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Leticia

Introduction: Leticia is the Colombian gateway to the Amazon; an important tourism hotspot that is rich in flora and fauna, indigenous cultures, and offers the added allure of the Tres Fronteras, or Three Borders, where Colombia, Peru, and Brazil meet. An international agreement allows visitors to travel up to 150km within any of the three countries without passing through customs or immigration. 

Leticia played a large role in the short-lived Colombia-Peru War. Colombia and Peru in 1922 reached an agreement regarding a territorial dispute: Colombia was awarded Leticia, and Peru was awarded a large area of jungle south of the Putumayo River. The treaty was unpopular with Peruvians due to Leticia's original founding and settlement by Peruvians, and in September of 1932, a skirmish broke out between Peruvians and Colombians that lasted until May of 1933 when the League of Nations negotatiated a ceasefire. They eventually awarded the territory to Colombia in 1934.

Today Leticia is an important port and the second largest foreign tourism draw after Cartagena. It features a fairly temperate topical climate with little seasonal variation in temperature. There are, however, significant variations in rainfall which directly corresponds to the height of the river, an important consideration for tourism.

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Orientation and Location: Leticia is the southern-most point in Colombia, located along the Amazon River, and the capital of Colombia's Amazonas department. It's a tiny city, at just 33,000 people, and it has a very cozy feel. There are no malls or major national chains in Leticia. To the west, you'll find the river, to the south the Brazilian city of Tabatinga, and to the north and east nothing but pure jungle for hundreds of kilometers. For anyone who has been to Bogota, Leticia will be easy to navigate: the calles and carreras are arranged exactly the same. That is to say that the calles increase going from north to south, and the carreras increase going from east to west, just like Bogota (or New York as well for that matter). The main drags of the town are Carrera 11, Carrera 10, Carrera 6 (known as Avenida Internacional because it leads to Brazil), and Calle 8.

How to Get There: There are only two options for getting to Leticia: plane or boat. There are no highways leading to Leticia, and there probably never will be.

If you're flying into Leticia's Vasquez Cobo Internacional Airport, it's just 1km from downtown, and it's a standard $7.000 taxi fare. Most higher end hotels include an airport pickup in their price.

Avianca, LAN, and Copa all service Leticia. Currently there are only direct flights to and from Bogota, typically three a day. Purchase your airfare well in advance, and you can find round trip tickets for as little as $250.000 to $300.000.

You can also get to Leticia by boat, either from Iquitos, Peru, or from Manaus, Brazil. Note that there are two types of boats currently offering service: "fast" and "slow". A fast boat makes the trip between Iquitos and Leticia in 10 to 12 hours and costs around $150.000. The fast boat to and from Manaus makes the trip in around 24 to 30 hours.

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What to See: Leticia, despite its small size, is a pleasant place to spend a couple of days. To the north, you'll find the city's airport, while the Amazon runs along the city's western border. Here you'll find the port, where you can catch boats to either Tabatinga or Isla Santa Rosa in Peru. Both cost just $3.000 or 3 reales. Across the street from the port you'll also find the main market: it's a great place to see the latest day's catch and buy fish, meat, and produce. Just a block up from the banks of the river, you'll find Parque Orellana on Carrera 11, between Calle 7 and 8. Here the famous Festival de Pirarucu de Oro takes place every November, bringing in musical talent from across Colombia and Latin America.

Slightly north on Carrera 11, between Calle 10 and 11, you'll find Parque Santander, which contains an elaborate waterlily pond, spectacular murals featuring local wildlife and indigenous peoples, the city's cathedral, as well as a variety of government and municipal buildings. There's also the Biblioteca Banco de la Republica, the largest library, as well as the Brazilian consulate, where foreigners can apply for visas.

Leticia is teeming with good restaurants, most of which evidence a Peruvian or Brazilian flavor. There's also an abundance of smaller spots serving up comida criolla, or typical Colombian food. Tierras Amazonicas, along Calle 8, is a particularly great choice, featuring spectacular rainforest-themed decorations and a Colombo-Peruvian-Brazilian menu. Make sure to try one of their famously strong caipirinhas, offered in numerous fruit flavors, including lime, araza, and copoazu.

If you're interested in purchasing artesanias, or local hand-crafted items, head to Carrera 11, just across the street from Parque Orellana. There are also a number of pool halls serving up cheap, cold Colombian beer, and quality tables.

There is also much to do and see heading north on Via Leticia-Tarapaca. It's a highway that is paved for 19km, followed by 6 additional kilometers of dirt roads. Along here you'll find numerous indigenous Huitoto and Tikuna villages and malocas (large, rustic, indigenous community centers), especially at KM 6 and KM 11, a delightful swimming hole and bar/restaurant at KM 8, Mundo Amazonico, a wonderful nature preserve, and a variety of nature walks. You'll also find the best spot for backpackers and adventurers in Leticia: Omshanty Hotel de Selva, located at KM 11, right across the street from a small indigenous Huitoto community.

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Ambience: Leticia is by no means a cosmopolitan metropolis, but it offers even sophisticated travelers much to do, see, hear, and taste. There are plenty of attractive options for hotels and hostels, good dining, exciting activities and walks, and the people are friendly and delighted to host visitors.

If you're planning a trip to Colombia, you should definitely consider including Leticia and the Amazon. Additionally, it's a great option for people planning multi-country trips who want to also visit Peru and Brazil.

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