Supporting Eco-Tourism in La Libertad
With the increase of Colombia as a tourist destination, and Leticia´s unique location as a gateway to the Amazon and providing access to Brazil and Peru) tourism is likely to increase in the coming years. This presents a unique opportunity for the people of La Libertad to capitalize, if they have the skills and infrastructure to do so.
La Libertad is well placed for eco-tourism, being easily accessible by river, within a few days trek of the highway north of Leticia, and by being a traditional indigenous village. However, the tourism potential of La Libertad appears to be currently under-utilized. A number of options are available including:
- “home-stay” within the pueblo;
- day treks from La Libertad, (including to the waterfalls deep in the forest);
- cultural tours, including traditional medicine and shamanism; and
- the three day trekking route from La Libertad to Km25 on the highway north of Leticia (we heard from Felipe that Gustavo was not 100% familiar with this route, and trekkers´ feedback had not always been positive, so he had stopped offering this option to tourists).
Suggested next steps:
It is recommended that Amazon Pueblo support the pueblo in developing a “package” of eco-tourism options (together with photos, detailed descriptions of day itineraries, accommodation, food options etc.) that can then be discussed with agencies in Leticia who can provide feedback on tourist’s priorities and promote the village on its behalf. Our translator, Enrique Ares, may also be well placed to assist with providing insights into what tourists to the region are looking for. (Enrique is a Spaniard who has lived in the Leticia region since 2004; he understands very well the culture of the indigenous communities but also retains an “outsiders” perspective. He has previously guided tourists in the region but now primarily runs a hostel on Km 11 outside of Leticia. The route from La Libertad to Km 25 and back to Leticia would pass by Enrique´s hostel, so he would benefit from seeing an increased number of tourists taking this route).
An increase in the number of tourists coming to the pueblo will require an increase in the number of guides available. We understand Gustavo is the most experienced guide but, as raised above, any increased benefits seen by the village should be shared equitably among the La Libertad community. A model to distribute these benefits may be for Gustavo to establish himself as a mentor for other younger guides, who can accompany him on treks into the forest with tourists to learn the trade (Gustavo´s 8 year old son Duan is already eagerly following his father whenever he can, to learn all his knowledge!). The selection of “apprentice” guides for Gustavo to mentor should be done purely on a merit basis, not simply through family connection. Guides that can speak English, Spanish and Yagua reportedly can earn very well around Leticia – which should be a key motivating factor in young people to learn to be a guide and learning English.
(The demographics of the village support this model - the population distribution is heavily skewed toward a large number of young children and teenagers (see the Project Handbook for data). The long term sustainability of the village (with a healthy population, economy, and cultural identity) will depend on developing in the village employment opportunities for the youth who will be maturing to a working age in the coming few years. Focusing the tourism development (supported by the English teaching) on the youth who will be reaching working age in the next 5 years, will help support the long term sustainability of the pueblo)
Note: it is considered that additional accommodation facilities for tourists should not be prioritised at this stage; it is recommended that attention is focussed on increasing demand for tourism through travel agencies and then responding accordingly as and when tourist numbers increase.