I discovered that I really liked the jungle while paddling the rivers along the Caribbean coast of Central America. Sea kayaks proved an ideal way to explore the slow-moving rivers and the labyrinth of lagoons along this lush green coast. The kayaks were so silent that we heard and saw far more wildlife than we’d seen running upstream by motorized dugout canoe only a few hours before, and they provided an excellent platform for photography. On those trips, we were camping in the jungle, which presented a specific set of challenges. Bottom line, camping in the jungle is hard, really hard.
Regardless, those trips left me with an enduring fascination for the complexity of the jungle environment. So, for years, I’d been looking for a captivating trip to once again be able to drift silently down a jungle river surround by only sounds of the cries of birds and the hoots of monkeys – but this time, with NO camping. I finally found it in the rivers of the Amazon basin in Ecuador.
Yasuni National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon is a rich jungle ecosystem, with the highest diversity of plant and animal species on the planet. This area provides a wide range of opportunities to explore small rivers that feed into the Napo River, a major tributary of the Amazon river. The Napo, like the broader Amazon, is heavily navigated by all manner of craft, from canoes to lumbering barges ferrying 18-wheeler trucks and containers up river. What I wanted to explore was the small, wildlife-rich rivers that wound across a range of distinct forest zones and, on occasion, opened onto mirror-calm lakes fringed by Dr. Seuss-style foliage. The bonus was that here, there were luxuriant, well-appointed lodges to stay at. Attracting avid birdwatchers, the lodges in this part of the Amazon provide an add-on experience to travelers visiting the Galapagos Islands. The lodges we selected had customized naturalist programs along with other facilities like forest canopy walks and viewing platforms perched on the upper limbs of giant kapok trees. I wanted the trip to span a variety of different rivers and have the character of an exploratory expedition, so the ability to paddle out of three successive lodges was ideal. The trick was to get three lodges, ostensibly competitors, to work together in supporting the expeditions. Happily, the lodges embraced the project.
To provide the best experience of kayaking the Amazon rainforest, we decided to engage both a naturalist and a native guide to accompany each trip. The naturalist provides insight into the complex ecology of the jungle while the native guide sees the forest in a way that only someone who has grown up there can and is able to point out creatures that we would otherwise miss.
The Amazon kayaking trip has proven a very successful mix of interesting deep jungle paddling legs down rivers each all of which include several distinct types of forest habitat. We visit unique natural features such as parrot clay licks frequented, like clockwork, by thousands of colorful parrots. In the evening we go on explorative night treks with native and naturalist guides along the trails around the lodges. In addition, we visit indigenous communities to get insight into the way of life in this fragile region that is changing all too rapidly. This trip is a very accessible to kayakers of all ability levels, because the paddling is downstream with ample opportunities to stop and observe the wildlife encountered along the way. During the on-water portions, we are shadowed at a distance by the motorized dugout canoes used to transport paddlers and kayaks upriver. The canoes stay in radio contact and provide safety support for the day’s paddle and then run us back to the lodge in time for a shower and a cocktail before dinner – real jungle exploration done in style and comfort.
Owner of Tofino Expeditions
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It was a very fun and very memorable adventure. I much appreciated all the extra planning and logistic efforts you and the crew put in so we could do so many different things and stay at the different lodges and get to kayak on different rivers. The great variety really added invaluably to the overall experience and made it seem more like a trek than a luxury cruise. But it was of course quite nice to have amazing meals and wonderful accommodations every day - not the way I usually do vacations! I also very much appreciated Miguel's talents as a guide. He was amazingly knowledgeable and amazingly patient. I was hoping to learn lots of new things on the trip and I certainly did. He went so far beyond just telling us what the different species were and clearly has a tremendous wealth of knowledge about life history and ecology. I thoroughly enjoyed talking about science with him and knowing that he was not just doing a job but clearly has a love of the rainforest ecosystem and loves exposing us neophytes to it. And he managed to make it all so fun to learn about! Wish I was still there.
Susan Sogard, Scotts Valley, CA
January 2015 - Amazon Kayaking