Maximizing diversity by exploring two of the region’s best lodges.
Day 1: Quito Arrival
Upon your arrival at Mariscal Sucre Airport, you will be picked up by personal hotel transport and be driven to the Wyndham Hotel, adjacent to the airport. This hotel is the best option for an overnight layover as it is less than a mile from the airport with shuttles to and from the hotel every 30 minutes. You can also check in to the hotel at the airport. The rooms are described as spacious, comfortable, soundproof, and warmly decorated. They advertise free Wi-Fi, flat screen TVs, mini fridges and safes. Room service is available 24/7. The breakfast buffet is served in a glass-enclosed restaurant/bar overlooking the mountains. The lobby has flight monitors and a self check-in counter for your convenience. Other amenities include a fitness center, hot tub, sauna andsteam room. Massages are available for a fee.
Note: Depending on your arrival, there is an optional activity to explore the world heritage city of Quito with an expert city tour leader before returning to the hotel.
Day 2: Quito to Sani
Your journey to the Amazon will begin the morning after your arrival. We will have breakfast at the Wyndham Hotel, check the flight monitors and use the self check-in counter at the hotel before taking the short 1/2 hour flight over the snowcapped peaks of the AndesMountains. We will descend 8,500 feet into the the jungle town of Franciso de Orellana, or “Coca,” as it’s locally known.
In Coca, we will be met by transfer agents for Sani Lodge. The transfer agents will take us on a 10-minute ride to a local hotel located on the bank of the Napo River. We will have a quick orientation before embarking on a comfortable motorized canoe for a 2.5-hour ride down the Napo River to Sani Lodge. The Napo River is Ecuador’s largest tributary feeding into the Amazon. We will see birds such as herons, egrets, and vultures while enjoying a packed lunch as we travel into wilder and wilder regions. We will disembark at the Sani community landing site and hike for 15 minutes along a boardwalk through a flooded forest community. We will arrive at Challuacocha Lake and be paddled across to the lodge, where we will be welcomed with snacks and cold drinks before we settle into the cabins.
In the afternoon, after getting settled in, we will have our first excursion into the rainforest, either a hike or a canoe ride, giving us our first chance to encounter some of the amazing diversity of flora and fauna of the region. Dinners are buffet style and served at 6:30 pm.
Day 3-4 Sani Lodge
According to a recent assessment by a leading group of biologists, the rainforest around Sani Lodge in northeastern Ecuador is the most biologically diverse locality in the world. (Yasuni Day, 2008). For example, 2,274 species of trees and bushes have been identified, more than any other area ever studied. Six hundred and forty-four species of trees in only one hectare (2.47 acres) have been documented, which is almost as many species of trees in all of the United States and Canada combined! This is also a world record. With 565 bird species on the Sani Bird List, it’s one of the highest lists in the world. Sani has recorded 80 species of bats, the second highest number ever registered. They have also recorded 105 species of amphibians, 83 species of reptiles, which appears to make Sani the most diverse region ever studied, 64 species of social stingless bees, also a world record, and 100,000 species of insects per hectare, again the greatest number of species of any place ever studied.
Canopy Observations: Fully 90% of the diversity in a rainforest is found in the canopy. Sani has a 36-meter (108-foot) observation tower so you can see that diversity up close. Over 565 bird species have been recorded at Sani Lodge. To put that in perspective, all of Canada and the United States have recorded 794 bird species. At the tower, we will look for harpy eagles, macaws, parrots, parakeets, toucans, aracaris, cotingas, tanagers, euphonias, honeycreepers, caciques, oropendolas, flycatchers, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, mammals like brown-throated three-toed sloth, Venezuelan red howler monkeys, common squirrel monkeys and more. You will have a spectacular view of these animals through the world’s best spotting scope, theSwarovski ATX 95mm. When the day heats up, we will descend into the coolness of the forest floor to explore nearby trails before returning to the lodge for lunch.
Rainforest Hikes: Sani has an abundance of trails for us to explore. For example, the Chorongo Largo Trail will bring us possibilities of seeing silvery woolly monkeys, common squirrel monkeys, night monkeys, white-fronted capuchin, Brazilian tapir, red brocket deer, collared or white-lipped peccaries, and dozens and dozens of birds, like antpittas, antbirds, manakins, and woodcreepers. This is untouched and virgin rainforest, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Canoe Rides: Paddling silently through blackwater creeks and the oxbow lake, we will look for the white-fronted capuchin, red howler monkey, common squirrel monkey, brown- throated three-toed sloth, giant river otter, electric eel, caiman lizard andanaconda, and under canopy and laguna birds such as, hoatzin, antbirds, kingfishers, etc.
