Amazon Travel Guide

The Ecuadorian Amazon drops down from the peaks of the eastern Andes at over 5000 meters into montane cloud forests, before dipping into the sweltering lowland rainforest that stretches out to the borders of Colombia and Peru. The Oriente, as it is known in Spanish, is one of the most bio-diverse areas on earth and is considered to be one of the most complex communities of animal and plant life in the world. It is a paradise for nature enthusiasts looking to see rare and exotic birds, anacondas, monkeys, jaguars, honey bears, caymans and pink dolphins in their natural habitat.

Although Ecuador only has 2% of the Amazon rainforest, the Oriente covers almost half of the country and is home to a vast array of birds, trees, amphibians, reptiles, fish and mammals of all shapes and sizes. The rainforest is also home to thousands of indigenous inhabitants from different nations, each with their own language, history, mythology and culture.

If you’re looking to explore the Amazon, Ecuador is ideal as most destinations can be reached within a day from Quito. This makes the Ecuadorian Amazon easily accessible and user-friendly for travelers. When visiting the Amazon the only practical ways to travel are by using a guide, staying in one of the many jungle lodges or voyaging down river on a cruise boat. Activities available in distinct areas are very similar, ranging from jungle hikes or bird-watching to canoe rides. The difference lies in the quality of accommodation, indigenous communities and the richness of wildlife.

General information about the Ecuadorian Amazon

The Oriente covers almost half of Ecuador but contains less than five percent of its population. It is made up of six provinces; Sucumbíos, Orellana and part of Napo in the Northern Amazon, Pastanza, and the other part of Napo in the Central Amazon, and finally Morona Santiago and zamora Chinchipe in the Southern Amazon.

The area we call Northern Amazon contains the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve and the majority of Yasuní National Park. The unkempt oil town of Lago Agrio (also known as Nueva Loja) is the gateway to lodges in Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve and Limoncocha National Biological Reserve. Here the tourism industry is less developed making lodges more cost-effective and modest, while providing wildlife diversity. Coca is the starting point for excursions into some of the most untouched areas of the Ecuadorian Amazon including Yasuní National Park, Huaorani Reserve Limoncocha National Reserve and some lodges into Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. In this area jungle lodges are slightly more expensive but also of higher quality, ranging from moderate to quite luxurious. Coca is increasingly becoming known as a departure point for the five-day river journey to Iquitos in Peru.

The Central Amazon can be reached from Tena, historically the most important town in the rainforest. It is also the most tourist-friendly and ecotourism has become a significant part of the local economy, with a range of hotels and hostels, as well as day tours offering experiences in the jungle. There are still some small pockets of primary forest, but you won’t see many larger mammals or wildlife diversity in the area. The Napo River is a major tributary of the Amazon River. It is 1400km long, between 1 and 3 miles wide and contains about 130 islands covered in young forest providing a home for birds. The river bank is covered in tropical forests, hotels, lodges and communities. The many tributaries that come together around Tena to create the Napo basin create the ideal location for water activities with class I to class V runs ideal for white-water rafting and kayaking. Tena is also the starting point for visits to Jatun Sacha Biological Station, Sumaco Napo-Galeras National Park and the sleepy town of Misahuallí.

The Southern Amazon is not as lush and remote as the other parts of the rainforest, but it is also less exploited as a tourist destination, often leading to very authentic jungle experiences. There are fewer towns, roads, tourists and oil activities. Usually travelers take day trips into the jungle area and sleep in Zamora or Macas. Most of the area is communally owned by indigenous communities: the Quichua in Pastaza, Shuar in Morona-Santiago and pockets of Achuar in the east. Tourism in the area focuses on culturally oriented ecotourism with an emphasis on customs, mythology and rituals.

Top things to do in the Amazon

When to go

Weather
When it comes to the weather in the Ecuadorian Amazon, expect the unexpected. It is warm, humid and rainy year-round, making it the ideal habitat for plants and wildlife, but the rain is particularly heavy between March and July, and somewhat less intense in January and February. Don’t let the rainy season deter you however. Some consider the wettest seasons to be the prime time to visit due to increased animal activity due to higher fruit production. Always keep in mind that downpours can happen at any time and animal spotting depends mainly on luck. Temperatures can reach 32ºC during the day.

