Colombia's Amazon Region

The Colombia Amazon River Basin

As you head southeast from the andes dry scrubland grows lush, turning into an almost impenetrable jungle long before you ever reach the Amazon. Part of the magic and attraction of the Amazon may be its inaccessibility, which is part of the reason it’s still the most biodiverse zone on the face of earth. Covering seven million square kilometers of land area, which is larger than Germany, about 109,000 sq km belongs to the Colombia department of Amazonas. The importance of this region is largely based on the swift passage of the Amazon River, the second longest river in the world. In terms of sheer water flow volume, the Amazon tops the next seven largest rivers in the world combined – more than 6,591 km³ of water per annum. The Amazon Basin is so large and moves so much water it is sometimes called “The River Sea”.


Biologists will probably never finish cataloging the region's dizzying array of flora and fauna. Likewise, visitors can't quite account for the unique exhilaration they feel when they come face-to-face with the rainforest for the first time. Perhaps its mankind’s primordial connection and affinity to nature, with the Amazon being ultimate expression of life on earth, or maybe it’s just the anticipation of adventure and the thrill of venturing into the unknown. The raw wild exuberance in conjunction with indigenous communities and the immense biodiversity represent the immense value of this national and global treasure of geography.


More than one-third of all known species on earth live in the Amazon’s Tropical River Basin. It is by far the richest tropical forest in the world in terms of biodiversity. There are nearly 3,000 species of fish currently recognized in the Amazon Basin, with more being discovered every year. The famous Amazon River dolphin is among its 300 identified mammal species, the giant 25 ft long anaconda is among the 450 species of reptile, and the mighty Harpy Eagle is among the 1,500 species of bird identified in the Basin.


Colombian Amazon Culture and Traditions
People of the Colombian Amazon photo by William Giovanny Medina

Indigenous Peoples:  The Amazon has an estimated population of sixty thousand inhabitants, with its main concentration of indigenous peoples living near the city of Leticia, where close to forty thousand people of mainly Huitoto, Yagua, Cocama and Tiicuna decent inhabit the region.


Huitotos (also know as Witoto):  Huitotos, primarily reside near the village of Tarapacá. To this day, the Huitotos continue to practice their ancient cultural beliefs and traditions - the strongest of which is their great respect for nature. Although many Huitoto women dress in western clothes nowadays, traditionally they wore fig tree bark skirts and were bare breasted. Both men and women wear necklaces, feathers and sometimes paint their bodies with white or red paint made from the red paste of onoto or uruco pods


Ticunas:  Ticunas primarily reside in Leticia, Puerto Nariño and stationed in communities along the Amazon. Despite their constant contact with settlers and to a lesser part visitors, many Ticunas still practice many of their customs and tradition as a way of transmitting to the new generations the essence of their origins; represented in their native language, dances, costumes, rituals and beliefs. For instance, some Ticuna families still celebrate the Pelazon, which celebrates the first menstrual cycle of a woman. Traditionally, the young woman is isolated from the rest of the community while her father goes in search of food as an offering to the guests during the ceremony honoring his daughter.


Traditions  Most of the indigenous traditions occur within their indigenous communities, but in November, the city of Leticia celebrates the Festival of the Golden Pirarucú. This festival promotes the respect for natural resources and conservation of the now rare fish and highlights the artistic and cultural values of indigenous communities.


Gastronomy:  Thanks to its geographical location, Leticia offers typical, international and fusion dishes. Fish, for ease of attainment, nutritional value, purity of the meat and flavor, is the most desired by the people. Preparations such as Las Bolitas de Pirarucú (a large fish which international fishing prohibition goes between the months of November and March), La Patarasca (fish roasted in banana leaves), Moquiado (smoked fish) accompanied by traditional manioc flour are the most prominent. Meanwhile Amazonian fruits like copoazu, arazá, aguaje, carambola, acerola, pineapple or cocona can be prepared in juices, dessert, sweets, jams or cocktails, which complete the exotic and diverse cuisine in this part of the country.


Besides fish, the Huitotos traditional food is complemented with frog legs, ants, chilies, stews, drinks like caguana and guarapo de chontaduro, and the various preparations derived from cassava and fariña(a kind of flour).

The Amazon


Leticia and Surroundings

Leticia is the capital of the department of Amazonas, Colombia's southernmost town and the main Colombian harbor on the immense river. Its population stands at roughly 40,000 inhabitants, mainly being of indigenous descent. Although the city is small, it has an adequate infrastructure, including utilities, public transportation, good national and international telephone communication with internet access capabilities, great restaurants and modern hospitals.


Triple Frontier:  Because of its privileged position as a triple frontier (Colombia, Peru and Brazil) and being very close to the tributary river Yavarí, Leticia it the perfect base for eco-tourism activities as well as for the scientific studies flora and fauna in the Amazon region. In addition, i is the perfect base for beginning tours to visit indigenous tribes such as the Huitotos, Ticunas, Boras and Yaguasin tribes.


Two of Leticia's main city parks are Orellana and Santander. in the center of Leticia and has an attractive outdoor auditorium where important cultural performances and other events of the department take place. The park is also a place where craft and food fairs are held. Walking through the park you can buy typical products from the region including all the exotic and nutritious fruits of the Amazon and handcrafted hammocks and mosquito nets along with many other interesting items.


