Visiting the Amazon Jungle in Ecuador

Where to visit?

The Amazon rainforest is huge, spanning multiple countries and covering a huge proportion of South America. Originally we had planned on visiting in Bolivia, from a small town called Rurrenbaque. Getting to Rurrenbaque seemed quite a challenge so when we heard the rainforest was just as impressive and a lot more accessible in Ecuador we jumped at the chance.

The most commonly visited reserve is called Cuyabeno, accessible from a small town called Lago Agrio (accessible on an overnight bus from Quito!) Within the reserve there are plenty of different options of lodges, ranging from the outrageously expensive to the backpacker range. We narrowed out search down to 2 final option, Samona Lodge and Bamboo Lodge. Finally, we decided on Bamboo lodges 4D3N tour simply due to their really impressive customer service and response times to our many questions! “So what are our chances of seeing pink dolphins, caimans, anacondas, tyrannosaurs rex’s and dodo’s?”.

Bamboo Lodge Day 1

All of the tours begin from Lago Agrio, usually with a pickup from one of 2 hotels. We had arrived on quite a pleasant night bus from Quito, getting to hotel Planeta Azul at around 430am. Pickup from the tour wasn’t until 930 so we had a couple of hours to wind away in the hotel. The service was actually really good as there was a whole floor in the hotel filled with hammocks and you could get a great buffet breakfast for $3.

Our accommodation at Bamboo Lodge
Our accommodation at Bamboo Lodge

Our transport arrived pretty promptly at 930 and after the brief introduction to our guide, Miguel, we knew we had made the right choice with the lodge! He was a great English speaker (vital for us non-Spanish speakers), infectiousoly enthusiastic and genuinely knowledgable about things not just within the rainforest. He told us we had a 90 minute bus transfer so to get comfortable and enjoy the ride. There were multiple stops en-route, including a break at a small shack at the side of the road specialising in sugar cane juice and traditional Ecuadorian alcohol and more than one at a roadside market were various different strange fruits were thrown at us. Anyone ever eaten a grenade? Looks like an orange on the outside, crack it open and the inside looks like frog spawn! Delicious, if not a little bit strange.

Eventually we arrived at the entrance to the reserve and after a short wait whilst the luggage was on loaded we headed off down river in our small motorised canoe! At this point, in our uncovered canoe, we prayed that the average of 6m of water than can fall in the rainy season did not choose the next 4 days to really unload. On our first journey down the river Miguel managed to spot us milk drinker monkeys, small red howler monkeys and a rather large toucan! Not a bad start to life in the jungle.

Arriving at the lodge at around 2pm we had our first experience of jungle food, positively some of the best food I have eaten in a long time and the best we had, had so far in South America! Made all the more impressive by the fact there was only one chef, cooking in a a tiny little kitchen. We were left to relax for the next couple of hours before our first activity, a short dusk boat tour and a night time walk through the jungle. Setting off at around 5pm we quickly bumped into a sleepy sloth, to the naked eye it just seemed like a black shadow in the trees but through the binoculars you could make out his features. Sloth… tick.

A small monkey who popped down to say hello at the lodge
A small monkey who popped down to say hello at the lodge

Due to the low level of the water when we eventually made it to the start of our night hike the boat couldn’t get all the way to the shore! This made for a very interesting walk through the swampy water in semi-darkness, luckily I didn’t have to deal with the holey rubber boots, bad luck Vicki! Once we had all safely made it to the shore, in varying states of dampness we headed off into the jungle just as last light disappeared. Seeing the jungle at night certainly threw up some interesting creatures, including lots of frogs, toads and a few rather large spiders. Including a tarantula that Miguel coaxed out of it’s den, not being afraid of spiders myself the size of this thing gave me a little shiver. Vicki even spotted a small red snake, much to my dismay she turned down the offer of a free beer for the snake-finder. Returning to the lodge we had another epic meal (this was to be a recurring theme) before showering and hitting the hay for another day of excitement tomorrow.

Day 2

Breakfast was served at 7am so after chowing down on a combination of granola, yoghurt, fruit, scrambled eggs with broccoli and bread (not all together I might add, South American food isn’t that strange) we headed out to visit a local community.