High season
Besides public holidays, high season in Ecuador coincides with holidays in Europe and North America and runs from mid-June to early September and late December to early January. The kayaking community tends to visit Tena during the northern hemisphere’s off season in December and January.

Getting there & around

Direct flights into the Ecuadorian Amazon are available from Quito flying to Coca (40 minutes), Lago Agrio (35 minutes), Macas (1 hour) and Tena (35).

Traveling by bus to some of the main towns in the Oriente is simple and cheap, though levels of comfort vary widely. There are regular bus services to Lago Agrio (8-9 hours from Quito, 14 hours from Guayaquil, 11 hours from Cuenca), Coca (9 hours from Quito), Tena (5 hours from Quito), Macas and Puyo (5 hours from Quito).

If you are traveling by car, there are a limited number of routes to reach the Oriente by road. From Quito you can travel down into the rainforest before reaching Baeza where travelers can either drive north to Lago Agrio (7 hours) and Coca (8 hours) or south to Tena (5 hours). There are also roads from Cuenca and Loja to Gualaquiza in the southern Amazon, as well as from Guamote to Macas.

For your safety we recommend that when visiting the Ecuadorian Amazon you always travel with a guide, stay in a lodge or travel by cruise boat. These tours will usually organize your travel into the rainforest and help coordinate your flights and/or transportation. We can provide professional guides to accompany you on your adventures if needed. Contact us for bookings.

Travel essentials in the Amazon

Please read our Ecuador Travel Guide for information about entry requirements, vaccine requirements, V.A.T. and luggage when traveling in Ecuador.

Money
The official currency of Ecuador is the US dollar. Bring low-denomination bills as $50 and $100 bills are rarely accepted, except in banks. In smaller towns, you might have trouble with $20 bills. Bring cash when traveling to the Ecuadorian Amazon as access to cash machines is scarce. On most tours and in lodges you will need money for tips, entrance fees and for buying artisan work from Indigenous communities who won’t accept anything other than cash.

Costs
The entrance into the various national parks is free at present, however visitors are asked to contribute to the local indigenous communities ($6-$50) where their lodges are based. Some community activities also require additional small contributions. Access to the Parrot Clay Lick in Yasuní National Park incurs a $20 entrance fee.

Insurance
Always ensure you purchase a suitable travel insurance policy when traveling to the Amazon. When planning to take part in adventure activities, ensure your policy covers them. If you’re not sure, contact your insurance provider. We can provide information about travel insurance on request.

Health
There is basic healthcare available in Macas, Coca and Lago Agrio. These centers specialize in local issues such as snake bites. Vaccines are not necessary for traveling into the Amazon in Ecuador, but ensure you check with a professional before travel. Regarding preventative medicine for malaria, many of our guests decide that the side effects outweigh the minor risk of contracting the disease, but check with your personal physician before making any decisions. We always recommend our clients take vitamin B supplement for at least 30 days before and during any trip to the rainforest. Make sure you bring lightweight trousers and long-sleeved tops to protect yourself from insect bites. To avoid food poisoning or stomach problems, wash your hands frequently, use a sanitizing gel, avoid food sold on the street, drink bottled water and make sure your food is completely cooked or peeled.

Phone & Internet
While phone offices with phone cabins and internet cafés are widely available in the main towns, you will not have phone coverage or access to either phones or internet if you’re staying in a lodge, an indigenous community or if you take a cruise. Lodges have satellite phones and radios for emergencies only.

* This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please check before traveling.

Planning the perfect trip to the Amazon

Determine your travel budget
It’s always a good idea to sit down and determine your budget for traveling as soon as possible. This will help you decide which destinations are a possibility and when to go, as off-season travel is always more economic than traveling during high season.

