On leaving your hotel and the bustling metropolis of Quito, you will be treated to the beautiful scenery of the Ecuadorian countryside on a drive through the impressive Avenue of Volcanoes. This is an area of 14 majestic volcanoes, some of them active and others dormant. The scenery also includes views of old colonial haciendas, indigenous villages, and natural areas. On days with good weather, you may see the huge, cone-shaped volcano known as Cotopaxi Volcano, and the active Tungurahua Volcano.
Driving past beautiful Baños
Baños (bah-nyos), named for thermal baths that draw thousands of visitors per year and known for its adrenaline-pumping adventure sports and melcocha taffy, is the first major town on the way. Your journey will continue past Baños through a lush green landscape punctuated by tree ferns, patches of cloud forest, waterfalls, and rushing rivers.
Heading into the Amazonian lowlands
After Baños, the road winds its way down into the steamy lowlands of the Amazon basin. As the air grows warmer, you’ll start to notice changes in vegetation with bananas and tropical palms dominating the countryside. The drive eventually ends at Shell, a principal Amazonian town named after the oil company with the same name. Shell also hosts the third busiest airport in Ecuador and this is where you will depart for the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon.
A flight and boatride into a remote jungle
Around noon, you will board a light aircraft for a quick, 35 minute flight to the Huaorani community of Quehueri’ono (keh-werioh- noh). After being warmly greeted by the Huaorani, people from the community will take you downstream in a shallow dugout canoe called a quilla (kee-yah). Keep your camera, binoculars, sunscreen and hat with you because your luggage will be taken to the lodge in a separate boat. Rubber boots and rain ponchos will be given to guests at this time. As you travel down the beautiful Shiripuno River, keep binoculars and camera ready for such birds as striking Yellow-rumped Caciques, kiskadees, kingfishers, and egrets among other species.
Arrival at the Ecolodge
Upon arrival at the intimate, safe, and comfortable Ecolodge, you will get the chance to settle in and have lunch before taking a guided, introductory hike on the rainforest Discovery Trail. On this walk, you will learn about the Huaorani culture and the surrounding Amazon rainforest. After dinner, you have the option of resting up for the next day of your adventure or going on an exciting night hike with your local guide.
Meals included: Lunch and Dinner.
Learn hunting and survival techniques
This second day of the tour is hunting day! Huaorani survive in the forest by hunting monkeys, birds, other animals, fishing in the river, and gathering fruits, tubers, and vegetables. While you will learn about basic hunting techniques, don’t worry, no animals will be killed. One of the main goals of this project is the preservation of traditional Huaorani practices to keep Huaorani culture alive and protect the rainforest. Therefore, after breakfast, a Huaorani guide will take you on a long nature hike into the forest.
The local guides will teach you how to set traps, make fires without matches, build a quick jungle shelter, use a blowgun, swing a machete, and catch fish in small creeks. Your guide may also show you which insects can be eaten, identify medicinal plants and explain their uses, and show you where they find clay for making pottery.
A swim and visit to the local Huaorani community
While hiking through the rainforest, you will enjoy views over the vast jungle canopy before eventually reaching the cool waters of a jungle river. While taking a dip in the river, local community members may join you to cool off in the waters. After going for a swim in the heart of the Amazon, you will be treated to a tasty lunch before a relaxed, informal visit at the Huaorani community. You will probably be invited to enjoy a bowl of “chucula” (a sweet drink made from ripe bananas) and may get the chance to admire such beautiful handmade artifacts as woven hammocks and bags, traps, blowguns, and necklaces made from jungle seeds. You will also have the chance to visit the Bi-cultural Ecology Education project and learn how to harvest manioc, a Huaorani staple.
A visit to a community handicraft market
If you like, you can visit the community’s handicraft market to purchase some of their hand-crafted products. Hand-crafted goods help the Huaorani maintain their culture, and buying such crafts provides direct support to the Huaorani families who make them. At the end of the afternoon, a pleasant canoe-ride takes you back to the lodge. After dinner, your naturalist guide will give a half hour talk on a subject of interest. Or, if you would prefer to go on a night hike, just let your guide know!
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.
