The Amazon river is the biggest river in the world by discharge volume of water. It is also the second longest in the world (the Nile takes first place in length). The Amazon river is considered the most important river in that it sustains the lungs of our planet (the Amazonian rainforest), provides habitat to more than 2500 species of fish and river dolphins, and is a source of food (that includes water for agriculture and fishing) plus transportation for humans.
The Amazon river crosses three countries: Brazil, Peru, and Colombia. Colombia has the smallest part of the river, and perhaps that is why they are so protective of it. For those who are planning on exploring the Amazon river and rainforest I wrote the complete guide to a three day Amazon trip with all the necessary information on how to get there, and the best things to do.
Read more: 10 Places To Visit Before You Die.
My three day Amazon trip started in Leticia where I flew in. I came two days earlier so I could explore Leticia, and I really wanted to see how the border crossing works between Leticia and Tabatinga.
We had already booked our multi-day Amazon trek before flying into Leticia, so we did have a contact in the city who helped us figure things out. I do recommend planning your trip before arriving as the best guides and excursion groups can get filled up quite early.
Two days after arriving in Leticia I was picked up at 6 AM at my accommodation and brought to the port for breakfast and to get on the boat to Puerto Narino, a beautiful little village in the middle of nowhere. The boat ride took about two hours during which we made a few stops for people to get out.
In Puerto Narino we were met by our tour guide and a translator. They took us to a guest house that looked more like a tree house. A very cute place, without real walls, but with decent plumbing.
Note: I must mention that there is no WI-FI anywhere, so you better have a Colombian sim-card if you want to have any signal at all. Although the sim-card internet doesn’t work most of the time as well. However, having a Colombian sim-card did save our lives (about this in a bit).
Once you are checked in and changed into something comfortable (shorts and flip flops) you are taken to a motor boat.
This is the time to look for pink dolphins. It is not a certainty that you will see them (there would be other possibilities), but we actually saw a lot of them. It is harder to see pink dolphins than gray ones because they don’t like to be close to humans and also because of the location of their breathing hole. When pink dolphins breathe they don’t need to stick out their whole head, just the very top of the head. Despite that we saw a few pink dolphins jump very high. Got lucky there for sure.
Note: pink dolphins are very fast and they don’t stay long above the water, so it is quite hard to get a good picture of them. For those who really want to get a picture or a video, keep your camera ready!
Besides pink dolphins we saw a lot of amazing birds like a vulture eating something that looked like a rat, some egrets and terns, and a beautiful Chestnut-eared Aracari at the end.
We also had a chance to swim in the Amazon river between vines and trees. It is exciting and a bit scary, since the water is dark and you don’t really know what is hiding in that water. Nevertheless, it was very fun and boys even climbed trees to jump from there into the river.
The boat took us back to Puerto Narino for lunch and a short break. During the whole trip we ate at the same restaurant that had a decent choice of dishes and a good quality as well. From our group no one got sick and we actually had a person in the group who is quite prone to food poisoning.
After a nice two-hours lunch nap, we put on pants, long sleeve shirts, hats, and tall rubber boots. We got all the mosquito repellent we had and a lot of water and went to explore the jungle.
About a two hour trek through the jungle, following a very thin muddy trail, we found a private nature reserve. There we saw two huge Arapaimas that were brought together to help them reproduce.
Arapaima (pirarucu) is one of the biggest freshwater fish in the world. Arapaima can reach more than 2 meters in length, some species have reached even more than 2,6 meters. They are also extremely endangered, even though in Peru and Brazil they fish them for food.
It is an amazing creature to look at. Arapaima has large dark blue-greenish scales and red lines. From far away it looks like the Arapaima’s tail is red. To give us a better look of an Arapaima our tour guide put his hand in the water and started to make noises. Do not repeat this yourself because at the end he almost lost his hand. Arapaima are very fast and aggressive, so be careful.
We spent half an hour watching arapaima and learning a lot from our guide about this huge fish.
Next to the pond we found a few hammocks and decided to rest there until after sunset when it became pitch dark.
To do a night track in a jungle is the only option to see some of the night creatures like black and red tarantulas, scorpions, and other insects.
To say that our guide was amazing is to say nothing. He saw things that I never would be able to see. At night on a brown tree trunk he saw fat brown crickets, or stick bugs that are very thin and small, and are the same color of the tree. I was very amazed. Every few steps we saw a new bug, fly, butterfly, or even snake.
