Amazon Tri-border: Santa Rosa, Leticia, Tabatinga

Deeper into the Peruvian Amazon we go – a speedboat whisks passengers from steamy Iquitos to the seedy tri-border where Santa Rosa (Peru), Leticia (Colombia), and Tabatinga (Brazil) converge…

Legend has it that this shady tri-border region doesn’t boast a great reputation and is a last frontier. Tales of slippery drug smuggling and unsavoury deals in contrabands and gems emerge. But, the promise of spotting exotic jungle animals and the pull of the jungle are too great to miss…

Port of Iquitos

Iquitos, Peru, Amazon, South AmericaFollowing an unbelievable 3-day rustic barge journey from Yurimaguas down the Amazon River, arriving in the muddy Port of Iquitos to continue the journey to the Tri-border is a relief.

The port and also Iquitos are crazy with constant badgering from loads of hustlers – although it’s not quite as bad as Cusco.

A few nights resting in intriguing Iquitos before it’s time for the next exciting adventure on a 10-plus-hour speed boat to the Tri-border. But first, a little on Iquitos…


Although this area was inhabited by indigenous people long before the Spaniards arrived in 1757, the 19th century saw the rubber industry flourish and decline.

Iquitos, Peru, Amazon, South America

The 20th century saw growth in exports of fish, agricultural crops, oil minerals, timber, crafts, beer, and carbonated drinks, with the 21st-century flourishing in ecological tourism.

Iquitos, Peru, Amazon, South America

Iquitos is perpetually re-inventing itself to survive, which is not surprising considering its isolated location and lack of a road to the city.

Iquitos, Peru, Amazon, South America

The heavy oppressive sky in Iquitos accentuates the jungle’s atmosphere.

Exotic birds come out in the town’s square at dusk – the squawking is deafening – yes, we really are in this deep in the Amazon jungle and one of the poorest regions in Peru.

Iquitos, Peru, Amazon, South America

Menus in town hint of Ayahuasca, which is traditionally used for medicinal purposes and administered by Shamans. Travellers believe that Ayahuasca is a hallucinogen and I believe there are tours, which gringos attend to test the theory.

Where to sleep

The great hostel Hospedaje Florentina is a haven from the humidity with super friendly staff and a good breakfast. No Wi-Fi provided.

Luckily, we’re able to store big backpacks here free whilst heading to the tri-border for a couple of nights.

Organising a speedboat to the Tri-border

Although you can take another slow rustic barge over several days from Iquitos to the tri-border, we’re opting for the faster boat (lanchas) this time as it’s supposed to take around 10 hours.

Stroll down to the port’s bank and it’s not long before you stumble upon the narrow speedboats. Purchase a ticket the day before you travel, just to be sure.

Deep into the Amazon’s Tri-border

Iquitos, Santa Rosa, Leticia, Tabatinga, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Amazon, South AmericaLeaving at the indecent hour of 5 am, we cram onto the fast boat.

Completely rammed with passengers and luggage, the only room left is the narrow aisle between seats.

The boat’s childlike seats are not engineered for gringos – I’m not a huge or tall person.

With our knees up around our ears and day packs between our legs, it’s at this point I’d like to ask where the term: “huge as an Amazonian” originates from to describe a very tall person? Amazonian locals are not tall – our seats today confirm this.

So uncomfortable is this journey that my legs cramp up and I have to try and wriggle in my seat to release the pressure.

Slowing down to stop occasionally, we can reposition ourselves briefly until the boat speeds up again.

Just like the slow barge to Iquitos, the scenery along the river is spectacular and village life is fascinating.

Some locals are the epitome of fashion…

Iquitos, Santa Rosa, Peru, Amazon, South America

This cutie wants to continually play Hide & Seek with me out of the speed boat’s window, so manage to snap his gorgeous face.

Iquitos, Santa Rosa, Peru, Amazon, South America

The Amazon is immense and to give you an idea, stretches 30-kilometres wide at it’s peak – daunting?

Iquitos, Santa Rosa, Peru, Amazon, South America

Whilst whizzing by the small villages along the muddy river, you can’t but help to reflect on the Amazon’s vastness.

When visualising the Amazon, think an unexplored and untouched massive river with thick impenetrable jungle creeping up on both banks.

Santa Rosa, Peru, Tri-border, South America

Surprised to see so many villages scattered along the river albeit remote, but inhabited nonetheless.

Santa Rosa, Peru, Tri-border, South America

Stopping occasionally to drop-off or pick-up passengers, inquisitive villagers often peer out of wherever they sit – waiting.

Santa Rosa, Peru, Tri-border, South America

Of course you pass stretches of river with nothing but dense vegetation gracing all banks, but the jungle is alive with exotic fauna and flora as we learnt on our jungle trek in Bolivia.