A well though out budget will also serve as a guide when you start researching activities, accommodation and transportation. Deciding your travel budget early on will help you avoid the disappointment that comes from planning the perfect trip and finding out that you can’t afford it.

Pick and research your destination
Before setting off on an adventure in the Ecuadorian Amazon, it is important to do a little research. Travel guides, blogs, books, films and travel websites are a good place to start, but make sure you are reading reputable sources.

You’ll need to understand the differences between the various areas within the Amazon basin to understand which suits you best and the activities they offer. Remember that the only practical ways to travel in the Amazon are by using a guide, staying in one of the many jungle lodges or voyaging down river on a cruise boat. Each of these options suit different types of travelers, so make sure to understand the difference.

Choose the right rainforest for you
The various areas and national parks in the Oriente offer different highlights and exposure to wildlife. Activities available in distinct areas are very similar, ranging from jungle hikes or bird-watching to canoe rides, although some areas are best suited to particular activities such as white-water rafting. The difference lies in the quality of accommodation and the richness of wildlife. To see large mammals and birds, you’ll need to travel further as these creatures have been driven out of settled areas. But do remember that experiences can be unpredictable and no tour can guarantee that you will see a particular animal out in the wild.

Decide what kind of experience you would like or can deal with. If you’d like a short introduction to the rainforest, while maintaining contact with civilization, or if you’re not in your prime physical condition we’d recommend a jungle lodge experience near Tena in the Central Amazon. This area is also ideal if you like water sports and rafting. If you’re ready for a full-on immersion into the depths of the jungle, with no access to either roads or electricity, Yasuní National Park is the place to visit and we’d recommend our Yasuní first class lodge experience. If you’d like to immerse yourself in the jungle, but you’re traveling on a budget, a Cuyabeno jungle lodge experience may be ideal for you. Huaorani Ecolodge in the central Amazon is great destination for those looking to experience indigenous culture.

Should you need help deciding which area is right for you, contact us.

Book your accommodation
Travel in the Amazon rainforest is a little different to travel in the rest of Ecuador. The best experiences are to be had by either staying at a lodge or taking an Amazon cruise.

· Jungle lodges

Rainforest lodges are usually found in natural surroundings, far from towns and designed to blend into the wildlife. Some are owned and run by indigenous communities, others are run from Quito by national or international business people. Staying in a lodge is not like staying in a hotel. Usually it involves purchasing an all-inclusive package which includes accommodation, meals, guided activities and transport, usually by canoe, from the nearest airport or main transport hub. Lodges vary in their level of comfort, the type of food on offer, the facilities on offer and by extension their price, but most offer similar activities such as bird-watching, jungle excursions and night walks. Some lodges have special features such as the 275 meter canopy walkway at Sacha Lodge or the observation towers at both Sacha and Tapir Lodge.

· River cruise

Cruising downriver gives travelers the chance to see more of the Amazon and to understand its scale. You’ll sleep in comfortable rooms and eat onboard, stopping en route to enjoy guided tours of the rainforest and to visit local indigenous communities. Cruise boats also function as an all-inclusive package, including accommodation, meals, guided activities and transport from the nearest transport hub. There are two Amazon cruise boats sailing the Napo River from Coca, offering different levels of comfort. Check out our Ecuadorian Amazon Cruises.

Deciding how long to go for
Lodges and cruise boats offer itineraries for a set number of days ranging from three to eight days. All you’ll need to do is choose one of the options on offer. Most lodges have fixed departure days and it may not be possible to arrange visits on other dates. Check before you plan your trip.

Remember that for most jungle experiences, the first and the last day will be taken up with getting there and back, and that these travel days count as part of the package. This means that a four-day/three-night tour leaves you with only two days in the rainforest. At TerraDiversa, we recommend a five day excursion which will give you enough time to really experience the rainforest. If you are looking for a specialized tour, with a particular emphasis on birdwatching for example, we’d recommend staying longer.

