say you have to show your yellow fever vaccination card to someone somewhere. We never had to. Of course, it's still a good idea to get vaccinated. (7) The water is not potable. (8) April and May are the wet season, and the water levels will be at their highest, and some things may close for flooding. Right now (April 2012), the water is at its highest level in 14 years, and la isla de los micos and the Parque Nacional Amacayacu are closed, and have been all month. The dry season is June-August. July and August have the lowest water levels, and sometimes this can create its own issues. July-August are also the high tourist season. (9) People say to wear long sleeves and long pants so you don't get bit, but I did that and found dozens of bites under my clothes. So I would recommend using repellant on your whole body and not worrying so much about the long sleeve thing. (10) The weather is in the upper 80s and very humid, but around dusk it becomes very pleasant. Growing up in Texas, I didn't think the weather was that hot at all. (11) Understand that the Amazon itself, while huge and impressive, is not really jungle. You have to venture down the tributaries to find that, and the farther you get from the population center of Leticia, the more authentic jungle you will encounter.
Getting there. Both Leticia and Tabatinga have their own airport. Leticia has two flights per day, both to Bogota. I believe it has a few sporadic flights to 2 or 3 nearby cities as well. Tabatinga has flights to Manaus or Tefe. When you get to Leticia there is a COP19,000 airport tax per person. You can only arrive in Leticia by plane or boat. There is no land route to Leticia. I didn't research arriving in Leticia by overnight boat. That is possible, but you'll have to look elsewhere for that.
Local Transportation. (1) There is a single highway that runs northeast from Leticia for about 28km, and a bus that runs up and down the highway every 20 minutes or so up to km11. You pay when you get off based on the distance you have traveled, between COP1,000 and COP2,500. The locals told me it starts on the street between Parque Orellano and Hotel Anaconda, but I never personally saw it there. It does definitely pass the parque Santander. There are no actual bus stops. (2) The taxi stand is in the same block as the bus origination area. You will pay between COP 5,000 and 10,000 between the airport and the taxi stand, depending on whether you get the Gringo discount. (3) There are two ports. The private port (i.e. for little boats that tour companies will hire, or you might directly hire yourself) is next to parque Orellano/Hotel Anaconda. The commercial port is several blocks down the street (downriver, in the direction of Tabatinga). From the commercial port you can take the regularly scheduled Lancha (fast boat) to Puerto Nariño and stops in between. 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. I learned it costs less if you are going to stop somewhere in between, but I never personally did that. The boats depart Leticia for Puerto Nariño daily at 08.00, 10.00 and 14.00 hours, and return to Leticia at 07.30, 11.00 and 16.00 hours. If you are wishing to return from Puerto Nariño to Leticia at 1600, buy your return ticket in advance, as it will usually fill to capacity. You might also encounter difficulties if you wish to return on that boat from a location other than Puerto Nariño, as it may be full. There are 3 companies based in Leticia offering regular services on this route: Tres Fronteras ((8)5924687), Transportes Unidos and Transportes Amazónicos ( email@example.com, but don't expect them to ever answer this), 5925999/5924337/3133478091). They apparently take turns running the route on different days.
For reasons outside of our control, we only had 2.5 days and had to stay at Hotel Anaconda. It's over priced, but fine. If I could do everything again, I would spend more time and venture further away from Leticia, and not use Leticia as the overnight base. But it is a good base if you only have 2 or 3 days. Here are some places of interest in and around Leticia, sorted by distance from Hotel Anaconda.
1.Parque Santander. 2 blocks from hotel.
Bird Watching at sunset (5:15-5:45pm). Thousands of small parakeets fly to Parque Santader to spend the night in the park's trees. I read somewhere that if you ask nicely at the church next to the park, they will let you see this spectacle from the church's bell tower. A small donation is required (COP 2,500). The tower also offers a nice view over the city and the Amazon river. The sight and sounds of the birds arriving is just amazing.
