Traveling in Ecuador breaks the rules of conventional travel. The country rewards those who let their curiosity get the best of them-hopping on planes to the Galapagos, wandering down trails to waterfalls, and jumping into the sunny culture to explore the trials and triumphs of the country.
Each place visited opens up the view past the perspective found in guidebooks or online, including this article, and gives the intrepid a different map to follow.
My visits to the Ecuadorian Jungle left me with a life-changing impression. The people, the wildlife, and the solitude found along tributaries of the Napo River cleared a path that is seldom found in today’s world. One where the natural surroundings overwhelm the senses and sweep away the clutter of life in the modern world.
Each day amid the wildlife and learning about the communities that live in the Oriente deepened the connection to my surroundings and those that lived there.
I have been to two lodges in Ecuador, Napo Wildlife Center and Sani Lodge. Both are run by indigenous communities. Both are special places that need to be experienced in order to fully understand the beauty and adventure that has inspired people to travel in a rugged land for centuries.
There are around are around 800 species of birds living in the jungle. Toucans and macaws fly overhead when traveling down waterways by canoe. Mammals include jaguars, peccaries, and 19 species of monkeys-heard howling in the distance and seen in packs traversing the treetops.
These moments come out of the blue, making every day an adventure that finds you high up on observation towers, fishing for piranha in peaceful lagoons, and talking in hushed whispers to avoid scaring the animals.
The Sani and the Kichwa Añangu communities have lived in the jungle for generations-combining tradition, tourism and a different way of life into fantastic experiences for all ages of travelers.
Sani was spearheaded by an energetic man named Don Orlando Gualinga. After working for oil companies for years, and seeing the mess that they left behind, Orlando turned the tables. For two years he lobbied the same oil companies that he worked for to help fund the eco-lodge.
The staff and guides at Sani are all members of the community. To work there, people are required to finish college, a requirement that brings young, talented people back to the jungle-something rarely seen before eco-tourism took hold.
The story of the Napo Wildlife Center has similar roots, a desire to preserve the natural diversity drove the members of the Añangu community to build an eco-lodge out of a storybook. Sitting on the edge of a stunning lagoon, the center is one of the success stories of the jungle.
Community tourism has funded schools, a health clinic, and cultural and conservation projects. All of the people who work at NWC are from the community, trained by experts who stepped aside once the place was up and running to an exacting degree of professionalism.
Seeing the passion of both communities is humbling. Their spirit and love of life are contagious-one can’t help but care for the environment, its creatures, and their stewards once the day is done.
Like all travel tales worth their salt, this one ends with a lesson learned. Despite being thousands of miles away from home in a country that has more natural diversity within its small borders than that of my own, I felt a bond with the people I visited. A shared connection that opened up my eyes to the common thread we all have in common, respect for living well and treating Mother Nature as a co-conspirator in the process. In today’s world, the heroism of the people of the Ecuadorian jungle is refreshing and inspiring. It may be a jungle out there, but some of the places that you find make the journey worth the trip.
What’s on your wishlist for traveling in Ecuador? What interests you the most about visiting? The culture, the people, the wildlife, the food?
The country has a kaleidoscope of things to see and do, and once you visit the experience stays with you for years to come. For more information about intrepid travel here, contact a member of our team.