So you are in Ecuador and want to see the Amazon? A number of companies offer immersive jungle excursions in Cuyabeno Reserve, and I recommend the experience. However, the planning part of this can be a bit confusing. So this post is about what you can expect from your Cuyabeno jungle adventure and how to plan it out in the least confusing and exhausting way possible!
Normally I post my videos at the end, but I am gonna try out posting it in the beginning this time around. Some of you saw the 32 second preview on my Instagram, @getlostandbefound. If not, give me a follow over there. I don’t bite! Although some of the critters on my page might!
Here is the full 9 minute video showing what you can expect from a trip to Cuyabeno, Ecuador. Lots more wildlife, incredible plant life, cooking with an indigenous tribe, and visiting a local shaman…
Crossing the Border
If you are doing a combined trip of Colombia and Ecuador, Cuyabeno is a perfect first or last stop in Ecuador, because it is close to the border.
If you are coming from Colombia – From Mocoa, Colombia, a great town for jungle and waterfall hiking (stay tuned for my next post), you can take a collective taxi 5 hours to the border bridge. Walk across the bridge and get your passport stamped. Despite information online, you can do all of that at the bridge and it is simple. From there, you can easily find a taxi to take you to your “Punto del Encuentro” (point of encounter) in the town of Lago Agrio.
If you are going to Colombia afterwards – I followed the above instructions in reverse. Rumor and online information told me I needed to get my passport stamped in the city before reaching the border, 45 minutes away. This was untrue. When I tried in town to get my passport stamped, everyone looked at me like I was crazy told me just to go to the border.
Reserving Your Tour
The reservation process proved to be a frustration for us (and for other group members, too), due to a general lack of information and people to explain procedures.
How to Book:
- It is possible to book tours online if you know what you are looking for. We met one couple that reserved their trip that way.
- However, most book their tours with a tour agency in person in either Baños or Quitos. We booked our trip from Baños (by the way, don’t skip Baños, it’s super fun – Baños Ecuador ~ A Place For the Kid at Heart).
A couple more notes:
- We were told in Baños that we had a choice of 3, 4 or 5 day tours. We opted for the longest because we are weirdos who love being in the jungle. However, I feel the need to note that other tourists who booked through other tour vendors were not given an option. When they asked, they were told they had to book a specific number of days. So research, and know this before you book. You DO have options about the length of your visit.
- Which jungle lodge you stay in appears to be insignificant. The lodge we initially booked got changed on us because it was full, and we ended up staying in Dolphin lodge. At first we were annoyed that they changed our booking, but once we arrived in the jungle we saw that the lodges were more or less all basically the same. All of the companies offer similar experiences and activities.
When we enquired about the tour, there was a lot the vendor did not explain to us. In all honesty, most of the vendors selling these tours don’t really know much about the product they are selling. I have found this to be true throughout South America whenever tour agencies offer tours in different parts of their respective countries. I find it is always better to arrive in the town closest to the tour you are interested in and book it once you get there. Cuyabeno is the only place I have encountered where that is not possible.
Arriving at Cuyabeno
Initially, we were under the impression that the tour was maybe an hour or two outside Baños. We figured there would be some form of transportation, be it in car or boat. And we figured we could leave our bigger backpacks in our hostel, only carry the necessities in one bag for the two of us, and return to our hostel afterwards. That is not the case. It is not the case if you book in Quitos, either.
It wasn’t until we went to pay that it was explained we would need to go buy ourselves a bus ticket and take an 8 hour overnight bus to a city called Lago Agrio. Once in Lago Agrio we could take a taxi to our designated “punto del encuentro” and wait for our chauffeur and guide to retrieve us. Then we would begin our jungle journey that morning. That all sounded awful. We quickly realized why they didn’t explain any of that to us before hand. I am sure they lose a lot of interest when people realize the logistics.
We were still determined to go visit our jungle lodge, but given the new information we decided to spend a few extra days in Baños. We did not want to return to the same place after 8 hours towards Colombia. We also had no interest of starting our jungle tour the morning we arrived. I can’t sleep on buses, and always arrive from an overnight bus-ride too tired to function the next day. I knew heading straight to the jungle was a terrible option for me.