The Amazon is made up of lots of different tribes, and bamboo lodge itself is actually in the territory of the Samona tribe. The village we were visiting today was part of this tribe. Pulling up the village we were greeted by a group of dogs and friendly local children. After being shown from the small dock up into a section of the village it was easy to see how simple life must be for the tribes living here! Everything in sight was made from the land (aside from a porcelain toilet and a water tower left behind by an oil company). The houses were made from wood with roofing made from palms, hammocks were construct red from stripped sections of trees and benches made from overturned logs. Impressive to see how everything they have around them is put to good use.

Vicki helping with the preperation of Yucca bread
Vicki helping with the preperation of Yucca bread

Our first activity in the village was harvesting and making fresh Yuca bread! Yuca bread is a staple part of the diet here, it looks and is grown a lot like a potato. Me and another lad in the group were charged with being ‘King Arthur’ and pulling the root from the ground. After much pulling it came loose and the process of making yuca bread began. First the root was chopped down into smaller pieces, around the size and shape of a traditional baked potato. It was then washed and grated before being squeezed out until completely dry. Once dry it was sieved out through a small metal grate and thrown straight onto an extremely hot piece of stone over an open wood fire. Within minute Yuca bread was born, the closest thing I can compare it to is Roti bread in Malaysia or extremely thin Naan Bread. It was extremely tasty, especially when combined with the tuna, lime and onion concoction Miguel had thrown together and some traditional Samona spicy paste (tasted a lot like vegemite with a kick). It was again astounding to see how little went to waste, the Yuca itself can be eaten raw to help settle a bad stomach, the liquid squeezed out is re-used to make the spicy paste and the powder can be used for cleaning, as an after-sun for bad sunburn and also as an extremely effective moisturiser. Nothing is wasted in the Amazon jungle.

Before we left the local community we met with the village shaman, I expected this to be a little gimmicky but it was actually really interesting. We were told beforehand that it is not quite as commonly practiced anymore, but the shaman we spoke to was the son of the villages last shaman who was just starting down the path. It was really interesting to hear how they get to become a shaman, the rituals they must follow and how they found a plant or combination of plants in the jungle to resolve most illness’. As much as I don’t quite believe in the mystical ‘the spirit’s of the forest spoke to me’ side of the shaman, there is certainly some truth in the fact that they somehow knew which plants would cure which ailments. I was even subjected to a traditional shamanic (hopefully nobody misreads that as satanic) ritual. All very interesting, and a lot more enjoyable that I initially imagined.

Getting shaman-d
Getting shaman-d

After returning to the lodge we had lunch and again were left to our own devices for a couple of hours. This was a common theme every day, having the afternoon just to lounge around. Whilst one couple in our group saw this as a downside it was stinking hot in the sun, so staying relaxed and at the lodge made perfect sense to the rest of us.

That evening we had what was in essence the opposite of our previous night, a forest walk at dusk closely followed by a night time boat ride. Early into this walk, we had stopped for Miguel to explain facts about a certain type of plant when Vicki hurriedly tapped me on the shoulder shouting there was something on her. Me, being the useless male I am, glanced this off as her panicking about nothing and thought nothing more of it. Until a few seconds later I felt pinches in my hair, down my back and on my arms. Interesting, I thought, doesn’t look like she was lying! Another couple just behind us had a similar problem and we charged forward trying to pull the insects off us. It seemed for every 1 we pulled off 5 more appeared. Miguel soon informed us we had been attacked by a swarm of bees after being too close to their nest, luckily these were stingless bees who’s only real offence is too pull your skin. Annoying, but not too painful. The little critters just seemed to be everywhere, Vicki even found 2 in her hair 4 hours later!

After finishing the walk we quickly darted across the water too watch a 2m long Caiman just dozing in the water, this would have been a lot more impressive had me and Vicki not just been stung by a wasp. The wasp landed on Vicki’s arm and proceeded to sting her through her jacket before she seemingly flung it straight onto my hand! “Here’s a present for ignoring my cries for help earlier” is what I’m sure she thought! Trying to appreciate the reptile whilst your whole hand/arm throbbed was not quite as easy and we stood there in constant fear of more attacks. A very fun evening still, even with the Amazon attacks.

