Dolphins are undoubtedly wonderful creatures, worthy of our affection and wonder. That is why many of us want to meet them in person. Moreover, true river dolphins, commonly known as the Amazon River Dolphin, the Pink River Dolphin, Tonina, or Boto, are much more attractive, mysterious, and charismatic. They are among the rarest and most endangered of all vertebrates in the world.
In this post, we will present you where to see the Amazon River Dolphins (Inia geoffrensis) or as many people call them, the pink dolphins, in Colombia.
Amazon River Dolphin Facts
- The Amazon River Dolphin is the largest freshwater cetacean in the world, it manages to reach lengths of up to 2.80 meters long and a maximum weight of 200 kilograms.
- Its color varies depending on age, young dolphins and females show grayish colors while adults, and principally the males, turn pink, which gives them their characteristic name.
- There are many theories to explain its color, but many agree it is a result of the wear and tear of their skin, and some scars.
- Scientists discovered that river dolphins come from a very ancient lineage that inhabited the seas.
- Its behavior is very different from sea dolphins. They use to have a solitary life, sometimes in small groups composed of a maximum of four members.
- Their food consists of crabs, river turtles, piranhas, and other river fish.
- The pink dolphin is part of the folklore of the inhabitants of the Amazon and there are many legends and myths around this animal.
Myths and Legends around the Pink Dolphin
These legends generally attribute supernatural powers to the dolphins. One of the most famous legends tells that the pink dolphin was a young and very handsome indigenous warrior who awoke the envy of one of the gods for his masculine attributes.
This god decided to transform the warrior into a dolphin, condemning him to live in the rivers and lakes of the Amazon. It is said that the attractive dolphin dances perfectly and no woman can flee before his charms.
Pink Dolphins are Endangered Species
According to the classification of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Amazon river dolphin is endangered, with only one category below the risk of extinction.
People kill them on behalf of their cultural traditions, or because they are competitors for fish. Other threats faced by the pink dolphin include accidental fishing, habitat loss, being killed for fish bait, and contamination.
With scientific research and responsible tourism, many people became aware of the importance of the conservation of these animals. In Colombia, NGOs as OMACHA and ECONARE are doing a great job to protect and conserve these animals.
Where You Can Find the Pink River Dolphin
These dolphins are widely distributed in South America and can be found in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Colombia.
Scientists have not agreed on how many subspecies of pink dolphin exist, but certainly, they are not similar among the different regions. The IUCN recognizes three subspecies:
- I. g. geoffrensis (Amazon river dolphin)
- I. g. boliviensis (Bolivian river dolphin)
- I. g. humboldtiana (Orinoco river dolphin)
While the Committee on Taxonomy of the Society for Marine Mammalogy only recognizes the first two of these.
To see how little is known about the pink dolphin, a relatively recent scientific study proposes a new species living in southeastern Brazil, the Inia araguaiaensis. They even propose the Bolivian subspecies should be recognized as a separate species, I. boliviensis. Take a look at the map above.
Where to See Pink River Dolphins in Colombia
Many people who contact us wanting to plan their trip to see the pink dolphin believe that it is only possible to see it in Leticia, the capital of the department of Amazonas in Colombia.
However, the Amazon as a region encompasses many more departments, not only the Amazon but also Vaupes, Guainia, Guaviare, Caqueta, and Putumayo.
On the other hand, all these departments are connected by a dense network of rivers and canals that run not only through Colombia, but all neighboring countries. And this is how the pink river dolphin manages to expand throughout the region.
Thus, the pink river dolphin is not only distributed throughout the Colombian Amazon region but also reaches the eastern plains and the Guyanese shield, in the departments of Amazonas, Putumayo, Caqueta, Vaupes, Guaviare, Guainia, Vichada, Meta, Casanare, and Arauca. Take a look at the map above to find your way around.
Despite its wide distribution, you can only visit a few places to meet the pink dolphin in Colombia.
You can visit Leticia and Puerto Nariño on short boat trips along the Amazon river. However, we recommend you go to Puerto Nariño.
The city of Puerto Nariño is the destination to see the river pink dolphins in the department of Amazonas. Here you have to navigate the Correo and Tarapoto lakes to see the wonderful pink dolphins up close.
Zacambu and the Three Frontiers
You can also depart from Leticia on a river tour on the majestic Amazon River. It is a tour towards the Zacambu village and the three frontiers region.
During the navigation through the river, you will be able to appreciate the flooded jungle. Arriving at the border with Peru, you will find Islandia (Peru), known as the Venice of the Amazon. This is a town that floods periodically, and that is why its houses are elevated as well as its streets. Once in the lakes of Zacambu, it will be possible to see river dolphins.
Where to Stay
Waira Suites Hotel – Leticia
The department of Vichada is a known destination for sportfishing. However, it is also possible to go there and see the pink river dolphin. There the Meta, Bita, and Orinoco rivers converge, and there are tours in a boat to watch the pink dolphin departing from Puerto Carreno, the main city of Vichada.
Where to Stay
Carreño Plaza Hotel – Puerto Carreno
The “Ruta del Amanecer llanero” is the best way to see the pink dolphins in Meta. Visit our entry #1 Llanos Experience near Bogotá: The Llanero Dawn Route in Meta, to know more about this route.
The city of Puerto Gaitán, located 194 km south of Villavicencio, is bathed by the waters of the Manacacías river. Boat tours to watch the dolphins are an almost every day offer.
Puerto Gaitan is the most recommended destination if you do not have enough time to travel to far destinations such as Leticia, or Puerto Carreno. It is also the nearest to Bogota, the capital city of Colombia.
Where to Stay
In the Nare Lagoon, very close to the city of San Jose del Guaviare, pink dolphins live and you will have the opportunity to swim with them.
There, with the help of local guides, you will learn the story of how they got there. You can also observe different species of fauna and flora throughout the tour.
With this trip, you will be directly helping the families that are part of ECONARE. Econare is a local association of community-based tourism in charge of preserving the nature of the area and the safety of the dolphins that inhabit the lagoon. You will also help all those people who make it possible for you to live these experiences.
Where to Stay
Quinto Nivel Hotel
How is a Pink Dolphin Tour?
Dolphins can only be observed from a certain distance on wooden platforms or in boats. Sportfishing adjacent to their hunting areas is prohibited and along with this, feeding them is forbidden as it would cause human dependence.
Best Time to Visit the Pink Dolphin
All year round in Colombia, especially in Guaviare and Meta.
Recommendations for your visit
- Take yellow fever and tetanus vaccines before arrival.
- Do not forget the mosquito repellent, it is highly recommended.
- Rubber boots, raincoat, long-sleeved shirts, sunscreen.
- Leave no trace.
If you want to plan your trip to Colombia do not hesitate to contact us, visit our Plan your trip page!
- OMACHA Foundation.
- Hrbek T, da Silva VMF, Dutra N, Gravena W, Martin AR, Farias IP (2014) A New Species of River Dolphin from Brazil or: How Little Do We Know Our Biodiversity. PLoS ONE 9(1): e83623.
- Trujillo, F., Crespo, E., Van Damme, P.A. & J.S. Usma (Editors). 2010. The Action Plan for South American River Dolphins 2010 – 2020. WWF, Fundación Omacha, WDS, WDCS, Solamac. Bogotá, D.C., Colombia. 249 pp.
- Status and conservation of river dolphins Inia geoffrensis and Sotalia fluviatilis in Colombia. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/ [accessed Apr 15 2021].
About the author
The current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism–environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services, and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.