Tips for Visiting the Otavalo Market on a Trip to Ecuador

Ecuador has a lot of highlights but a few sites and activities stand out as global bucket list destinations. One of those is the market at Otavalo. This famed indigenous market is probably one of the oldest markets in the Americas because Otavalo was known as a market town long before the Spanish arrived. In fact, local Otavalans were selling their wares for centuries even before the Incans showed up.

The Otavalo market.

The people of Otavalo continue to bargain with customers to this day and it’s an easy, fantastic place to visit. Here are a few tips to help enhance your time in Otavalo:

  • Take your time: There’s a lot to see in Otavalo so don’t be afraid to take your time. The Otavalo market is not a place for shoppers in a hurry!
  • Bring small bills: Although many of the vendors probably have change, it will be easier on them and your wallet if you have small bills.
  • Don’t be afraid to bargain!: People have been bargaining in Otavalo for centuries. The vendors are used to it and may be open to a discount if you buy several items. They will also happily sell that hat or woven Alpaca shawl for the asking price without a second word but it doesn’t hurt to ask for a lower price.
  • Ask before taking pictures: Another thing to always ask for is permission to take photos. Just ask before you bring out the camera.

We hope these tips help when visiting Otavalo, Ecuador!

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The Ilinizas Ecological Reserve

This is a reserve for climbers, and the two sharp peaks of the Ilinizas, according to legend once a single volcano split by an ancient eruption, are the main feature. Today these two peaks are a magnet for climbers from around the world.

The smaller North peak (5,116 m above sea level) is a suitable climb for inexperienced mountaineers and those wishing to acclimatize before attempting Ecuador’s major summits, while the ice-capped South peak (5,305 m) challenges even seasoned climbers. At the southern edge of the Reserve the visitor will find another major attraction, Lake Quilotoa, (3,400 meters) an emerald green lagoon set in a circular crater, with steep cliffs leading down to its shores.

The Ilinizas Reserve is also highly varied and its great variety of ecosystems, from cloud forests to evergreen forest and windswept moorland, means that here the visitor will find vast numbers of plants birds and animals. An estimated 292 species of plants are endemic to the Reserve, including many of the orchids which flourish at the higher altitudes (1,800 – 3,000m) of the reserve’s cloud forest, clinging to the trunks of trees together with bromeliads.
Large mammals are also common, from the more common white lipped and white collared peccary, Andean fox, opossums and agoutis – resembling large guinea-pigs – to the rarer pumas, and extremely endangered spectacled bears.

The 257 bird species found here so far include many species native to the cloud forests which are considered endangered on an international level, such as antpittas, wood quails and puffleg hummingbirds.


Climbing the Ilinizas is a memorable experience for both experienced and first-time climbers. Quilotoa Lake, set in its deep volcanic crater is an extraordinary landscape, visitors can hike round the crater´s rim, visit on mules or kayak across the turquoise waters. The cloud forests are excellent for bird-watching, and maybe even spotting some of the larger mammals.

The local “Tigua” paintings, named after one of the villages near to the Reserve. These intricate paintings are as colorful as the community’s clothes. They are painted onto stretched lambskin and depict scenes of everyday life, against a backdrop of dramatic Andean scenery, erupting volcanoes and emerald lakes. There are dancers, farmers, llamas and condors, mythical creatures and the ever-present Allpamama or Mother Earth.


While the average annual temperature in the Reserve is between 9 and 11ºC, it can reach 21ºC at the height of a sunny day and at night go down to freezing. The visitor should remember that the higher you go, the colder it gets.

The Reserve is often cloudy and wet, and visitors should come prepared, with appropriate clothing and footwear.

What to bring:
Warm clothing.
Waterproof jacket.
Sun screen.
Walking shoes/boots.
Binoculars for bird-watching
A warm sleeping bag is also recommended, depending on the accommodation

How to get here:

The Ilinizas are located near the village of El Chaupi, which can be reached by taking the road to Sigchos west off the Panamerican Highway near the town of Machachi, to the south of the capital Quito. From El Chaupi, a 90 minute hike will take you to the refuge. This same road eventually leads to Sigchos, in the south of the Reserve, and allows visitors to reach El Corazón mountain.

An alternative route involves turning off the Panamerican Highway at the town of Lasso, south of Machachi. This road winds around the base of the Ilinizas.

