Regional flights in South America are ridiculously expensive.
Especially when compared to South East Asia, where I come from.
Thus, I had to look for an alternative way to get from Colombia to the north of Brazil, where I intend to cross the border into Venezuela.
Thankfully, I found out that Colombia and Brazil are connected by 2 neighbouring towns located in the Amazonas: Leticia and Tabatinga.
The cheaper alternative to get from Colombia to Brazil (and vice versa) is to take a domestic flight, cross the border, then fly (or cruise/ride) in Brazil. Here is a quick guide.
Getting from Colombia to Brazil
From Bogota, there are daily flights to Leticia with Avianca and Latam Airlines.
Do book in advance as last minute flights are not cheap. My flight with Avianca set me back upwards of USD $200. Furthermore, seats are always sold out, surprisingly. It was because of this I was stuck in Colombia for an additional week.
Avianca flights to Leticia are not at the domestic flights section of the main airport. They are at Terminal 2, formerly known as Puente Aéreo or TPA. If you went to the wrong airport, there is a shuttle bus service that brings you to Terminal 2.
The flight from Bogota to Leticia is 2 hours.
When you arrive at Leticia, you have to pay a tourist tax to enter the city. It costs COP $30000 (Dec 2017) and you’ll have to pay even if you intend to cross straight into Brazil.
Before you leave the airport, remember to go to the immigration office to get your exit stamp. It is in the main airport area. You can stay in Leticia for one day even after you stamped your passport. Do it now, or you’ll have to come back to the airport.
There are numerous taxis, tuktuks and tour vendors outside the airport. I followed a mototaxi driver thinking it would be a tuktuk but it turned out to be a motorbike. Yes, I was carrying my heavy backpack AND a day pack riding a motorbike (COP $5000). Plus, it was drizzling.
“Experiencia,” the driver said.
Leticia, being in the Amazonas, is hot and humid – a far cry from the climate in Bogota. Like Iquitos, it is chaotic and rundown with terrible wifi. There isn’t much to see or do in Leticia itself. Most activities are out in the Amazon jungle.
Interestingly, every evening at the exact same hour (5-6pm), a huge flock of birds fly above the main plaza, chirping noisily as the sun sets in the background.
Leticia is separated from Tabatinga by an open border. You can literally walk into Brazil. Like I mentioned, the immigration in Colombia is at the airport.
The immigration in Brazil (also known as the Federal Police) is a long walk into the town. I’d recommend taking a tuktuk instead.
A tuktuk from Leticia to Tabatinga’s airport should cost around COP $15000 or BRL $15. Remember to tell the driver to stop by the Federal Police to get your entry stamp into Brazil. Don’t forget to change your money at a money exchange.
Marvel at how the signs change from Spanish to Portuguese as you enter Brazil.
Random funny note: My tuktuk driver told me there are 4 Chinese who live there: 3 in Leticia and 1 in Tabatinga.
From Tabatinga, most people head to Manaus. There are two ways: by boat or by plane.
Boat from Tabatinga to Manaus:
There are 2 options: a fast boat that takes around 30 hours, or a slow ferry (3-4 days).
Boats do not leave everyday and schedules online are not up-to-date. It’s best to ask around in Tabatinga at the port. The ferry is the cheapest option but you must bring your own hammock, water and it’s not the most secure option.
That’s why I took the plane (also because I was rushing).
Plane from Tabatinga to Manaus:
This is the fastest but also most expensive option.
If you take a tuktuk from Leticia, they stop 5min away from the airport because they are not allowed there apparently.
The Tabatinga airport is a small and empty airport. There’s literally nothing besides a few chairs. There is no wifi too. There are some power points to charge your gadgets. Do note that Brazil uses a different adapter from Colombia.
The only food option is a small snack bar that opens at 2pm. However, when I was there they opened at 2:20pm. So, do not go there too early like I did. There are no taxis waiting outside the airport like at Leticia (or any other airport in the world for that matter).
Remember to say ‘obrigado’ instead of ‘gracias’!
Tabatinga is in the same time zone as Leticia/Colombia, even though it says differently on Google. In Manaus, the time zone is different. Take note.
Once you reach Manaus, it feels as if you’re back to civilisation. The airport is much more modern, luxurious and has food options, ATMS, taxis and most importantly, wifi!
And now, it’s your turn.