Booking flights and transportation
When you book either a rainforest lodge or Amazon cruise, your tour operator will help you coordinate your flights and/or transportation into the area. The price is not included in the original quoted rates and you should budget accordingly. Most lodges are located a distance away from the main transportation hubs, so expect to travel at least a couple of hours in a motorized canoe.

Book tours and activities
Whether you’re traveling by cruise boat or staying at a jungle lodge, the activities on offer are pretty much the same and range from bird-watching and jungle excursions to night walks, pink dolphin spotting or even indigenous community visits. It’s a good idea to contact your travel specialist, tour operator, lodge or cruise provider to check if there are any optional activities available, such as glamping, white-water rafting, massage, kayaking or yoga, and book your place if needed.

If you have a particular interest in a specific species, contact them ahead of time in order to see if they can organize a specialized tour, or to ensure that a particular species lives in the area. Ask them the best dates and about any particular equipment you’ll need to bring with you or hire.

Take into account that certain activities are only available during particular months of the year. Always ensure you are working with professional and certified guides. They will know how to take into account your abilities when calculating the right tours for you. Contact us if you need any help. Make sure to communicate your interests with our travel specialists and we will help you create a journey filled with lifelong memories.

Training
Because of the heat and humidity, traveling into the Ecuadorian Amazon requires a reasonable level of fitness. It is very important to know your limitations. While you will only be taking moderate day hikes and canoe trips in most cases, coming to the Amazon rainforest could be a great excuse to get in shape. Be honest with yourself about your level of fitness and make sure you have enough time to prepare. Make sure to speak to your tour operator or travel specialist about potential training and fitness requirements before booking a tour, particularly if you’re booking a white-water rafting tour which requires a certain fitness level.

Packing tips

To reach your destination in the Ecuadorian Amazon you will use a variety of transport including an airplane, buses and canoes. It is imperative that you pack light and limit your luggage to the basic minimum listed below for a 7 day trip). Store any unnecessary luggage at your hotel in Quito or back home. It is better to use a backpack. Make sure your suitcase or backpack is working properly, that everything fits and that it is easy to transport. Remember to put everything you take inside dry bags or good plastic bags, to protect them from rain and the river.

When staying at a jungle lodge or taking an Amazon cruise, you will need to take a torch (flashlight), insect repellent, protection against the sun and a rain poncho. Rubber boots are usually provided, but very large sizes may not be available so make sure you ask in advance.

Packing list
· Passport and color copy
· Cash in small denomination bills
· 1 x large backpack or duffel bag
· 1 x small waterproof daypack
· 3 x lightweight cotton (or other fast drying material) long trousers (avoid jeans)
· 4 – 5 x earth or dark colored long-sleeved cotton shirts, t-shirts or blouses
· Vests with pockets are useful for carrying camera equipment and other accessories
· 1-2 x pairs of knee-high cotton socks for each day in the rainforest (waterproof if possible)
· Cotton underwear (avoid synthetics)
· Shorts
· 1 x light windbreaker
· 1 x light sweater or jacket
· Sunhat with brim or cap
· 1 x waterproof poncho (available in some lodges) or a waterproof parka
· Bathing suit
· Sunglasses with a strap
· Footgear
· 1 x comfortable walking shoes
· 1 x waterproof sandals such as Tevas
· 1 x small, sturdy umbrella
· Personal medication for duration of trip
· Extra eye glasses/contact lenses
· Sun block (at least SPF 30)
· Natural insect repellent
· Toiletry kit
· Personal first aid kit
· Tampons or sanitary towels
· Plastic water bottle
· Flashlight (headlamp models are better)
· Alkaline batteries
· Self-sealing plastic bags
· Dry bags (available in some lodges)
· Swiss army knife
· Reading material (available in some lodges)
· Small notebook and pencil
· Personal sewing kit
· Binoculars – This is an essential item, even if you are not a birdwatcher. The best ones are the waterproof models with high light transmission. An excellent size: 10 X 40. (Available in some lodges and cruises. Check before travel.)
· Camera gear with waterproof case
· Inexpensive magnifying glass
· Walking stick (optional)

Responsible tourism in the Amazon

We like to remind all travelers that visiting the Amazon is a privilege. We recommend you sent an example and do your part to help preserve the area and it’s incredible wildlife. Here are our top tips:

· Don’t buy any objects or souvenirs made with wild animal or bird parts. Even the purchase of small trinkets with parrot feathers encourages locals to shoot more parrots.

