Is visiting the Amazon rainforest on your bucket list? If so, here are 5 compelling reasons you should visit the Ecuadorean Amazon.
1. Enjoy the rich biodiversity and indigenous cultures while you still can
Yasuní National Park in eastern Ecuador is known as one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. This caused UNESCO to declare it an international biosphere reserve and it has been a national park since 1979.
According to Lonely Planet, it’s home to over 600 bird species, some previously unknown elsewhere. It’s also home to jaguars, pumas, and harpy eagles, although you’d have to be incredibly lucky to spot them. (Read: don’t count on it.)
The rest of the Ecuadorean Amazon isn’t too shabby either. I saw many species of monkeys, birds and (disconcertingly huge) insects in Cuyabeno.
Unfortunately, this incredible ecosystem is under threat on multiple fronts.
Oil drilling and extraction
The state oil company Petroecuador has been drilling and extracting oil under Yasuní since last year, to the tune of 23,000 barrels daily. There are concerns that this will lead to water and soil contamination, and that the building of roads will inevitably lead to deforestation and colonisation of this pristine rainforest.
The Ecuadorean government claims that it’s possible to extract oil without harming the environment – with the latest drilling technology and strict operating conditions.
I want to believe that. But the cynic in me says it’s simply not possible to extract this much oil without inflicting some environmental damage.
And let’s not forget the disastrous effects of the toxic waste Chevron dumped into rivers and streams throughout the region for years.
As a result of that, indigenous communities are still suffering a wave of birth defects, miscarriages, and cancer. Not to mention the enormous devastation suffered by the ecosystem.
Apart from the oil extraction, don’t underestimate the ongoing impact of climate change and deforestation on the Amazon rainforest.
One of the many negative impacts of deforestation is drastic changes in rainfall patterns and distribution, which will make the dry seasons every drier.
I’ve seen this firsthand in Cuyabeno – our motorised canoe got stuck because the water level was too low, and plans to swim in the lake at sunset were scrapped because of low water levels.
And it doesn’t take a genius to see that this combination of increased temperatures and decreased rainfall will affect the Amazon’s world-renowned biodiversity.
What you can do
Whew, that was heavy sh*t, wasn’t it? I’m so sorry if I bummed you guys out, but awareness is the first step on the road to change. Rather than burying our heads in the sand, or throwing our hands up in despair, let’s take action.
Check out the 4 most effective things you can do about climate change. And 12 things you can do right now on climate change.
And if a trip to the Amazon is on your bucket list, you should absolutely visit sooner rather than later.
2. Support community tourism and wildlife conservation
Many jungle lodges are a community initiative or operated with a view to helping the local indigenous communities.
For example, the luxurious Napo Wildlife Center is wholly-owned by the local Kichwa community, who also make up almost the entire lodge staff. They reinvest the income in social and cultural projects.
Liana Lodge near Tena is owned by a Swiss co-operative, one of whose objectives is to help the local Ahuano community implement sustainable rainforest management. They also employ Ahuano people at the lodge and organise visits to Ahuano families, where visitors can learn more about Kichwa culture.
It’s also easy to support wildlife conservation efforts in the Amazon. There are a number of wildlife rescue centers where you can volunteer, such as Merazonia and Amazoonico.
These typically require a minimum commitment of 2-4 weeks (Merazonia) or 8 weeks (Amazoonico) – which makes sense because they need to invest time in training volunteers. It wouldn’t really be worth the effort if the volunteer left after a few days!
You can also expect basic jungle accommodation – no electricity (hence no fridge), no internet access, etc.
If you don’t have time to volunteer or you don’t think jungle life is for you, don’t worry – some, like Amazoonico, are open to tourists! You can read about my visit to Amazoonico here.
I know I go on and on and on about it, but I’m a big believer in making my tourist dollar matter.
It’s as simple as doing a bit of Googling while planning a trip. I figure if we all do that, then mass tourism wouldn’t be such a problem, right?
Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now before you start throwing virtual tomatoes at me!
3. Ecuador’s currency is the US Dollar
We’ve all experienced that mad rush to get rid of local currency before leaving a country… or is it just me?
But no matter what I do, I somehow still end up with some small change. Their unfortunate fate is to gather dust at the bottom of a drawer forever.
Thankfully, there’s no such issue in Ecuador. It’s one of a handful of countries which have adopted the US Dollar as their official currency, including El Salvador and Micronesia. This makes it incredibly convenient for American tourists to visit.
(Note, though, that the use of the US$1 coin is widespread in Ecuador, unlike in the US. So try not to hang on to those – I suspect you’ll have trouble getting rid of that in the US! I sometimes wonder if they’re so rare in the US because they have all found their way to Ecuador…)
Even if you don’t live in the US, you gotta admit having some US dollars always comes in handy – especially if your own currency isn’t as widely accepted.
And the USD has been going up against the Singapore Dollar, so I’ve already made a profit on my tiny stash. At least, that’s what I tell myself, so I can do this:
4. Relative ease of getting there and exploring other regions
Ecuador is a relatively small country by South American standards – seriously, just try to locate it on a world map. It’s dwarfed by its neighbours, Peru and Colombia.
(Of course, coming from a country which is all of 50km (31 miles) long from east to west, Ecuador is still pretty darn big to me!)
But despite its (relatively) small size, it’s home to 4 very different regions – the Andes, the Amazon, the coast, and the Galapagos.
What this means, for you, is that it’s relatively easy to get to the Amazon from one of the major cities. It took me about 12 hours by bus to reach Cuyabeno from Quito (including waiting for a few hours to change bus in Lago Agrio), and you can save even more time by flying.
So in just a few days, you could visit the Andes, the Amazon, the coast, and the Galapagos. (But don’t do that. That would be insanely rushed.)
However, if you’re strapped for time, it could be worth it to look into a tour package that includes the Amazon and the Galapagos.
You could even combine learning Spanish with a week’s stay in a jungle lodge! I took Spanish lessons with Yanapuma Spanish School in Quito, but they also have Study and Travel Programs with destinations including the Amazon, the Galapagos and the cloud forest.
Admittedly, I’m a bit of a nerd who likes languages, but that sounds so fun! I’d have gone for it if I’d had the budget.
5. Short and cheap flights from the US
Quito is just a 4-hour flight from Miami and a 5-hour flight from Houston. And I’ve met people who decided to visit Ecuador solely because they found a wickedly cheap flight online!
I’m not an expert on US airlines or airfares, though, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Obviously, it’s not quite a weekend trip, but with Americans’ infamously limited leave days, it might be worth looking into if you have a week off!
As for my European friends, flight times are obviously longer. But it took me 36 hours to get from Singapore to Quito, so… anything less than that is short for me.
What interests you most about the Amazon? The wildlife, the vegetation, the indigenous culture? If you’ve been to the Amazon, is there anything you would add to this list?
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This post is part of The Weekly Postcard hosted by Travel Notes & Beyond, California Globetrotter, Toddlers on Tour, Two Traveling Texans and TravelLatte – check out what’s going on elsewhere!
This is amazing. So in line with how I travel. I wish I could go asap but alas I am in Asia for the moment, hoping my next move is to S. America somewhere so saving this for when I make it that way eventually.
I’m from Asia so I can totally relate! It’s a loooong journey. Hope you get to go one day, I really loved South America 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Sara!
This looks beautiful! I am adding this to my bucket list!
I hope you do get to visit someday, it’s even more beautiful in real life! Thanks for stopping by, Maxine 🙂
Aww began feeling a bit low after starting to read this post, but I agree it looks like a beautiful place that’s well worth visiting… #TheWeeklyPostcard
can totally relate to how you feel. I already knew most of the environmental stuff at the back of my mind, but when doing research for this post I had to go into it in more detail and it was truly depressing. But I think it’s so important to be aware of what’s going on, so that we can adjust our actions accordingly. I can’t bring myself to believe that most people would be so callous as to support the current state of affairs if they really knew what was going on. Anyway, hope you get to visit someday –… Read more »
We have already visit Amazon rainforest in Peru – http://etabroad.com/en/peru-what-can-you-experience-in-the-amazon-rainforest-with-jacamar-lodge-expedition/.
And I am sure we all should do something to save this ecosystem. The visiting of this places is just beginning, we should talk about it and push the governments to protect our planet. Thanks for sharing this post. #TheWeeklyPostcard
I couldn’t agree more – we can and should absolutely do more beyond just visiting and supporting ecotourism! Loved your Amazon post too. Thanks for stopping by, Tomas!
I didn’t visit the Amazon, but I did visit Quito and really loved it. I thought the people were very nice and they spoke good English so it was easy to get around. I also really enjoyed the food. I would go back to Ecuador in a heartbeat. Oh and I do appreciate you keeping us informed about social and environmental issues, keeping up with everything is not easy. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.
I’m so glad you enjoyed Quito – hope you get to visit more of Ecuador some day, it’s a really beautiful country! Thanks for your kind words, Anisa – I learned about these issues while I was there, from hearing locals talk about it, but it doesn’t seem to get much international coverage. So I just wanted to do what I could to raise awareness. And I totally know what you mean about keeping it – it’s impossible to keep up with everything! Thanks for stopping by and reading, as always 🙂
I would love to make a cruise on the amazone one of the next years. With a luxury cruise ship 🙂 And seeing a jaguar in wild is on my bucketlist. I hope I am lucky!
That sounds like an amazing trip. And if you do get to see a jaguar, I want to hear all about it! Sending you the best of luck!! Thanks for stopping by, Wendy 🙂
I went to the Galapagos a few years back, and my biggest regret is not spending more time in mainland Ecuador. I will definitely be back, for many of the reasons you mentioned!
Oooh I loved the Galapagos! I was there during the recent elections and was really surprised at the general anti-govt sentiment (in the other parts of the country I visited, people were more evenly split). Hope you get to explore more of mainland Ecuador someday, it’s a really beautiful country – and I think many visitors just pass through Quito and/or Guayaquil on the way to the Galapagos. Thanks for stopping by, Leigh!
Your journey through Ecuador has looked amazing. It looks like a great adventurous trip to take that is cost effective from the USA and educational.
Thanks, Sally! I really did learn a lot from this trip. Hope you aren’t sick of my Ecuador posts yet – I’ve still got a LOT more to cover from my 9 months there! Will try to mix it up now and then though 😉
It would be so sad if the building of roads would lead to deforestation and colonization. I wish I could visit this pristine rainforest before it disappears, but hopefully it won’t. It’s interesting to know that Ecuador uses the US Dollar. I always save the left over currency in the hope that I’ll return to that country in the future and many times I do, but quite often I don’t. The bad part about saving the foreign currency is that sometimes the bills are changed and you end up loosing your money. It happened to us in Sweden. We arrived… Read more »
Sorry to hear that, Anda – it’s really too bad when you lose money due to countries updating their currencies! I thought usually they accept both the old and new ones, and slowly phase the old ones out of circulation – at least, that’s my experience (although I haven’t been to Scandinavia). Surprised that Sweden set a hard deadline for this. I’m sure you weren’t the only ones affected! 🙁
That was fascinating to read! So sad that this rain forest may eventually be plowed! Why can’t the UN or some world organization protect it from oil drillers? I also didn’t know that Ecuador used US dollars! As a former banker, $1 coins are still no problem. But weird to think they must have been all sent there! Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard!
Sadly, when the environment is up against big industry, we all know who’s likely to come out the loser 🙁 There’s no global consensus on this (I mean, some *very* powerful people don’t even believe in climate change.. or they just like their money more, I don’t know), so it’s very hard to get world bodies to intervene. Good to know that $1 coins are still accepted! Thanks for stopping by, Lolo 🙂
So interesting about Ecuador using the USD. I was just in Cambodia, and they also use the dollar there, but in parallel with their own currency (and no US coins are used – the local currency basically takes the place of them and is used for small amounts).
Hey Jen! Yes, I’ve been following your Cambodia (and Thailand) adventures on IG and it looks amazing! I’ve heard about the system in Cambodia – very interesting, I wonder if it’s because of inflation / volatility of the local currency, or like what happened in Zimbabwe.
It does sound like such an amazing place. I hope ecology wins over oil. I visited Borneo a few years ago, i came away really concerned about the future of the wildlife there. #farawayfiles
I hope ecology wins too, but we all know who usually wins in these fights 🙁 So sad to hear wildlife in Borneo under threat as well. The good news is that we can do something about it, even if we’re not professional lobbyists. I believe voting with our tourist dollars is a good start! Thanks for stopping by, Annabel 🙂
Wow what an excellent experience, part of our retirement plans is to volunteer and his looks a great choice. You are so right that awareness is the first step on the road to change to protect this wonderful world we live in. I have pinned for future reference. #TheWeeklyPostcard
So glad you found this useful! Volunteering was by far the best part of my 9-month South America trip, and I’m sure you guys will find it fulfilling as well. I’d love to hear all about your experience! Thanks for stopping by 🙂
How little I´ve heard of Ecuador! So many reasons to visit it indeed. Although this whole climate change thing is definitely sad! I´ve recently watched a TED video of a climate researcher Alice Bows-Larkin. I liked the way she summarized the issue : “Imagine the hottest day you’ve ever experienced. Now imagine it’s 6, 10 or 12 degrees hotter. And we can choose to ignore it. But the choice we don’t have is a no climate change future.” And yet people choose to ignore it, starting with our governments….
