Our Ecuador Amazon tours explore the Napo River system, the largest river in Ecuador and a major tributary of the Amazon. Ecuadorian Amazon cruises visit the protected areas of Yasuni National Park and the Cuyabeno Reserve. Despite being one of the smaller South American countries, Ecuador is home to a huge variety of species, many of them endemic, making it an ideal destination for an Amazon River cruise.
Yasuni is the largest protected reserve in the Ecuadorian Amazon, and is located at the center of a small zone where amphibian, bird, mammal and vascular plant diversity all reach their maximum levels within the Western Hemisphere - thus supporting Ecuador’s status as a biodiversity hotspot.
The biodiversity of plant species in the Amazon is the highest on Earth with estimates that one square kilometer (247 acres) contains more than a thousand types of trees and thousands of species of other higher plants.
A 2001 study discovered that a quarter square kilometer (62 acres) of Ecuadorian rainforest supports at least 1,100 tree species. To date, an estimated 438,000 species of plants of economic and social interest have been registered in the region with many more remaining to be discovered or catalogued.
Not only does the country boast virgin Amazon rainforest, it also administers the Galápagos Islands, which has a whole plethora of unique species. As a result of this species diversity, Ecuador is one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries. Fortunately, Ecuador's 2008 Constitution is the first in the world to recognize legally enforceable Rights of Nature, meaning ecosystem rights.
Moreover, Ecuador has played a crucial part in the history of Amazon, for the name 'Amazon' is said to have arisen from a war the Spanish conquistador, Francisco de Orellana, fought with a tribe of Tapuyas. The women of the tribe fought alongside the men, as was customary, which inspired Orellana to give them the name 'Amazonas' from the ancient Amazons of Asia and Africa, described by Herodotus and Diodorus in Greek legends. Orellana had begun his Amazon voyage from Quito in Ecuador.
Puerto Francisco de Orellana, more commonly known as Coca, is the capital of the province of Orellana in eastern Ecuador, and the tourism gateway to the Ecuadorean Amazon.
The city of roughly 30,000 people is located in the Amazon Rainforest, at the confluence of the Coca River and the Napo River. It is served by the Francisco de Orellana Airport, from where 30-minute flights go to and from Quito.
The city and airport are named after Francisco de Orellana, a Spanish conquistador who explored the confluence of the Coca River and the Napo River as part of his Amazon explorations in the 16th Century. It is believed that he set sail down river from the current location of Coca in 1541, eventually making his way onto the Amazon River and finally the Atlantic.
In 1545, Orellana set sail from Spain on a second expedition intending to conquer the lands he had seen on his first expedition, but died in November 1546 in the Amazon after a series of setbacks.
Yasuni National Park
Yasuni National Park is situated in the middle-eastern part of the Ecuadorian Amazon region, in the provinces of Orellana and Pastaza, between the Napo and Curaray rivers, about 250 km from Quito.
This conservation area is the largest in mainland Ecuador, consisting of close to 980,000 hectares (2,450,000 acres) ... and is arguably the most biologically diverse spot on Earth. It contains at least 173 mammal species, 567 bird species, 83 reptile species, 97 amphibian species and 249 fish species, with more being discovered on a regular basis.
Yasuni National park lies within the Napo tropical moist forest co-region and is primarily rain forest. The ecology is largely influenced by the extensive system of tributaries - both whitewater and blackwater - of the Napo River.
The park was founded in 1979, and then designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989. It is within the claimed ancestral territory of the Huaorani indigenous people. Plus, Yasuni National Park is home to several uncontacted indigenous tribes, including the Tagaeri and the Taromenane.
Nonetheless, like so many rich wilderness areas in the world, the Yasuni National Park is at threat from destructive economic practices, particularly oil-exploration. By taking an Ecuador Amazon riverboat cruise to the Yasuni National Park, you are not just enjoying one of the planet's most remarkable environments - you are supporting an economic enterprise that has a vested interest in maintaining the ecological integrity of the area.
Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve
The Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve - La Reserva de Producción Faunística Cuyabeno - is a humid tropical rainforest protected zone in Ecuador which was created in July 1979 and covers an area of 655 hectares (1,639,452 acres) at an altitude between 200 and 280m. It occupies the northeastern corner of the Ecuadorian Amazon region, between the San Miguel and the Aguarico rivers, in Orellano Province, and borders the Yasuni National Park.
The most important rivers within the conservation area are the Cuyabeno, Lagarto and Sabalo. The system of waterways also includes a system of 14 beautiful, tropical draining lagoons, including the Grande, Cangueno, Lagartococha, Delfincocha, Redondococha and Zancudococha. Cuyabeno is therefore one of the best places for eco-adventure activities, as it has impressive blackwater lake and river systems, and flooded forests, whose levels and wildlife change with the fluctuations of the seasons.
The protected area is characterized by its high biodiversity and interaction and cooperation between the species inhabiting the area. 493 bird species, 100 mammal species, 247 fish species, 52 reptile species and over 12,000 plant species have been recorded in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve and more are being identified on a regular basis. The tropical rainforest vegetation contains a rich variety of plants, such as palms, bromeliads, Ceibos, heliconia, Macrolobium, wild roses and 60 different orchid species.
Its geomorphology has been defined by the rivers which carry sediment and materials from the Andes Mountains. The most important of these is the Aguarico River, which is considered a white water river due to the sediment it drags raising water levels and therefore ensuring that the river is navigable all year round. It is considered to be one of the most biodiverse sites in the world together with the neighboring Yasuni National Park.
The climate is typical of wet tropical forest, with precipitations between 0.18 to 0.25 cubic inches per year, and humidity ranges from 85% to 95%. The dry season runs from December to March, during which time the lagoons are almost totally empty; and the rainy season from April to July. There is a moderate rainy season between August and November. The annual temperature oscillates around 25 °C (77 °F)
The Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve is very interesting ethnologically. The Cofans, Sionas, and Secoyas live along the banks of the Aguarico and Cuyabeno rivers, both important tributaries of the Amazon. The Siona community lives in the northern part of the reserve, in Puerto Bolivar and along the Tarapuy River. Siona, Secoya, and Cofan folk healers (locally called 'shamans') are respected among other communities in the jungle for their botanical knowledge.
Because of the sensitivity of the biodiversity and ethnography of the area, the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve belongs to the National Protected Areas System, which means only a few tour operators are licensed to work here. Therefore, few tourists can be found visiting the Reserve.