Yasuni National Park
Yasuni National Park is the largest national park in Ecuador. It is situated in the Amazonian provinces of Napo and Pastaza. The park, about 250 kilometers east of Quito, lies within the Napo moist forests eco-region and was declared an International Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1989.
The park is also home to the renowned Huaorani indigenous people, as well as two tribes, the Tagaeri and Taromenane, that to this day still live in isolation from modern society.
Yasuni is probably the most biologically diverse place on Earth. The park is at the center of a small zone where amphibian, bird, mammal, and vascular plant diversity all reach their maximum levels within the Western Hemisphere. The park holds more than 1,500 species of amphibians, 500 species of fish, 121 species of reptiles, 2,274 species of trees and more than 100,000 species of insects per hectare, which is roughly the amount of insect species that can be found in all of North America.
Moreover, the park breaks world records for local-scale (less than 100 km2) tree, amphibian, and bat species richness, and is one of the richest spots in the world for birds and mammals at local scales as well. It also is in the top for amphibian diversity compared to other sites sampled in the western Amazon. The total of its amphibian species are more than the United States and Canada combined.
Yasuní is home to healthy populations of top carnivores like jaguars and harpy eagles, the most powerful bird of prey in the world. Yasuní also shelters more than 20 globally threatened mammal species, including the white-bellied spider monkey and the rare golden-mantled tamarin.
A popular place to visit in the park is at the parrot clay-lick on the north bank of the Napo River, close to the Sacha and Napo Wildlife lodges. During the right weather conditions hundreds of brightly feathered parrots descend on a clay cliff to feed.
Yasuní offers some of the best opportunities in Ecuador to experience pristine rainforest, and most tours coming through Coca will include a visit to the park. In addition to rainforest hikes, one of the highlights of a visit to the park is boating along the Napo River. Here you can enjoy the rich vegetation and abundant wildlife of the Amazon, and you have a good chance to see pink river dolphins and giant river otters.
To the southwest of the park is the reserve of the Huaorani indigenous people, who continue and preserve their ancestral practices. The communities open to tourism are Noneno and Bameno. With the help of local guides, visitors to these villages can learn about the traditions, beliefs, rituals, and customs of these atavistic people.
The Tiputini Biodiversity Station is located on the northern bank of the Tiputini River, and although separated from the Yasuni National Park by the river, the station is part of the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve. Because of its remote location and agreements with local indigenous groups, no hunting of large mammals has occurred in the area and it is possible to habituate and study primates that are difficult to observe elsewhere. The station is geared towards research and education, and though not off limits to tourists there are no regular tours to the area.
Unfortunately, Yasuni National Park is threatened by oil extraction and the colonization, deforestation, illegal logging, and unsustainable hunting that accompanies oil-access routes. Beneath this area is the largest petroleum reserve in Ecuador. It is calculated that the ITT Field (Ishpingo–Tambococha–Tiputini) contains nearly 900 million barrels, and if extracted, it would damage these local ecosystems.
In 2007, the Ecuadorian government, in an effort to protect this megadiverse region, began promoting an international campaign called the Yasuni-ITT Trust Fund to have donors contribute economically in exchange for leaving the petroleum underground. The government attempted to raise $3.6 billion, essentially half of the estimated market value of oil within the Yasuni region. Unfortunately, the initiative failed to attract enough donors, and in 2013 President Rafael Correa shut down the project and proposed oil drilling in the park.
The future of Yasuni is now very much in doubt. As of August 2013, various petitions are circulating throughout Ecuador to demand a moratorium on oil drilling and exploration in the reserve. If enough signatures are received, a referendum will be advanced to the national level and Ecuadorian voters can elect to place the Yasuni reserve off-limits to drilling. Recent polls show that 85 percent of Ecuadorians oppose drilling in the park.
The Amazonian tribespeople who sailed down the SeineThe Kichwa tribe in the Sarayaku region of the Amazon in Ecuador believe in the ‘living forest’, where humans, animals and plants live in harmony. They are fighting oil companies who want to exploit their ancestral land. A delegation of indigenous people are at the Paris COP21 climate conference to make sure their voices are heard. Can they win their battle?
Posted by Guardian Environment on Friday, December 11, 2015
What to Wear & Pack
What to Wear
- Under Armour “Heatgear” or something similar (keeps you cool, wicks away perspiration and dries fast when it rains)
- Long sleeves & long pants are a must. There are plenty of insects and spiders that, while generally not dangerous, can be very pesky to exposed legs and arms.
