Yasuni National Park in Ecuador
Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park is one of the Amazon’s last wild frontiers, boasting incredible biodiversity that includes many species of treetop orchids, prowling jaguars, hundreds of different reptiles and amphibians, and nearly 600 species of birds. Yasuni National Park is also home to several indigenous tribes, some of whom still live as their ancestries did thousands of years ago.
Travel first to Quito, Ecuador’s capital city in the Andes. Spend a day or two and enjoy the sights of Quito before traveling to the wilds of Yasuni National Park just 250 kilometers from Quito. From Quito you can drive or take a bus to either Shell, a small oil company town, or to the little town of Coca. The drive from Quito is about four to five hours. Your journey to the Amazon begins in bustling metropolis of Quito, you will be treated to the beautiful sceneries of the Ecuadorian countryside as transportation heads south, transitioning from the Andes to the Amazon (locally known as the Oriente). The excursion winds along the impressive Avenue of Volcanoes—a strip of 14 active, semi-active and dormant volcanic mountains—passing traditional haciendas, indigenous villages and protected natural areas, giving you a taste for the local culture. With luck and clear weather, you’ll be able to see the remarkably steep peaks in all their glory, including the cone-shaped Cotopaxi, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, and Tungurahua, which has ongoing eruptions.
From either Shell or Coca you can take a small plane to Quehueri’ono, about a hours flight away. Shell, hosts the third busiest airport in Ecuador. The Huaorani community of Quehueri’ono (keh-weri-oh-noh), is your next stop. There are several lodges in the area and from Quehueri’ono, you can travel by traditional dugout canoe or boat to your lodge.
During your visit you can arrange to meet with the local Huaorani community, hike with Huaorani guides who can show you how they hunt with spears and blowguns, how they build fires without matches, and teach you other basic skills that they use to live in harmony with the jungle.
You can explore the Shiripuno river by dugout canoe or boat. You can fish for piranha and other exotic species of fish found in the river. You can enjoy watching the nearly 600 species of birds found in the Yasuni National Park. You can also hike with a local guide and view the many species of animals found in this beautiful national park. Here you can fully experience the Amazon tropical rainforest to its fullest extent.
You will enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the Amazon. As you paddle downstream you will found amazing birding, and you’ll likely catch a glimpse of the many riverside birds, possible the Greater and Lesser Kiskadees, the Yellow-rumped Cacique, and the four Amazonian kingfishers. As you continue down the river you will see thick tangles of rainforest vegetation on either side of the river.
The coffee-colored water of the river prevents you from seeing the rich aquatic life that lies within it; however, if you care to try some fishing on the river you will be surprised with the many species of exotic fish that you will catch, including the notorious Piranha.
Take a night hike to see many of the animals that are only out and about during this period. You will be surprised at just how dark nighttime is on the Amazon. Most of the rainforest animals are actually nocturnal, so this is your best opportunity to see some of these elusive creatures, or at least hear them climbing through the trees or digging for food. Tapirs, a smaller relative of the elephant are often seen at this time as they come out to feed in the safety of the night’s darkness. The night comes alive with gigantic buzzing insects, shimmery-skinned snakes and beady-eyed caimans. If you gaze into the sky you will be able to see the stars like you have never seen them before. Watch carefully and you will surely see several falling stars as they shoot across the sky.
During the day you can hike the trail to the impressive waterfall, and your guide will be sure to point out any special plants or animals you may come across along the way. Once at the waterfall, you can take a dip in its cool waters before continuing your hike viewing the many plants, birds, monkeys and other tropical rainforest wildlife found in the park. Enjoying the lush vegetation, hear the beautiful bird calls of the rainforest and see the beautiful butterflies as they fly through the jungle.
If you have a Huaorani guide they will be able to show you the secrets of rainforest survival. The local Huaorani guides are experienced hunters and have an understanding of the jungle and how to live in it. You can learn how to set traps, make fire without matches, build a shelter in minutes, use a blowgun, practice the perfect swing of the machete and catch fish in small creeks. Also learned which leaves make good baskets. Your guide may also point out and let you taste edible insects, identify and explain the uses of medicinal plants, and show you which clay is used by the Huaorani to made pottery.
You can also visit the community’s handicraft market and purchase some of the products. The beautiful handmade artifacts, including woven hammocks and bags, blowguns, traps and necklaces. The production of crafts is one of the ways the Huaorani maintain their culture, and buying crafts is way to provide direct support the Huaorani families. Ecotourism provides employment the local Huaorani and is another reason for them to protect the natural areas around the community.
A visit to the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador will be one of the most exciting and wonderful experiences of your life. You will never forget the beauty and mystery of the Yasuni National Park.