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My-Quito.com : El Oriente and the Amazon Basin


Amazonian Rainforest
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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.
 
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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 UK.
 
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

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 blowpipe.
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.
 
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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 (Waorani Indians).
  • End 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 to Jatun 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
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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.
 


Morona-Santiago
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'.


Zamora-Chinchipe
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
 
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See our listing of Jungle Lodges in the Oriente.
 

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Jungle lodges:
Visit our page on jungle lodges and hostels in the Oriente for places to stay in the Oriente.
Featured books:

The Birds of Ecuador: Field Guide Vol II
Frank B. Gill (Foreword), et al
Comstock Books
Paperback - July 1, 2001
Price in UK pounds
Price in US dollars

End of the Spear (Hardcover)
by Steve Saint
Steve Saint's story of growing up with the Ecuadorian tribe who killed his father in 1956, now a new film.
Price in UK pounds
Price in US dollars

Beyond the Gates of Splendor (2004)
Starring: Steve Saint, Carmela Director: Jim Hanon Rating:
DVD
Price in UK pounds
Price in US dollars

The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon
Robert Whitaker
Hardcover -April 2004
Price in UK pounds
Price in US dollars

The Savage My Kinsman
Elisabeth Elliot (Photographer), Cornell Capa (Photographer)
Paperback
Sept 1996)
Vine Books
Price in UK pounds
Price in US dollars

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