In the east of Ecuador lies part of the vast Amazon Basin, and there is still plenty of this lowland tropical forest remaining. Wildlife documentaries can make this world appear far away and very inaccessible, without considerable travails required to see it.
A group of select lodges is based along-side or near the mighty Napo River, a direct tributary of the Amazon River itself. Some of these, like the Napo Wildlife Center, and the Sacha and Sani Lodges, have been there for decades, wonderfully serving an ever-diversifying nature tourism market the entire time. All of these lodges provide well thought-out lodging, in tune with their natural surroundings on the outside, but with modern and comfortable rooms on the inside. Meanwhile that Amazon is just footsteps away from these pleas-ant quarters.
When publicizing the Amazon, it is all too easy to speak of the amazing diversity of wildlife found within, with images of Red Howler Monkeys and Pygmy Marmosets springing to mind. But for most people, it is how you actu-ally experience the forest that makes the strongest impression. Imagine climbing up a canopy tower in order to see the sunrise over an endless sea of green. For lovers of nature, what follows the calm of sunrise is the adrenaline rush of dawn itself, wak-ing time for most Amazonian birds. A euphony of sound hits the treetops, emanating from within the high canopy or drifting up from the depths of the forest floor. While most of this symphonic bustle is bird sound, such as antbirds announcing they are awake, or toucans yelping for your attention, they have competition with the howler monkeys, due to dawn being the time to announce their presence too. At this time, parrots and macaws take their first flights of the day, often accompanying these with their raucous calls, while busy feeding flocks pass by at eye level.
A lodge by an Amazonian lake makes for a great setting, particularly at the bookends of the day, when the deep pinks and oranges of an Amazon sun are reflected in the dark, still waters of the lagoon. Flooded forests can be accessed by way of hand-paddled canoes, expertly piloted by one of the local guides. Quietly, the guides gently paddle you through blackwaters, from where you can seek out wild animals that are special to this habitat from the tranquility of the canoe. If you are lucky, you’ll find a family of Hoatzins, an abso-lutely unique reptile-like bird reminiscent of a Pterodactyl, or a chirping troop of the tiny Ecua-dorian Squirrel Monkey. The stillness, the quietness, and calm-ness of the sound of the paddle gently hitting the water could rightly be used as a sleep aid; it is relaxation personified!
Another recommendation are supervised night walks in search of the frogs responsible for the constant, glorious musical accompaniment. Fascinating exotic insects – taken straight from the scribbles of a sci-fi fan’s notebook – rest in the foliage, while elusive Kinkajous and Ocelots sneak through the shadows.
A sense of awe comes out of seeing the Amazon on nature documentaries, but this is extremely amplified when it is felt, smelled, and seen for real. The Ecuadorian Amazon is warm and humid by day (average highs of 25°C (77°F) are constant throughout the year), but surprisingly comfortable and cool at night. It can be visited all year round and heavy showers can come at any time, though the downpours are predominantly short-lived.
Sam Woods is a full-time professional tour leader for Tropical Birding tours. During his 15 years with the company, he has been based in Quito, Ecuador. Originally from the UK, he has also guided regularly for Tandayapa Bird Lodge, within the Andes of Ecuador. A sighting of a pair of tits (Great and Blue) in a London park changed his life at the age of 11. He was an instant bird junkie, and took a degree in Environmental Science, which led him to the Andes of Ecuador for the first time in order to study hummingbirds. Since graduating, his desire for birding travel really took off, and after joining Tropical Birding, has led him to all 7 continents. He has written articles for the ABA’s Birder’s Guide magazine and other birding magazines, as well as being a co-author on several field guides to Australian birds and wildlife. He was also the primary photographic contributor to the recently published Birds of Western Ecuador: A Photographic Guide.