Note: always remember that you are in the jungle and everything here knows how to protect itself, even trees. So, while you are there, always follow the tour guide and don’t touch anything. At night you cannot see everything even with a flashlight, so it is three times more dangerous than during the day. I am telling you this because I touched a tree to help myself get out of a muddy puddle and injured my hand with very sharp tree spikes.
Tired, dirty, but happy right after the night trek we went to the restaurant to get food (no wonder that everyone was very hungry).
Our group (6 people total) got very lucky with the guide (local) and the translator (a girl from Spain who decided to volunteer for a bit in this village). The atmosphere was always great, interesting conversations, laughs at any situation and lots of fun. Inma (translator) even took the group out to play with locals a very popular game that ended up to be quite like American cornhole, except instead of bean bags into holes, you throw heavy metal ingots at little firecrackers.
But our first day didn’t end. An hour later we discovered that one of our group members lost his phone. Not really sure where it was, we hoped it might be in a hammock next to the pond. Our tour guide offered to go look for it, and what do you know… he found it. He might have made the biggest tip of his career!
We started our second day with a big breakfast and a trip to Peru. Across the Amazon river, hidden in the flooded jungle we saw a small village that had 20 houses on stilts, mabe less. There we met our new guide, a local man who was about 70 years old, but super strong and active.
We got into small wooden canoes that looked very unsafe, but actually were quite stable. The trip through the jungle was exciting. So much to see, amazing plants, insects, birds. Our guide even found a fruit tree that he climbed up from the canoe to get us fruits to taste (achacha fruit).
The goal of our canoe trip was to get to a huge tree in the middle of the jungle that is believed (by locals) to be a jungle spirit that protects everything around. That tree was so big that some people climbed around it.
On the way back we stopped to try to swing on vines like Tarzan. It was very fun but don’t forget that there is water everywhere, so you need to be careful to not get wet. For example I slid from a vine right into the water.. Success!
Back at the village we were served a great traditional meal (steamed fish wrapped in banana leaves with sides). People here live a simple life. Their income is tourist money and farming during dry seasons. But even though it is nothing compared to European salaries, they look happy, very welcoming, completely intact with nature.
To travel to such places really puts your life in perspective, you understand that the problems you have don’t make any sense, and are not important at all…. In fact, most of them are just in your head. Simplicity makes you free.
Hm… at least that was a bit about my feelings during and after this trip. And now back to the actual trip.
As I already mentioned, the lunch was very good and one member of our group got us all Peruvian beers at the local store. Truly a perfect meal.
The second half of our day we spent on a motor boat.
We got on a boat at Puerto Narino and took a nice afternoon trip on the Amazon river up to the lake Tarapoto. On the way to the lake we went between flooded jungles and visited a tiny community/village where we got some bait for piranha fishing.
Tarapoto lake was added to a list of the wetlands that are protected. It is a home to indigeonous animals, including pink dolphins. No wonder it is a great place to see many animals and birds.
Our introduction to this protected area was swimming in it. And as soon as everyone (who wanted) jumped in the lake, our guide told us: “Ah, yeah….this lake is also known as the home of Piranha”. That precious moment when the people in the lake heard him was hilarious.
And of course just a moment later we got closer to the edge of the lake and started fishing for said Piranha. I am so proud to tell you that I caught the first one! For the bait we actually used another piranha that we got from the village on the way to the lake. My piranha also became piranha bait. Pretty much everyone in our group caught one or two piranha.
The next part of our adventure has become my favorite part of the whole trip.
The plan was to watch the sunset on the lake and after it became pitch dark start looking for caimans. The sunset was magical, as soon as it got dark we saw a sky full of stars. The atmosphere was romantic and exciting at the same time. With our amazing guide we didn’t doubt that we will see caimans. Until… our motor died and we got stuck at night in the middle of Amazons, far from civilization on quite a small boat.
Surprisingly no one freaked out. This is where the fun actually started. The thought of spending a night on the boat brought so much humor that at one point I was crying from laughter.
Anyway we all had phones (in total 8 phones) and just one person had a pretty stable reception to call for help. I do think from now on the guide will carry a radio since it is the smart thing to have. It didn’t take long for emergency rescue to find us (an hour, maybe hour and a half). But during that time we enjoyed that tranquility, magical stars (saw a few stars falling as well) and an amazing atmosphere with the members of the group.
