Expedition Ecuador began this remarkable journey at Quito’s airport, where a quick 35-minute flight transported us to Francisco de Orellana Airport, also known as “El Coca,” nestled within Ecuador’s captivating Amazon region. During this flight, we were fortunate enough to witness the awe-inspiring grandeur of the Andean volcanoes up close! It was an exhilarating start to our adventure, igniting our excitement for what lay ahead. As we stepped off the aircraft at Coca Airport, we immediately sensed the tangible shift in weather and vegetation. Our guide for the duration of this great Ecuador tour was Javier, a native of the Sani community, warmly greeted us just outside the airport. With a deep-rooted knowledge of the region and years of experience as a guide, his expertise promised an extraordinary journey.
Our expedition started with a drive to the Napo River pier. The initial leg of our adventure involved a motorized canoe ride lasting approximately one hour and forty minutes. As we leisurely devoured our box lunch, an unexpected spectacle caught Javier’s attention, prompting the captain to halt and reverse the canoe. To our astonishment, four howling monkeys slumbered peacefully on the riverbank tree branches. It was an encounter beyond our wildest dreams, the closest we had ever been to such captivating animals in their natural habitat.
Disembarking from the canoe, we embarked on a brief five-minute walk leading us to smaller river routes, guiding us towards this Amazon ecolodge. Here, we met John, our designated back rower, who would accompany us throughout our journey. A forty-minute paddle canoe ride along narrow river branches meandering through the dense rainforest awaited us. Once again, Javier’s keen eyesight did not disappoint; he urged us to silence our voices and gaze to our right, where three petite black tamarin monkeys frolicked in the treetops. Having a local guide well-versed in spotting wildlife truly proved invaluable.
A couple of minutes later, the creek unveiled a breathtaking sight—an enchanting and serene lagoon, home to our destination, Sani Lodge. Warmly welcomed by the lodge staff, we were greeted with a delicious local cocktail. This would be our home for the forthcoming days, a sanctuary amidst the mesmerizing Amazon rainforest.
Following a satisfying lunch, our first activity involved a canoe ride through the intricate creeks surrounding Sani’s lagoon. Throughout the excursion, we were privileged to spot numerous wildlife wonders, including a family of howling monkeys, a playful river otter, the renowned hoatzin bird, and a diverse array of captivating Amazonian avifauna. If you want to know more about the specific bird species you can see here, check out this blog!
Continuing our expedition, we embarked on a short hike through the rainforest until we reached the Observation Tower, ingeniously constructed on a big Ceibo tree. Ascending the stairs to the tower’s pinnacle, standing thirty meters above ground level, Javier presented us with a challenge—to observe meticulously and discern something extraordinary.
Despite our untrained eyes, Javier drew our attention to a branch adjacent to us, revealing a Nyctibius, a nocturnal bird blending perfectly with its branch, its vibrant feathers harmonizing with the natural surroundings. From this elevated point, we marveled at the expansive rainforest canopy and delighted in the sightings of other magnificent avian creatures, including the iconic toucan. As nightfall approached, we embarked on a canoe journey back to this amazing Amazon ecolodge, eagerly anticipating our next activity—a fascinating night walk.
During our journey to the lodge, we were trying to spot the famous caimans with no luck. We disembarked and were walking to our cabin when suddenly Javier called us urgently. We rushed back to the pier, and we were shocked when we saw a caiman on top of the pier right next to him!
After being injured by hunters, Lucy, a female caiman, sought refuge close to the lodge and ended up staying there permanently as a forever guest. In an astonishing display of proximity, we observed the caiman, a sight we had only imagined until that moment.
Equipped with flashlights, Javier led us to a trail adjacent to the lodge, where an abundance of captivating creatures awaited our discovery. Bats, spiders, salamanders, frogs, a baby boa, and a variety of mushrooms captured our attention. Retreating to our cabin, we succumbed to sleep almost instantly, the comfort of the beds providing much-needed respite after an eventful day.
On the second day of our adventure, as we prepared to bid farewell to this extraordinary paradise, Javier beckoned us to the side to witness a remarkable sight—a group of twelve long-nosed bats nestled on a tree, merely a meter away from the pier. These petite creatures, smaller than owl butterflies, often chose this sanctuary as their preferred resting spot.
Our first stop brought us to a parrot clay lick situated along the Napo River. This is a very special place where birds and mammals feed off the clay because its minerals help them with their digestion. Continuing our day’s itinerary, we visited the Sani Isla community residing on the banks of the Napo River.
In a remarkable partnership, the lodge collaborated with the community’s women to establish a thriving business centered around selling artisan crafts and creating a culinary experience where we enjoyed a traditional meal: Fish “Maito” grilled next to skewered white cacao seeds, sweet plantains, and “chontacuro” worms, accompanied by “guayusa” tea and cassava “chicha”. During our visit, the community shared their heartwarming turtle reinsertion program, allowing us the opportunity to adopt a young “charapa” turtle, contributing to the species’ revitalization by releasing it into the Napo River.
We woke up very early the next day, had breakfast, and got ready to leave our Amazonian home. Sailing back to Coca, we marveled at the majestic transition from purplish-blue skies to a resplendent orange sunrise. Expressing our gratitude and farewells to Javier and John, we were chauffeured to Coca Airport. During our return flight, the clear skies afforded us a breathtaking view of the magnificent Antisana up close. As we touched down at Quito’s airport around noon, we carried with us cherished memories of a truly remarkable expedition. Remember that you can live this experience for yourself! Check out our Sani Lodge tour here!
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