- 1 pair of underwear for each day of your trip
- 1 pair of socks for each day of your trip
- Shorts, short sleeve shirts and bathing attire
- Casual clothes for arrival and departure
- A sweater for canoe/boat rides
- Bring a pair of shoes (or two) that you aren’t afraid to get wet.
- Gym shoes and/or sandals for hanging around the lodges
- Most lodges provide rubber boots for the muddy trails.
What to Pack
- Insect repellent
- Sun protection (sun cream, sunglasses, hat or cap)
- Plastic bags to your protect your electronic gear from rain
- Water bottle — be sure to drink plenty of water
- Lightweight rain poncho (essential)
- Small backpack/daypack
- Quick-Dry Towels
- Toilet paper
- Camera (with flash)
- Flashlight and batteries (due to the dense canopy, the jungle is dimly lit, even in the middle of the day)
The following lodges are recommended by Your Escape to Ecuador.
La Selva Amazon EcoLodge & Spa
La Selva Amazon Jungle Lodge was one of the first in this area and has been offering tours since 1984. The main lodge and 16 cabins overlook the Laguna Garzacocha, which is reported to be safe for bathing, even though piranhas, white caimans, and the odd anaconda live in it.
Residents of two local indigenous communities are employed at the lodge. English-speaking local guides lead hikes and canoe rides, both day and night, as well as excursions to Yasuní National Park across the river. Highlights include the lodge’s 30-meter canopy tower, with excellent views of birds in the early morning; the nearby butterfly farm, which exports species worldwide; and a spot for fishing for piranha in the lake (and have it served up for dinner).
The food at La Selva is renowned as the best among Ecuador’s rainforest lodges, featuring a combination of international and Ecuadorian cuisine, including local river fish and a special Amazon pizza.
Prices for four-day (starting at $905 pp) and five-day (starting at $1075 pp) tours don’t include airfare to and from Coca, but last-minute discounts are sometimes offered. Be sure to check their website for the latest promotions. To make reservations in the U.S. call 1-866-687-3109; in Quito (Mariscal Foch 265 and Leonidas Plaza, Sonelsa Building, 6th floor, Quito, tel. 2-254-0427).
Napo Wildlife Center
Opened in 2003, the Napo Wildlife Center is one of the best Amazon eco-lodges. The facility sits on Añangu Lake inside Yasuní National Park. It is run by local Kichwa Indians, who insure that visitors have an outstanding wildlife and cultural experience while having as little impact as possible. After a two-hour motor canoe ride down the Napo from Coca, guests switch over to dugout canoes and are paddled two more hours upstream to the lake. Ten comfortable, thatched-roof bungalows each have private baths and mosquito nets, and a five-story observation tower overlooks the dining room and lounge.
Excursions include climbing the 36-meter canopy observation tower, visiting local indigenous communities, hiking through the forest, and spending time at two of the most easily accessible clay licks in the country, where dozens of parrots and parakeets converge (the best months are December–January). More than 560 species of birds have been recorded nearby. Four-day ($760 pp) and five-day ($950 pp) tours are possible to the center, which is very popular, so advanced booking is essential. For reservations in the U.S. call 1-866-750-0830, or contact the Quito office (Yánez Pinzón N26-131 y La Niña Edificio Las Carabelas, Office 101, Quito, tel. 2-600-5893 or 2-600-5819).
The Swiss-owned Sacha Lodge offers first-class accommodations and service only 2.5 hours downstream from Coca and is one of the best and most popular lodges in the area. The lodge owns 2,000 hectares of the more than 7,000 hectares of mostly primevel rainforest that surround the small complex on the shore of Laguna El Pilche. Ten cabins with private baths and gas-heated hot water are connected by thatched walkways to the dining hall, where gourmet meals are served.
A 43-meter viewing tower built around a kapok tree affords guests the occasional view of Volcán Sumaco to the west along with views of up to 200 bird species that have been spotted from the tower. Birders will love the 270-meter canopy walkway and the salt lick just downriver near Añangu, where flocks of parrots, parakeets, and macaws squabble over the mineral-rich soil on the riverbank.
All nature-viewing excursions from the lodge are accompanied by two guides—one local and one English-speaking biologist—for every 4–7 people. Four-day ($729 pp) and five-day ($920 pp) tours don’t include airfare from Quito, but members of South American Explorers (SAE) get a 15 percent discount. Sacha is very popular, so book well in advance. Be sure to check their website for current promotions. For reservations in the U.S. call 1-800-706-2215, or contact the office in Quito (Julio Zaldumbide 397 at Valladolid, Quito, tel. 2-256-6090 or 2-256-9504).