2. Tabatinga. Brazil city next to Leticia. About 1.5km to walk.
Casa de chocolate. This is just a store with lots of chocolate. It's very reasonably priced, but nothing special. The staff are very friendly, though. We just wanted to say we were in Brazil.
3. Lake Yahuarcaca (or Yaguacaca). 2km north of Leticia.
We went kayaking there. You can take the bus or walk to km 2 where you will find the restaurant Kasabe. They have kayaks and access to the lakes. The price is 50,000 per person (including a mandatory guide), which seemed a bit steep to me. You can also certainly go through a tour company. It lasted about 90 minutes. Some say you might find pink dolphins, though your chances are much higher at Tarapoto. We didn't see anything, though the guide said the odds are better when the water is lower (Jul-Aug). The giant tree “La Ceiba" is here. Make sure you wear your swimsuit. The lakes themselves are not that interesting, but getting between them was very cool.
4. Parque Temático (or Ecológico) Mundo Amazónico. 7km by road from Leticia. Tours start at 7a-2p.
This park is a garden, not the jungle. Don't be fooled by its advertising. I personally didn't care for it, but you can read plenty of reviews on this on Trip Advisor. The website says the tour takes 3 hours. Our tour lasted only 2 hours. The last starts at 2p and ends at 5p, but you can't come after 2p. Entry is 25,000-30,000COP pp. For reservations, call: 3123 614 606, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com or visit: www.amazoniapark.com. If you take the bus be aware that there is a small hike from the highway to the park entrance. The taxi fare (for a gringo, at least) is COP 20,000.
5a. Tanimboca Nature Reseve. 11 km by road from Leticia. 6am-6pm
The website appears somewhat outdated. It says there is an entrance fee of COP7,000. That no longer appears to apply. There is, however, an ecological walk for 25,000, which I did not see on the website. Be aware that the nature reserve is young forest, as it was cleared about 30 years ago, except for a few large trees. You can ascend on a tree climbing atop 35m-high trees, then slide 80m along two zip-lines from one tree to another through the forest canopy (COP$60,000). This was fun and worth it. If you do this, there is little point in doing the ecological walk, since the walk to the tree climbing covers most of it. Other activities include kayaking (COP$20,000) and nocturnal jungle hikes (COP$150,000). Right now, ironically, the water level is too low to kayak. You can also stay overnight in a treehouse (single/double/triple COP$150,000/200,000/300,000). •Phone 310 774 5919, 8 592 7679. The website says you must reserve tree climbing at least 1 day in advance. We didn't find that necessary when we visited, though it's probably true in high season. The bus will drop you off right in front of it.
5b. Serpentario Nacional Amero . 11km by road from Leticia (inside Tanimboca). 8-4pm.
We didn't visit this, but here is what their website says. "Get up close and personal with boas, anacondas and other slithery creatures on show at this snake sanctuary." •Website www.nativa.org •Phone 8 592 6692. •Price admission adult/child COP$7000/5000
6. The Yavari river--the tributary that heads west to form the border with Brazil and Peru.
A good place to go caiman spotting after dark, and great in the day, too. We hired a guide in Leticia from Selva tours (313-497-6277) on the spot for COP100,000 per person for caiman hunting. That was more than we should have really paid, and it was down from the 150,000 that they first proposed. Make sure you leave around 1700 so you can watch the sun go down as you are motoring across the Amazon. Our guide, Ron (who speaks English) found 3 caimans and grabbed them out of the water. They were no more than 18 inches. We declined to take the daytime tour that stops in Benjamin Constant, but regretted it later. Our friends who took the tour the day after us saw sloths, pink dolphins, and monkeys from the boat, and loved the charm of Benjamin Constant.
7. Marasha Natural Reserve. 30 km upriver from Leticia on the Peruvian side (across from Nazareth, a little before Santa Sofia).
We did not go to this (but kind of wish we had). You apparently experience a touch of the Amazon jungle with trekking, canoeing, fishing, observation of the giant Lotus plants and the variety of animals that are in the reserve. www.reservamarasha.com. Tree climb (dosel) +zipline is COP70,000. Unclear how much the basic entrance fee is.
