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
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
Sport
footballLive: All the latest from today's Premier League matches
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee