The Oriente: the eastern part of Ecuador where the mighty Amazon Rainforest spreads into the country at over 1,300 feet above sea level for one of the most bio-diverse regions on the planet. There is a wealth of wildlife to be sought out in this beautiful area-Tapirs, jaguars, howler monkeys, piranhas, caimans and parrots.
This wild part of Ecuador spans six provinces – Sucumbíos, Orellana, Napo, Pastaza, Morona Santiago and Zamora Chinchipe – which is 40% of the country. But specifically, it’s the Yasuni National Park, located in Napo and Pastaza provinces, which is arguably the most bio-diverse place on Earth.
Famous not only for its wildlife but also for the indigenous tribes who still live deep in the Amazon, Ecuador caters well to visitors wishing to experience the incredible assault on the senses that is the rain-forest.
There are many sights to see here alongside trekking deep into the mysterious jungle itself: the spectacular San Rafael Waterfall where water cascades 500 feet through a clearing in a sea of green, AmaZOOnico – a jungle wildlife rescue center opened in 1993 on the banks of the Napo river, along with the many nature reserves and national parks that make up the Amazon, Ecuador.
Though accessible, it’s not the easiest place in the world to visit, so we’ve compiled a guide on visiting this breathtaking natural wonder.
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When to Travel
When is the best time to travel to the Amazon in Ecuador? Well, it rains for most of the year (the clue is in the name: rain forest), but you will find it much more wet from December to May – the northern hemisphere’s summer and autumn are probably the least soggy in terms of rainfall, August being particularly low.
However, it is slightly cooler during the rainier half of the year, and it does allow access to different areas when rivers burst their banks and create new tributaries to explore – mosquitoes will be particularly prevalent with the increase in rainfall, though, so be prepared.
We visited the Yasuni Bioreserve in late November and experienced a variety of weather, including some torrential down pours. That said, we had some beautiful days too and some really beautiful sunsets. The best thing to keep in mind is that it can always rain in the Amazon, even in the ‘dry’ season, so be prepared and don’t let it affect your trip.
Related Article: Day Hiking in the Amazon Rainforest
How to Get to the Amazon, Ecuador
There are a number of ways to enter into the Amazon area of Ecuador, mostly by bus. From the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, you can catch a bus to Lago Agrio; this is a seedy town that serves the local oil industry and can be dangerous due to its proximity to the Colombian border. However, this town serves as a gateway to the Reserva de Producción Faunística Cuyabeno, otherwise simply known as the Cuyabeno Reserve, which offers a great chance to spot some wildlife.
On the other hand, there’s Tena, the capital of Napo province, which you can get to again via bus from Quito. In contrast to Lago Agrio, Tena has a friendly population and is a nice place to hang around, and caters well to those wishing to get deeper into the jungle, see waterfalls, or go whitewater rafting – from here getting to the Sumaco Napo-Galeras National Park, for instance, is relatively straightforward. From Tena, by bus, you can get to Puerto Francisco de Orellana, or as it’s better known, Coca – the last slice of civilization for those wishing to travel further up the Napo river.
Flights between Quito and Lago Agrio leave three times per day (except on Sundays) and take only thirty minutes, which is obviously much quicker than by bus. Between Quito and Coca, there are two flights daily, except for Sunday again, and this takes twenty-five minutes.
We chose to travel to Coca, as our intention was to visit the Yasuni Bioreserve. We flew from Quito and then journeyed by boat up the Napo River.
Since the 1990s, tourism has been steadily growing in this area and it is now, surprisingly, easier than ever to have a genuine experience in this tropical rain forest. There are generally three types of accommodation, and tour – often combined with where you stay: a guided tour, booking a jungle lodge, or staying with indigenous people.
Guided tours can be booked both inside and outside of Ecuador, though tend to be cheaper when booked internally. These range from simple day trips into the jungle to multi-day treks. Basic shelter, in the form of cabanas or carpas (standard tents), as well as adequate food and water, should be provided by the tour company.
When visiting the Amazon in Ecuador, the main things to do centralize around watching wildlife and observing the wide array of flora in the rainforest. This is done mostly by foot and by boat. Hiking can get you up close and personal. Non-motorized canoe can get you into areas not accessible by foot. You can also custom tailor your trip if you’re in search of birds, primates or other species in the forest.
Other activities can include kayaking, swimming, canopy tours and tower viewing.
