Adventure in the Oriente

  • 3 Weeks

The Oriente is Ecuador’s slice of the Amazon, one of the world’s most biologically diverse regions. For adventurers, wildlife lovers and budding anthropologists, there’s much to discover here, from indigenous reserves to jungle lodges with an incredible array of plant and animal life.

Start in Quito; pre-book jungle lodges you plan to stay at and load up on any needed supplies, then catch a bus southeast to Papallacta, a sparkling complex of thermal baths with magnificent mountain views on a clear day. With both high-end and budget options, this is a fine place to overnight before continuing east to Baeza, a pleasant base for hiking, biking, rafting, bird-watching and other activities. From there, go north to the thundering drama of photogenic San Rafael Falls – Ecuador’s highest falls. For spectacular views of nearby Volcán Reventador in action, make the hike up to the Reserva Alto Coca, a remote cloud-forest reserve with great hiking and bird-watching, plus rustic cabins with striking views of the volcano.

Continue on to the gritty oil town of Lago Agrio; from here, head out to the Reserva de Producción Faunística Cuyabeno – a spectacular rainforest reserve packed with biodiversity. Spend a few days at the recommended Cuyabeno Lodge then travel back to Lago Agrio and on to Coca, another tiny river settlement turned oil boom town. Take a stroll along the river, then hook up with a jungle guide (best arranged beforehand in Quito) for a trip out to the Lower Río Napo, home to some of Ecuador’s finest jungle lodges. Here you’ll find superb wildlife-watching on hikes, canoe rides or climbs to the top of the jungle canopy.

Get your fill of piranha fishing, caiman-spotting and bird-watching, then head back to Coca and down to Tena. This river town is an ideal spot to gain a different perspective on the rainforest: namely, by rushing past on a white-water rafting trip through spectacular Class IV rapids. If time allows, you can tack on a trip to the less-visited southern Oriente, via Macas. The Achuar-run Kapawi Ecolodge & Reserve, reachable by chartered aircraft from Shell, is a wonderfully remote piece of Amazonia.