· Some guides or their boatmen offer to hunt meat for your meals. Please ask them not to and report such practices to other tourists and to guidebooks.

· Respect the regulations of protected areas you visit. If motors are prohibited within a given area, either walk or paddle. For example, the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve has zoned different areas. In some you are permitted to enter with motorized vehicles, some are for walking and paddling only, and others are wildlife conservation areas that are off-limits to tourism.

· Report rule-breaking guides to the park rangers.

· When visiting a lake or slow rivers, consider opting for peaceful, people-powered paddles over loud, accelerated outboard motors. Moving quietly over a small area will allow you to see far more wildlife. It also reduces the use of gasoline and helps create more jobs for local people. Solar-powered, electric, outboard motors are also a good and quiet option for flat water.

· When you travel in a motorized boat please encourage your motorist to avoid full-tilt, break-neck speeds, especially on small winding rivers both for you own safety and for that of the wildlife.

·· Stay on established trails and avoid destructive demonstrations of interesting flora and fauna. For example, it is possible to taste one or two lemon ants without breaking open their nests inside the twigs of duroia hirsuta trees which kills hundreds and destroys their home. When your guide points out the vine that provides drinking water, tell him you take his word for it and that it is not necessary to kill the vine just for a few drops of water on your tongue.

· Pick up any trash you find and dispose it properly along with your own trash. Litter attracts more litter. By picking up one sweet wrapper you prevent an untold number of others being thrown on the ground.

· If you go to a lodge that doesn’t use an electric generator, don’t despair. Enjoy the peace and quiet, the romantic candle-light dinners and the fact that wildlife has not been unduly scared away by noisy generators.

· Share your excitement for tropical forest with the people who live in them. They have usually lived there their whole lives and often don’t appreciate how unique these places are.

· Avoid making a nuisance of yourself in indigenous villages. Don’t take photographs or film videos without permission and don’t insist. Many native people believe that photographs can steal one’s soul. In short, try to minimize your impact on the forest and its people.

· When choosing a tour operator or guide, remember that the cheapest is not necessarily the best. Creating a demand for cheap prices leads to agencies undercutting each other and offering services that are unsafe or harmful to both local communities and for the environment. We recommend you do not encourage this practice.

· Soak up the wonders of the rainforest. This will give you strength to help you conserve them when you go home.

· When you get back home after your adventure, be creative and look for things you can do to protect the rainforest. Teachers, graphic designers, social scientists and translators could help prepare educational materials. Computer programmers could design an automated system for identifying bird sounds to facilitate data collection in environmental studies (which would be a great PhD dissertation). Experts in satellite imagery and geographical information have much to contribute to protected area planning and management. Lawyers could help prepare debt-for-nature-swap agreements. Librarians could help researchers in the tropics stay up-to-date with the relevant literature. Experts in plastics could develop a way to make sturdy canoes from recycled plastic that would reduce the demand for dug-out canoes in Amazonia. Economists and businessmen could search for ways to increase the market share of sustainable, alternative technologies. Parents could help their children feel how wonderful it is to share our planet with a myriad of other amazing species. If you feel the urge, there are thousands of ways you can help.

· Remember that a lot of Amazon rainforest destruction is due to the lifestyle of people living in other parts of the world. Don’t be afraid to evaluate the impact your life has on the environment and think of ways in which you can reduce it. For example, the purchase of certain types of wood for construction or of soya products grown in the rainforest encourages deforestation.

· Set an example and maybe someone will follow in your footsteps. Don’t just hope other people will plant trees; plant some yourself, even if they’re only tiny bushes on your window sill. It will make a difference.

