Having been born in Venezuela I was no stranger to the Amazon and the jungle. I’ve had the fortune of seeing the wonders of the “Lost World” (Conan Doyle’s book inspired by the Venezuelan Amazon) many times and thought I wouldn’t find a great deal of difference from what I had seen before. I was definitely wrong. The Oriente is how people in Ecuador refer to the Ecuadorian Amazon, as it is located on the Eastern side of the country, and obviously, Oriente in Spanish means East. The diversity in terms of species, plants and wildlife in the Ecuadorian Amazon is not only immense but also unique. Finding very unfamiliar flowers, plants and insects was a joy to me.
There are a few options for travellers to get to the Oriente but the most practical ways to get to the rainforest are either to do day trips with a local tour (if you are pressed with time) or staying at a jungle lodge by the upper Napo River. I did the latter as it is the best option to actually explore the jungle and have better chances of spotting wildlife. Here’s how to explore the Oriente, the most biodiverse spot in the world.
How to get there?
Fly from Quito to Coca which is the starting point for all the jungle tours to The Oriente. From there the staff at Sani Lodge (which is where I stayed) picked us up to go on a 2 1/2 hour boat ride along the Napo River. Followed by a 15-minute walk through the forest and a 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!
What to do?
The possibilities are endless in the Ecuadorian Oriente, and it all depends on what you are really after. The top activities are obviously wildlife observation, having contact with indigenous communities, canoe paddling, hiking in the jungle, to name a few.
This is the highlight of the trip and the reason why I went to The Oriente 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 noisy red howler monkeys, pygmy marmosets, black agouties, more than 20 different species of bats, caimans, night monkeys, and many more.
The Yasuni National Park and the Cuyabeno Reserve
Arguably one of the most biodiverse spots in the world. Both the Yasuni and Cuyabeno are a must when you visit the Oriente if you are determined to do wildlife observation, seeing endemic 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 every day. Later I discovered, this happens to aid parrots in their digestion. They can be reached by canoe from Coca.
Hiking in the Jungle
There are many trails you can choose from depending on the level of difficulty. Going through muddy swamps and tree bridges. You will also have the opportunity to learn about medicinal plants and taste edible Amazonian fruits and insects.
Canoe paddling in the Amazon
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 and in some areas in the Napo River.
Night expedition to see the Amazon caimans
A great opportunity to see the caimans swimming in the river from the comfort of a traditional Ecuadorian canoe.
*Potential risks you should be aware of beforehand:
- 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 and a LOT of mosquito repellent.
- Certain areas of the Oriente are best to be avoided due to the risk of guerrillas closer to the Colombian border.
- Bat rabies. There have been reports in some areas of the Ecuadorian Amazon.
- Contaminated water. Stick to bottled water, even when is filtered there are many unfamiliar bacteria that can upset the stomach.