1 . Try extreme sports
Not all travellers will jump at the opportunity to fling themselves off the edge of an Amazonian waterfall, but those who do should head to Baños. Located on the outskirts of the rainforest, this pretty city is the gateway to the Ruta de las Cascadas (Waterfall Route), which takes in several thundering cascades. Intrepid visitors can join one of the area’s popular canyoning tours, navigating the mountain streams that flow through local gorges, accompanied by local guides. Slide along gentle chutes and abseil down higher drops, supported by a rope wrapped around the river-battered rocks, before swimming in the natural pools below. Alternatively, try paragliding or zip-lining at high speed above the Amazonian treeline. Once back in Baños, reward yourself with a dip in one of the town’s mineral-rich hot springs.
2. Explore the cloud forests
All around Mindo, in the north of the country, white clouds wrap around a patch of jungle elevated by the Andes. This small town is set high in Ecuador’s cloud forest — sections of rainforest found at altitudes above 3,000ft. Mindo’s rare vantage point makes it one of the best spots in the rainforest for birdwatching, with the canopy home to species including rare golden-headed quetzals, colourful tanagers and long-billed toucans. Keep an eye out for the striking scarlet mohawks of the cocks-of-the-rock. These birds are famous for more than their distinctive name: with elaborate mating displays and voluminous plumes, they put on one of the Amazon’s most compelling shows. The males’ dance, designed to demonstrate their masculinity, lasts for around 20 minutes and is most often spotted in the early morning.
3. Discover Huaorani territory
Learn about one of the oldest surviving Amazonian cultures by heading deep into Huaorani territory, a small stretch of the Ecuadorian rainforest between the Curaray and Napo rivers. The Indigenous Huaorani tribe is one of the world’s most isolated, having had virtually no contact with the outside world until recent decades. Accompanied and guided by some of the more modern members of the tribe, travellers can participate in Huaorani customs and daily rituals, including preparing their traditional cuisine. There’s even the chance to take a quick course in fashioning sharpened darts dipped in paralysing curare poison. The darts are then shot through blowguns, a skill travellers can observe at hunting parties or on outings while tracking monkeys, birds and tapirs.
4. Explore Yasuní National Park
Over one million acres of largely undisturbed forest sits deep in the east of the country. One of the richest biodiversity areas on Earth, Yasuní National Park is also the largest protected area in mainland Ecuador and an ideal spot in which to truly appreciate the sheer scale of the Amazon. Here, the thunder of colossal waterfalls echoes along the forest floor, permeated only by the shrieks of leaping monkeys. Travellers can navigate past the dense mangroves by canoe, deftly dodging the caimans that linger just under the surface, before taking to land to hike beneath an ancient canopy of entwined trees. Scuttling armadillos, tapirs, capybaras and boa constrictors are among the wildlife species to look out for — and sharp-eyed visitors may even spot the slinking spots of a jaguar.
5. Stay in a jungle lodge
Located near the town of Archidona, Hakuna Matata Lodge offers a range of activities suitable for all ages. Claiming to be the only Ecuadorian Amazon lodge with onsite stables, it arranges guided horse-riding tours, designed for beginners, on South American criollo horses. There are gentle, family-friendly rafting experiences available on the Anzu river, and the nearby Jumandi cave system is easy to access. For a sweet treat, book a pod-to-bar chocolate workshop to learn how to grind cocoa beans before tasting your own creations. Those looking for extra relaxation can head to the lodge’s private beach on the Inchillaqui river.
6. Unwind with spa treatments
Coveted therapeutic ingredients grow wild in the Amazon, where a well-placed machete cut can yield a curative sap or alluring fragrance. The rainforest’s native ingredients are used in beauty products and spa treatments all over the world — so why not try them at the source? A short drive from the town of Tena, in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest, Arahuana Jungle Resort & Spa is a peaceful enclave, disturbed only by the sounds of chattering birds and distant storms. At its spa and wellness centre, guests can try facials and body treatments, including pinda and hot stone massages, designed to reduce the tiredness that can come with jungle adventures. Those stopping here for a few days should also visit the nearby Laguna Azul to soak in natural pools.
7. Kayak through mangroves
A kayak tour from the town of Tena is the ideal option for those who are feeling adventurous but aren’t quite ready to jump off a waterfall or spend a week in the jungle. One of the many Amazon gateway towns scattered across Ecuador, Tena is close enough to the action to let travellers experience some of the rainforest’s top highlights on a one-day tour. Kayak under low-hanging trees, with even lower-hanging monkeys watching on, and keep eyes peeled for pink river dolphins. They’re playful and curious and, while they shouldn’t be disturbed, they’ll sometimes come and dive beside the strangers exploring their pristine home.
For more information, visit ecuador.travel
Facebook | Instagram | Twitter