The land of romantic mystery, devastating beauty, enchanting communities, and uncharted territory – navigating south into the lungs of the Earth, this great road ruptures into three different countries and divides into seemingly infinite tributaries of the Amazon Basin. Located 800km from the nearest highway, Leticia is the true frontier of Colombia’s Amazonas Department. And with little information on the area, not even the origin of its present name, the outpost town keeps its rustic atmosphere and gilded legend as a mysterious gateway to the jungle, worthy of the Indiana Jones’ and Terence McKenna’s.
Leticia lies on a small grid hedged by the encroaching territory of Brazil to the East and Peru to the South and West. There is no road accessibility, only river systems leading further into each country. For directions, it’s best to ask the locals for their varying opinions – George of the Jungle and other eccentric guides might persuade to whisk you away deep into the wild for a rare sight of the jaguar. The restaurants will offer decadent bowls of live Suri maggots as appetizers, squirming in transparent membranes. And the docks will be flooded with water taxis hollering for rides to the Peruvian outpost, Santa Rosa Island, just a few minutes across the channel. From there the vagabonds will seek passage upriver to Iquitos, or they will meander downriver to Manaus, from Tabatinga, the Brazilian town seamlessly attached to Leticia.
Those who dream of visiting the Amazon are often puzzled where to begin… where to seek their safe haven or base from which to explore the deep jungle, how to navigate and remain in one piece, who to trust and where to find honorable information. There are other river-cities to plant your feet, Iquitos in Peru and Manaus in Brazil for example, but Leticia is known especially as the foremost frontier of the area – despite the fearful tales whispered by some Colombians elsewhere of paramilitaries or drug runners camped closely … Leticia is safe and welcoming to those who exercise a fair bit of common sense and friendly spirit. The dynamic community here is exuberantly made up of local hunter-gatherers, Colombian retirees, worldwide adventurers, mystics and shamans and deep-jungle veterans of the wild. The tales told, warnings blessed, guidance given, and bonds forged will brew together like their psychoactive tea to create an environment unfathomable from the monotony of home. Feeling much like a pirate’s port or a drifter’s oasis… Leticia is the beginning of a magical road.
It can be considerably difficult, however, to acquire digestible information on how to traverse the area or how to arrange activities, thus planning ahead is a real challenge. Those who roll the dice and touch down onto the tiny airport or dock into the bustling waterfront will be pleased to find a myriad of options upon arrival. There is no shortage of folks who want to help you, or persuade you, and so you are left with a surplus of exhilarating possibilities. Go quietly into the narrow arms of the Río Yavarí and glimpse the serene symphony of jungle racket… thousands of bird species, caimans, monkeys, snakes, and the fabled jaguar. Watch for, and even swim with, the pink river dolphins leaping from the calm, bath-like waters of Lago Tarapoto. Visit one of the most eco-friendly villages on Earth in Puerto Nariño or trek further into the transportive indigenous territory of San Martin de Amacayacu. The possibilities are seemingly boundless with authentic adventures and priceless education.
Ask questions wherever you go. Ask again, and again. Know your surroundings as best you can, and trust most in those you have sought for advice, rather than those who have sought you. In a vast world of predictability and malign westernization, Leticia – though touched by some habits of pollution, gambling, and commercial fervor – as an outpost, remains a shimmering enigma in the preservation of culture, adventure, and ecological promise with its dreamlike doors into the Amazonas.
© The Montgomery picture