The sun really knows how to make a dramatic exit. As it slowly faded into the horizon, it painted the sky with a final splash of colours. The sunset at the Amazon was truly captivating but I couldn’t help but be distracted by the movement from our canoe. People started to jump into the (dark) water of Laguna Grande. While it looked like fun, they swam as if there were no caimans, piranhas or other creatures in the river. Maybe that’s part of the experience?
No trip to South America is complete without a visit to the Amazon Rainforest. There are many countries where you can visit the Amazon but after some research, the Cuyabeno Reserve in Ecuador was the cheapest and the most convenient. We didn’t have to take any flights and everything about the tour was easily taken care of while in Quito.
After an overnight bus from Quito to Lago Agrio, we set off to the Cuyabeno Reserve, where we spent four days and three nights exploring the Amazon. Here are the highlights of our tour:
A Boat Ride along the Cuyabeno River
We saw not one but two anacondas! Our introduction to The Amazon was a 2 hour boat ride along the Cuyabeno River. With the help of our guide, Rodrigo, we saw different animals along the way – monkeys, bats, birds and anacondas. I didn’t expect to see the famous snakes so early in the tour.
The Caiman Lodge
A tall tower overlooks the vast forest canopy. This viewing tower at the Caiman Lodge was one of the reasons we chose it for the tour. It was about four stories high and has an awesome view of the Cuyabeno Reserve from above.
We stayed in a private room in one of the clustered bungalows. The room was nice with proper toilets and mosquito nets. Note that an occasional bug or frog is pretty much unavoidable in the jungle. Also, inform the tour agency ahead of time if you are a couple and want a private room as some of our group ended up sharing their room.
Near the dining area, there is a nice common area with chairs and hammocks perfect for relaxing.
The Amazon Sunset
It’s hard to beat a good sunset. In the Amazon in Ecuador, we were spoiled with beautiful sunset colours every day. It was so memorable watching this from a boat while on the Cuyabeno river. The contrasts of colours, the shadows and reflections – the scene was perfect.
Village Life in the Amazon
We painted our faces red with a strange looking fruit. Were we about to go to war? No, we were there to do something a little less life threatening – make yuca bread. Yuca (casavam a root crop similar to sweet potato) is a staple food in this area. A few locals showed us how they harvested the yuca plants then our group helped ground the flesh which was later made and cooked as yuca bread. It was a lot of work but the final product was just in time for lunch. Our guides brought jam, mayonaise, chili paste and tuna to complement the yuca bread. The yuca was quite nice and tasted similar to a crispy wrap. The local chili paste was great with the normal tuna mayo. A lot of us even tried the “jungle mix” which was tuna and jam; it was a strange combination.
Later on, the village shamans, the religious leaders and healers of the community informed us the life and roles of a shaman. Have you heard of ayahuasca? It’s not just a hallucinogenic concoction, it’s a traditional medicine that helps the shaman diagnose a person’s illness.
Later in the afternoon we went to another area in the village to attend a local celebration. Here they played all sorts of games for which included tree-climbing and blow darts.
Searching for Caimans
“Why are we doing this?” After learning that caimans are carnivorous animals similar to the crocodile and alligator, you’re bound to worry about your safety in a tiny boat, in the dark, in a river full of possible predators. The river was eerie at night. The water was like a black mirror and nothing else was visible but those hit by the light from our torches. It took a while for us to find caimans as they are quite difficult to spot in the dark and maintaining a safe distance is also of concern. Finally, after a few minutes of going around the river, our torches reflected the yellow eyes of a caiman. It was exciting and scary at the same time.
Spotting River Dolphins
The Cuyabeno River is not only home to caimans, there are also pink dolphins that live in this habitat. We went out just before sunset to spot some of The Amazon’s famous river dolphins.
Walking into the Amazon Forest
A trip to the Amazon is not complete without a walk into the Amazon Jungle. We went at two different times, the morning and at night. The experience was very different for the two.
From searching for poisonous frogs to crossing mud pools, we surely had a lot of fun during our day walk. We were all very wet and muddy by the time we took a photo at one of nature’s picture frames, an opening in a tree trunk.
In the evening, we saw a different set of creatures – lizards, spiders and other insects. Finally, we saw the mark of the middle of the world, the Ecuator line in the Amazon of Ecuador.
The pet parrot in the Caiman Lodge was not the only colourful bird we saw during the Amazon Tour in the Cuyabeno Reserve. On the last day, we went out early to so some bird watching. From kingfishers to toucans, we saw a lot of impressive wildlife from the boat.
A Final Look at the Amazon
Just before noon, we left the Cuyabeno River by boat to go back to the city. The Amazon jungle did not fail to bid us with an unforgettable goodbye. On our way back, we saw an anaconda strangling a caiman! It was incredible – a fitting end to an awesome tour.
Details: 4 Day Amazon Tour at the Cuyabeno Reserve, Ecuador
In the Cuyabeno Reserve in Ecuador, there are several jungle lodges to choose from and you can arrange the tour easily from Quito. We stayed in Casa CarpeDM in Quito and arranged the tour with CarpeDM Tours. The 4 day / 3 night tour costs $250 inclusive of all meals and lodging. Although there are lodges that offer tours for a little less, the viewing tower at the Caiman Lodge is worth the few extra dollars.
The tour starts in Lago Agrio. You can take an overnight public bus or the tourist bus service ($20), which you can book with the tour company. It was a little more expensive but it is a safe option. We had previously lost a camera while on a local bus from Otavalo to Quito so we wanted to be more careful this time.
Have you been to the Amazon in Ecuador or any other country? Let us know.