To reach Lake Quilotoa, from Quito take the Panamerican highway to Latacunga (95km), and from there the road west towards Pujilí. The road passes the Kichwa communities of Tigua and Zumbahua before reaching Quilotoa, 4×4 vehicles are recommended.

Local traditions and folklore:

This Region is home to many Kichwa communities, who, for the most part, still cling to their traditional ways of life: farming llamas; cultivating traditional, hardy crops such as beans and corn; and speaking Kichwa, the language of the Incas. They continue to wear their vibrant, traditional clothes, with hand-embroidered blouses, necklaces of gold beads and bright shawls for the women, despite the harsh, wet climate.

The area by numbers:

• 5,305: The height, in meters, of Iliniza South, the Reserve´s highest point. Iliniza North stands at 5,116 meters.
• 4,788: The height, in meters, of Corazón Volcano, a relatively easy climb within the Reserve.
• 50: The number of mammal species found in the Reserve, although this number is expected to rise on further research.
• 40: The height, in meters, of the walls of the Toachi Canyon, formed after Quilotoa erupted. The canyon is ideal for hiking and horseback riding.

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Amazing Insects in the Ecuadorian Amazon

When most travelers hear the word “insects”, they usually think of ways to keep bugs from biting and how fast they can swat them. Although that might hold true for mosquitoes and other biting bugs, there are literally thousands of inoffensive insects that look downright incredible. Since many of them live in the biodiverse rainforests of eastern Ecuador, the jungles of the Ecuadorian Amazon are the perfect place for taking pictures of bizarre bugs, jewel-like beetles, fantastic butterflies, and much more.

A butterfly from eastern Ecuador.

Given that the rainforests of eastern Ecuador host an unknown number of insect species (estimates range from 10,000 to even 50,000), you could get shots of literally dozens of different exquisite bugs on every night hike.

A brilliant green beetle from the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Taking a guided night hike is the best way to find insects as well as frogs and other photogenic creatures because most of them come out at night. During the day, most insects stay hidden and out of sight to avoid being eaten by the large number of birds and othr predators hoping to eat them.

You won’t need to walk far from the lodge to see incredible insects either. A large number of species can show up right in the gardens of the lodge or in nearby forest. All it takes is a good headlamp, patience, and a camera with macro lens and flash for impressive shots of amazing bugs.

Visit the Huaorani Ecolodge and other exciting rainforest destinations in eastern Ecuador for excellent photos of insects, birds, frogs, and other jungle wildlife.

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First Community-based Tourism Initiative in the Galapagos

Tropic is proud to announce the first community-based tourism initiative in the Galapagos. This island’s 100 residents have never enjoyed tourism’s benefits. The goal is to protect the island’s resources and life style by guiding tourism as a tool while not letting tourism change the island’s character. Using the Huaorani Ecolodge experience we hope to build program, operational and organizational capacities with the local community to position Floreana Island as the ecotourism destination in the Galapagos. This would be a new sustainable tourism model to the world.

Jasci signs a memorandum of understanding with Floreana Community President Max Freire and Maria de Lourdes Soria president of the tourism committe

Waponi and the Community of Floreana signs MoU

Max Freire, Maria de Lourdes Soria and Jascivan Carvalho in Floreana

Floreana Island is famous for Post Office Bay and beautiful beaches with cavorting sea lions. Its residents, most of whom live near Floreana Lava Lodge, don’t interact with or benefit from tourism to Post Office Bay (on the far side of the island).

Post Office Trail Development

Galapagos National Park Representatives, Waponi and Community participate at Trail Development

The Galapagos National Park is permitting Floreana Island residents to offer a two to three-hour organized hike to Post Office Bay and to offer rentals of kayaking and snorkeling equipment at the Bay.

For this important community tourism start-up, Tropic and Waponi will provide technical and financial support for volunteers supplied from a partner, the University of Exeter (UK) Business School and the One Planet MBA. Two volunteer MBA students from Exeter will spend three months on Floreana Island establishing parameters for the operation, developing product, training and defining a proposed commercial strategy. They arrive July 4.

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Mache-Chindul Ecological Reserve

This natural area, located in the northwest of the country, is a place of exotic landscapes, waterfalls and natural lagoons formed in an environment of undisturbed forests. But behind the scenery lies the most interesting element of the Mache-Chindul Reserve, the surprising variety of plants and animals that the visitor can find in this enchanted part of Ecuador.

