A vast area of Colombia is made up of virgin jungle which is part of the massive Amazon River Basin. Much of the land is protected area. Some of it is populated with indigenous tribes, including a few that refuse contact, and unfortunately, in some areas, paramilitary forces. Due to these and other factors, it’s a wild and quite dangerous section of the country – definitely not a tourist destination.
Fortunately, there is a small section in the southeastern corner of Colombia that is extremely safe and quite developed for tourism.
It runs along the Colombian border with Peru, separated only by the Amazon River. This corner contains the only two developed towns along the Amazon River in the department of Amazonas, Leticia (the capital) and Puerto Nariño. Small villages populated by indigenous people dot the river on both sides, making up the rest of the area. Because of the aforementioned factors, there are no roads connecting these towns to the rest of Colombia. They both sit next to the Amazon River, relying on it for transportation, freight, food, economy, and much more.
We decided to do a four day trip to this small Colombian enclave. I normally don’t like all-inclusive tours, but the price with On Vacation was just too good to beat. We were offered a discounted package deal for about COP$900,000 per person for a group of four during peak season. Round trip airfare to Leticia from Cali, all meals, transportation, hotels, and all but two tours were included. Normally, airfare to Leticia can be quite expensive, upwards of COP$600,000 non-peak. If you aren’t into all-inclusive tours, you have a little extra time, and you want to see the REAL Amazon jungle (this trip was Amazon-lite), a similar trip (and much more thorough) can be done alone easily. I’ll explain that at the end of this entry.
The trip promised a lot of good things but there were hiccups at the beginning and at the end. On the first day, we were told to be at the airport in Cali no later than 8pm for check-in. We assumed the flight was at 10pm. We arrived around 6:30pm and checked in only to find out the flight wasn’t leaving until midnight. After waiting and waiting, we finally took off from Cali and landed in hot and sweaty Leticia around 2am.
Arrival in Leticia
After we arrived and collected our luggage, we had to pay a COP$21,000 tourist tax for the Amazonas region. We exited the airport and were greeted by the On Vacation representative. He went over a few details and had everyone board a bus to a hotel in Leticia. We stayed at Hotel Fernando Real, but only for about three hours. The rooms were simple and not the cleanest, but we were so exhausted it didn’t matter.
Cruising the Amazon
At 6am after just a few hours of sleep, we met the representative in the hotel lobby, left our luggage, and walked to a canal where we boarded a boat for the all-inclusive resort owned by On Vacation. The boat ride took about an hour.
We arrived at the resort, Hotel Amazon, at around 8am and were ushered to a buffet breakfast. Everyone was ready for a nap after the long night and journey, but unfortunately for us, we had to wait around until 11am for a mandatory meeting outlining the schedule. Our room wasn’t ready until nearly 12:30. That’s the end of the first problem. I ended up sleeping most of the rest of the afternoon and felt like the first day was a waste.
The hotel was beautiful. It was made completely of wood on stilts. The bathrooms were very modern and the beds were extremely comfortable and had mosquito netting. There was a fan in every room and an air conditioning unit that was available from 6pm to 2am daily. Wifi was an extra COP$6,000 per day but was pretty much useless.
Features of the Hotel
Buffet meals were served at 7am, 1pm, and 6pm. Food was usually very good. Entertainment was provided after dinner but was mediocre at best – a terrible lounge singer one night and Brazilian dancers the next night who would dance for one song and then spend 10 minutes taking photos and the next 15 minutes changing costumes. A bar was available daily with unlimited alcoholic drinks. Sadly, the bartenders didn’t do a very good job. We ordered caipirinhas on five separate occasions and received a different colored and flavored drink each time.
There was a pool, spa, and nature walk. Staff seemed to do a very good job. The only issue for a foreigner would be that they speak zero English. A convenience store sat across from reception. Things like toiletries, snacks, drinks, sunscreen, and insect repellant were available, but it’s best to bring necessities with you. The store sold just about everything at a premium. Continue with Day 2.