Santa Rosa, Peru, Tri-border, South America

Sporadic washing and dugout canoes dot the Amazon hinting of human life nearby.

Santa Rosa, Peru, Tri-border, South America

Prior to arriving in Santa Rosa, we’re advised that movement between the 3 countries is easy enough, but you do need to be stamped in and out of each country if visiting all three.

Santa Rosa – Peru

Over 10 hours later, the speed machine finally arrives at the tiny island of Santa Rosa.

Santa Rosa, Peru, Tri-border, South America

With directions to Immigration we catch a mototaxi, splitting the cost with a couple of Colombians, and set off with my partner hanging off the back as there isn’t any room inside.

Barely an outpost with a couple of dirt paths as roads and mostly thatched huts, this village is the gateway for exporting cheap produce such as onions, pasta, and potatoes to Leticia and Tabatinga.


Not much of a queue at Immigration today, a large friendly lady with baby greets you and stamps your passport out of Peru.

Back to the speedboat to cross the Amazon river into Colombia.

Leticia – Colombia

We need to check into Colombia so climb on the back of 2 young boys’ motorbikes and head to Immigration, which is at the airport only a couple of kilometres from town.


The airport’s immigration is a painless exercise and passports are stamped. Relieved to see the boys still waiting outside, we’re dropped back into town for the short walk to the hotel.

Leticia’s streets are buzzing. Alive with music and people milling around most of the night. A town that never sleeps.

Leticia, Colombia, Amazon, South America

Grand colonial buildings still grace the streets in Leticia, whilst Reggaeton music blares out of shops and passing boom boxes.

Leticia, Colombia, Amazon, South America

Not-so-discreet signs drive home the unsavoury deals that occur at this tri-border…

Child sex sign, Leticia, Colombia, Amazon, South America

If you’re into buying gems at great prices, then Emerald-Leticia is the town for you.

I nearly bought an emerald at a very cheap price and now kicking myself that I passed this chance up.

A word of warning, you do have to know the difference between cut glass and the real thing. Wander the streets in Leticia and it’s not long until you bump into a gem fever street – it’s contagious.

Tabatinga – Brazil

The federal police and Brazilian army considers Tabatinga as “one of the main entry points of cocaine in Brazil” due to its proximity with Colombia and Peru.

Taking a taxi from Leticia into Tabatinga is a totally surreal experience in contrast to moving through sleepy Santa Rosa or vibrant Leticia.

You can be forgiven for mistaking the flimsy barrier denoting you crossed into Brazil, as just a temporary road block of some sort.

This is one town I don’t feel safe in – not sure what it is, but the seedy vibe is what hits you. Call it gut feel or whatever you like – it’s real and it’s in Tabatinga – for me anyway.


If you need stamping in or out of Brazil, then Immigration is in Tabatinga’s main avenue: Avenida da Amizade.

This tri-border frontier is such an interesting place. People, taxis, goods, and everything move in and out of the 3 countries freely, unrestricted, and with ease – no checking in or out – bizarre!

Leaving the Tri-border

Santa Rosa, Iquitos, Amazon, Peru, South AmericaAfter a couple of intriguing nights in Leticia and finally booking a flight from Iquitos to Tarapoto, it’s time to get back on the squashy speedboat to ply up the Amazon. We don’t have 3 to 4 days to spare on the slower rustic barge back to Iquitos.

A cruel 3 am start today as the speedboat travels up the river so slower, due to the strong current. This trip takes 12 awful uncomfortable hours in crammed conditions before reaching Iquitos, although what I see of the lush Amazonian scenery is amazing.

Happy to land in Iquitos once more for a short stay, even under an oppressive and sultry sky…

Iquitos, Peru, Amazon, South America

Tomorrow we take a flight to Tarapoto instead of the 3-day rustic barge trip to Yarimaguas, then another minibus to Tarapoto.

Super excited to be flying over the snakelike Amazon after spending days traversing its muddy expansive waters…

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more images. More posts on Peru at Image Earth Travel.

57 responses to “Amazon Tri-border: Santa Rosa, Leticia, Tabatinga”

  1. equinoxio21 Avatar

    Great post. When were you there? We went in December 2006. I remember the thousands of mopeds in the street. The pink dolphins, the eternal speedboat rides (I couldn’t take 12hours. No ma’am) Mosquitoes at dusk as always in Colombia. (And yes dusk is fab on the Amazon). A sad visit to a sad “Indian” village along the river. A nice stroll in the forest. With guide. SAw plenty of huge butterflies, colourful frogs and a sloth.
    Buona notte

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      You were there a little before us in 2011 and travelled independently, no guides for anything, just winging it as we went along.