The Mache-Chindul Reserve protects some of the last remaining tropical dry and rain forests of the Ecuadorian coast, and is considered to be an international biodiversity hotspot due to the enormous variety of plants and wildlife, including high numbers of species found nowhere else. In certain parts of the forest, each hectare may contain up to 1,420 individual plants, with trees reaching up to 80 to 100 feet (25-30m) in height. In total some 1,434 plants have been identified here.

Of the 136 species of mammals that inhabit the Reserve, 38 are endangered, and the protection of this region with its unique environments is vital for their conservation. An astounding 491 species of birds have also been registered, including the white mustached hermit hummingbird, the brown woodpecker and the Chocó toucan.

On the Eastern limit of the Reserve is the The Bilsa Biological Reserve, a privately owned 3,000 hectares forest managed by the Jatun Sacha Foundation. The forest is a biological corridor connected to the animals and plants of Mache-Chindul. The Bilsa Reserve has accommodation for visitors, students and scientists, and here guests can get a real idea of the species in the Reserve.

Visitors to Mache-Chindul will also get a chance to see the area’s many natural pools and waterfalls, such as the 60-meter high Mono Waterfall to the far East of the Reserve and Cube Lagoon, one of the area’s major attractions, declared a wetland of global importance in 2001. At the Cube lagoon there is accommodation for students and visitors.

For more relaxation, Atacames, Muisne, Súa and Same located on the coast near to the Reserve offer beautiful beaches, accommodation and restaurants, as well as lively Afro-Ecuadorian culture.


Cube Lagoon.
Mono Falls.


The Reserve is hot and humid year-round. The temperature varies from 18–36 °C, and
the wettest months are from January to June. Yearly rainfall varies widely within the limits of the reserve: 800 to 3.000 mm

What to bring:
Insect repellent (minimum 30% DEET).
Sun screen.
Light, protective clothing (long sleeved shirt and long trousers).
Rain poncho or light, waterproof jacket during the rainy season.
Rubber boots.
Plenty of drinking water.
Anti-malaria tablets may be necessary, seek medical advice before visiting this region.

How to get here:

The Reserve is located in the South of Esmeraldas Province and the North of the Province of Manabí. The major access route on the eastern side of the Reserve is the road between the cities of Santo Domingo de los Sachilas and Esmeraldas, capital of the Province of the same name. Close to Quinindé in Cantón Quinindé, visitors will find the entrance to the village of Herrera, from where the road continues on to the settlement of La Y de la Laguna. From here continue to Estero de Plátano and then to the Taguales River, at the eastern limit of the Reserve, from where the road leads straight to the Cube Lagoon.

Access is also possible from Esmeraldas, Atacames, Muisne, and Pedernales. The Pedernales – Chamanga road offers access to the Reserve via the communities of Eloy Alfaro, Chindul, Cheve and Beche.

The Reserve is most easily reached during the dry season from July to December, while at other time of the year access can be a problem due to high rainfall levels. Most of the routes are difficult and before travelling to the reserve it is best to seek advice from the Ministry of the Environment in Esmeraldas.

Local traditions and folklore:

The Reserve is home to both indigenous Chachis and Afro-Ecuadorian communities. The latter came to Esmeraldas in the 16th century when the slave ship carrying their ancestors from West Africa was shipwrecked off the coast.
The area by numbers:

• 1,434: The number of plant species identified in the Reserve.
• 111: The number of endemic plant species, the majority of which are endangered.
• 38: The number of species of mammals in the Reserve threatened with extinction.
• 18-36: The temperature range in °C

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Learn Jungle Survival Tips at the Huaorani Ecolodge

There are several ecolodges in Amazonia. Some are found in Brazil (especially near Manuas), travellers can experience the Amazonian rainforest in Peru, and more than one jungle lodge is found in eastern Ecuador.

However, the irony of Amazonian ecolodges is that most are located in rainforest that has been impacted by people. There aren’t as many monkeys, large animals, or big spectacular birds like macaws. In addition, although some lodges have excellent guides, most did not grow up in a culture that is completely associated with jungle survival.

A Jaguar on a trail at the Huaorani Ecolodge.

