The Ecuador Amazon rainforest region, or “El Oriente” to Ecuadorians, is the biggest region in Ecuador,with more than 9 reserves and national parks. It encompasses more than 11% of Ecuador’s land mass. Its by far, the most biodiverse area in Ecuador, with more than 800 species of birds, more than 2500 species of insects and with more than 450 endemic flora, Ecuador´s Amazon Rainforest is a place to be visited during a trip to Ecuador. The 9 parks make up 33% of the total area of the region. This shows the country’s strong commitment to conservation.The Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest region is home to hundreds of indigenous communities, forming more than 250 nations, including Siona, Secoya, Cofan, Shuar, Zaparo, Huaorani and Quichua. Travelers can visit different Amazon lodges that they manage. These are a source of sustainable income for their communities, health and education investments and operations.
Amazonia has an allure that fascinates and attracts outsiders who come to the region just as it intrigued the Spanish conquistadors who arrived here in the 1500s. They believed that the area would be full of precious fruits and spices that would bring them riches back in their European homelands. Many Spanish conquistadors believed the rumors of El Dorado, the city of gold, concealed from the outside world by giant trees and hanging gardens. The reality was obivously different. Filled with lethal snakes, poisonous frogs, burrowing insects, violent tribes and giant spiders, the jungle quickly went from being thought as a paradise to the green inferno.
The Oriente is relatively accessible from almost anywhere in the country, because it covers the entire eastern edge of Ecuador. A bus trip from Quito can take as few as five hours. An air flight takes just 45 minutes from Quito to Coca or Lago Agrio. Even though much of the rainforest is quite remote, there is no shortage of opportunities to explore and experience the region with a guided tour.
The Parque Nacional Yasuní, Llanganates National Park, Podocarpus National park and The Reserva Faunística Cuyabeno are some of the largest protected areas in the country, and represent only a fraction of the nine reserves in the region.
Visitors can choose to base themselves in one of the many jungle lodges-some of which are quite luxurious-where guides, tours, meals and lodging are included in combined package deals. Some tours may offer day trips to local water walls, afternoon rafting adventures or weeklong treks through the thick forest, which makes it easy to enjoy the jungle for any desired length of time at any budget. Despite the existence of a number of parks and reserves, today’s jungle continues to be threatened by the logging and oil industries, as well as the smaller poaching rings that contribute to the extinction of already dwindling animal populations.
Yasuni National Park
Yasuní National Park has a third of total bird species of the Amazon rainforest. If you really want to get a taste of pristine, untouched wilderness, look no further than Yasuní National Park, located in the northeast corner of Ecuador in the provinces of Pastaza and Orellana, along the border with Peru. The reserve, covering roughly 2.5 million acres of wetlands, swamps, marshes, lakes, rivers and dry land forests, was declared an UNESCO International Biosphere in 1979 (the park was established soon thereafter) and is considered to be one of the most bio-diverse regions in the entire world. Needless to say, the park is the biggest, and best protected area in all of Ecuador. Some even call Yasuní National Park the last true wilderness of the country.
Due to fervent conservations efforts, the park has been able to protect and sustain a vast abundance of life. Close to 600 different types of birds can be found within the parks parameters, which represents a third of all known Amazonic bird species. Add that total to 170 mammals, 560 fish species, close to 300 different reptile and amphibian creatures and thousands upon thousands of different plant varieties, and you’ll get a sense of just how bio-diverse Yasuní National Park really is. In just 2.5 acres of the park, visitors will find as many tree species as in the U.S. and Canada combined.
Compared with other parks and reserves in the jungles of Ecuador, Yasuní National Park wins the prize for environmental conservation and protection.
The Huaorani culture
But it’s not just the plant and animal life that needs protecting. Indigenous that have dwelled in the park’s regions for centuries on end are also in danger of disappearing. To the South and West of the park lies the Huaorani Reserve (est. 1991), where various communities of the native Huaorani peoples make their home. While the Huaorani of earlier days were typically nomadic, the Huaorani people of today generally live sedentary lifestyles and many communities have opened the door to modern life, allowing for community based eco-tourism projects. Two such open communities are those of Noneno and Bameno, where guided visitors can learn more about the native traditions, beliefs and rituals. Some natives may even be willing to open up their homes to overnight visitors, and many will be eager to share their traditional cuisine with you.
Visitors should be aware, however, that there are a number of tribes living within the boundaries of the Yasuní National Park that have chosen to isolate themselves from the modern world. The Tagaeri Taromenani natives, a specific clan of Huaorani people, are one of a handful of groups that prefer to live in isolation. Please respect these wishes and make no attempt to contact these people. Most of these communities have proven to be highly resistant to outsiders and are known to do whatever is necessary to preserve and protect their privacy, even if it means resorting to violence. Before embarking on a community tour, make sure that you will be welcome in the villages you intend to visit, and never try to enter an area that is known to be closed to visitors.