Santander park is where the departmental and municipal government buildings are located and is dominated by Cathedral Our Lady of Peace. The park is where families gather and many cultural events occur. At sunset, thousands of small, extremely noisy parrots fly to Parque Santander to spend the night in its trees. If you ask nicely at the church next to the park, they will let you see this spectacle from the church's bell tower. The tower also offers a nice view over the city and the Amazon river.


Tanimboca Nature Reserve:  A 30-hectare ecological reservation on the road to Tarapacá where conservation work for the surrounding Amazon is done, as well as educating visitors on sustainable environmental practices and respect and contemplation of the environment. Many exciting activities are available, including tree climbing, canopy exploration, zip-lines through the forest treetops, jungle and nature treks, and kayaking and fishing along the Yahuarcaca river.


Canopy tours are possible in several sections along the highest part of the trees. With the help of slings, suspended walkways, and mountain-climbing equipment, you will be invited to ascend into one of our planet’s least accessible and most fascinating ecosystems. Many have described the Amazon Canopy as the “most beautiful roof in the world,” and we are sure you will agree. From more than 45 meters above the forest floor, the perspective is exhilarating and offers total contact with nature. From the tree tops you will not only be treated toamazingly beautiful views of the surrounding rainforest, but a multitude of rainforest plants and animals including hundreds of species of birds, amphibians, reptiles, lichens, bromeliads and other plants can be viewed from the canopy.

Letica photo by Francisco Villabona

A nice collection of the plants and animals that inhabit the surrounding jungles can be observed in Tanibocas serpentarium, home to a huge boa constrictor and many other species of reptiles and amphibians, including crocodiles and several species of frogs. Before embarking on your adventures though the rainforest, wildlife experts here will discuss the biodiversity of the rainforest in order to help visitors better appreciate the delicate and important ecosystems of the Amazon River Basin, as well as provide an induction to the precautions to be taken during your excursions into the Amazon.



Isla de los Micos:  This is a 450 ha reserve located about 35 km upriver from Leticia. Here you can walk along forest paths and interact with a few of the 5,000 monkeys that inhabit the island reserve. Many of the monkeys are semi-tame and upon seeing visitors they scramble, jump, scamper - seem to flood down branches and tree trunks in order to be the first to get bananas and the other fruit offered by visitors (they’ll take the food right from your hand).

Letica photo by The Amazon Spanish College


Along elevated paths and bridges, the park's indigenous ecological guides will discuss the interesting history of the island (it was once owned by a drug lord with an apparent obsession with monkeys), describe the different species found there and discuss animal behavior, social organization, reproduction and feeding habits. In addition to trekking, you can take guided dugout canoe trips through flood zones and Lake Tucuchira where you will get a better insight into the aquatic ecosystems of the Amazon. This is a place to enjoy the breathtaking and fascinating diversity of fauna and flora while exploring hidden waterways through the rainforest. The reserve is also an excellent location for bird watching.


Amacayacu National Nature Park:  Amacayacu National Natural Park (Spanish: Parque Nacional Natural Amacayacu) is located about 60 km from Leticia along the Amazon River. The word "Amacayacu" means "River of the Hammocks" in the indigenous language Quechua. The Ticuna people currently inhabit a section of the park. The park comprises 4,220 km2 of jungle (293,000 ha), a significant portion of which is annually flooded by the Amazon River during the wet season.


Amacayacu photo by Nacho Aldasoro

The Amacayacu National Park was created in order to protect and preserve the rich biodiversity and indigenous heritage of the surrounding rainforest. The national park represents about 40% of the total area of the Amazon rain forest with 18% of the park being shared with indigenous ancestral territories of the ethnic majority Ticunas.


Over 5000 species of plants have been identified inside the park; more than 468 bird species have been cataloged (almost 30% of Colombia’s total bird species), and 150 recorded mammal species (with the greatest concentration of primate species in the world). The list of mammals also includes the Amazon pink river dolphin and manatee. In addition, Amacayacu houses the greatest number of reptile species in the country, including the bizarre looking Matamata turtle.


The Parks facilities include lodging in bunk beds and private rooms. Four main tourist activities are offered including canopy tours, canoeing in the Matamata Creek, River Dolphin watching and jungle and nature trekking.


Puerto Nariño:  Puerto Nariño is a small town of roughly 6,000 residents and is located 87 km from Leticia along the banks of the Loretoyaco River. Life in Puerto Nariño is peaceful and quiet as motorized vehicles of any kind are not allowed on its immaculately clean and well landscaped narrow streets. The town is built around good environmental practices; Puerto Nariño is a model for sustainable living and an important destination, with plans to become Colombia's first environmentally sustainable town.


Amacayacu photo by Inia Andrade

The surrounding communities are populated by inhabitants of the Ticuna, Cocama and Yagua groups living in 21 nearby indigenous communities. These communities are generally welcoming to tourists and in some communities, you can even arrange to spend the night in traditional indigenous dwellings for a truly unique experience.


Amacayacu photo by Inia Andrade

The municipality of Puerto Nariño is primarily an eco-tourism destination and its main attraction, Lake Tarapoto where Pink River Dolphins thrive, is only 10 km away by boat. Excursions in a peque peque (motorized canoe) are available. Another less well-known excursion is to Lago San Juan del Socó, a smaller lake but with a better chance of seeing wildlife due to Tarapoto's increasing popularity.