Fact file

Indigenous communities
The Ecuadorian rainforest is home to thousands of indigenous inhabitants from nine different nations, each with their own language, history, mythology and culture. The nine indigenous nations are: the Achuar, Cófanes (A’i), Kichwa/Quichua, Secoya, Shiwiar, Shuar, Siona, Tagaeri, Taromenani, Waorani, Zápara. Of these two are uncontacted tribes, the Taromenani and Tagaeri, who live in deliberate isolation, avoiding contact with the modern world and within the borders of Yasuní National Park where their rights are protected by the Ecuadorian constitution.

History
Did you know that the Amazon River was “discovered” from Ecuador? Well, it’s true! In 1541 a group of Spanish conquistadors left Quito in search of the legendary city of El Dorado. A small group of these conquistadors led by Francisco de Orellana got separated from the expedition a year later. This fortuitous accident helped them “find” the Amazon River which they followed for hundreds of miles until they reached the Atlantic Ocean. They named the river “Amazon” after encountering fierce native warrior women on the way.

Wildlife
The tropical rainforests of Ecuador are exceptionally diverse, complex and fragile ecosystems. More than 300 have been identified in just one hectare of Ecuadorian lowland forest, while there are areas of the rainforest which are still unexplored and the range of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects and spiders are as yet to be fully discovered. The most well-known creatures are the pink river dolphin, anacondas, monkeys, jaguars, caymans and a cacophony of exotic birds.

National Parks
While Yasuní National Park and Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve are the best known protected areas in the oriente, there are several other protected areas such as Sumaco Napo-Galeras, Cayambe-Coca and Llaganates. For a country of historically limited resources, it is an impressive feat that Ecuador has managed to create so many protected areas. If you’re looking to explore them, here is a list of protected areas in the Ecuadorian Amazon, from north to south:

· Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve (Sucumbíos & Orellana Provinces)

In the north eastern part of the Ecuadorian Amazon, Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve covers over 6000 km2, is the second largest protected area in Ecuador and is considered one of the most biodiverse areas on earth. Located in the foothills of the Andes, Cuyabeno enjoys cooler temperatures than other parts of the oriente. Water runs down from the mountains into a poorly drained plain to create a network of periodically inundated forests, lakes and creeks. This humid tropical rainforest incorporates most of River Cuyabeno and is home to more than ten species of monkey, 500 bird species and over 300 tree species per hectare. This is where to come to see pink river dolphins. It can be accessed via Lago Agrio.

· Limoncocha National Biological Reserve (Sucumbíos Province)

This small reserve takes its name from the lagoon (Lemon Lake) known for its unique green color which is its main attraction. Made up of wetlands, swamps and tropical rainforest, Limoncocha was made a biological reserve in 1985 and is located to the north of Yasuní National Park. Limoncocha is known for its range of bird species, but it is also home to three caiman and twenty mammal species. In 1972 David Pearson concluded there were 464 bird species in the area. The reserve covers just over 46 km2.

· Pañacocha (Sucumbíos Province)

Pañacocha is located between Yasuní National Park and Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. It is an important corridor for wildlife located between these two crucial protected areas. Pañacocha (known as Piranha Lake in Quichua) is the main attraction of a 560 km2 protected forest established in 1994. Water streams from the lakes into thick primary rainforest which is home to about 500 species of birds and more than 100 fish species. In the lake itself you can find piranha fish and freshwater pink dolphins. It can be reached in about five hours downstream from Coca.

· Yasuní National Park (Orellana& Pastanza Provinces)

Yasuní is known as one of the most biodiverse areas on earth. It was established in 1979 and declared a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve the same year. Made up of about 10,000 km2, a combination of dry upland humid tropical forest (tierra firme), seasonally flooded forest (várzea) and permanently flooded swamp forest (agape), this national park contains innumerable numbers of species, with hundreds yet to be discovered. There are high levels of rainfall and many major tributaries that power the Amazon River including the Napo, Cononaco, Nashiño, Tiputini and Curaray.

