November 4, Day 1
I arrived to Leticia, Colombia in the evening of November 4, 2017. According to google maps, my hotel was a short walk from the airport and since I don't mind walking I decided to skip taking a taxi (no ride sharing apps here).
Unfortunately, Google Maps was wrong about the location of the hotel and I ended up having to walk about an extra 25 minutes. While that may not seem like a long time, I was dressed for Bogota weather (cold) in the Amazon (hot). So lets just say I was drenched in sweat when I finally arrived to the hotel. It wasn't too hard to figure out where it was based on the address and how they number their streets.
I stayed at the Waira Suites which I booked on Booking.com. The hotel was probably the nicest one in all of Leticia (and that is not saying much). I check into the hotel and they don't even take my credit card. They tell me I'll pay when I leave. This is odd to me since I am used to hotels in the USA swiping your card and placing an immediate hold on your card for the final bill plus a certain amount per day for incidentals. My room was nice. There was a king size bed, air conditioning and warm water for showers. The only downside was that the WiFi was horrendous. I soon learned that this was the case for all of Leticia so unlikely the hotel could have done anything about it.
Since it was late and I didn't feel like venturing outside, I decided to eat at the hotel restaurant (which was probably one of the nicest in the entire town). Total cost for the meal was around $13. After dinner, I went back to my room to read and try and use my phone. The best I could do was turn the phone on airplane mode and then off to try and get it to reconnect to maybe get a few minutes of horrible cell service. Otherwise, my phone was basically useless.
November 5, Day 2
The front desk staff had told me to go to the tour company across the street to book a tour to the Amazon, so I figured I'd check that out first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, they were busy and the person (was a kid) who asked me what I wanted didn't speak any English. So I decided I'd walk around and come back later.
The town of Leticia is on the physical border of Brazil and across the river is Peru. I hadn't been to Brazil since I was a teenager, so I decided to walk across the border into the Brazilian city of Tabatinga. Usually, as a US citizen, I would have to get a visa before entering Brazil, but because of the remoteness of this area no such restriction existed. The border was relatively porous with the exception of military personal from both Colombia and Brazil being on the road and occasionally stopping cars. I had no issues just walking into Brazil. Unfortunately, the road that I was on was apparently not the road where most things where at. And since I had basically zero cell service, I wasn't able to look anything up. So I walked into Brazil for a few miles and then turned around and came back.
When I returned, I stopped by and spoke on the phone with someone from the tour company who briefly explained what a 2-day trip into the Amazon would include. Not really shopping around, since it was a Sunday and almost everything else was closed, I decided to book the trip. Total cost for the Amazon trip was around $135.
Leticia is a city of around 35,000 people and is a relatively newer city. There aren't any colonial or historic buildings and what has been built is mainly shoddy and in poor condition. Because of it's location on the border of two countries, the city has a rather large military presence. So while there are no gay bars (apparently the area is rather homophobic), the presence of a lot of young military aged men and tourists provide for options on apps like Grindr.
November 6, Day 3
The tour started at 9 am across the street from my hotel. So I grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed over to meet with what I thought would be my tour group. What I didn't realize, was that I would be going on this tour alone with just me and my tour guide (and often times another person who helped). Also, I thought the person who I spoke with in English to would be my tour guide, but I was also mistaken. The tour guide, Percy, only spoke in Spanish as did anyone else who was helping out with the tour. My level of Spanish is basic at best, so it made the experience a bit more interesting.
We started the tour by taking a boat to a property owned by the tour company that has a nice nature preserve, a lake as well as a garden of medicinal plants. It appeared as if they were building a structure on the site to house visitors in the future, but that was not completed yet. The picture at the top of this post was taken there. I saw some pink dolphins in the boat ride on the way to this park which was an added bonus.
After the park, we proceeded to Santa Rosa, Peru for lunch. The tour company that I was with is based in Peru so basically all of the activities were in Peru. Lunch consisted of rice, french fries, salad, patacones and fish with a nice cold Inka Cola to drink (when in Peru, right?). After the lunch I took a short nap in a hammock while listening to obnoxious parrots and a singer (I guess they wanted to provide diners with entertainment).