The Huaorani Ecolodge stands out from other jungle lodges because it is situated in a wild, remote area of the Ecuadorian Amazon far from any roads. It can only be accessed boat on wild jungle rivers and is located in Huaorani territory. This translates to a huge area of rainforest populated by very few people, and healthy populations of everything from Jaguar to monkeys, toucans, and macaws.

A Huaorani guide with guests at the Huaorani Ecolodge.

Although it can still be tough to see those and other animals, chances to encounter them are increased by experiencing the jungle with the people who know the rainforest the best; local Huaorani guides. While hiking in the jungle, they also teach guests about invaluable jungle survival skills such as making and using a blowgun, how to recognize animal tracks, and where to find clean water.

Learn about jungle survival from people who live in the heart of the wild Amazon at the Huaorani Ecolodge.

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The Cayapas-Mataje Mangrove Reserve

The Cayapas-Mataje Mangrove Reserve is one of the most luminous in Ecuador. The abundant and brilliant waters of this protected area – part of the biggest and best conserved estuary in the Southern Pacific – and the lush greenery of its landscapes will truly dazzle the visitor.

Located in the Province of Esmeraldas (the Green Province) in the extreme north west of the country adjacent to Colombia, the Reserve’s wetlands were declared a site of global importance (RAMSAR) in 200; here the tourist will find the highest mangrove trees in the world, some reaching up to 30 metres in height. The trees are the Reserve´s most distinctive feature. The five species found here play a vital role in the protection of the region: they recycle nutrients, maintain the quality of the water, protect the shoreline against erosion and disperse the impact of strong waves. Their roots host a unique salt and freshwater ecosystem, and are home to home to 66 species of mollusks, crustaceans and fish.

But the mangroves are not the only interesting plants that grow in the area. Here the visitor will also find the Tagua, a giant palm whose seeds (known as vegetable ivory) are carved to make jewelry; the Guaba, whose long green sheaths have fruits with a vanilla flavour; and the Rampira or Toquilla whose leaves are used to make the famous “Panama” hats, that are in fact Ecuadorian.

Amongst the attractions of the Cayapas-Mataje Reserve is its abundant wildlife. Fifty two species of mammals, 173 species of birds, and 36 species of amphibians and reptiles have been registered here. Opossums are common around the beach, while sloths, ocelots and armadillos can be found further inland. The Reserve’s reptiles include snapping turtles, boa constrictors, caimans and alligators.

The area also has an important part in the history of the country. According to the oral history of the Reserve´s Afro-Ecuadorian inhabitants, their forefathers arrived here after the slave ship that was carrying them was shipwrecked off the coast. Having survived the wreck they established themselves and began to collect shellfish, and cultivate coconuts, bananas and cocoa. There are presently 31 Afro-Ecuadorian communities within the Reserve and 12 in its buffer zone, and in this enchanted place their music’s unique sound – the marimba – is always in the air.

What is more, archeological remains from the Tolita Culture (500 B.C. to 500 A.D.) have been found around the village of la Tolita, a short distance to the south of the Reserve. The group’s cultural creations show high levels of beauty and complexity. A sample is the golden funeral mask
made in the form of the sun, which besides being recognized as an icon of Ecuadorian pre-Inca culture, is presently used as the symbol of the country’s Central Bank.


There are many opportunities for canoe rides through the mangroves, birdwatching, and community encounters, as well as long stretches of unspoiled beach at San Pedro y Cauchal.

Visitors to this region will enjoy the unique sound of the Marimba, and the lively dance that accompanies it. The marimba is a magnificent show of rhythm, music, color and seduction and is of the area’s major attractions in the area. An international Marimba festival is held every June in San Lorenzo with representatives from several neighboring countries.

Native Awá and Chachi communities can also be found on the borders of the Reserve.

How to get here:

The most important center in the region is the town of San Lorenzo, where visitors can plan their excursions to the mangroves the communities around the area. To get to San Lorenzo you can travel from Esmeraldas, capital of the Province of the same name, where it is also possible to make a connection by air with Quito.

From Ibarra, capital of the province of Imbabura it is also possible to travel to San Lorenzo by bus, and the highway is in very good condition for travel.


The climate is hot and humid year round, with more rain occurring from December to June. The temperature ranges from 23-35°C.

