It rained the whole night before, and for the first time after three days in Cuyabeno National Park we slept to a soundtrack louder than the crickets and the birds. We cloaked ourselves in ponchos for the morning excursion into the Amazon, and still must have looked like wet cats when the rain started up again. Inexperienced with the jungle, we built small forts for our cameras and our glasses fogged over, undoing any of their corrective benefits. Diego – our Samona Lodge guide – asked us if we wanted to go back, scanning the pitiful state of things over his left shoulder. We decided to go on.
With a wild smile, he whipped around, gestured the boatman onward and hollered “WELCOME TO THE YUNGLE!”.
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A Complete Travel Guide to the Amazon in Ecuador
How to Choose the Right Amazon Tour
Picking an Amazon lodge in Ecuador was seriously confusing. There are 4 different Amazon reserves in Ecuador, but most lodges are found in Cuyabeno National Park and Yasuni National Park. You can choose between 3,4, or 5-day tours, and tour costs range from $250-$1,500. All this, and you want to make sure you’re selecting a responsible travel operator. We booked with Samona Lodge in Cuyabeno National Park at the last minute based on price and departure date. For more affordable Amazon experiences, you might consider visiting the Amazon in Bolivia or Colombia. If you’ve got more money to spend, the Amazon lodges in Peru and Brazil are the most famous.
Amazon itinerary (from Samona Lodge)
We found that almost every Ecuador Amazon tour operator runs the same itinerary. The pricier tours might get you a guide with better English or a smaller group size, but the excursions are all about the same. Here’s the general itinerary for a 4-day/3-night Amazon tour with Samona Lodge:
Day 1 | Arrival Day: Arrive in Lago Agrio on an overnight bus. Pickup is around 9am by a private bus to the canoe dock (~2 hours), followed by canoe transfer to lodge (~2 hours) while looking for wildlife. You’ll eat lunch, get checked into your room, and rest for a few hours. Afterwards, you’ll take a canoe ride to Lago Grande for swimming, and go searching for caimans and snakes by dark before dinner.
Day 2 | Cultural Day: After eating breakfast, you’ll take the canoe to a small village to learn about local agriculture and the process for making yuca bread. Move to another village to discuss ayahuasca and traditional healing with a local Shaman. Go back to the lodge to rest before going for a swim on Lago Grande. Then, you’ll go to a small island for an insect night walk.
Day 3 | Wildlife Day: Start with breakfast before going on a medicinal plant walk. Rest at the lodge for a few hours before going to swim on Lago Grande again. Go looking for river dolphins before dark, and search for caimans and snakes after dark.
Day 4 | Departure Day: Wake up before sunrise for a birdwatching canoe ride. Eat breakfast at the lodge, pack your bags, and take a canoe transfer from the lodge (~2 hours) while wildlife spotting. Tour ends in Lago Agrio.
What to Pack for the Amazon
The climate in the Ecuador Amazon is describedly hot, sweaty, and buggy as hell. We’d recommend bringing light, cotton layers with long pants and long sleeves for sun protection. Plan ahead with loads of sunscreen, bug repellant, and rain protection. The lodge will typically provide rain ponchos and rubber boots for particularly wet days. For more on what to pack for the Amazon, check out our full Amazon Packing List!
NEW Amazon Travel Video
Wildlife in the Amazon
The Amazon is one of the best places in the world for wildlife spotting. ith 40,000 plant species, 427 mammals, 1,300 birds, 378 reptiles, more than 400 amphibians, and around 3,000 freshwater fish, it’s not a matter of if, but when you’ll see wildlife. Cuyabeno National Park has 10+ types of monkeys, 500+ species of birds, and a whole lot of insects. The commonly spotted animals for our group were squirrel monkeys, parrots, toucans, sloths, anacondas, butterflies, caimans, tarantulas, pink dolphins, and wooly monkeys. Rarely seen are jaguars and ocelots with just one reported sighting in 2015.
Tip: The deeper you get into the jungle, the better the wildlife spotting. Motors on the motorized canoes are LOUD. If you’re looking to see as many animals as possible, you might consider taking a paddling trip through Magic River Tours.
How to get to Lago Agrio + Coca
The two primary departure cities for Amazon tours are Lago Agrio and Coca. Your departure city will depend on which national park you choose. From Lago Agrio or Coca, you can expect another ~2 hours by bus and ~2 hours by canoe to your Amazon lodge.
If you’re going on an Amazon tour in Cuyabeno National Park, you will depart from Lago Agrio. There are 3 primary methods of transport between Quito and Lago Agrio. You can either fly the 1.5 hours (~$100), take a private tourist bus for 6 hours (~$20), or take the public bus for 8 hours (~$10). In recent years, there have been some safety concerns in Lago Agrio, so we elected for the private overnight bus on the way there, and a public bus on the return.
If you’re going on an Amazon tour in Yasuni National Park, you will depart from Coca. Again, there are 3 primary methods of transport between Quito and Coca. You can either fly the 3 hours (~$100), take a private tourist bus for 7 hours (~$25), or take the public bus for 9 hours (~$13).
The Best Time to Go to the Amazon
Ecuador Amazon tours run year around, though seasonal changes can effect your experience. Rainy season lasts from March – July, August – December is transitional with sporadic rains, January – March is the dry season where much of the river and lake runs dry. Rainy season will grant you cooler temperatures and better access to Cuyabeno National Park by canoe, while dry season will keep mosquitos at bay and allow you to walk around on more of the trails in the park.
We debated our decision to go quite a bit! When it comes to expensive experiences in Ecuador, Amazon tours come in only behind the Galapagos. We try to stick to budget and independent travel, but the only easy way to get into the Amazon is with a packaged tour for around $65/day (including lodging, meals, activities, etc.).
So was it worth it? Yeah. We’d say it was. There were a few moments on the tour that felt contrived, but for the most part, we were in the thick of the jungle and there’s nowhere else in the world like it.