8. Isla de los micos. 35km upriver (about 35min), near Santa Sofia (next to isla corea on google maps).
A man brought a whole lot of monkeys to this island back when that was legal to do, and now they are stuck on the island and quasi-domesticated. This has been unfortunately closed since the beginning of April due to flooding, so we couldn't go. I understand you have to pay at De Cameron hotel in Leticia (1 block south of Parque Orellano). You can go canoeing, and there is also another tree canopy (dosel) thing. Entrance is about 40mil. Not clear how much the tree climbing costs or if it includes a zipline.
9. Amacayacu national park. 65km up river. (about 90m up, 1h back)
This is also currently closed for flooding, though I'm sure it will be open by the end of May if not sooner. Tree climbing (not zip line, but does have suspension bridge). Canoeing, piranas, aligators. Maybe pay at De Cameron hotel in Leticia (1 block from Anaconda). 522 2890. The website says Foreigners: $ 35,000, Foreign Adults Residing in Colombia: $18,000 . Don’t know tree climb cost. Some have said that after you pay the admission, you then have to pay for a guide (which seems to be the pattern here). Lots of locals recommended this place. Puerto Nariño – Parque Amacayacu in fast boat costs COP4,000. parquesnacionales.gov.co/PNN/…
10. Puerto Nariño/Tarapoto lakes. 85km up river. Fast boat takes 2h up/1h back.
Tarapoto lake is supposedly the best place for dolphin watching. You get there by hiring a guide in Puerto Nariño 2km away. Puerto Nariño is a quaint city of 6,000 people with no motorized vehicles. There is a small museum of Indigenous artefacts that was good. There are places to stay here. There are no ATMs. I am told to expect a tour of the Tarapoto lakes of about 2-3 hours to cost about COP30.000. It's much cheaper to hire a tour out of Puerto Nariño than out of Leticia. We took the 0800 boat from Leticia, arrived at 1000, and immediately found a guide in Puerto Narino (Leopoldo, awesome guy, ask him to sing for you, 321-332-8096) who took us out for lots of boat exploring and a bit of jungle hiking until the 1600 return boat for COP90,000. The lunch at the restaurant with hanging wooden fish was exquisite and cheap. Leopoldo said Lake Tarapoto is no longer the best place for dolphin viewing, so he took us to a spot on the edge of the river where it is so wide there is no current (which is what the dolphins prefer), and he delivered--we saw lots and lots of dolphins.
Here is a good trip report from someone. www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa…
In case it is useful, here is a random and not remotely exhaustive smattering of tour companies that I found. I know very little about their quality or prices, but it may be a starting place:
1. Anaconda tours. angela 1-218-4679 (bogota); 8-27-119 (leticia). www.hotelanaconda.com.co. firstname.lastname@example.org (don't expect them to ever reply). Pricey.
2. Siempre Colombia. www.siemprecolombia.com email@example.com (they actually do reply since they are in bogota; they also have an office in Leticia) Tel:(57-1) 6040015 / 6044298 / 4829426. More reasonably priced than Anaconda, but not uber cheap.
3. (Recommended for budget) Borugo. Vía Los Lagos, Conjunto Las Veraneras, Casa 102 * Phone (57)(8) 5927340 www.borugo.com email: firstname.lastname@example.org
4. http://www.amazonbb.com/excursions.php. Has some descriptions, not very detailed.
5. Mixed reviews. email@example.com, Phone 8 592 7377
6. Carrera 9 Nro 9-28 Leticia, Amazonas, Colombia. 310 798 1073 (Daniel) / 313 265 1778 (Sergio) Email firstname.lastname@example.org
7. (with American office, might be pricey) Cel: 57 320 239 4437 Email: email@example.com
8. Max Oldenburg Vinatea. firstname.lastname@example.org. Carrera 11 Nro. 7-20, Telf. : 00 57 859 27552
9.-William or something similar: 3133375788
10. -Leopoldo (ours--awesome): 321-332-8096; 310-560-7005.