If you’re considering making a tour to the Amazon part of your Ecuador trip it’s 100% doable for 3 main reasons:
- Ecuador is small which means every itinerary should have room for a few days in the jungle
- Seeing the Amazon here can be less expensive than nearby countries like Peru and Brazil
- There are excellent national parks that protect large sections of land from ill-intentioned corporations.
Once you’ve decided you would like to explore the Amazon while in Ecuador, there are a number of things to consider before embarking on your adventure. Here are 5 questions to ask yourself.
How much flexibility (independence) do you need? You can make your own way to Tena, Puyo, Lago Agrio or another frontier town, find a guide willing to tailor an adventure to your expectations and set off into the jungle or you can sign-up for a tour that has a whole itinerary pre-planned for you before you step off the bus. Do you want to be taken care of or are you ready to fly by the seat of your pants day-by-day? (note: guides in the national parks are mandatory). Of course there are many options between these two extremes but you should at least decide which end of the spectrum you’re leaning towards. Joining a group will substantially lower your costs but – depending on the size of group – you may find yourself compromising to suit someone else’s needs. The answer to this question can greatly impact how and where you choose to see the Amazon.
How much nature would you like to see? Seems like a silly question, but it’s not. Ecuador has seen an unfortunate amount of oil exploration and clear cutting – among other environmental debilitation – leaving much of the its forests tainted. However there are a few great nature reserves (more on that below) that offer protected land to explore. In them you can see pink river dolphins, anacondas, different primates and birds of every shape and colour. However, these parks are harder to get to and can be expensive to visit. There is great jungle to explore outside of the parks, but you might have to temper your wildlife viewing expectations.
How do you feel about visiting indigenous communities? Many people have a very firm opinion on whether they do or do not want to visit indigenous communities. Ecuador is home to many indigenous communities, many of them living in and around the Amazon jungle. You can spend your entire time in the Amazon travelling from community to community getting a glance at how they live or you can never set foot in a village…. it’s totally up to you. There are pro’s and con’s to both; eco-tourism can be a vital source of revenue and a way to protect traditional lands, but it can also compromise their traditional way of life. Make your decision before booking a tour or guide so your intentions are clear from the beginning.
How important is an English-speaking guide? If your Spanish isn’t great, you will probably want an English-speaking guide to tell you all about the jungle plants, animals, rituals etc. However, if you think you can wing it, aren’t all that interested in asking questions and are more looking forward to just BEing and SEEing, then that’s totally up to you. Your experience will always be uniquely your own. Note: If an English-speaking guide is a priority, make sure to book with a reputable company even if it costs a bit more money, or meet your guide before hand.
What’s your time frame? A lot of companies offer 3 day tours, but this is basically one day in the jungle sandwiched between two travel days (getting in and out). If exploring the Amazon is important to you and you want to get the most out of your experience, we consider the 4 day tour options the bare minimum. We did a 5 day tour and felt like we had the chance to completely unwind to jungle life and really enjoy everything we wanted to see and do without being rushed. Remember the Amazon isn’t just around the corner; your first day will always be getting IN and your last day will always be getting OUT. A 5 day tour gives you 4 nights and 3 full days in the jungle.
There are a number of nature reserves in Ecuador; the three in the Amazon are Cuyabeno, Yasuni and Limoncocha.
Cuyabeno is the park we did our 5 day tour in. Recently, this reserve has become increasingly safe and popular (it is also the most economical of the nature reserves). There are about a dozen companies that run tours in Cuyabeno and these tours can be booked through tour agencies all over Ecuador. The lodges are well spaced out along the Rio Cuyabeno so you really feel like you have the jungle to yourself, but you will still pass a few boats along the river. Ivan, the owner of Hotspots lodge (whose been organizing tours in the park for 40 years) thinks there are too many people visiting the park. While the number of companies/lodges is technically capped, there are always ways “around” the rules. Ivan has noticed it’s becoming much more difficult to spot wildlife as the animals retreat deeper and deeper into the jungle. We really loved our time in Cuyabeno and saw an amazing amount of wildlife and would definitely return to the park again. With the rise and fall of the water, every month offers something different in the park, so no two experiences would be alike.
To read about our experience in Cuyabeno, click here.
Yasuni is the park we originally expected to book our trip in, but the lodges here are more expensive and remote. There are only four lodges in the park which is almost double the size of Cuyabeno. It is considered Ecuador’s most biologically diverse park. Unfortunately, despite the fact that this park is supposed to be protected, there is oil drilling going on in the southern section of the park.
Limoncocha is a small wildlife reserve that covers the Limoncocha lagoon and some land surrounding it. It is popular for it’s mainly aquatic setting and diversity of bird life.
If you do a little searching around online, you will find that there are MANY companies offering tours in the Amazon jungle of Ecuador. The best advice we can give you is to ask as many questions as you can think of, not just the day you book your tour but every step along the way. This will give you the best possible experience! Even if your tour doesn’t end up 100% the way you pictured it or the way it was sold to you, the jungle will not let you down. Once you’re there, take a deep breath and look all around. A tour through the Amazon jungle may be a once in a lifetime experience; you’ll be forced to step outside your comfort zone and be rewarded ten-fold. Keep an open mind and enjoy every moment!