This fairly new lodge is located on 37,000 hectares of Kichwa-owned communal lands, three hours downstream from Coca. The staff at Sani are proud of their preservation work within the community. The aim is to become a model of ecological, community-based tourism while training the local people and maintaining international standards of service. Facilities are more basic than at some of the other nearby lodges, but the opportunities to view black caimans at night are particularly good. Four-day ($627 pp) and five-day ($814 pp) tours can be reserved through the office in Quito (San Ignacio and 6 de Diciembre, Quito, tel. 2-254-3492).
Amazon Dolphin Lodge
The organization that used to run Yuturi Lodge has replaced it with new accommodations on Lake Pañacocha in the 56,000-hectare Lake Pañacocha Reserve. Amazon Dolphin Lodge is one of the newest and most remote lodges in the region, five hours downstream from Coca. With more than 500 species of birds in the surrounding forest, including orange-cheeked parrots, black-crowned tityras, collared puffbirds, and paradise tanagers, bird-watchers are guaranteed to add to their life lists during a visit. There are also many species of monkeys, otters, as well as pink Amazon dolphins that can be seen in the lake. Four-day ($600 pp) and five-day ($750 pp) stays can be reserved through the Yuturi Conservation Group (Amazonas N24-236 at Colón, Quito, tel. 2-250-4037 or 2-250-3225).
Curaray Lodge is the only lodge located in the south part of the Yasuni National Park. Owned by the Curaray villagers, all tourist dollars go back into the local community.
Curaray offers three double bungalows with capacity for six people. The comfortable bungalows make for an enjoyable evening after hiking the pristine rainforest surrounding the lodge. Each bungalow has a private toilet and shower facilities.
Roundtrip transportation between Shell and Curaray Lodge is included in their rates. The lodge offers numerous transportation options depending on the number of visitors in your party. All meals are included as well.
Four-night visits ($1900 pp) can be reserved through the office in Quito (Cdla. Ejercito Nacional S43-131 OE3H S43D, Quito, tel. 2-269-9979 or 8-356-9791; email@example.com).
Located three hours by boat upstream from Coca, Yachana aims to educate visitors while providing a source of funds for local community development. Perched near the village of Mondaña, the lodge oversees 280 hectares of land stretching 30 kilometers in either direction, including primary and secondary rainforest and agricultural land.
Canoe excursions and 15 kilometers of trails allow you to enjoy the rainforest on your own or under the direction of local guides before returning to the rustic but comfortable accommodations for the night. Yachana isn’t a place to see animals in the virgin forest, but if you’d like to meet local people and know that part of your fee goes toward supporting the local health care center, then Yachana is for you. The lodge has won several awards, including Condé Nast Traveler’s Ecotourism Award in 2004 and the National Geographic Award in 2008.
Four-day ($630 pp) and five-day ($840 pp) visits can be reserved through the office in Quito (Reina Victoria N21-226 and Vicente Ramón, Quito, tel. 2-252-3777).
River Boat Tours
For a different kind of rainforest experience consider opting for one of the river boat cruises that travel up and down the Río Napo. With comfortable air-conditioned cabins and great, freshly prepared meals, these vessels offer a safe and relaxing way to explore the Amazon as the boat crews select the most interesting sights for day visits depending on the time of the year. One advantage afforded by a river cruise is that you get to see many different areas of the Amazon on a single trip. The wide variety of excursions and itineraries offered is yet another compelling reason to consider an Amazon river boat tour.
The Manatee Amazon Explorer works with first-rate wildlife guides who are specialists in the local wildlife and rainforest habitat. Activities include bird watching, jungle hikes, canoe excursions, and swimming, to name just a few. The vessel offers four-day ($795 pp) to eight-day itineraries ($1858 pp). For reservations in the U.S. call 1-786-220-3251; in Quito (Gaspar de Villarroel and 6 de Diciembre, Quito; tel. 2-336-0887 or 2-336-0888).
Flotel La Misión, operated by the Misión hotel in Coca, allows you to enjoy the diverse rainforest landscapes from the comfort of a floating hotel. The vessel features 32 cabins, each with private bath, air conditioning and hot water, a restaurant with delicious food served buffet style, laundry service, Internet and phone satellite. The boat makes four-day ($793 pp) and five-day ($910 pp) trips as well as a seven-night trip to Iquitos, Peru (from $1,832 pp). Reservations can be made through the office in Quito (18 de Septiembre E4-76 y Av. Amazonas, Quito; tel. 2-255-3960).