      Didn’t see any pink dolphins on that trip but did see them in Bolivia – amazing. Your trip sounds amazing as love seeing all the natural fauna and flora. Only saw the traditional villages along the Amazon as we couldn’t get off and on at stops, just observe, which was fascinating enough form the barge.

      Yeah well, it’s amazing what you do and the risks you take when you’re on the road, but that’s travelling right? 😉

      1. equinoxio21 Avatar

        It is travelling. (I see you write it to 2 ll’s, like me. I’m getting very confused between my original English spelling and ‘Mureecahn”.
        Though your travelling has been way more adventurous than mine. Congrats.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        That will be the British English I was taught in Australia. 😉
        Thank you but I doubt that very much – I’ve read a few of your wonderful travel stories and enjoy your writing style.

      3. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Same here. British English. 🙂 But with age and maybe too many languages I begin to have spelling problems, particularly with consonants. Spanish does not have double consonants. English and French do, but generally different on the same words. e.g. Littéraire, literary. When in doubt I google the word to check spelling.

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        I worked for several American companies and had to retrain my brain to spell in American English when writing technical documentation…do it long enough and it becomes ingrained.

        Ha, ha, your head sounds as though it’s rammed full of languages. I usually ‘purge’ – fancy word for forget. 😉
        I believe we’ve become much lazier with technology and often I have to check Google for spelling – I used to be a good speller, but now, not great – age?

      5. equinoxio21 Avatar

        I understand perfectly. In statistics and quantitative techniques class, professor form Austin Texas, I used to say “Zed” for “Z”, and one student asked “what does he mean by “Zed”, teacher said “He means Zee.” He was fluent in 3 languages, American, Southern and English. 🙂
        So you wrote technical documentation? That’s a little known area of expertise but of utmost importance.
        Languages are very important. We can’t access people’s thoughts. Only their words. And each language shapes thought in a different way.
        Maybe we have become lazy with technology. Maybe also, our memories are so crammed up that we can have doubts. 🙂 It’s fine.
        Ciao, ciao

      6. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Well, I guess we can say it’s almost another language, or perhaps it’s a dialect? The spelling certainly is…ha, ha, that made me smile. 🙂

        Yes I’m a Technical Writer (amongst other things) – these days we need to have more than one profession right? When I return to Australia, I’ll have to go back to work for a year or two so this is what I’ll return to if the work is there…

        What I’ve always wanted is one of those ‘Matrix’ chips that I can plug in for each country that I’m in and immediately speak and understand the language – how cool would that be? I’m sure it will come and hopefully in our lifetime. Agree, each language does shape thought in a different way as does culture.

        Ha, ha, that’s a nice way of accepting memory loss 😉

        Buona notte

      7. equinoxio21 Avatar

        A Technical Writer is a very important part of today’s world. (One of my first jobs was actually in a Tech documentation firm. But I was in Marketing) So you do plan to return to Oz? Interesting.
        Not sure I would want the chip. Discovering a new language is part of the fun. Though I understand there are already vocal apps that work more or less.
        What else was I gonna say? hmm. Do you remember?

      8. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        It seems that no one likes to write documentation for anything really, especially Developers and never the twain shall meet.
        I love doing this and especially online information, yes I’m sad I know. Then there are BAs that call themselves Tech Writers but make a mess of it, not blowing my own trumpet, but some things are best left to people that do this for a living.
        I did a little Marketing at uni and I’m not that good at it or like it, sorry, but know this is your area of expertise.

        Very true, but travelling to a country and instantly understanding the language to communicate at a deeper level is priceless.

        Yes, well the vocal apps – salt to the wounds. Back in 2000, I worked with a developer that was (still is) brilliant and asked him to develop my idea of a voice travel app. He told me it was too difficult with the many databases, etc. and was best left to Google – guess what…

        Ha, ha, nope, I don’t remember at all… 😉

      9. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Agreed, some people have to write the documentation, above all on programmers’ cluttered minds… Precious work. And don’t worry about Marketing, I enjoyed t, but today’s Marketing is really a thieves’ tool. How to fool people. A shame.
        And I can understand the frustration about the App. Some people set out to make money, a few actually do. Others have seen the world. 😉

      10. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        True. Yes, I’ve read a lot about today’s marketing, but it’s not difficult to see the psychology behind it and see through the shams – but it works.
        Indeed they have… 😉

      11. equinoxio21 Avatar

        It works. Unfortunately. Though the worst combination in my mind is the meeting of Marketing and politicians… Terrible.

      12. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Indeed it does…you should watch “The Great Hack” – scary stuff the way in which the public is manipulated.

