The Amazon rainforest is the world’s largest by far, and the Amazon Basin covers over 6.9 million square kilometers and forms parts of eight countries including Ecuador. In addition to its critical role in the generation of water and carbon storage it also contains approximately 10% of the world’s biodiversity. A visit to this amazing and vast ecosystem has always been a dream of ours so it was incredible for us to be able to include a trip during our time in Ecuador.
The two most popular ways to visit are either to an ecolodge or on one of several river cruises operating within the basin. After looking at both options, we chose to visit a lodge and immerse ourselves in the rainforest experience.
There are a large number of lodges within several different areas of the Ecuadorian portion of the basin, so it can take a bit of research to figure out which one is right for you. Cost, accessibility and location are some of the main factors. In the end we chose the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve as the right area for us. A national park and protected area, it has high biodiversity and is dominated by sediment rich black-water rivers and seasonally flooded forests. The newly created and neighbouring Yasuni National Park has even higher biodiversity but is typically more expensive and harder to reach.
There are about a dozen lodges in the Cuaybeno Reserve ranging in price from about $250 US to over $1200 US for a typical 4 day 3 night visit. We arranged ours with Imagine Ecuador and chose the Guacamayo Ecolodge based on reviews, price and the availability of a bird watching tower. We noticed in looking through the itineraries of all the lodges in the area that they were basically the same regardless of price. It seems you are paying for extra comforts and perhaps nicer rooms in the more expensive lodges. In fact we regularly saw groups from other lodges on the same trails or stretches of river.
Once you have chosen your lodge you have to figure out how to get there. If you are coming from outside the country tour companies will make all of the arrangements for you, but it adds to the total cost. As we were already in the country you would think it would be straightforward, but it was still quite a journey. We started with a two hour bus ride to Guayaquil, then a short flight to Quito and an overnight stay at an airport motel. The next morning we took an early flight to Lago Agrio where we would be picked up by the lodge’s staff. All of the Cuyabeno lodges do a pickup in the morning at the airport. You can also take a bus to Lago Agrio but it is quite long and involves an overnight in Lago Agrio.
From the airport it was a warm and bumpy two hour bus ride to the entrance of the Cuyabeno Reserve which is the staging point for the lodges in the area. By this time we were pretty excited but also very hot. It is an interesting spot as there are people from all over the world arriving back from their lodges and the newbies like us just getting off the bus.
Luggage, food for the lodge and everything else gets manhandled onto the long canoes which serve as the main mode of transportation within the reserve.
As you head downriver you are immediately immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the rainforest and the river. The trees are taller along the riverbank, vines reach for water, blue morpho butterflies flutter beside you and flowers provide bright contrast to the many shades of green. The warm breeze feels wonderful after the hot and sweaty bus ride.
Very soon we start to spot various birds, monkeys and even an anaconda sleeping along the banks of the river.
The ride to the lodge is about two hours in length and we loved every minute of it! The deeper you go into the reserve the more you feel like you have entered another world. We have done a similar trip to Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica and particularly enjoyed travelling by boat as you experience the rainforest from a very different perspective.
The Guacamayo Ecolodge is a relatively small and intimate lodge perched on the banks of the Cuyabeno River. There are a variety of shared or private rooms spread through four huts. In addition there is a dining hall, two common areas as well as a bird watching tower. As is common practice for these type of lodges, everything is raised off the ground on walkways. This reduces the ecological impact and also protects guests from some unwanted visitors. There are solar panels which provide electricity for charging phones and cameras and a generator provides electricity from 6 PM to 10 PM each evening.
The cost of the trip includes three full meals a day and all activities and tours while you are in the reserve. The meals were excellent and they easily accommodated vegetarian and gluten free diets. We were very pleased with the value we received at $249 US per person.
A full meal awaited us when we arrived in the afternoon. As we adjusted to our home for the next few days and met our companions we knew that we were going to love our stay. The next post will cover what types of activities we took part in and introduce more of the scenery and wildlife of the reserve.