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Jungle lodges, wood and thatch type dwellings with communal eating/relaxing areas, are the most expensive costing typically under $100 per night and the most comfortable way to see the jungle, and often offer rewarding activities that tend to be structured daily, such as jungle walks and early morning canoe trips. The most expensive jungle lodges ($250+) will have English-speaking naturalists, ornithologists, or otherwise qualified to give you in-depth information about the environment you’ve come to see.
Though this is ‘luxury’ travel it’s important not to forget that this is the jungle after all: a lack of 24-hour electricity, hot running water, and insect-free accommodation is something you may have to get used to. Most of the more well-established jungle lodges can be booked in Quito.
A stay with indigenous tribes is an amazing experience, and honestly like something right out of a documentary. A few of these are run through outside companies, but many are ecotourism projects embarked upon by tribes-people themselves, with help from an external contact; as such these are quite basic, and you may have to be prepared to bring your own mosquito net and rubber boots, among other essentials (speaking Spanish can also come in handy).
The focus often is on cultural exchange, so expect demonstrations from hunters and folkloric shows – and expect to share a little of your own culture, too. Staying with indigenous communities can be arranged in towns like Lago Agrio and Tena.
We chose to journey into the Yasuni Bioreserve during our visit, staying at the impressing Napo Wildlife Center, owned by the local Anangu tribe. It is the only lodge located inside the bioreserve and is very exclusive. Read about our experience: Exploring Parque Nacional Yasuni with Napo Wildlife Center
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Located at the base of the Andes between the Curaray and Napo rivers, Yasuni National Park is quite probably the most biologically diverse region on Earth. It has some impressive credentials when it comes to numbers: 121 species of reptile, 150 amphibian species, 200 species of mammal, 382 species of fish, 596 bird species, and as for insects, that’s on another level.
It’s estimated that in any single hectare of the National Park, there are over 100,000 species of insect – that’s roughly the amount of all the insect species to be found in North America. There are also over 100 bat species in the Amazon Basin, and the population at Yasuni is thought to be comparable to this number.
But it’s not only in terms of fauna but also flora that Yasuni is particularly blessed with incredible diversity; it breaks several world records for documented tree and liana (woody climbing vines) richness, for instance, and it is one of nine places in the world that boasts over 4,000 species of vascular tree per 10,000 square kilometers.
In particular, the Amazon in Ecuador is home to many species of rare birds, and as such, this is a must-visit location for amateur and keen bird-watchers alike. There’s the distinctive scarlet macaw, vivid species of Amazon Parrot, the prehistoric looking Hoatzin, the Harpy Eagle – one of the largest and most powerful in the world – as well as the Toucan.
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Health & Safety
While there is a risk of yellow fever in the Ecuadorian Amazon region, it’s not something that is particularly common. In fact, according to a report by the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization, there was only one confirmed case of yellow fever in 2017. With that said, despite being uncommon, it does still pose a risk and can happen; whether or not you should get a vaccination is something that should be discussed with an expert, most preferably going to a travel clinic is the best option. Currently, however, it is recommended that a yellow fever vaccination should be obtained before travel to many provinces in Ecuador, including in The Oriente.
Malaria and dengue fever are also a risk here, so anti-Malarial drugs are definitely recommended, as is dengue vaccination. Of course, prevention is the best cure, so it’s important to be smart: that means to cover up, especially when you’re near water and make use of mosquito repellent that contains DEET. Other travel tips include drinking all bottled water and avoiding beverages from the tap or with ice cubes in them.
Apart from health, staying practically safe in Ecuador is a must. Joining a group, staying and/or traveling with jungle lodges, or going as part of a tour is basically a must – solo travel here is rare and unwise. Stay in highly rated accommodation to avoid the risk of potentially dangerous situations. Don’t flash money around or have your phone out constantly – this is a good way to show potential pickpockets what you’ve got. Don’t carry valuable belongings on your person and, as for your larger luggage: keep an eye on it.
Lastly, many tours offer the chance to take part in an ayahuasca ceremony. Ayahuasca – also known as yagé – is a powerful hallucinogen extracted from a vine of the same name. The ceremony is for spiritual and bodily cleansing and is, or should be, conducted by a shaman with years of experience. If you find yourself with a young man showboating the ceremony for tourists, it’s best not to get involved, as side-effects can be nasty – especially so when presided over by someone with little experience.
More on the Amazon Rainforest:
- Zip Lining Adventures in the Amazon
- Unforgettable Amazon with the Tambopata Research Center
- Posada Amazonas-Where Culture Meets the Amazon
- You WILL See Animals in the Amazon!
- Day Hiking in the Amazon Rainforest
- Amazon Caiman Search in Peru Video Post
- Capybaras in the Amazon, Peru Video Post
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