Our point of encounter happened to be in front of a hostel. So we reserved a night there. We spent the day catching up on sleep and prepping our bag for the jungle. We would have done this even if our POE had been in a different spot, but we got lucky with the location. There is nothing to do in Lago Agrio. It is not touristic, and has a reputation for being unsafe. You cannot book your excursions there, as the town has no offices or agencies to service tourism. The only reason to spend any time there as a tourist is while you wait for your tour to begin.
If you are like me and need a recovery night, Planeta Azul was the name of our hostel. It is a pretty rustic establishment, but you are about to head to a jungle lodge, so this should be a piece of cake. The family run business was just getting it’s feet off the ground when we were there. I recommend this establishment for the following reasons:
- They happily stored our bigger bags for us while we were in the jungle.
- They home-cooked all of our meals, and were accommodating to my vegetarian needs.
- They have a nice swimming pool
- When we needed a taxi to the train station upon our departure, they drove us themselves.
- Our welcoming committee was a family of little monkeys living in a tree outside our window
I also reserved one night there for our return so that we could have ourselves a proper shower, and head to the border refreshed the following day.
None of the other tourists we encountered had thought to stay in Lago Agrio upon arrival, and most wished they had.
Experience The Amazon
Once all the logistical annoyances were sorted out, we had a wonderful time. I write about these hiccups only in hopes that someone looking online for more info won’t be as clueless as we were!
One of the most fascinating reasons to experience the rainforest first-hand is the incredibly variety of plant-life that is far different from anything you can find in North-America or Europe. Here I have included photos of coffee berries (yes, coffee is a berry), wild mushrooms, wild orchids, cacao, and more…
On your trip to Cuyabeno, your native guide will teach you about the various medicinal and ceremonial plants and what the indegenous communities use them for.
Amazon Style Sunsets
A sunset is beautiful anywhere, but there is something extra special about the sunsets along the rivers in the Amazon. Cuyabeno had the most spectacular sunsets I’ve seen in my collective 4 months in the Amazon through Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. Definitely chase the sunsets.
From creepy crawlers and winged wonders to furry friends in a frenzy through the trees… the jungle is absolutely alive. Some creatures hide really well and require keen eyes and ears to encounter. Others will parade around in front of you. None of them will pose for your photos, so good luck capturing the monkeys, eagles, snakes, frogs, spiders, giant ants, and turtles! One of these days I hope I can get a wild cat on camera!
Experience Daily Life of An Indigenous Tribe
Of all the reasons to visit Cuyabeno, this one tops them all for me. There are a number of places you can go to have immersive Amazon jungle experiences. But Cuyabeno was the first I have encountered that allows for personal interaction with local people. Because it was only Miguel and I on our final day, it was a very personal and less “touristic” experience.
We helped a local woman prepare yuca bread, known as Cassava. We began at the very beginning when she took us out to the fields where she cultivates her crop. We dug up the yuca to carry back to her basic kitchen, which you can see above. We ground the roots into powder, and then rang them dry. We learned about the special clay pots that are prepared in this community for the sole purpose of baking this flat yuca bread over an open fire stove. It was a long process, but very rewarding.
Afterwards, the community shaman payed us a visit. He read my energy and preformed a standard ritual for positivity and health. For Miguel, who has chronic knee pain after a motorcycle accident many years ago, the shaman had a special treatment. The treatment was basically whacking Miguel’s knee over and over with a special type of leaf. It caused his knee to hurt intensely for about a day, but afterwards his pain subsided and he claimed for a couple of months that the pain was better than it had been in years.
Weather you believe in shamanism or not, it is an experience worth participating in and learning about. I am not particularly sold on the spiritual aspects of shamanism, but I do believe that there are a lot of natural cures for our problems. I also believe many of them can be found in the jungle. Shamans are trained for their entire lives to understand the medicinal, as well as the spiritual, effects of the plants in the jungle. They are absolutely experts in their field. It is also a wonderful way to learn more about a culture far different from my own.
I can’t thank the members of this community enough for welcoming us into their homes with open hearts and open minds. They taught us about their way of life, shared their food and drink, as well as smiles and laughter. It’s meeting these amazing people who live such different lives that make traveling the richest experience it can possibly be.