Yes!! Governments are definitely one of the biggest offenders on this. I think, sadly, the lure of quick and easy money from mining, drilling etc. will almost always win out over more long-term sustainable development because they need short-term results to stay in power. Hopefully with pressure from the public, that can be changed. Thanks for stopping by, Anna!
While we lived in Cuenca, Ecuador, we took a 5-day trip to the Amazon basin. It was a fabulous experience, one we’ll never forget. I was surprised at how relaxing it is to sleep in the jungle, despite the wildlife! We took a boat to visit a Kichwa village on the Napo River, where we learned how to blow a dart gun, sampled chicha, and watched a woman pan for gold in the river. We also visited Amazoonico, which you mentioned. I think that it would be so much fun to volunteer there, not to mention enlightening. Yep, I’ll agree… Read more »
Your Amazon experience sounds amazing! I too was surprised at how easy it was to sleep in all that heat, without air-conditioning. Somehow the heat in the jungle is less oppressive than the same heat in cities (thinking about Bangkok and KL here, haha). I’ve never tried jungle chicha, though I’ve tried the mountain version, which I heard was a lot milder. Have you tried the latter? I saw people blow a dart gun, but didn’t try it myself – which I kinda regret now! So glad to hear from someone who visited Amazoonico too. Thanks for stopping by, Linda!
No, Michelle, we didn’t try the mountain version but I’m game if you are.
By the way, I’ll agree with you about the humidity. Temperature, too. Both were a lot lower than here in KL for sure!
Aah I literally just got back to Singapore from a whirlwind 2-day trip to KL! Unfortunately it was to attend a family funeral, so I’ve been largely absent from social media/blogs. The heat in KL always seems extra strong and unforgiving to me, so I can totally relate. Hope you guys are enjoying your time there!
‘Looks amazing and certainly a destination that would probably be up my alley!
Thanks for sharing!
I think you wouldn’t regret making the trip! Thanks for stopping by, Victoria 🙂
My parents are headed to the airport to take off for Ecuador as we speak(type?) I sent this to them and was like ooooh read hahaha. These are good suggestions. Hopefully my parents take these into account.
Oooh that’s so exciting!! Thanks for sharing this post with your parents! I’m sure they’ll enjoy their time in the beautiful country that is Ecuador 🙂 the Amazon is definitely worth a few days if they have the time. Thanks for stopping by, Victoria!
Definitely one of those lovely spots that can easily be hurt by resource depletion, industry, climate change, and tourism… My husband and his parents have both been to Ecuador but I have not. I don’t think we’ll get there any time too soon but I would love to visit the Amazon. BTW, U.S. dollar coins should be easy to exchange for $1 bills at any U.S. bank!
Couuldn’t agree more, Jessica – and we all know that money talks, so I think it’s so important to speak out, raise awareness, and do our best to vote with our tourist dollars! The world is big and time is short – sadly, we can’t be everywhere at once but hopefully, you make it to Ecuador one day 🙂 And thanks for the tip about exchanging the coins at a bank! I’d just never seen them before in the US, so I was really surprised haha. Thanks for stopping by!
Well, you had us at “Amazon” but nearly lost us at “disconcertingly huge insects”! 😉 Although, at least you could see those coming. Maybe that’s a good thing. Reading about the threats to the rainforest is really upsetting. We remember taking part in The Rainforest Initiative – a media campaign to raise awareness, in the 1980s!! And we seem to be no better off now. Thanks for your tips on community tourism. One way we can help, at least. And thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.
Hmm maybe you shouldn’t click over to my latest post comparing 3 jungle lodges because I put a picture of a giant spider there, oops! =X To be honest they only seem to come at night though, so if you don’t do any night jungle walks you might not see any! I agree, it seems very little progress has been made to save the rainforest despite this issue having been talked about for decades. Glad to hear that you’ve been involved and doing what you can! Community tourism is, I think, an easy way to travel responsibly and sustainably. Thanks… Read more »