This is where to come if you’d like to make contact with some of the larger mammals as scientists claim that the area contains 60% of Ecuador’s mammal species in a mainly unexplored area. There are jaguars, ocelots, tapirs, primates, pink freshwater dolphins, manatees and giant otters, to name but a few. So far over 520 bird species have been discovered and one study found there are 473 tree species per hectare! There are scores of endangered and endemic species.

The area is also home to Huaorani communities including the Tagaeri, Taromenane and Oñamenane who have opted for having no contact with the outside world.

· Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve (Sucumbíos, Napo, Pichincha & Imbabura Provinces)

Located only about 38 kms from Quito, this park covers an area of more than 4000 km2. The local habitat includes the grasslands of the páramo and cloud forests. There are over 100 species of endemic plants and the area is home to the Andean condor, variable hawk, spectacled bear, foxes, armadillos, the pram rabbit, mountain tapir, cougar, over a hundred species of mammals, almost 400 species of birds, 70 reptiles and more than a hundred amphibians.

· Sumaco Napo-Galeras National Park (Napo & Orellana Provinces)

Covering a remote area of more than 2000 km2 that reaches from the Andes down into the rainforest to the east, Sumaco Napo-Galeras National Park contains inaccessible areas of which as yet little is known but experts estimate vast biodiversity. Lower altitudes are covered in humid tropical forest, while at higher altitudes surrounding the Sumaco volcano there are untouched primary forests. Some of the species present include the brown-throated sloth, military macaw, pink-throated brilliant, spectacled bear, tapir, jaguar and puma. To date scientists have recorded more than 800 bird species from over 60 families.

· Llanganates National Park (Cotopaxi, Napo, Pastaza & Tungurahua Provinces)

Most famous for the Treasure of the Llaganatis, a legend that claims that Rumiñahui hid the treasure of Atahulapa in the region, the park is divided into two ecological zones with the Andean páramo to the west and the eastern zone that expands down the eastern flanks of the Andes made up of the twisted forests of the upper Amazon and rivers that empty down into the rainforest. The altitude ranges from 1200m to 4570m. Much of the landscape is untouched and many areas are as yet unexplored and unmapped. The highest mountain in the park is Cerro Hermoso. Researchers claim there are more than 800 plant species, 194 bird species and 51 mammal species, and visitors often spot toucans, monkeys, spectacled bears, capybaras, ocelots, parrots, jaguars, weasels and Andean tapirs.

· Sangay National Park (Morona Santiago, Chimborazo & Tungurahua Provinces)

Sangay National Park is home to two active volcanos (Tungurahua and Sangay), one extinct volcano called El Altar and both tropical rainforests and glaciers. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is an important refuge for rare species such as the Andean spectacled bear, wooly mountain tapir, pumas and Andean foxes. Experts estimate there are about 400 bird species inhabiting the park.

· Podocarpus National Park (Zamora Chinchipe Province)

Covering almost 1500 km2, this national park has a wide range of endemic species due to its location in the meeting point of four ecological systems: Northern Andes, Southern Andes, Amazonian and Pacific ecosystems. Named the Botanical Garden of America, there is a vast range of flora with more than 4000 species such as the romerillo tree, the cinchona and many orchids. Almost 70 mammals have been records including the mountain tapir, spectacled bear, northern pudu and jaguar. The area is ideal for hiking.

Oil controversy in Yasuní National Park

There is a great deal of oil hidden under the Ecuadorian Amazon which has led to controversy due to a government approval of a plan to drill for oil located under Yasuní National Park. Ecuadorians are divided as to what to do, many calling for a referendum to decide the issue. Some feel that a poor nation can not leave this vast oil wealth in the ground, while others believe that it is fundamental to protect the vast biodiversity of the area and respect the indigenous cultures living there.

Food & drink
The Amazon region is best known for serving yuca (a vegetable similar to yam) with rice, bananas and river fish or guanta (wild pig).

Where to stay

When traveling to the Ecuadorian Amazon take note of the following recommendations of the best places to stay that includes rainforest lodges and cruises. Contact us if you’d like our advice on accommodation in the Amazon or need help booking your stay.

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