After lunch and the brief siesta, we proceeded to go to where we would be spending the night. The boat dropped the tour guide and I off in a place that seemed rather random and in the middle of nowhere. There was no obvious sign that anything was there or a dock for the boat to park. Basically, the boat sorta got up next to this somewhat steep cliff and we disembarked. Once I got to the top of the cliff, I saw a sign for Largo Piranha.
We hiked through the jungle for about 2 hours. The way was incredibly muddy, so I was happy that they provided me with rubber boots that went up to my shins. The tour guide reminded me to apply repellent before we started the hike. The spray worked fairly well, but there were just so many bugs that I still managed to get bit and swarmed with insects.
The tour guide did his best to try and explain things to me as simply as possible so that I could understand. Unfortunately, I only got about 25% of what he was saying most of the time, so the rest of the time I would just nod my head and say "ok".
We then arrived to the place where we'd be spending the night. Needless to say it was a very rustic place made out of wood from fallen trees in the jungle and no walls. An indigenous Peruvian lives there full time taking care of the place and helping out the tour guide while there are tourist visiting.
While they got things ready, I laid down in a hammock that they had there. I knew that I would be sleeping in a hammock at night, so I was trying to prepare myself for it.
After taking my second brief siesta for the day in a hammock, I joined Percy sitting on the deck overlooking the Largo. Then we went back inside and they started making dinner. Lucky for me, Percy brought steaks with him in his backpack for our dinner. So we had steak, potatoes, rice and a salad. Meal was quite good.
After dinner, Percy suggested we go out on a paddle boat into the Largo. By this time it was dark so I was not sure how good of an idea that was. He had mentioned earlier about hiking in the jungle in the dark and I think he could tell by my reaction that I didn't want to do that. Feeling adventurous, I decided to go out on the water (that is infested with piranhas) with him and I'm glad I did. It was frightening at first because I am not the best on boats and again.... piranha infested waters.
The only light we had was the headlamp that Percy had. We paddled around the lake and occasionally he would steer us basically into the bank of the lake and proceed to look around like he was trying to catch something. I had no idea what he was doing, until he clearly catches something with his hands and turns around to show me. He caught a caiman!!! If you don't know what that is, it is basically a miniature alligator/crocodile. Since I'm originally from Florida, I am familiar with alligators. This thing looked like a baby alligator and we were basically in the marshes with thick grass all around. Needless to say, I was a bit afraid that the caiman's mother would jump out of the marsh and attack us trying to defend her baby. Luckily, though, that didn't happen.
We paddled around a bit more. Came across some giant rats in a tree. I had no idea there were rats that large in the Amazon. Once we got back in, we set up the hammocks and mosquito nets and called it a night.
November 7, Day 4
Sleeping in a hammock under a mosquito net in a practically wall-less structure in the middle of the Amazon was an interesting experience. I really should have recorded the sounds because it was interesting. Besides the buzzing of insects and mosquitoes all around your net, there were monkeys and birds and who knows what else (giant rats?). I didn't sleep the best, but not as poorly as I thought I might considering.
The sun came up right around 5 am and it was hard to sleep through the bright light. So I got out of my hammock around 5:30 in the morning. Both Percy and the other guy were already up cleaning the fish for breakfast. Percy cut up a fish into little pieces and then asked if I wanted to join him out in the boat to fish.
Again, not a huge fan of canoe like boats especially when in a piranha infested lake, but I said sure. I am not good at fishing, my father hated it so I never really went as a child. The only thing we managed to catch was piranha. It was a good thing my eating wasn't based on what I caught because I would have gone hungry.
Once we got back from fishing, we ate breakfast. Breakfast was fish and plantains with coffee. The fish was basically gutted and served whole, bones included. I am not a fan of having to pick meat off of bones and this proved my point. The fish tasted great, but the tiny sharp bones were a pain to try and catch before puncturing the inside of your mouth.