Once we were found we climbed to the new boat and our boat was tied at the back. The ride back was as magical as the time on the lake. People here know everything so well, that they even didn’t turn on lights while driving back to Puerto Narino. The only light we had were the stars.
I hope I explained this part of our adventure well and you understood the feelings we had during this time and why this part of our trip has become our favorite.
Day three was our last day. At first we checked out of the tree house (our hotel) and went to the office to drop off our things. We had a great breakfast and went to the port. The last activity that was planned was kayaking.
The first stop was this eco lodge surrounded by jungle with lots of cute monkeys. This place was full of animals. We saw two beautiful macaws that sometimes come to this eco lodge to hang out.
On the ground our guide found a turtle that looked like a leaf and at first we just thought it was dead. Of course being a turtle it just happened to be extremely slow moving. On the trees we also saw a few big falcons and got pretty great pictures of them. Inside the lodge we found a baby owl that lost its family, so spends the day hiding out in the kitchen area. The whole place was like a big magnet for animals.
After a short rest and a cup of coffee we were off to the second stop. On the other side of the Amazon river, in the flooded jungle we went looking for sloths. I must say that it was pretty hard to navigate between the trees in a kayak. But all the effort was rewarded, we actually found three sloths! High on the trees, difficult to see, but still visible we saw balls of fur and three long nails on their paws. This made our list of seeing everything we wanted, except the caymans.
On the way back we, of course, got caught under a huge rain storm that lasted just 10 – 15 minutes but made us soaking wet.
Happy and wet, we came back to the office to take a shower, change, and head for our last delicious meal in Puerto Narino.
In the middle of Puerto Narino there is a lookout tower that you can visit and see the whole village from above. It doesn’t take much effort to climb the tower, although after a big lunch it is quite difficult. However, the view from the tower was totally worth it.
By the time our boat came to pick us up and take us to Leticia, all our clothes were dry and packed into backpacks. We also had time to try the local ice cream that had the most unique flavors like coca leaves, mojojoy worms, and camu camu fruit.
Backpack: to explore the Amazon river you will need to carry some things with you. The best way to do that is a small backpack or a wet bag.
Wet bag: if you are planning on carrying a phone or camera with you, it is a very good idea to have a waterproof bag. For example on the kayaks we got soaked under heavy rain, and if not for the water bag our camera and phones would be ruined.
Shoes: you are provided with rain boots and rain coats, so you don’t need to buy it yourself. What you need is to bring sneakers and flip flops. It is way more comfortable to wear flip flops on the boat, especially if you are planning on swimming in the Amazon.
Clothes: for your clothes you will want to have mostly synthetic clothes (dries fast). Something that has long sleeves and long pants for walking through the jungle. Shorts, shirts, and swim suits for boat rides.
Flash Light: for the night trek you will need a flash light. I find that the best one to buy is the one you can wear on your head. This will leave both your hands free to take pictures, or help balance yourself on the muddy and slippery trail.
Sunscreen: mandatory. Unless you are ready to burn your skin and not sleep well during the whole trip, you need to bring sunscreen.
Mosquito repellent: this is mandatory. The mosquitoes can be a real problem. They are quite aggressive. So get yourself a good mosquito repellent that has at least 25% DEET in it.
Hat: there will be a lot of riding on a boat and going through the jungle. To protect your head from the sun and bugs, it is better to wear a hat.
Sunglasses: this is not mandatory, but believe me you will want to have it.
Medicine: bring everything you might need like plasters, bandages, painkillers, pills for your stomach. There is a small hospital in the village, but it is always good to be prepared. After all, you are going into the jungle.
Cash: Puerto Narino doesn’t have any ATMs and most places don’t accept cards. You need cash to pay tax at the arrival port of Puerto Narino. For those who will go with the same tour that I went on, everything would be included, but you might want to buy some alcohol, souvenirs, or other things for which you will need cash. Also it is always nice to leave some tips for your guides, since the tour is quite affordable.
Passport: you will need your passport just to check in at the hotel. To go to Peru you don’t need to carry your documents.
Tour Price: $260 (accomodation and food included)
Additional Spending: 12,000 COP tax on arrival in Puerto Narino; alcohol, souvenirs(if you wish)
How Long The Tour Lasts: two nights / three days
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