On the road east, pueblos become rarer as the green increases. The final destination is Puerto Francisco de Orellana, where the pavement gives way to the waters of the Coca and Napo rivers. These waterways lead to the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve and Yasuni National Park. Along with Sumaco Napo-Galeras National Park, they form the triad of conserved treasures in the Ecuadorian Amazon, a region that’s filled with mysteries.
Yasuni National Park
The combined area of the three totals more than 6,950 mi2 [18,000 km2] (larger than Jamaica, for example). Its greatness also lies in its biodiversity. Yasuni is actually considered one of the most biodiverse places on the planet: studies indicate that it’s home to over 2,000 species of trees, hundreds of mammals, reptiles, fish, and 610 types of birds, many of which are endemic. The omnipresent chirping which starts at the river orchestrates the wild symphony, inspiring wonder in city dwellers. From the observation towers in the region’s lodges, you can see the wide variety of birds, including the common potoo – similar to an owl, but from a different family – and the hoatzin, a tropical bird that looks prehistoric and only exists there.
Yasuni is also home to indigenous communities like the Taromenane, who are voluntarily isolated from society. But there are other more open peoples whom we can learn from – and plenty! The Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, which unites Ecuador with Colombia and Peru, is where the Siona live. Residing by the banks of the Putumayo River, they speak their own language, but welcome visitors of various nationalities. In the pueblo filled with sumauma trees as tall as 164 feet [50 m], the shaman Tomás explains the ceremonial use of yage/ayahuasca and other sacred and medicinal plants that connect them to the supernatural, the entity Diosú, and the spirits of the jungle.
Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve
Details like this provide depth to this Amazonian experience and illustrate “sumak kawsay”, a Quechua expression translated here as “life in plenitude.” For them, it’s a connection between the people, the communities, and nature, a concept so important that it inspired parts of Ecuador’s Constitution. Heading back west, a last stop at Sumaco Park offers this plenitude. Located by the edge of the Andes, it’s home to a volcano of the same name, flanked by the Amazon Rainforest and an endless array of rivers and waterfalls. A swim or shower under a waterfall definitely materialize the divinity of the indigenous.