After sitting around a bit and enjoying the scenery on the dock, I went back to lay down in the hammock. Around 11 am we started our trek back through the jungle to meet up with the boat that will take us on the next part of the tour. The 2 hour hike to the meeting point was a bit of a challenge. The weather was hot and humid and the bugs were everywhere. The tour guide was taking us off the regular path for some reason and a few times had me worried we were lost. Luckily, though, we always managed to get back on the trail.
On the hike I saw things I hadn't seen the day before like giant tarantulas and larger monkeys. Also saw plenty of ants, butterflies and giant rats. Was glad when I saw the water and knew that the hike and that part of the tour was over, although I was also glad that I had done it.
We were picked up in the boat which had 5 other people. I was happy to find out 2 of them were also from NYC and another spoke English and was from Italy. I didn't know that hiring a translator was an option. The Italian had been hired by the 2 guys from the USA to serve as their translator. Hindsight, I was fine without the translator and I am sure it would have made the tour a lot more expensive.
We went to an indigenous community to have lunch. Which was, you guessed it, more fish. Fish is a very typical meal here in the Amazon due to it's proximity to water and the abundance of fish. The food was good so no complaints there.
After lunch, we went back in the boat and dropped the 2 Americans off with their translator and tour guide at the place where they would hike to the Largo Piranha camp. We then proceeded back to Leticia, Colombia to drop me off. Once we arrived, Percy escorted me back to where the whole thing started at 9 am the previous day. Percy had me sign a personal notebook of his and write him a note (he has all the people he takes out do one). I thought that was rather nice of him to do and showed that he really cared about and enjoyed his job. For his hard work and making sure I survived, I gave him a 50,000 COP tip (about $17 USD).
The pick-up and drop-off point were literally right across the street from my hotel. I was quite relieved to be back in my room where I could actually take a nice warm shower and sleep in a giant comfortable king size bed. After taking a shower and a nap, I treated myself to a nice steak dinner. Was probably the best meal I had in Leticia.
November 8, Day 5
My flight was at 11:30 am, so I decided to get up around 8:30 am and have some breakfast. I then showered and packed and started my 30 minute trek to the airport. I figured I should get to the airport about 2 hours before my scheduled departure time. Because the border is open, you are required to see an immigration official who checks to make sure everything is in order with your passport. The last time I returned to Colombia, the immigration person stamped one of the last pages of my passport so it seemed as if I hadn't legally returned to Colombia. After questioning me about why I hadn't been stamped back into Colombia, the officer found it.
I think 5 days is more than enough for most people, unless you really want to do a longer trek into the Amazon. I was happy to do 2 days in the jungle to see it and say that I did it. There are other even smaller villages I could have gone had I have had more time that would have offered other excursions.
The internet doesn't provide the best information about options of tours, so I suggest waiting till you arrive and then finding one there in town. They are pretty good about catering a tour to your desires/budget/time-frame.
Things I wish I had done are have dinner in Tabatinga, Brazil. I basically just walked in for a mile or two and then walked back to Colombia. Also, had i have had more time it might have been fun to take the speed boat to Iquitos, Peru. I say speed but it still takes about 10 hours. The city seems like it would be an interesting place to visit. Another thing that might have been good to do was stay at an Eco-resort in the Amazon. Unfortunately, I didn't feel like I'd have enough time to do a tour of the jungle if I needed to spend 2 days to travel to and from another town nearby.
Estimated Trip Costs in USD:
Airfare: $100 on LATAM which I found using Google Flights
Hotel: $140 on Booking.com. Don't mind spending a little more for nicer place
Tour+Tip: about $150 through Gamboa Tours. Was definitely more cause I was alone
Food: $50 more than it needed to be but I was lazy and wanted to eat well
Misc: $10 things like bug spray and water. These were necessities.
Total: $450 USD for 5 days or about $90 per day