What to bring:

Insect repellent (minimum 30% DEET).
Sun screen.
Light, protective clothing (long sleeved shirt and long trousers).
Rain poncho or light, waterproof jacket.
Rubber boots.
Plenty of drinking water.
Anti-malarial tablets may also be necessary, seek medical advice before entering the area.

The area by numbers:

• 1,260: The number of plant species endemic to northern Esmeraldas (20% of the total number of species).
• 173: Species of birds identified in the Reserve.
• 52: Species of mammals that inhabit this region.

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High Andean Highlights from Ecuador

Ecuador is a country of incredible contrasts. Despite being about the same size as the state of Colorado, it boasts quiet ocean shores in the sunny and dry west, dense, humid rainforests in the east, and huge mountains in the middle of the country.

Several of Ecuador’s peaks are a good deal higher than the tallest mountains in Europe and the lower 48 states, and the capital city is situated in a valley 9,350 feet (2,800 meters) above sea level! Those high elevations make for incredible scenery, exciting high mountain activities, and several must-see destinations. It’s a challenge to pick out highlights from the stunning high elevations of Ecuador but here are a few of the most heavily visited places:

  • Otavalo: This high elevation market town will always make it onto lists of must see destinations because it hosts one of the most exciting and colorful Indigenous markets in South America.

    A view of Otavalo and nearby mountains from the Casa Mojanda.

  • Cotopaxi: This snow-capped volcano is one of the tallest active volcanoes on the planet. Although its 5,897 m (19,347 ft) height should only be climbed by experienced, guided climbers, other exciting activities in the area include hikes and horse back rides through beautiful landscapes, and stays in cozy hosterias.
  • Cuenca and Cajas National Park: A beautiful colonial city is always a highlight and Cuenca happens to be one of the most intact Spanish colonial cities in South America. Experience the quaint beauty of this high elevation city along with the unique landscapes of Cajas National Park just outside of town.
  • Chimborazo: This amazing snow-topped volcano is the highest mountain in Ecuador (6,268 meters (20,564 ft)), and the point on the surface of the Earth that is farthest from the center of the planet.

    Wild Vicunas roam the grassy slopes of Chimborazo.

Experience the stunning scenery of these and other beautiful High Andean destinations when visiting Ecuador.

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The Churute Mangrove Reserve

Formed by a complex of canals and virtually untouched emerald-green islands, humid and dry forests and mist-covered hills, the Manglares-Churute Ecological Reserve is truly impressive.

The Reserve was named a wetland of global importance (RAMSAR) in 1990, and contains three important highlights: El Canclón Lake, the Churute hills and the mangrove forests. The abundant plant life varies greatly from zone to zone, with 50 foot (15m) high mangroves in the coastal areas, vivid orchids in the forests and floating plants in the wetlands. The dry forest is also home to various medicinal plants, traditionally employed by local people to cleanse and cure.

Located in an area of relatively low humidity in the interior of the Gulf of Guayaquil and the lower River Guayas basin, the tidal waters that periodically submerge this part of the coast are a mixture of salt and freshwater, allowing the five varieties of mangrove found here – and the creatures that depend on them – to thrive.

To really get to know the area, a boat trip out to the mangroves with the local crab pickers is well worthwhile. The journey provides a real insight into the lives of local communities that depend on the mangrove for their livelihood. Each crab must be pulled by (thickly gloved) by hand from the muddy swamps surrounding the mangrove roots and tied in bunches to a wooden plank, known as a ‘plancha’, before being sent to various parts of the country and turned into delicious meals.

But the Churute Reserve is not only mangroves. Evidence been found here of a number of Pre Hispanic cultures: Valdivia Chorrera, Guangala, Jambelí and particularly Guayaquil, one of the oldest of the country whose archaeological remains correspond to a period between the years 2, 400 and 1, 800 B.C. This area is thought to have been their power centre and the most outstanding remains liked to this ancient culture are the ‘Tolas’ (small mounds) and ‘Conchales’ that can be seen dispersed within the Reserve, although some have been threatened by agriculture and the construction of shrimp pools.

The ‘Tolas’ are distributed throughout the region. At Km 21 of Durán-Boliche road there are 64 ‘Tolas’, the biggest being 120 m long and 12 m high.

