Colombia’s Amazon jungles are vast and barely explored: they cover a huge swathe of the country, yet most travelers are only familiar with the city of Leticia, Colombia’s southernmost point on the border with Peru and Brazil. However, there are many more amazing Amazonian destinations to explore in Colombia, so here are 10 things to see and do off-the-beaten-track in the Colombian Amazon.
In the jungles surrounding the Amazon frontier city of San Jose del Guaviare, there are several remarkable archaeological sites preserving ancient Indigenous rock paintings, some dating back 10,000 years. The best of these sites is Cerro Azul, an impressive rocky hill jutting out of the forest, where the walls are covered in blood-red rock art depicting ancient symbols, birds, animals and even people.
Chiribiquete National Park is the real-life Lost World: a vast swathe of jungle, punctuated by giant rocky hills, and surrounded by sinuous rivers and huge rapids. It is said to even shelter Indigenous peoples who remain uncontacted by the outside world. There is no land access to this forgotten paradise, but it is possible to arrange tours to fly over Chiribiquete: it’s very expensive, but if you have the funds then it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to glimpse a true Lost World.
Guainia department, on the eastern border with Venezuela, is about as off-the-beaten-track as it gets in Colombian Amazon travel, but it is home to one of the most spectacular natural wonders in the country: the Mavecure Hills, or Cerros de Mavecure. These giant rocky hills are remnants of the Guiana Shield, some of the oldest rocks on the planets, and climbing them at dawn to watch the sun rise over the jungle is a magical experience.
Caqueta department is a region that has suffered from a huge lack of tourism due to its dangerous reputation but, thankfully, this has changed a great deal and the region is opening up to tourism like never before. There are many great activities to enjoy around the departmental capital of Florencia, but white-water rafting on the Orteguaza River – while exploring the surrounding jungle for waterfalls and petroglyphs – is an amazing Amazonian experience.
Mocoa is another city on the frontier of the Andes and the Amazon, making it easily accessible for anyone who wants to experience some of Colombia’s jungle without having to take any flights. It’s a small city, surrounded by rivers and impressive waterfalls, but the most impressive of the lot are the Fin del Mundo waterfalls, a series of smaller waterfalls, culminating in a mighty 80 m cascade into the jungle below.
Mitu is the capital of Vaupes department, which is possibly the least visited region of Colombia: you can only access Mitu by plane, and it has an isolated, cut-off vibe as a result. However, the birdwatching around Mitu is the stuff of legend among Colombian birders, and avian enthusiasts will be in jungle heaven attempting to spot species such as the Fiery Topaz, Brown-banded Puffbird, Imeri Warbling-Antbird, Pavonine Quetzal and the stunning Guianan cock-of-the-rock.
Pink River Dolphins are about the craziest, coolest animal you could hope to encounter on a trip to the Amazon, and at this isolated lake in Guaviare department you can swim with wild Pink Dolphins that have become remarkably relaxed around people (the local community on the edge of the lake even have names for them!). They will swim up and bump against your feet and even mess around and tug on the bow line of the boat! It’s a surreal, one-off experience that you’ll never forget.
The famous red river of Cano Cristales in Meta department might not be the most visited spot in Colombia, but you could hardly accuse it of being unknown or off-the-beaten-track. However, just outside San Jose del Guaviare is another river with the same incredible red algae, making it like the little brother of Cano Cristales.
These mighty rapids on the Apaporis River in the south of Vaupes department are often described as the greatest hidden wonder in the whole of Colombia, which is saying something. However, when you see photos and videos of the incredible, tumultuous spectacle, it’s hard to argue with that description. You’ll need to arrange a tour to visit Jirijirimo, but it might well end up being your fondest Colombian travel memory.
Araracuara – try saying it three times fast! – is an isolated village on the frontier of Caqueta and Amazonas departments, and is so isolated that it was once a prison for maximum security inmates (they didn’t even bother locking them up, such was the impossibility of escape). However, it is home to incredible biodiversity, the stunning Araracuara Canyon and rapids, and some of the most isolated communities in the Colombian Amazon. Many tours even combine a visit with a flight over the nearby Chiribiquete National Park.