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The Colombian Amazon Rainforest: majestic refuge of nature and culture

When we talk about the Colombian Amazon, we may be referring to two different geographical areas.

map of the Amazon Region of Colombia.
Map of the Amazon Region of Colombia.
Source: NeledIthil / Public domain
Map of the Department of Amazonas -Colombia
Source: canislupusarctos / CC BY-SA

On the one hand, there is the political-administrative division, known as the Department of Amazonas, with an area of 109,665 km2, which represents 9.6% of the total area of the national territory, where some 80,000 people live and whose capital is the city of Leticia .

But, on the other hand, when we talk about the Colombian Amazon, we can also be referring to the Colombian Amazon Region (RAC) whose surface covers more than a third of the country and represents approximately 5.52% of the hydrographic basin of the river Amazon.

This area dominated by tropical rain forest has a relatively low population density of barely one million people and one of the highest biodiversity indices in the world.

Index

Colombian Amazon Region (RAC)

The Amazon Region of Colombia (RAC) includes not only the department of Amazonas but also the departments of Vichada, Guainía, Vaupés and Guaviare.

The south of the department of Meta and the east of the department of Caquetá are also part of the Colombian Amazon.

Its surface is estimated in a range that goes from 399,183 km2 to 483,164 km2 (according to different criteria).

It covers the eastern slope of the Andean mountain range, the foothills, the plains, mountains, mountains, mountains, hills and all the bodies of water included in these geographical areas.

tributaries of the amazon river

Although the Amazon River crosses just 116 km of Colombian territory, there are many tributaries or tributaries from this region. Among them the most important are the Guaviare, Guainía, Caquetá, Putumayo, Chingual (Aguarico), Vaupés and Mecaya rivers.

Port of Leticia, Amazonas, Colombia Valter Campanato , CC BY 3.0 BR , via Wikimedia Commons

The main rivers of the Colombian Amazon are Guaviare, Guainía, Caquetá, Putumayo, Chingual, Vaupés, Mecaya and Amazonas (which runs only 116 km in the RAC), with the limitation that navigable rivers flow in the opposite direction to Colombian markets of the Amazon.

Biodiversity

Taking into account the Orinoco River Basin, which it shares with Venezuela , Colombia ranks second among the countries with the greatest diversity of fish in the world with 995 species, only surpassed by Brazil, which has more than 2,000 species. However, if we exclude the species typical of the Orinoco River Basin, only 685 species of fish would remain.

With regard to reptile species, Colombia is the second country in South America with the largest number of turtle species and the first country with the greatest diversity of crocodiles or caimans .

Indigenous population

Towards the end of the 20th century, approximately 79,000 indigenous people lived in the Colombian Amazon, forming part of 58 indigenous communities . The vast majority of them were concentrated in the department of Vaupés. More than half of these tribes were made up of a maximum of 500 people each.

CARLITOS CLOWN, BOY FROM THE TICUNAS AMAZON COMMUNITY COLOMBIA. Source: Potter’s Servant [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

According to the Colombian National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) in 2007 there were 52 indigenous peoples in the Colombian Amazon.

Economy

The Colombian Amazon was an important source of raw material for international markets, like other Amazon regions from 1800.

First was the extraction of rubber, rubber , wild animal skins, and wood during the 19th century. Later came the exploitation of oil and coca whose peak occurred in the 20th century.

The subsistence economic activities of the Amazonian indigenous peoples of Colombia have traditionally been four: fishing , hunting , gathering wild fruits , and agriculture that takes place in small orchards better known as chacras or chagras.

Its main source of protein comes from the fishing activity limited to some 33 species of fish, which is traditionally carried out with the use of barbasco .

The hunting of wild animals is a secondary activity. Given the lack of food preservation methods in the most rural areas, the captured pieces are distributed among all the members of the same community or even delivered to other neighboring communities, serving to generate ties or alliances.

Other more recent economic activities are fish farming and especially tourism .

sightseeing

Among the tourist places of the Colombian Amazon we can mention: the Aguas Claras Natural Reserve , the Santander Park , the Mundo Amazónico Ecological Park , the Micos Island , the Amacayacu National Natural Park , the city of Tabatinga , Puerto Nariño

Tabatinga

Here you can perform various activities such as tree climbing, jungle walks, canopy, and navigate the Amazon River .

In addition, tours are offered to observe the fauna and flora , which start on a river crossing where you can see the beautiful pink dolphins and see the largest lotus flower in the world (its leaves can be up to a meter in diameter).

Other tourist packages may include sleeping in ancestral trees or sharing a day with the indigenous communities that live in the area.

Among the hotels in the Colombian Amazon, the following stand out: Hotel Waira Leticia, Waira Suites, Hotel Decameron Amazonas, Decalodge Ticuna, Hotel Amazon Bed And Breakfast, Kurupira Floating Cabin, Hotel La Ceiba, Amazonas, Hostel Casa de las Palmas, Hotel Yurupari, Hotel Madreselva, Hotel On Vacation, Hotel Anaconda, Naineku lodge, Hotel Lomas del Paiyu

Amazon gastronomy of Colombia

Among the typical dishes are those prepared with turtle eggs, with morrocoy turtle. Monkey, tapir, capybara, boa are consumed, which they consume as smoked loin with lemon, vinegar, potato, among others.

Given the abundance of rivers, a lot of fish is consumed, complemented with cassava, banana and fruits such as copoazu and anon. The feeding of the place is influenced by what can be extracted from the rivers.

The pirarucú , a fish of up to three meters, the yucca and the strong flavors stand out. Fish is the basis of the Amazonian diet and one of the products most sought after by tourists.

Guerrilla and drug trafficking

The leftist guerrillas (ELN, FARC) and the subsequent paramilitarism have generated displacement of exiled peasants who seek sources of income and improvement in the quality of life. These military conflicts have brought foreign conflicts and a lot of violence loaded with political ideologies to the Colombian Amazon.

The part most affected by these political conflicts is the northwestern region, including the departments of Caquetá, Guaviare and Putumayo.

In the southeastern region (Guainía, Vaupés, Amazonas, Vichada and the rest of Caquetá and Putumayo), which is more isolated from highways and less penetrated, the indigenous subsistence economy has persisted, the production of which generates little or no commercial surplus.

With the fall of the Soviet Union and faced with the need to seek other forms of financing for the purchase of weapons and the maintenance of their troops, the Colombian guerrilla movements boosted illicit coca cultivation in Amazonian lands under their military control.

The increase in coca and cocaine production beginning in the late 1980s brought devastating consequences.

On the one hand, fires multiplied and the deforestation of extensive jungle areas for the planting of illicit crops.

On the other hand, the Amazonian inhabitants were affected by the disintegration of their family nuclei, the prostitution of indigenous women, more insecurity, more violence and an artificial market economy with extremely poor human development.

Department of Amazonas (Colombia)

The Colombian department of Amazonas is located in the extreme south of the country, bordering on the east with the department of Loreto (Peru) and on the west with the state of Amazonas (Brazil). The capital is the city of Leticia where 60% of the total population of the department lives.

Leticia

The most important city in the Colombian Amazon is Leticia. It is the capital of the department of Amazonas and is located 1,085 km from Bogotá, however there are no roads that connect it with the country’s capital.

Leticia – Colombia. Source: Pedro Szekely from Los Angeles, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

It can be accessed by air through the General Alfredo Vásquez Cobo International Airport or by river through its port located on the Amazon River, where intense commercial activity takes place.


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