Another of the Reserve’s attractions is the opportiunity to see, and above all hear the audibly impressive howler monkeys that live here. Howler monkeys are endangered as a result of hunting and loss of their natural habitat, but enough of these impressive creatures are concentrated in the area to make glimpsing them in the forest canopy likely, and hearing their deep growls fill the forest is a memorable experience. Among the many mammals living within the Reserve’s borders are, white faced monkeys, and two-toed sloths.

The Reserve is also home to many wading and migratory birds from the North that rest here in March, April, November and December, especially on English Island, and El Canclón Lake. The latter is named after its most famous inhabitant – the endangered horned screamer (Canclón), with its long crest and piercing call.

Along the marshy coastline the visitor can also find tree frogs and iguanas. These species are amongst the most threatened in the Reserve, due to their sensitivity to environmental fluctuations.


The El Canclón Lagoon is a rain fed lake of about 800 Ha., spectacularly nestled amongst low green hills. Besides the Horned Screamer there are many other types of water birds to be seen in the Lagoon, as well as the turtles which nest on its shores in the dry months of November and December

The sound of the howler monkeys can travel up to a distance of 5km, and with a little luck the traveler will be able to see groups of them feeding high in the forest canopy.

The ‘Tolas’ (small mounds, and other archeological remains to be found in and around the Reserve.


Ecuador´s coast is warm and humid, even at night. The average annual temperature of the Reserve is 28 degrees C. The rainy season is from January-April, while November and December are the driest months.

What to bring:

Insect repellent (minimum 30% DEET).
Sun screen.
Light, protective clothing (long sleeved shirt and long trousers).
Rain poncho or light, waterproof jacket during the rainy season.
Rubber boots.
Plenty of drinking water.
Binoculars for bird-watching.

How to get here:

The main access to the Reserve is situated on the road between the coastal cities of Guayaquil and Machala in the Province of El Oro. From Guayaquil take route 70 and then route 25 heading towards Naranjal.

Local traditions and folklore:

When the Spanish arrived in the region, they found Chono settlements, which formed part of the Milagro culture (700 B.C.) that came here from the Amazon region. In the XVII century, the Guayas basin began to be populated by the Creoles and Mestizos.

The area by numbers:

• 55,212: The area, in hectares, of the Reserve.
• 300: The number of bird species, including 27 endemic species.
• 95: The length, in centimeters, of the horned screamer.
• 45: Species of mammals identified here.
• 5: Types of mangrove found here.

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Three Very Good Reasons to Choose the Huaorani Ecolodge for the Amazonian Experience

The Amazon rainforest has some of the largest remaining jungle wilderness areas on the planet. In those wild places, one can find flocks of colorful parrots and macaws, exotic toucans that troop through the jungle canopy, tapirs hiding in the undergrowth, bizarre insects, and trees that tower high overhead. That said, most of those wild areas continue to host a treasure trove of wildlife because they are so hard to access. This means that you can visit any number of lodges in the Amazon but not see as many animals or have a less authentic experience. For this reason, you have to be careful when picking an Amazonian ecolodge for your itinerary. When it comes to authenticity, one of the best lodges in any part of the Amazon is the Huaorani Ecolodge and the following are three reasons why this is the case:

  • Remote and wild: There aren’t any roads that take you to the Huaorani Ecolodge. After a long drive or short plan ride, guests board a small boat and enter into one of the most remote and trackless jungles in eastern Ecuador, the lands of the Huaorani people. There might be a trail or two but you won’t find any roads, and very few people.

    A Tapir on a camera trap at the Huaorani Ecolodge.

  • Global Biodiversity hotspot: The rainforests of eastern Ecuador are known to possibly be the most biodiverse rainforests on Earth. It’s hard to say what you will see but with a patient, close eye, expect to see frogs, exquisite insects, colorful birds, and much more.

    Collared Puffbird- one of more than 500 bird species that live near the Huaorani Ecolodge.

  • Experienced, local guides: The Huaorani Ecolodge experience is made complete with comfortable lodging and the best guides you could ask for. The guides at the lodge are Huaorani people who grew up and learned how to survive in the rainforest. Their hearing, eyesight, and ability to read animal signs and trails is nothing short of incredible. If an animal can be found, they are the people to find it!

Put this unique lodge on your Ecuador itinerary for the most authentic, enriching jungle experience in the Amazon basin.

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