My trip to Ecuador was mostly influenced by my desire to experience a few days in the Amazon jungle. Out of the three weeks I planned to spend in Ecuador and Colombia, five days were reserved for the Amazon. It turns out that there are also plenty of things to do in Quito but that’s for another blog.
After I arrived in Quito, I found out that some people from my hostel were going on a tour of the jungle so obviously I didn’t hesitate to join. We booked a 5-day tour with the Dracaena tour company to venture into the deepest part of the Amazon, since you obviously shouldn’t go to the middle of the deep rainforest in Ecuador on your own
A trip that started great ended up in us becoming lost in the Amazon Rainforest (despite having a guide), so to help you avoid a similar fate, I put together this guide that includes everything you need to know before visiting the Amazon Rainforest from Ecuador.
Best Time to Visit the Amazon in Ecuador
To be honest, you can visit the Amazon nearly all year round and experience quite similar weather. It is a rainforest after all, so even in the “dry season” (August – February) it’s not uncommon to have rainy days.
That being said, although the dry season may have slightly better weather, there are many animals that rely on the rain so if you are particularly interested in seeing the most wildlife possible, the wet season (March – July) is the best time to visit the Amazon in Ecuador.
Another bonus of visiting in the wet season is that the temperatures are a little lower so daytime activities might also be a bit more comfortable for you. Also, the rivers will be at their highest meaning small boats can navigate much more of the deep forest than in the dry season.
Ecuadorian Amazon vs Peruvian Amazon
The Amazon rainforest is huge and spans a number of countries in South America, so naturally you have options when it comes to where you start your trip.
Peru is generally the most popular place to take an Amazon tour and probably offers the most choice when it comes to tour style, but Ecuador has plenty of options for you too. The main difference generally comes with the type of tour you want to take and the level of comfort you have with sleeping in the jungle.
Ecuadorian Amazon tours are generally cheaper than in Peru, but this also means the facilities might not quite be up to the luxury standard that you can sometimes find in Peru.
If you want the most luxurious experience, Peru offers boat cruises through the Amazon which are both the most expensive and most comfortable options. However, if you want to spend a few days in a nice lodge deep in the jungle without spending a fortune, Ecuador would be a great choice.
If you’re going with kids you might want to opt for either the Peruvian or the Brazilian part of the Amazon, as it’s more catered to families.
Types of Ecuador Amazon Tours
When planning your trip to the Amazon, the first thing you need to decide is what style of trip you would like. Generally, you have two options, you can either book a lodge for a few nights or join a guided tour.
When booking an Amazon lodge, the price and activities vary a lot but it is generally a good option if you want to have ample time to relax and take in the sounds of the jungle. Some lodges have set itineraries for each day whereas others allow you to book activities individually to customize your experience.
If you want to fit as much in as possible and go deep into the Amazon, taking a tour is a good option. You can choose a 3, 4, or 5-day tour depending on how far into the jungle you would like to go. I don’t recommend visiting for less than 3 days as it is quite the journey and you want to make the most of it!
NOTE: When picking your Amazon tour, make sure to do your research! As I already mentioned, I chose the cheapest option and ended up being lost in the jungle which was not the best experience. Learn from my mistakes and look into your company’s history and reviews to make sure you will have a better experience than I did.
Where to Stay in the Ecuadorian Amazon
While my tour was a little bit of a disaster because of my guide, the lodge I stayed at was great. Here is a list of some lodges you can book in the Amazon of Ecuador that all have great reviews!
How to Get From Quito to the Amazon
Getting to the Amazon from Quito is quite an adventure in itself and takes at least 5 hours of travel but is absolutely worth it as it’s one of the best things to do in Ecuador outside of Quito. There are many entry points to the Amazon and which one you need will depend entirely on which tour or lodge you choose but the main cities are Tena, Lago Agrio, Coca, Orellana, Papallacta, and Puyo.
Regardless of which city your tour is departing from, getting there from Quito generally involves a long-distance bus + a taxi and/or minivan transfer + a boat ride. Alternatively, you can also often organize private transfers through your company but these will be pricey.
Our tour was departing from Lago Agrio so for the first leg we took an overnight bus from Quito as it was the cheapest option (approx. $12). To my surprise the bus was pretty full, so lying on two seats wasn’t an option.
