There are many wonderful places to visit all over Colombia, and just as many incredible places to stay whilst you enjoy the sights of this fantastic country. From cabins on the beach in Tayrona National Park, to hammocks in the middle of the windswept desert, Colombia offers the intrepid traveller a multitude of options for a truly memorable night’s sleep. However, the ultimate in intrepid adventure must surely be the Amazon rainforest, which has mystified and confounded travellers ever since Francisco de Orellana first sailed along the river in 1541. Colombia’s Amazon region is by no means the largest in South America (in fact it may be one of the smallest), but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in opportunities for adventure and once-in-a-lifetime experiences: it certainly includes one of the best hotels I have ever stayed in – Alto del Aguila, in Puerto Nariño.
Puerto Nariño is a lovely little sustainable town, founded in 1961, on the banks of the River Loretoyaco, which branches off the Amazon river about 87km upstream from Colombia’s principal Amazonian city, Leticia. I found Leticia contained minimal appeal: it’s a bustling port city, and aside from the novelty of having breakfast in Colombia, lunch in Peru, and dinner in Brazil, it doesn’t offer much more than the chance to arrange a jungle tour. After I had done my tour and wanted to relax for a few days surrounded by nature, I headed for Puerto Nariño. This town a very small population, the majority of inhabitants being Ticuna people, and no motorized transport (save canoes) is allowed. It’s a calm, friendly little place, perfect for a few restful days exploring the jungle.
When I arrived at the town dock after a 2 hour fast boat from Leticia, I was met by several hotel reps offering a room for the night: I chose one named Alto del Aguila, as I was told it was a further 15 minutes upriver, and had an observation tower that looked out over the jungle. I was certainly not disappointed: Alto del Aguila was one of the best places I have ever stayed. There are a variety of different rooms on offer; a dorm-cabin, several private cabins, and rooms contained within the main hotel building: all for amazingly low prices. My private cabin, with double bed, cost me a remarkable 20.000 pesos! Expect no luxury, these are basic cabins in the forest, but the experience of waking up at dawn surrounded by shrieking bird-calls is a remarkable and unique one. There is a kitchen for patrons to use, and several local guides who, for a small fee, will take you on jungle treks, or on canoe trips out to Tarapoto Lake, where you can swim with pink river dolphins and fish for piranhas. The tower is a wonderful addition, and affords you panoramic views over the river beyond.
That’s not even the best part! The friendly friar who runs the place has a veritable menagerie of animals roaming around his property, which makes staying here a wildlife experience all of its own. There are the usual cats, dogs, ducks and chickens of course, but Alto del Aguila is also the home of a group of macaws and squirrel monkeys. All are technically wild animals: the macaws fly around the river, and will even join the canoe on its trips to Puerto Nariño, and the monkeys spend their afternoons playing and feeding in the forest nearby. However, they have become part of the family at the hotel; the macaws will occasionally deign to sit on your arm, whilst the monkeys will climb all over you given half the chance. It’s great fun, if a little tiring after a while, although, eventually the monkeys get tired and, rather adorably, fall asleep on your knee.
Puerto Nariño, and especially Alto del Aguila, were so beautiful and peaceful that I ended up staying for 5 days, only having to leave because I ran out of money (there’s no ATM in town, plan ahead!). Don’t go there expecting the wild, untamed jungle, because you won’t get it: this town is the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing time in the Amazon, surrounded by beautiful birds and animals. Kayak on the river, sleep in your hammock (hoping the monkeys don’t wake you), and fry up your freshly caught piranhas on an open fire – it’s the perfect place to get away from it all. I’ll definitely be back as soon as possible.