Despite all this mystery and myth, the Amazon possesses one of the most user-friendly places for traveling: the Yasuni Nature Reserve. Situated in north-eastern Ecuador, this wildlife reserve is a short 40-minute flight from Quito. Otherwise, it is a very manageable four and one-half hour overland drive.
Expansive in size, the sprawling Yasuni Reserve covers almost 2,400,000 acres with lush tropical rainforest and jungle. It is so large that it edges out both the Grand Canyon National Park and Yellowstone National Park in the USA.
Forming the shape of a caiman’s head, with its jaws open wide, this nature reserve is bounded by two majestic silt-filled rivers. Both of these eventually feed into the legendary Amazon River.
What you’ll discover in the Yasuni Extraordinary Biodiversity: The adventurous traveler will awake here at daybreak to a chorus of birds. Along with these will be the roars of Howler monkeys and the screeching of squirrel monkeys scrambling overhead.
Once up and exploring the rainforest itself, abstract statistics about Yusuni’s “mega bio-diversity” will come alive. When you view the forest panorama from your lodge’s observation tower. You will be able to see for yourself many of the reserve’s 596 bird species – one third of all the species of fowl that call the Amazon home.
Similarly, as you paddle your dugout canoe through black-water creeks and lagoons, you will come to a realization. Though the park covers just .15% of the entire Amazon basin, it is home to approximately one-third of the Amazon’s amphibian and reptile species.
The reserve’s labyrinth of rivers, lakes, streams and marshlands are home to a world record 250 types of amphibians and reptiles, while the fish diversity consists of 382 known species. And don’t forget our warm-blooded aquatic friends like the Giant otters. Up to seven feet long (!), they’re amazing sights in this veritable Garden of Eden.
Indigenous settlements: The richness of this rainforest is found not only in its plant and animal life. The jungle is filled with a fascinating mix of varying indigenous cultures, each with their own language, history, mythology and culture.
The Huaorani (or Wao) people, for example, number only in the thousands. Yet, they are the masters of this rainforest universe. While many sub-communities of Huaorani remain isolated from “civilization,” others have been in contact with the Western world for decades.
A trip to Yasuni offers a chance to meet and interact with them and to learn about their culture and their way of life in the rainforest.
Making the Adventure Happen
Travel operators: To get to the Yasuni, a specialized tour operator can arrange your flight by jet from Quito to the town of Francisco de Orellana (known locally as “Coca”) on the Napo River. If staying in a jungle lodge, travelers will then board a large, motorized, covered canoe for a two-hour trip downriver.
From there, guests usually switch to smaller dugout canoes to paddle up black-water creeks to their lodge (motorized transport is not allowed on the creek so wildlife isn't disturbed). The trip can take anywhere from one to three hours. This allows time for visitors to observe river otters, “potoos,” kingfishers, hoatzins, jacamars, hawks and monkeys along the way.
Lodges / Riverboats: Travelers to the Yasuni can experience a snippet of the incredible biodiversity awaiting them in this region. They can stay at either a jungle lodge or take a trip on board an upscale riverboat. These latter that sail along the Napo River, which is a major tributary of the Amazon River.
Jungle lodges provide a range of accommodations. They vary in degrees of comfort and opportunities for wildlife watching. These accommodations typically offer private cabanas. Each is equipped with a private bathroom (with hot water), as well as electric lights, ceiling fans, screened windows and mosquito nets. While these are not the fanciest places to lay your head, they are usually quite comfortable.
Many of these lodges are owned and operated by the local communities. Simply by lodging at one of these lodges, visitors help to promote "community tourism." This is therefore a practical approach to both saving the rainforest and sustaining local people.
Alternatively, for those wishing to explore the Amazon while enjoying all the creature comforts of home, full-service cruises on modern riverboats are viable options. In addition to all the activities offered by staying at a lodge, riverboat guests can sleep in air-conditioned comfort and sunbathe on their ship’s deck while watching the jungle float by.
Activities While visiting the Yasuni, one's days are filled with as much activity as their curiosity and energy dictate. Options include jungles hikes, birdwatching, piranha fishing, photo safaris, and cultural visits into indigenous communities. In addition, you can sail downriver in a canoe, a balsa raft, kayak or even on inner-tubes.
For those who prefer to relax after a full day of adventure in the Yasuni Amazonian rainforest, they can find a hammock and a good book at their lodge or on their riverboat, soaking up the unique energy that the rainforest has to offer.
For those who prefer to relax after a full day of adventure in the Yasuni Amazonian rainforest, they can find a hammock and a good book at their lodge or on their riverboat. Here, they can soak up the unique energy that the rainforest has to offer.
Nighttime in the Yasuni hosts myriad experiences exclusive to these moonlit hours. A favorite for adventurous travelers is a flashlight safari in search of some of the jungle's more timid, nocturnal occupants: caimans, spiders, snakes and toads – to name just a few. Then too, one can stargaze and enjoy the unique equatorial view of both the Southern and Northern hemispheres. One can peer out at millions of stars beaming down free from the lights of civilization.