Having been born in Venezuela I was no stranger to the Amazon and exploring in the jungle. From a young age, I had the fortune of seeing the wonders of the “Lost World” many times and thought I wouldn’t find a great deal of difference in terms of the fauna. It turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The diversity in terms of species, plants and wildlife in the Ecuadorian Amazon or Oriente, -how they like to call it- is immense. And that was evident from the moment I got there. I must admit I still find this crazy. So, needless to say, it is totally worth visiting even if you have been to other parts of the Amazon rainforest before.
How to get there?
Fly from Quito to Coca which is the starting point for all the jungle tours to The Oriente. From there, you would be pick up by the lodge’s staff you decide stay at. From Coca, you need to go on a 2 1/2 hour boat ride along the Napo River. Followed by a 15 minute mild trek through the forest for a final 20 minute paddle-canoe ride along the Challuacocha lake where the lodge is located. This might seem like too much but it actually isn’t considering that you are going deep into the jungle! It’s quite remote, about 4 hours in total to get there.
Where to stay?
There are a few options to visit this part of the Amazon. The most practical way is to stay at a jungle lodge by the upper Napo River. Because you could technically do day trips to see wildlife but it’s time consuming. I chose to stay at a Kichwa commune called Sani Lodge and it was amazing. I was very impressed with their attention to detail and how beautiful it was.
What to do?
The possibilities are endless in the Ecuadorian Oriente. From wildlife observation to canoe paddling and jungle trekking. To give you an idea, if you are into birdwatching, feeding piranhas, seeing crocs at night then, I am sure you wouldn’t be dissapointed here.
This is obviously the reason why I went back to this part of the Amazon in the first place. Just remember most mammals are well camouflaged and hard to spot but with a bit of luck and a good guide you should be able to see them. I was lucky enough to encounter the red howler monkeys, pygmy marmosets, black agouties, more than 20 different species of bats, caimans and night monkeys.
The Yasuni National Park and the Cuyabeno Reserve
Arguably the 2 most biologically diverse spots in the world. Both the Yasuni and Cuyabeno are a must when you visit The Oriente if you are after wildlife and endemic species of flora and fauna. Here, for example you might be able to find yellow-crowned, orange-winged and blue-headed parrots and parakeets coming to eat clay which happens to aid them in their digestion.
There are many trails you can choose from depending on the level of difficulty. Some of them take you through muddy swamps and tree bridges. You will also have the opportunity to learn about medicinal plants, taste edible fruits and insects if you aren’t too squeamish.
Canoe paddling and kayaking
What can be more fun than kayaking or paddling with a canoe in the Amazon? This is something that can be done in the Challuacocha Lake.
Night expedition to see the Amazon caimans
A great opportunity to see the caimans swimming in the river from the comfort of a traditional Kichwa canoe.
*Potential risks you should be aware of:
- There have been reported cases of Zika virus, as well as Dengue. Also, you should be aware of Malaria and Yellow Fever. So, I’d recommend getting your jabs and vaccinations before travelling.
- Bring a face mosquito net and repellent.
- Certain areas of the Oriente are best avoided due to risk of guerrillas closer to the border with Colombia.
- Bat rabies. There have been reports in some areas of the Amazon.
- Contaminated water. Stick to bottled water, even when you find filtered water dispensers.