Colombian Amazon village bans prying tourists

Just off the Amazon River, lies the village of Nazareth.

But don't think about dropping by. Tired of being a curiosity to the outside world, the indigenous people have banned tourists.

Thousands of adventurous, backpacking tourists flock to southern Colombia every year, drawn by eco-tourism and the hope of interacting with the peoples who live and commune with the Amazon jungle following age-old traditions.

The Colombian Amazon, a peninsula sandwiched between Brazil and Peru, is famed for its spectacular flora and fauna, some of the most varied on the planet.

Last year 35,000 tourists poured into the region to swing with the monkeys, swim with the famed pink dolphins that frolic in the Amazon waters or to fish for piranhas.

But here in Nazareth, guards armed with their traditional sticks stand ready to deter unwelcome visitors. And the very few who are invited to visit with the community of about 800 residents must register with the guards and show an ID.

The village, reached by a 20-minute boatride from the nearest town of Leticia, has been off-limits to visitors for the past two years.

Elders say the indigenous people, composed some 80 percent of Ticuna indians, do not benefit from the growth in tourism across the region.

"This was a decision taken at an important assembly of the inhabitants," said Juvencio Pereira, an indigenous guard, who stands watch at the guards' cabin.

"What we earn here is very little. Tourists come here, they buy a few things, a few artisanal goods, and they go. It is the travel agencies that make the good money."

The Ticuna people are one of the most endangered communities on Earth, with the United Nations having counted their remaining numbers at only around 30,000.

And they are fearful of seeing their culture eroded by prying visitors.

"We had lots of problems. People came, left their rubbish behind, garbage bags, plastic bottles," explained resident Grimaldo Ramos.

"Tourists come and shove a camera in our faces," he said. "Imagine if you were sitting in your home and strangers came in and started taking photos of you. You wouldn't like it.

"Now the tourists can't just come as they please. They need the permission of the assembly."

Nazareth's actions reveal a split among the indigenous communities that live along the river about what role tourism should play in the region's development.

With the rise of eco-tourism, the Amazon has seen a flood of travelers arriving to experience the world's most biologically diverse region.

According to the Tourism Office for the Colombian province of Amazonas, the 35,000 people who trekked to the region in 2010, represent a five-fold surge in numbers over the past eight years.

But as Nazareth complains, the indigenous people have so far seen little of the benefits, mostly just the sharp end of tourism.

There are also worries that indigenous children are adopting the speech and dress of these visitors, forgetting the customs of their forefathers.

For a tourist interacting with a local may seem like little more than polite curiosity in indigenous culture. But some questions can appear intrusive and even an attempt by an outside to gain sacred tribal knowledge.

"We don't like it when they ask members of the community about our traditional knowledge and the medicines we possess," said Pereira.

"If we don't preserve (our culture), in the next 30 years it will all be finished."

Other communities however take the view that tourism is inevitable so they might as well make money from it.

A couple of hours down river lies Puerto Narino. It hosts a steady flow of visitors, but all must use the travel agencies based in the town.

Puerto Narino Mayor Nelson Ruiz understands Nazareth's worries, but says that if tourism is well-regulated it can help lift these communities out of poverty.

"Other communities fear tourism can damage culture, damage our water resources with trash, destroy the environment, we don't want that," he says, adding visitors are expected to abide by certain rules such as no drug-taking and no sexual tourism.

In Leticia on which the indigenous community depends, a spokesman said that "no study has yet shown any negative impact on the environment due to the rise in tourism."

But Juan Carlos Bernal, in charge of environment and development in the town, says that under Colombian law the native people are free to regulate access to their community.

He maintains that in all other aspects the indigenous peoples are well integrated into local life, which has a primary school run by Catholics.

For the residents back in Nazareth though, the loss of tourist revenue is a trade-off worth making.

"We feel good here without tourists, there are no little annoyances," added Ramos.

News
people
News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager - Commercial Cable & Wire - UK

    £60,000 - £75,000: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the major Aer...

    ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    Day In a Page

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes