My-Quito.com : El Oriente and the Amazon Basin
- Amazonian Rainforest
- In the east of Ecuador lies
the vast area of rainforest jungle known as El Oriente. The rivers
here, formed by meltwater from the Andes, ultimately flow into
the waters of the Amazon, discharging into the Atlantic many
thousands of miles later. The landscape is made up largely of
unspoilt dense rainforest, occupied by a few indigenous tribes
who have little contact with the modern world. The combination
of the barriers presented by the Andes and the difficult terrain
of the rainforest have allowed these tribes to live undisturbed
until very recent times, although the discovery of oil in this
area has put both the people and the landscape under threat.
- The forest here has the most
incredible biodiversity, with over 15,000 species of plants,
600 species of fish, 300 types of tropical bird and more than
half of Ecuador's mammal population, including monkeys, manatees,
tapirs, sloths, otters and jaguars (ocelots). Amongst the many
colourful birds are parrots, macaws toucan, and tanagers.
- To get to the Oriente, you can
either fly, or drive from Quito to the northern routes or from
Cuenca for the southern routes. The roads are slow and punishing,
so be prepared. We did try to push on fast back to Quito once
and all it got us for our pain was two burst tyres -happily in
Ecuador it is possible to get a tyre repaired in a remote village
on a Sunday evening -not sure the same could be said about the
- The border to the south-east
has been subject of a long running dispute with Peru (who have
possession of a large area claimed by Ecuador), and this has
limited access to the area -elsewhere there are issues over security
on the northern border with Colombia -either way do not travel
in the Oriente without your passport.
- For visitors the area presents
an opportunity to explore the amazonian rainforset with all its
range of wildlife -the best way is often by dugout canoe with
local guides. For the more active the rivers offer some fine
kayaking and rafting.
There are a number of good eco-lodges
to stay in -for bird watchers, a look out tower is a usual attribute
in your choice of place to stay.
- The climate throughout the region
is hot (30°C) and humid. If you are bothered by insects,
you will need to bring mosquito repellent, and you will need
a mosquito net and anti malaria tablets too. You should be vaccinated
against yellow fever before your visit. Shoes and long trousers
are also necessary to protect yourself from other insects.
- Food can be interesting in the
region with some unusual sources of meat and fruit. You will
find fish such as catfish and piranha, and meats might include
capibara, turtle, crocodile and boa. There are many dishes made
with yucca or plantain and a native drink is chicha made from
fermented yucca or banana.
- Ecuador's Amazon region is made
up of six different provinces: Sucumbíos, Orellana, Napo,
Pastaza, Morona Santiago and Zamora Chinchipe.
- Sucumbíos borders Colombia
to the north, and includes some of the region's most significant
ecological reserves, such as Cuyabeno and Limoncocha. It was
also the first province to be exploited for oil. Lago Agrio (Nuevo
Loja) is both an oil town and a gateway to the jungle for many
visitors, and is close to the Reserva Faunística Cuyabeno, home
of the Cofan, Siona and Secoya Indians.
- Located between the San Miguel
and Aguarico rivers, Cuyabeno Reserve covers an area of over
600,000 hectares (its borders do change as a result of oil exploration).
Known for its tropical forests and lakes, the reserve boasts
a large number of bird, mammal, reptile and fish species -including
piranhas, turtles, conga ants, freshwater dolphin, giant armadillos,
anacondas, and manatees. There is a cayman reserve, which can
be reached from either the Aguarico or Cuyabeno rivers.
- Limoncocha Biological Reserve
is largely made up of wetlands and swamps, including Lake Limoncocha.
On the north bank of the Napo, this protected area is a great
site to watch birds and black caymans, and has many unique trees
such as the giant ceibo, cedars, laurel, the balsa, and the Pambil.
- Other places to visit in Sucumbíos
include Imuya on the Lagartococha river, noted for its floating
islands, Dureno, the home of the Cofan tribe who are excellent
guides and Puerto Bolívar where you can buy handicrafts
from the Siona.
- Napo & Orellana
- Napo is the closest province
to Quito in the Oriente. From Quito the road to Baeza leads on
to Tena, Coca, and Mishualli, or can be followed north to Lago
Agrio. On the road to Lago Agrio you can find the San Rafael
Falls, Ecuador's highest waterfall at 160m high. From Tena the
road will also take you south to Puyo in Pastaza. Tena, Archidona,
and Misahuallí all have handicraft markets, where you
can buy crafts from the Amazonian communities, selling items
such as bags, hammocks, ceramics, bows and arrows, spears, and
- Tena is located at the confluence
of the rivers Pano and Tena, and is a starting point for many
jungle tours, as well as kayaking and rafting trips. From the
town, you can see three very active volcanoes - Sumaco,
Reventador, and Sangay.
- Further into the jungle, the
oil town of Coca is the access point to the Yasuní National
Park. At nearly a million heectatares, Yasuní is Ecuador's
largest National Park. UNESCO designated it an International Biosphere Reserve in 1989.
The landscape is made up of densely covered hillsides and flooded
forest in the basins of the Yasuní, Cononaco, Tiputini,
Nashiño, and Curaray rivers. The best way to get there
is by boat from Coca -you will need a guide, and you should be
mindful of the fact that the area is remote and very wet (rubber
boots are necessary to explore the swamps). Here the trees include
cedars, laurel, chonta, and sangre de drago and there are many
interesting animals such as caymans, tapirs, harpy eagles, and
pumas. The park is populated only by a few Huaorani families
who have lived within the park boundaries for generations, some
of whom live in their own reserve. Oil exploitation continues
in the park creating ongoing pressure on the people and habitat.
- Another popular spot to start
jungle expeditions is Puerto Misahuallí. In fact is is
now possible to make a connection from here on the Napo to the
Amazon via Iquitos. You can also visit Huaorani (otherwise known
as Auca or Waodani) settlements in the rainforest from here.
The Huaorani are the tribe made famous by the widespread press
coverage over the death of five missionaries in 1956 -the Auca
Martyrs -Peter Fleming, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian,
and Nate Saint.
- Auca of Ecuador -article by McGraw Hill.
- Auca Martyrs -article from the Billy Graham Centre.
- Denis Katzer -amazing slide collection from Denis Katzer who
in 1987 travelled 400 kilometres in a dugout canoe through the
virgin forests of Ecuador to document the endangered Auca tribe
of the Spear -official
website of the film that opened Jan 20th 2006 which tells the
story of the murder of the five missionaries and subsequent conversion
of the tribe to christianity.
- Unfolding Destinies: The Story of Peter Fleming and the
Auca Mission -from Amazon.co.uk .
- Misahuallí is also home
Sacha, the rainforest conservation and research foundation
with a lodge for visitors, professional and amateur scientists.
James spent some time working with them in 2006, albeit on a
coastal reserve rather than in the Oriente -you can read more
about his travels at www.bishcrew.blogspot.com/
Pastaza -the Cinammon Province
- From Baños you can drive
into the Oriente at Puyo. The Pastaza River divides the northern
and southern parts of the Oriente. Outside the regional capital,
Puyo, 10 miles along on the road to Macas you will find the Misterio
de los Dios Falls. Mera is also worth a visit with Falls at Mangayacu,
Tigre, and Quilo, and there are a number of beaches on the Pastaza
and Chico Rivers. It was on a beach on the Curaray River that
the Auca Martyrs were killed, although now you are more likely
to see crocodiles, cayman, piranhas, parrots and toucans near
Pavachi -you can see some nice images on the website of Niall Riddell who spent some time here with
Global Vision international.
- The towns of Macas and Gualaquiza
are accessed by the road from Cuenca.
- The region of Morona Santiago
is popular with adventure travellers, especially for kayaking
and rafting on the Upani River. As well as the rich variety of
wildlife in El Condor park, Morona Santiago ajoins the park active
Volcano Sangay which towers over the jungle at 5,230m. Sangay
also has some of Ecuador's oldest archaeological ruins, built
pre 3000 BC -these are located about 30Km from Macas, the regional
capital. Further away at 110km from Macas are the famous Los
Tayos Caves, at 85m deep these are home to the nocturnal Oil
Bird -you will need a guide if you want to see the caves.
- The occupants of the province
include the Shuar Tribe -famous for their habit of shrinking
heads of animals (and sometimes humans) as 'Tzantsas'.
- The southernmost province in
El Oriente, Zamora Chinchipe is the mining centre of Ecuador,
with gold mines at Nambija, Chinapinza, and Guayzimi. The provincial
capital, Zamora is accessed by the road from Loja, and Podocarpus National Park in the cloud forest
between Loja and Zamora is popular with hikers. The park has
is situated between 1000 and 3000m altitude and with many lakes
and waterfalls is home to numerous types of plants and animals.
5km from Zamora you can see greenhouse orchids at Palphinia,
and there are good viewing points on the Puyo-Macas road at Araunjo,
the Puyo-Baños road at Mera and at Puyopungo.
- Travel Journals -account of life in the Amazon basin
from a peace corps worker
- See our listing of Jungle
Lodges in the Oriente.
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