A guided hike through primary rainforest
The day starts out with breakfast or an optional early guided walk in the forest followed by breakfast. This is followed by a three hour walk through primary forest with immense towering trees, crystal clear streams, and a myriad of bird calls from the jungle. The trail leads to a hilltop crowned by a massive Ceibo tree over 40 meters (131 feet) tall.
Peccaries, Leaf-cutter Ants, and a canoe ride
The trail then follows a path that parallels the Shiripuno River and crosses small tributaries, including one that occasionally hosts groups of White-collared Peccaries. You will probably see tracks of these wild, rainforest hogs, may smell them, and might even glimpse them. You will also see a huge Leaf-cutter Ant nest before reaching a small oxbow lake. A walk along the lake leads to a river where a canoe will take you back to the lodge.
Another canoe ride, a visit to a salt lick, and nocturnal animals
After a delicious lunch at the lodge, you will canoe back downstream to an oxbow lake known as the “Cocha Pequeña”. At the lake, you will have a very good chance of seeing the extraordinary Hoatzin (one of the few birds that feeds almost exclusively on leaves), Squirrel Monkeys, Capybaras (the world’s largest rodent), Caimans, and might even see an Anaconda.
On the way back to the lodge, you will watch a salt-clay lick that is often used by various animals and birds. This is an excellent site for viewing rare wildlife and birds as many animals gather here to feed on the mineral-rich clay.
The return trip from the clay lick offers a chance at seeing nocturnal animals. Since many of the rainforest animals are nocturnal, this is your best opportunity to see some of these elusive creatures. You may spot various snakes, frogs, bizarre bugs, kinkajous, owls, and other animals.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.
An early canoe ride down the Shiripuno
After an early breakfast, you can canoe down the Shiripuno River in traditional Huaorani style, or for an additional cost, head down river in a kayak. This day starts early to give a better chance at seeing a variety of colorful Amazonian birds. The tranquility of the morning will allow you to appreciate the true peace and calm of the rainforest, and is the perfect time to relax and engage in intimate conversations, reflect on the past few days of the journey, or to learn some Huaorani vocabulary.
A stop at the Apaika Community
The next main stop on your ride downriver is a visit to the Apaika community, a Huaorani community found inside the Yame Reserve. This is a huge, 55,000 hectare, protected area managed by the Huaorani Association, an organization that leads ecotourism efforts in Huaorani territory. At Akaipa, you will enjoy a quick snack and visit a small interpretation center to learn more about Yasuní National Park. The afternoon is topped off by getting together with the local community to share in some of its daily activities and learn about their history, myths, and magic.
Camping in the Amazon rainforest
After leaving Akaipa, the next stop is the small Huaorani village of Nenquepare. You will spend the night here camping out in a well-constructed and comfortable campsite that is part of a community initiative.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.
A visit to a special waterfall and a dip in the river
After another delicious breakfast, you have the chance to hike a community trail to see an impressive tropical waterfall, seeing various plants and animals on the way. You will also learn about why this waterfall is of special importance for the Huaorani people. At the waterfall, you can take a dip in the energizing waters before leaving the jungle to head back to Quito.
The effects of oil exploration on Huaorani lands
After returning to the campsite on the Shiripuno, you will continue on downstream by canoe to the infamous “Auca Road”. On the way, your guides will start to tell you about how oil exploration has affected their lands. The Auca Road was built by oil companies in the early 1970s to search for oil on Huaorani lands and is named after the Huaorani as “Auca” is the name given to them by their lowland Quichua neighbors (Auca means “Fierce” or “Savage”).
As you travel along the Auca Road, you won’t help but notice the stark difference between intact rainforest and deforestation that occurs when roads are carved out of the surrounding jungle. This road is paralleled by pipelines that go from the Huaorani community of Tihuino up to Lago Agrio (the oil hub of eastern Ecuador) before the oil is pumped across the Andes to the Pacific port of Esmeraldas. This part of your tour illustrates the reality of the threats facing the rainforest and the Huaorani people as much of the road passes through land that was formerly forested and lived in by Huaorani peoples. It will also help you realize why your visit to Lodge was so important!
After a 2 hour overland ride on the Auca Road, you reach the town of Coca and the place where you catch your flight back to Quito.
Meals included: Breakfast.