An Amazon Rainforest Romp
If you ever start Jonesin’ for an Indy revival, complete with steaming jungles, rugged terrain, heart-thumping adventure and breathtaking beauty that would make Harrison Ford proud, you might want to set a course for South America and consider an Ecuador Amazon rainforest romp ! Pretty sure you can leave the bullwhip at home and don’t don the fedora, unless you can really rock the stylish look.
The Amazon River, long shrouded in mystique and associated with adventure, the unknown and, mostly, the country of Brazil, is one of the last great bastions of exploration left on planet Earth. The Amazon River Basin and its tributaries drain an expanse of 2,670,000 square miles. Just marvel at that number for a scant moment. The dark heart of the Amazon River Basin has always been the Amazonia Rainforest, an area of dense tropical rainforest, covering 2,100,000 square miles, making it the largest rainforest in the world.
While admittedly, a majority of the Amazonia Rainforest does fall in Brazil, over 42,000 square miles of it belongs to Ecuador. While on a relative basis this area seems “small” by comparison, some of the most unspoiled, remote and, frankly, near inaccessible parts of the Amazon are found in Ecuador. Because it is so underdeveloped and pristine, it teems with life and diversity. There are 24 distinct “tropical life zones” found within Ecuador’s section of the Amazon and almost 1/3 of all the Amazonia bird species are located within the borders of Ecuador. It truly makes for Indy-style romp and adventure, navigating the remote terrain and exploring the hidden wonders that await.
Approximately 96% of Ecuador’s Amazon zone is not readily accessible by road, making the process of traveling within it, as challenging as traveling to get there. From the larger Ecuador cities of Quito and Guayaquil, it is possible to rent a small charter airplane and touch down on one of several tiny air strips that dot the Amazonian basin, such as the one in the outskirt town of Shell Mera. For the more adventuresome, you might go for a charter that drops down smack dab in the midst of the rainforest. Not for the feint of heart!
Larger charters can also be commandeered in Quito or Guayaquil, but don’t be surprised if you share cargo space with domestic farm animals and other “unique cargo”. What? You were expecting fruity drinks with umbrellas, comfy first-class seating and a course of filet mignon? Snap out of it! This is a rainforest romp Indy adventure, remember?
The closest you will get to a traditional commercial airline experience is the sparse weekly flights from Quito to Amazon locales such as Puerto Francisco de Orellana (locally known as “Coca”). Think you are finally going to get the comfy “all clear”…not so fast! That little commercial jaunt generally entails the commercial flight…a 4×4 joy ride…a canoe trip down the Amazon RIver and, depending on your final destination…a short (or not so short) hike to your final destination site. Set aside a whole day to get from Point A to Point B.
If this whole Indy adventure is starting to sound a bit complicated, then you fully understand why most travelers to Ecuador’s Amazon Basin choose to book through an experienced tour specialist. They would handle all the details, inclusive of air, road and…yes, canoe transport, with an experienced guide accompanying you most of the way. The can also assist in making reservations for your preferred Amazon lodge, but that bit of fun and excitement is something you might want to reserve for yourself.
The “best” time to travel to Ecuador’s Amazon is likely the dry season, which covers November, December and January, but there is no time when the area is not truly “tropical”…hot, humid and wet. Pack accordingly and dress intelligently. If you survive the harried adventure to get there, you will be justly rewarded. Ecuador’s chunk of the Amazon Basin has extreme biodiversity, including incredible vegetation, varied birds, beasts, reptiles and insects. A tapestry literally bursting with life.
Roughly speaking, species already accounted for in the rainforest include 80,000 trees; 3,000 land vertebrates; 2,000 freshwater fish; almost half the world’s 8,500 species of birds; and 1,200 different kinds of butterflies. Among these diverse life forms, many of them endemic to the region, and some of them endangered, there are all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures: a monkey small enough to sit in the palm of your hand [pigmy marmoset]; the world’s largest rodent [capybara]; the world’s biggest snake [anaconda]; and the world’s noisiest animal [the howler monkey, whose voice can carry as far as 10 miles]. Remember, those are discovered, verified and cataloged species. Who knows what mysteries await on your particular journey?
Thus far, we have discussed mostly flora and fauna. However, in the Ecuador Amazon Rainforest basin there are many unique and intriguing indigenous tribes, the biggest groups being the Siona-Sequoia, Cofan, Huaorani, Quichua, Shuar and Achuar. Some of them have only recently been in contact with people outside the Amazon environment, and it is thought that there are still small groups that continue to be totally isolated. The history of the Amazonia people is likely even more intriguing than the exceptional wildlife experience.
However, it pays to note that many Amazon residents do not readily acclimate to visitors, who often arrive in the form of miners, colonists, travelers, tourists, photographers, travel writers, anthropologists, botanists, priests or policemen. Some have opened up to the tourism traveler, recognizing that they cannot remain isolated forever, and that tourism is a lesser evil than the logging and mining that destroys their homeland. But wherever you go in the Amazon rainforest, it is wise to do so with a sensitivity and a respect to the peoples whose home it has been for thousands of years.
Also, it pays to consider that one’s lodging accommodations can vary dramatically in such an extreme environment. There are rustic and basic accommodations, moderate level abodes and, surprisingly, somewhat deluxe options. In the latter category, please do away with fantasy visions of penthouse suites at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. We are talking “relative Amazonia luxury”. However, it pays to do your research, because each unique encampment offers flora and fauna advantages and if by chance accommodations should not meet your standards, it is not like you can walk across the street for option #2.
Lastly, we offer our “Ecuador Amazon Rainforest Adventurers” packing tips checklist:
Good binoculars for wildlife viewing (an absolute must).
Camera/video gear with spare batteries.
Two or three pairs of lightweight long pants.
Two or three long-sleeved lightweight shirts.
Two or three T-shirts.
One or two pairs of shorts, mostly for indoor wear.
Lightweight sweater or jacket (it does rarely get damp and chilly at night).
Rain gear (although most lodges provide ponchos).
Three pairs of cotton socks.
Comfortable, but rugged, waterproof footwear, such as hiking boots.
Three pairs of absorbent socks.
A bottle or canteen to carry water.
Ziplock-type plastic bags to cover items you’d prefer not get wet.
Insect repellent (DEET product with at least 20% concentration).
Flashlight or headlamp bright enough for use on night walks.
A hat for sun protection.
Sunscreen lotion with a high SPF rating.
Comfortable pair of sandals, mostly for indoor use.
Personal toiletries and medications (carry medications with you when arriving and leaving the lodge).
A photocopy of your passport.
Money (in small US$ bills and coins).
Any special and/or medical need options not covered.
Check with your local embassy, consulate or travel medicine specialist to see if any inoculations are required.
Fully forewarned, tropical jungle gear in hand, you are now set to embark on your Amazonia rainforest romp in Ecuador. Godspeed and, oh…one last suggestion. If you perchance enter a cavern, tomb or otherwise ancient looking structure and happen upon an odd looking golden relic of say, I don’t know, a monkey head just laying about on a stone pillar… strongly consider just leaving it alone and softly walking away.