The bus eventually dropped everyone off in the middle of nowhere, I presume this was so a few locals could make some money by taxing us to the meet-up point. After 3 hours of waiting at a restaurant, we got picked up by our tour guide for another 2.5 hours drive by minivan, followed by a 3h boat ride to our Amazon lodge.
What to Bring to the Amazon Rainforest
The first thing you should know about packing for the Amazon is to pack light but be prepared! You will be traveling in small boats for most of your trip which of course has limited capacity so you should only bring a small backpack.
That being said, a lot of people took their 30kg suitcases with them on my tour despite being advised not to bring anything apart from a small backpack. This meant the boat had to carry a lot more weight than we expected. To be honest, as a tour guide, I would have simply refused those people entry onto the boat with suitcases that big!
Anyway, here is a quick packing list of what to bring with you:
- Hiking boots or rain boots – The jungle is wet and your feet will get very muddy so be prepared.
- Sandals – For walking around your lodge while your boots are drying out
- Long pants & light long-sleeve shirts – Regardless of when you visit there will be a lot of mosquitoes and some of them have nasty viruses you don’t want to catch.
- Light raincoat – It rains all year round in the Amazon but it’s also hot
- Hat, sunglass & sunscreen – The sun here is no joke and you will get burnt if you don’t cover up
- Water bottle – Need to stay hydrated in all this heat!
- Day bag – For carrying your water and camera on day trips
- Strong mosquito repellant – Long sleeves aren’t enough, you’re going to need to douse yourself to keep the mosquitos away here.
- Camera – To capture all the amazing sights you’ll see.
What to Expect when Visiting the Amazon from Ecuador
Upon arrival at our lodge, I realized that the trip was definitely worth it. The semi-open-air houses made out of bamboo looked amazing! Every morning the toilet was full of frogs, scaring my Finnish roommates away, and a group of bats would chill on the top of my bed cover 😉
One morning our neighbors freaked out because a boa snake was right next to their beds, but according to locals, this brings you good luck. Call me crazy, but the only real problem I had was the lukewarm shower since I like to take my showers in boiling hot water. In the jungle, I had to resort to being slightly less clean than usual.
The food served at the lodge was way better than I’d expected. I tried green plantain soup, scrambled Yuka, and a self-fished piranha.
Every day we were offered a bunch of activities. We took long walks through the forest to spot birds and bugs, boat rides to see river dolphins and went fishing for our own dinners. I got to see a toucan, falcons, poisonous caterpillars, and plenty of monkeys including the ‘local’ one I made friends with.
How I Got Lost in the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador
You’re probably wondering how I got lost then. My stay in the jungle would have been great if it wasn’t for my guide. While our guide had 20 years of experience, it was in the Galapagos, not the Amazon, and it was only his first tour out there.
We didn’t know that his lack of Amazon experience was going to be a big problem until he let a Dutch girl hang on the first liana she saw without checking if it was strong enough. The poor girl fell off and hit her head when it broke.
On our last night, we were meant to take a 4-hour walk in the evening before dinner. However, during our walk our guide got us lost and we ended up in the middle of nowhere in the dark. When we somehow managed to get to a river, we unsuccessfully tried to scream for help. To avoid being eaten by a bunch of bugs, we made a fire to save ourselves from bugs.
After 4h we got lucky that an indigenous fisherman and his family were passing by and decided to give us a ride. It was too dark to take a picture, but it was quite a sight – I was sitting on a boat with 2 toddlers sleeping on the top of the fish their father had caught.
Is it Safe to Visit the Amazon from Ecuador?
Because of this incident, I found out that the lodge not only has no mobile signal but no walkie-talkie and no emergency procedures if someone gets lost. Moreover, if someone gets bitten by something they would need to take them to the nearest hospital as they keep no first aid at the lodge. The nearest hospital is a 3-hour boat and 2.5-hour minivan ride away, so that is not quite ideal.
In the case of my tour, I’d say I was quite lucky to get back to civilization but I don’t think that is the normal experience for most visitors to the Amazon. If you do your research and go with a reputable company, visiting the Amazon can be quite safe.
That being said, this is Ecuador where safety standards aren’t quite up to the same level as some of us expect. I guess if you want luxury you should skip going to a budget lodge in the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador and get a hotel, but for me, it was quite an experience to spend 5 days in the wild and I’d recommend it to anyone! This monkey is probably still there waiting to play with you!