The Amazon in Ecuador: A Cheap Jungle Tour
As Hannibal from the A Team used to say, “I love it when a plan comes together”. I had that same feeling while watching the sun slowly setting above the jungle – I knew visiting the Amazon in Ecuador was the right choice. We were in a small boat on Laguna Grande, a black water lake in the Cuyabano Reserve, a popular place to experience the Amazon in Ecuador. We organised a 4 day tour in Quito and it ticked all of our jungle boxes; if you’re after a budget tour to the Amazon then look no further (well, keep reading my article and then stop looking).
A 2 hour boat ride: A great introduction to the Amazon in Ecuador
After an overnight bus from Quito to Lago Agrio (an uninteresting oil town) we set off on the muddy Cuyabeno River towards Caiman Lodge, our home in the jungle for the next 4 days. Thanks to the “jungle vision” of our guide, Rodrigo, we spotted 2 Anacondas (not the kind that terrorised Jennifer Lopez though), a family of camouflaged bats, a couple of high-flying macaws and some monkeys. The jungle-lined Cuyabano River is incredibly scenic – the slow 2 hour boat ride was a great introduction to the Amazon.
Can you spot the bat?
One of the main reasons we chose Caiman Lodge was the fact it had a viewing tower. As the popular saying goes, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, so seeing the jungle stretch out to the horizon from a viewing tower is something I highly recommend. Caiman Lodge is a budget option which has everything you need for a comfortable stay in the jungle. The rooms were clean (they even had nice new bathrooms), the food was good and the staff were really friendly. You can definitely find more expensive lodges in the area, but I’m not convinced they would be able to offer too much more. The only downside about staying in the jungle is that you’ll get bugs (and possibly a huge frog) in your room – but that’s going to be a problem whether you pay $250 or $500.
Sunset at Laguna Grande
It’s still early days, but the sunsets we saw at Laguna Grande, about a 2 minute boat ride from Caiman Lodge, are going to be hard to beat on this journey through Latin America. The glowing red ball of fire paints the sky various shades of pink, orange and red and you can even swim while seeing the sun go down. The water was a bit murky for my liking but others in our group enjoyed it. Just before sunset on our last day in the jungle we even saw pink river dolphins (and some grey ones). It was pretty exciting but it was frustrating trying to get a photo of them!
A trip to a village (and lots of yuca grating)
On day 2 we headed a couple of hours up river to a small village where a local woman showed us how to make bread from yuca. This process involved our group grating a whole lot of yuca – not the most exciting part of the tour. We also met a shaman who explained his role in the fabric of jungle society and then went to watch a village celebration. The games included tree climbing races and blow dart contests. On the journey to and from the village we saw lots of animals including a sloth and several species of monkey.
Caiman spotting and a night walk
I always thought caiman was just another name for a crocodile, but apparently they are quite different. We went out after dark to spot some – when you shine a torch on them their eyes reflect in the water. The boat slowly cut through the black water as Rodrigo shined his torch in search of a caiman. Flooded trees poked out of the water and made eerie reflections on the black mirror lake. The woman behind me remarked how it was like the start of a horror movie and it was just a matter of time before someone ended up in the jaws of a beast. We saw a few caimans but kept a safe distance. On the last night we went for a short night walk and saw lots of spiders and bugs, and we also saw the equator point; the middle of the world in the middle of the jungle.
A jungle walk
“Do you want the fun way or the easy way?” Obviously we chose the fun way, which meant trudging through a thick, muddy swamp. We eventually made it and it was kind of fun. The jungle walk wasn’t just a slog through mud though, we saw lots of insects and frogs, including a couple of poison dart frogs, and also got to taste and smell various jungle medicines. One guy on our group volunteered to put his arm near an ant nest. He soon had an arm full of ants which he was then told to squash – apparently locals do this to disguise their scent while hunting. The walk was fun and I now feel a bit more confident about surviving in the jungle if the need ever arises. We also did some bird watching on the last morning. It was a relaxing boat ride and we spotted a few distant parrots, toucans and other colourful birds.
The ride home
The final part of our Amazon in Ecuador tour was a 2 hour boat ride back to civilization. The jungle saved its best sight for last – we saw an anaconda strangling a caiman! It was a pretty amazing sight and the perfect way to end our Amazon adventure (I guess you have to feel a bit sorry for the caiman though).
There are lots of lodges in the Cuyabano Reserve and you can easily organise tours in Quito. We stayed at Casa CarpeDM in Quito and got talking to the guy who worked there, who happened to be the part owner of Caiman Lodge. Staying at the Caiman Lodge typically costs $250 for a 3 night/4 day tour and I definitely recommend it. The cheapest tour to the Amazon in Ecuador I heard of was $230 but the lodge didn’t have a viewing tower – I’d say it’s worth the extra $20 just for that. You can take an overnight public bus from Quito to Lago Agrio but we opted for the tourist bus service. It was a little more expensive ($20) but it was safe and picked us up from the old town, which thankfully meant no late night taxi ride in Quito.
Have you been to the Amazon in Ecuador (or any other country)? Let me know how it was!
I worked with Caiman Lodge to bring you this post; all views and opinions are my own.