Day 3

Our plan for day 3 was a 3 hour jungle hike, to get to the start of the hike however we had to self propel ourselves in paddle canoes! 6 of us in one boat with Miguel steering, 2 lucky victims had their own boat which they have to steer and paddle themselves. Nobody on the tour had much experience navigating down a jungle river, so this made for some interesting situations.

There wasn’t an awful lot of wildlife whilst out on the hike, aside from some huge termite and ants nest! The ants nest were particularly impressive as if we made a loud sound all at the same time you could hear them marching. When I say marching, it genuinely sounded like there was a small army of foot soilders stomping there way towards us. We were told they all start to dance in unison within the caverns of the nest that reverberates the sound and scares away any potential predators.

Where's that Anaconda?
Where’s that Anaconda?

We had been told the night before there were rumours of a 5m anaconda stalking the Laguna somewhere, Miguel had even climbed out the canoe and wandered around in the water looking for it (true dedication right there). He had heard earlier that day that it’s preffered sleeping spot had been found so after hiking through a thick, muddy swamp we arrived at an uprooted tree. Inside it sat the most ‘holy-shit look at the size of that snake’ snake I had ever seen. Even just seeing part of it’s body and head you got a real sense of the sheer size of the monster, god help anyone around when it was hungry. They had once found a fully grown 47 year old man in the stomach of one of these snakes, so to be so close was a little un-nerving.

Oh, there she is!!
Oh, there she is!!

After our customary epic lunch time meal and afternoon spent drinking coffee and being lazy we went out that night to watch the sunset over the Laguna. On route however we were treated to a special show from the jungle’s most inactive animal. There was a sloth having his evening meal, which meant he was extremely active! I was actually quite shocked at how quickly he did move and the dexterity he showed grabbing leaves and moving around the branches. After sitting watching him for quite a while we almost missed the sunset, so worth it. After a quick swim in the Laguna, honestly not more than 200m from where the anaconda’s territory ended… “Anaconda’s don’t often venture out of their territory right”? we ended our last night in the jungle.

Day 4

A 'small' Amazon spider
A ‘small’ Amazon spider

We were up early on our last day to go and watch the sunrise, it turned out to be one of the best sunrises we have seen anywhere in the world. This time of day is also one of the best to see the huge variety of birds living in the Amazon. So many different ones in fact, that the names of them couldn’t be remembered! Full respect to the guides here as they can, from a small glimpse, real off 101 facts about the bird in question, mimic it’s call and tell you it’s gender, age and star sign. Cool.

After one final jungle breakfast (honestly devastated to have to leave the food behind) we climbed aboard the canoe and made one final journey down the river. As a goodbye present, the Amazon presented us with a ‘small’ 1.5m anaconda sleeping next to the river.

The itinary we followed in the jungle seemed very flexible and was prone to last minute changes, we both really enjoyed this as it allowed fluidity and the ability to do whatever was best at the time based on conditions, weather etc. I couldn’t recommend Bamboo lodge enough, and if you are thinking of visiting the Amazon anywhere in South America I would seriously consider Cuyabeno as an option. If you do, I urge you to get in touch with the team at Bamboo, you won’t be disappointed. One final tip, pay the extra 60 bucks and do the 4 day 3 night tour, 1 full day in the jungle simply is not enough to really experience it. You can contact or book with Bamboo here.

                ANIMALS SPOTTED – Anaconda’s (5m and 1.5m), caiman, milk drinker monkeys, howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, amazon tree frogs, 2 and 3 toed sloths, toucans, turtles, blue and yellow macaws, numerous other tropical birds, snakes, tarantulas, spiders, giant locust, beetles, termites, ants, dragonflies, hundreds of butterflies, stinky turkeys (obviously the scientific name for what is a very smelly bird) and many more varieties of insects!

Tags

amazon jungle, another on the list, backpacking, ecuador, hiking

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