      13. equinoxio21 Avatar

        I think I’d rather start looking for that desert island… 😉

      14. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Me too… 😉

      15. equinoxio21 Avatar

        I have a few more candidates for that desert island. Just need to find it.

      16. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Ha, ha, will need a bigger island! 😉

      17. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Just looked it up. That’s the Cambridge Analytica affair, right? Have any politicos been put put in the joint at all? 🙁

      18. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Yes and no, not one person I believe…fancy hey, not surprising, they’ve got their butts covered from all angles.

      19. equinoxio21 Avatar

        True. Yet, especially in the States, there is a form of… resignation. The US are a legal country. Democrats should sue the Tramp on every decree. which they did at the beginning then stopped. I think you can always find a judge in Nowhere Gulch, Nebraska who will say: “Yes, we can suspend the decree…”
        But if nobody goes to jail… Sigh.

      20. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Exactly, it’s disgraceful and I see this as treason on every level. But, the apathy of the people in a lot of countries around the world have allowed the 1% to become much too powerful and much too rich – love the movie “V for Vendetta”.

      21. equinoxio21 Avatar

        A disgraceful apathy indeed.
        Loved that – already old – movie too. Though then, dystopia felt like fiction. I now sense that Dystopia has caught with us in real life…

      22. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        It no longer feels like fiction and the dystopia is real around the world…

      23. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Exactly. Which is why I have growing difficulties to find “reasonably good” fiction on TV. Narcs? Pablo Escobar? Wild District? (Bogotá). I don’t need to watch that when it’s already in my streets… 🙂
        And the general trend seems to be: no redemption. Don’t need that either. 😉
        Be good Nilla.

      24. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Ha, ha, our ‘reality world’ is sadder than any fiction on TV.
        So true, it’s depressing. 🙁
        You too Brian.

      25. equinoxio21 Avatar

        I see it’s on Netflix. I might have a quick look but this kinda thing depresses me no end. 🙂

      26. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Know what you mean and it depresses me for the fact that people can be so easily brain-washed but also as no one ever gets thrown into jail, even though they’re guilty.

      27. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Haha! Just said something like that in your previous comment.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for your feedback – much appreciated!

  2. Inside From An Outsider Avatar

    Looks like a once in a life time experience! Very authentic

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Many thanks for leaving me a comment and yes, it was a once in a lifetime experience.
      My article on the 3-day barge to get to the start of this Amazon trip will be published today. 😉

  3. gillmorris Avatar

    Another exciting adventure! I had to chuckle at the 10 hour speed boat! LOL xx

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      I’m glad it made you laugh – my work is done here… 😉
      My post comes out tomorrow on the 3-day barge, which is before this post – mucked up the dates so stay tuned for more unusual photos. x

  4. Giovanni Augello Avatar
    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Giovanni – it was an amazing journey!
      You may also like to read about the 3-day barge I took previous to this boat, which I’m publishing on Sunday – I’ve included unusual photos of everyday Amazonian life.

      1. Giovanni Augello Avatar

        Sure! Thanks for sharing 🙂

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        You’re very welcome and thanks for reading my article! 🙂

  5. lillyevechristie Avatar

    Great pictures! what a fab trip! x

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Lilly! Yes, it was an amazing trip, which not many people experience as it’s not the easiest destination. x

  6. the eternal traveller Avatar

    What an adventure! If the fast boat takes ten hours, I’d hate to think how long the slow boat journey is. You took some wonderful photos.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      It was a fantastic and memorable experience although next Sunday’s post on the slow barge was even more incredible!
      Many thanks for the great feedback.

  7. Valerie Cullers Avatar

    Wow! What beautiful photos and people! So glad you took them!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Valerie!
      I have the 3-day barge along the Amazon on a barge scheduled for next Sunday, which actually came before this post. 😉

  8. Dot Avatar

    Wonderful post! I loved the Peruvian Amazon and this brought back a lot of wonderful memories.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you and cool you enjoyed this post!
      My next Sunday’s post is the 3-day rustic barge trip down the Amazon, which should have come before this article. 😉

  9. Puzzles of the Soul Avatar

    Great post very informative beautiful photos as always.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for your feedback – there’s another post I should have published before this one but it comes out next Sunday.

      1. Puzzles of the Soul Avatar

        Look forward to seeing it.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Thank you. I’m annoyed with myself that I mucked up scheduling the publish dates…ah well.

  10. suburban tracks Avatar

    Looking great and amazing, 👍thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for sharing your feedback and yes, it was amazing!
      I mucked up my scheduling and scheduled this one before the barge down the Amazon, which comes out next Sunday…whoops!

  11. map195 Avatar


    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you and glad you enjoyed this article!

  12. TinyJeremy Avatar

    Nice one

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you!

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