On the other side of the Andes, Colombia takes on yet another new look. This is the most isolated part of the country, a place where few roads are able to penetrate. Colombia’s Amazon takes up a full third of the country, yet most Colombians have never even been there. Leticia, Colombia’s tiny foothold on the Amazon River, adjacent to the borders of Peru and Brazil, is the main point of access to the region, with multiple daily flights from Bogotá. It’s so close to Tabatinga, the town’s Brazilian equivalent, that many residents in both cities speak the two languages and have adapted to both nations’ customs, so you might not even notice where you are until the waiter serves you a cachaça instead of rum. Within a short boat ride you can be face to face with capuchin monkeys or spotting pink river dolphins near Parque Nacional Natural Amacayacu, home to more than 500 different species of birds, hundreds of mammals, and giant spiders and snakes, fulfilling your wildest Amazon fantasies. In Puerto Nariño you will chat up indigenous groups whose culture has changed little in centuries, then dine on typical Amazonian cuisine, like the mojojoy, a palm grub that gets skewered and grilled, or pirarucu, an enormous freshwater fish.
Many parts of Los Llanos, a vast, mostly uninhabited flood-prone grassland that extends into Venezuela, were long off-limits to tourists because of guerilla activity and irregular transport, but now flights reach there regularly. One of Colombia’s greatest natural attractions is here: Caño Cristales, a river that turns an array of colors several months of the year because of the aquatic plants found within, leading many to call it the world’s most beautiful.
History: Conquistador Francisco de Orellana sailed the length of the Amazon River in 1541, though it wasn’t until the latter half of the 18th century that the region began to be settled. For many years, Peru and Colombia skirmished over the rights to Leticia, which was founded as a part of Peru; however, in 1934 the League of Nations finally awarded the city to Colombia.
Culture: Because the Colombian Amazon remains so isolated from the rest of the country, many indigenous groups in the region have managed to maintain many of their traditional customs. While there are nomadic communities that live in voluntary isolation, most of the region’s Tikunas, Yaguas, Huitotos, and Boras live in small, mostly self-sufficient agrarian villages, where they preserve traditional cooking techniques, dances, and clothing.
Nature: It’s the Amazon rainforest, so yes, nature is a big deal here. The continent’s forests act as the lungs of the earth and contain two-thirds of all of the freshwater on earth. You’ll want plenty of time to get as far away as you can by riverboats and canoes to see the region’s majestic flora and fauna up close.
Active Pursuits: There is no shortage of adventure in the Amazon. You can fish for piranhas, paddle canoes up remote tributaries, hike along forest trails thick with plants, seek out caimans with a flashlight, and cross off dozens of other bucket-list escapades. In Los Llanos, horseback riding isn’t just a tourist activity, it’s the primary method for getting from place to place.