Rainforest Hikes: We will be with a native guide who knows the forest inside and out and will talk about his “backyard.” He will talk about medicines and materials they obtain from the rainforest plants. There will be ample opportunity to interact with and learn from your native guide. His native language will be Quechua, but he will also speak Spanish, which I will directly translate for you so you can have a genuine interactive experience with him. We may hike a variety of trails like the Chorongo or Coto. There is fantastic terra-firme forest to discover, where we will learn the relationships among the different living creatures and the roll they play in this complex ecosystem. We will see orchids, vines, strangle figs, ancient trees and bromeliads— all part of this fabulous tropical rainforest.
Night Canoe: Sani Lodge has perhaps the best population of black caimans for viewing in Ecuador. After dinner, we will take a night canoe to the blackwater oxbow lake. We may also find various frog species, nocturnal birds, fishing bats, etc.
Night Walk: One of my favorite activities in the Amazon is hiking with flashlights under the rainforest canopy searching through the amazing diversity of insects, spiders, frogs and potential mammals like night monkey, kinkajou and mouse-opposum. Recently, the Tropical Herping Scientists Team found 76 species in only four nights at Sani Lodge!
Optional: Visit a native house in the Sani Community Center to get a taste of how a typical Kichwa family lives. You can enjoy the food, drinks, customs, and culture of the Sani community and learn how the lifestyle of the locals is environmentally sustainable. You can also learn how to make organic chocolate from the cocoa seed and visit the natural pool where they grow the Cachama, a typical fish species of the area that you will try later in a typical dish named Maito.
Optional: The River Islands of the Napo River are home to a variety of birds including the black-and-white antbird, olive-spotted hummingbird and different species of spinetails.
Day 5: From Sani Lodge to Napo Wildlife Center
As we transfer from Sani to the Napo Wildlife Center, we will travel up the Napo River until we reach the dock of the Napo Wildlife Center. We will visit the Yasuní National Park for a wonderful view of two separate clay licks where hundreds of parrots, parakeets and a few macaws descend to the mineral soils in search of clay to digest. At the first clay lick, adjacent to the Napo River, we have a good opportunity to see hundreds of mealy Amazon parrots, yellow-crowned parrots, blue-headed parrots and dusky-headed parakeets. The welcoming area of the Napo Wildlife Center, where the local community lives, is also rich in fauna and flora. Here you may find other numerous bird species such as the rufous-headed woodpecker, swallow-winged puffbird and the turquoise and magpie tanagers. This is where will meet the native guides at the boat launch. They will transport us via smaller paddle-canoes up the Añangu Creek to the Napo Wildlife Center ecolodge, located on the bank of the blackwater Anangu Lake. Porters will make sure your luggage is transported safely to the lodge.
Day 6-7: Napo Wildlife Center
For the next couple of days, we will get a feel of the wilderness and complexity of rich habitats surrounding the lodge on the south side of the Napo River. We have the opportunity to explore more of the great diversity of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and plants of the upper Amazon rainforest. This side of the river, there is a better chance of seeing golden-mantled tamarin, monk saki monkey, yellow-bellied spider monkey, dusky titi monkey, giant river otter and more.
Early in the morning we will visit the Canopy Observation Tower, which is one of the top places to see the avifauna of the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador. This wooden platform36 meters high offers an opportunity to see what lives in the jungle above the trees. It is aworld apart from the rest of the jungle! Get a close-up and stunning view of flocks of birds that wander past and through the canopy tower: oropendolas, tanagers, euphonias, aracaris, cotingas, flycatchers, purple-tufts, parrots and macaws glow from the highs and drop by the trees in search of fruits and seeds.
Excursions along the forest trails are also a great opportunity to admire the wilderness of the Amazon jungle, with good chances to see different bird species such as antbirds, toucans, woodcreepers, tinamous, the black-necked red cotinga and the vocally striking screaming piha, as well as mammals like the greater long-nosed armadillo.
Enjoy the canoe rides on Anangu Lake and along the creeks and rivers that surround the lodge accompanied by rare birds such as silvered and plumbeous antbirds, herons, the point-tailed palmcreeper, orange-crested manakin and river birds as the yellow-billed tern, the capped heron and the collared plover. Apart from the varied avifaunayou will probably see several monkey species and the unique giant river otter.
Day 8: Napo Wildlife Center to Quito
On our last day, we will depart after an early breakfast to go back to Coca, which entails a ride on a paddle-canoe to the docking area and then embarking on a motorized canoe to the jungle town. During this last excursion, the creek may reveal additional rare species. Hopefully the giant otter will show up to say goodbye. Our flight back to Quito will be around noon. We will have dinner in Quito, and depending on energy levels, will do a night activity.