Planning a trip to the Amazon can be challenging, time consuming and expensive if not done carefully. However, with careful forethought and a positive attitude it can be quite fun!
(Things like where exactly to go, what to see, how to find a guide, where to stay the night, etc., are not covered in this guide. This guide, while it may be applicable to other regions of the Amazon, is specifically for those people visiting La Libertad, Amazonas, Colombia.)
Documents for the Amazon
Take a copy of your passport, scan it and email it to yourself or store it in “the cloud”. That way you can have the copy if your original is lost or stolen. Some people also do this with their credit card info, but precautions must be taken to avoid the info from digitally falling into the wrong hands.
Vaccinations for the Amazon
For vaccinations I have had, and continue with boosters for: yellow fever, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, tetanus, flu (including H1N1) and MMR.
Malaria in the Amazon
According to health websites there is a high risk of malaria in the Amazon region of Colombia, although the villagers report they have not experienced any such problems with malaria. There are however a lot of biting insects such as mosquitoes in the area. Taking a course of antimalarial tablets is a personal choice, but regardless, precautions should be taken against being bitten during both the day and night. Insect repellent is useful during the day and especially after dusk, when wearing long sleeves and long trousers would be advisable. Using permethrin spray on clothes and on mosquito netting is also useful. Mosquito netting for the bunk beds in the volunteer guest house is provided for you. Repellent can be purchased in Leticia or in large cities in Colombia. Sun block, bite relief cream and hand sanitizer are also worth bringing.
Other health considerations for the Amazon
Sun block, any medications that you normally take, personal hygiene items, and water purification tablets for emergency water treatment. While two LifeStraw Family filters are available in the village, their working condition is NOT guaranteed. Bottled or bagged water must be brought to the village. Alternatives to this are water treatment methods which include: boiling rainwater, filtering at a level for bacterial AND viral contaminants (very difficult for a water filter), or multi-process chemical treatment. A combination of these methods may be used.
You cannot buy any health supplies in La Libertad itself so stocking up on health provisions is essential.
Health Insurance for the Amazon
As with any trip, travel insurance is recommended. World Nomads are recommended by the Lonely Planet.
Useful things to bring to the Amazon
Small pocket knife
Lighter and candle
Books or playing cards to keep you entertained in the evening
Soap for washing clothes, plates and yourself
Insect repellent, permethrin clothing treatment, after bite cream, medical kit
Water, fruit, vegetables and dry food
Teaching materials if required
Plastic Zip-lock bags to store/organize things you bring that you don’t want to become wet from rain/humidity
Lightweight twin bed sheet
Climate and clothing in the Amazon
There are two main seasons in the Amazon. Dry season usually lasts from June to September where typically there is little or no rain. The rest of the months are considered rainy season, where rain fall can be at times extremely heavy. Visiting the village during the rainy season has the advantage of plentiful rain water for bathing, cooking and cleaning however it is more humid and with the rain comes lots of mud. The village is built upon clay, with very few paved areas. Therefore rubber boots (wellies) are absolutely vital and can be purchased in Leticia. A rain poncho is optional, as most villagers just take shelter while it rains and with such high humidity, using an umbrella may be more comfortable. At least three complete changes of light clothing, swim wear, sun hat, and flip flops would also be useful. With the high humidity it is very difficult to dry your clothes after washing and items can get moldy quite quickly, so care should be taken with all electrical equipment including cameras.
Villagers wash all their clothes in the river and surprisingly the white school uniforms remain remarkably white! Laundry soap and a small scrubbing brush may be useful. Alternatively there are laundry services in Leticia.
What to leave behind
Any expensive clothes or clothes you really care about, as things get really muddy, can deteriorate while washing in the river or go moldy due to the damp conditions. Also don´t take any unnecessary electronic equipment because of the humidity. A machete may be useful if you take any forest walks although it is always recommended that you walk with a guide such as Gustavo who will carry one.
CREDITS Thank you to Howard and Sarah Risby for their contribution to the Volunteer Guide, from which much of this information was borrowed.