We always encourage our kayakers to enjoy more than just the rivers in Ecuador.  It is such a fascinating country that just one week of kayaking is not enough to take it all in.  A number of years ago, we headed out to do some exploring on our own, including a trip to Cuyabeno Reserve.  When our friend Mary asked about spending some additional time exploring Ecuador, we knew just where to send her.  Enjoy some details of Mary’s adventures in Cuenca and Cuyabeno lodge!

by Mary Mills
I was headed to Ecuador to go kayaking with Endless River Adventures.  I planned  on an extra week before the kayaking week, and with the help of Ken and Angel chose to spend the week visiting the colonial town of Cuenca and spending time at the Cuyabeno Reserve.

Many people I know were amazed that I would travel alone, especially as a woman, to a foreign country with a language I only know a little. But I found that traveling solo in Ecuador had its perks.  I met new people and experienced things in an a way I just could not have if I had been traveling in a group. Sitting alone in a restaurant the waiter would start to chat, and I spent time talking with the locals who were more than willing to help me with my Spanish.  Often times during my week I met up with other travelers–fellow Americans, Europeans, or Canadians and ended up sitting together and having great conversations.  Every tour I went on had many solo travelers who shared my same sense of adventure.

First up: the colonial city of Cuenca
Cuenca is the third largest city of Ecuador. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO,  its churches, parks, colonial houses, cobbled streets, and near-by archaeological sites make it the perfect city to visit and explore.

the charming colonial city of Cuenca

Day One: Arrival in Cuenca
My adventure started at Posada del Angel Hotel, a beautiful hostel converted from an old colonial house within walking distance of many of the must-see sites of Cuena.  I dropped off my things, grabbed a map and went exploring. One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to just get lost in a city. Unplanned finds and the people you meet make for unforgettable memories. It was about a 4 hour walk which helped me get used to the altitude and gave me a feel for the city.


Exploring the Ingapirca Ruins

Day Two:   the Incipirca Ruins.
Incipirca is a Cañari and Incan archeological site.   Here the Cañari people built structures to the moon, about 3000 years ago.  Among the ruins was a stone, which still shows the summer and winter solstice perfectly, and another with 28 holes that accurately shows the entire lunar cycle with a reflection lining up perfectly in each hole on each day.

Exploring the high altitude Parque Nacional Cajas

Day Three: Parque Nacional Cajas
We started out with a walk around a beautiful lake at an elevation of about 10,300 feet.  Half of the walk was in an incredibly unique high altitude rain forest.  We heard toucans; saw birds, bromeliads, and tons of plants and flowers.  Wild llamas and alpacas wandered around.   A huge waterfall cascaded down the mountain as well.   It was so different from any forest or ecosystem I’d ever seen.

Day Four: The Homero Ortega Hat Factory for a tour how they make Panama Hats.
The hat factory was an interesting tour and I walked out with my own new Panama hat.  Following the tour was lunch at the famed Tiestos.   We had 10 dishes of sauces, fruits, and vegetables that you added to your main dishes and side dishes that were already on the table.  We ordered an Ecuadorian curry chicken and a bacon/ mushroom chicken served with 6 sides.  The chef came to our table and helped us created incredible dishes, each one better than the last.  I think it’s the best food I’ve ever eaten.

The days flew by and it was sad to say goodbye to Cuenca.  It is a beautiful city and I had so much fun there, but I had another adventure lined up!

Next stop: Cuyabeno and the Guacamayo Lodge
Established in 1979, the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve is an area of ​​600.000 hectares of protected land, where a remarkably diverse creatures make their home. Located in the northeastern Amazónica region of Ecuador, just getting to Cuyabeno is an adventure!

Next stop: Cuyabeno. The trip to the park was half the adventure!

Day One:  Traveling to Cuyabeno
The day started with a 4:30 wake up call in Quito for a morning flight to Lago Agrio, followed by a two hour bus ride with fellow travelers from Latvia.  After lunch we all boarded a canoe for the two-hour boat trip heading east towards the Amazon and our jungle lodge. The scenery was spectacular.  We saw 3 species of monkeys and many birds. The lodge was not what I expected and I almost got back on the canoe.  No electricity or hot water in the rooms is a big more primitive than I anticipated, but I settled in with the rest of the group who came from Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Quito, Czech Republic, and a guy from China.  After dinner we went down to the lagoon and saw pink river dolphins, birds, monkeys, and a spectacular sunset.

Sunset in Amazonica Ecuador - with the pink dolphins

Day Two: Birds of the Jungle and Swimming with the Dolphins
Up at 6:30am to hike up the stairs to the observation tower (26 meters high) to bird watch.  Our guide, Wilmer, pointed out many different species of parrots, macaws, swifts, and many others, too many to count.   It was a spectacular view.  Following was an afternoon canoe ride. I can actually now say that I swam on a river in the Amazon jungle with pink river dolphins as the sun set.  Words cannot describe how beautiful that was. On the way back flocks of long nosed bats and fisher bats kept up with the boat, swooping down to catch food in the water.

Boots mandatory for the jungle hike!

Day Three: Bird watching and a jungle hike.
I have now hiked through mud up to my knees, crawled over logs, and slippery roots and explored primary rainforest.  We stopped many times for birds, monkeys, and plant lessons.  I got to eat quinine plant that cures malaria (tasted awful) and resin from another tree that cures stomach ailments.

My first piranha!!

That evening we went fishing for piranha.  This was what I’d been wanting to do.   We each got a cane pole and raw cow meat to bait the hook.   At one point a piranha went flying by my head snapping as it landed by me.  Never thought I’d say” stop throwing piranhas at me”. There are three different species of piranha and we got to see them all.  I lost bait a few times then finely caught a white piranha—a big one!  I can’t believe I caught a piranha!!!

Toothy creature is the piranha

Day Four: the boat ride back, which was rainy and so beautiful. I finally got to see my Anaconda on the trip back! Beautiful yellow belly.  My jungle trip was perfectly complete.

Sigh, departing the jungle

Cuyabeno is one of those places you say, “I don’t know ” when you first get there.  But the trip was incredible and I am so glad I got to experience it.   My clothes are filthy, I haven’t had a shower in 3 days except in the river, and I am sure I will sleep well when I get back to Quito, but I will miss setting the mosquito netting at night, everything I have being wet and dirty, chatting every night with people from so many countries, the animal sounds as I sleep, and the peaceful surroundings of the Amazon rainforest.   It is hard to believe a week of exploring went by so quickly. I am so glad that I took the extra time to see more of Ecuador!

Mary enjoying the Rio Cosanga in her week of kayaking