Adventures in the Rainforest

We have been fortunate enough to take several trips to Central and South America, including Bolivia, Ecuador, and Panama. During each of the trips, we specifically made a point of getting into the jungle and seeing different wildlife and plants. Each of them was unique in their own ways and we stayed in eco lodges in both Bolivia and Ecuador. Many of these experiences were quite unique and we have many wonderful memories. Here are some of our favorite rainforest adventures that we’ve had during our travels.

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Up Close and Personal with Monkeys in Panama
  1. Monkey Islands in Panama – One of the most interesting things that we did during our time in Panama was to take a boat passed the famous locks and going to the Monkey Islands. Our boat would pull up to the islands and the monkeys would climb down from the trees to take grapes and bananas from our hands. Under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t do that, but since the monkeys rely on humans for the survival, we felt okay with the experience.
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    Hiking in Carrasco National Park
  2. Visiting Carrasco National Park in Bolivia – Our first Amazon experience was during our trip to Cochabamba when we stayed at an eco lodge and spent a day hiking through Carrasco National Park. We climbed into caves with different varieties of bats, blind birds called Guacharos, poisonous frogs, as well as snakes. It was definitely an interesting way to get introduced to the Amazon Jungle.
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    Napo Wildlife Center in the Yasuni National Park
  3. Staying at the Napo Wildlife Center in Ecuador – After our experiences in Bolivia, we chose to go even deeper into the jungle during our trip to Ecuador. We spent several days at the Napo Wildlife Center, which is an eco lodge sitting on a lake with caiman, birds, monkeys, and giant river otters. Every day, we would get up early and go into the rainforest to experience different wildlife.
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    Paddling in a Small Canoe in the Amazon
  4. Traveling on the Amazon River – We spent time on a motor boat as well as canoe on the tributaries of the Amazon river. After flying into the tiny town of Coca, Ecuador, we took a boat down the Amazon River where we then got out and hiked to get to our canoes. To say that it was a fascinating experience would certainly be an understatement.
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    Traditional Dance and Music in the Embera Village
     
  5. Visiting Indigenous Villages – We went to indigenous villages in both Panama as well as Ecuador and each was a truly special experience. The local tribes are very friendly and happy to welcome you into their village where they share their traditions, art, and lifestyles. We even danced with the local Emberá tribe members during our time in Panama, which was something we will forever treasure. We know that these types of opportunities are dwindling over time, so it is important to take advantage of any chance that you happen to get.
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    Parrots and Parakeets at the Salt Lick
  6. Bird Watching in the Rainforest – With over a thousand species of birds in the Amazon Rainforest, the opportunities to see birds a quite diverse. We climbed to the top of the forest canopy in Ecuador to see different colorful birds including macaws, toucans, and parrots. Going the parrot clay licks and seeing so many different parrots feeding on the mineral rich soil was absolutely amazing.
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    Canons in Fort San Lorenzo
  7. Fort San Lorenzo in Panama – Going the fort that was captured by the famous Captain Morgan, which is located in the jungles of Panama was a truly educational experience. Whether imagining swash-buckling pirates, canons blasting off of the cliffs, or picturing the ships traveling down the Chagres River, it is something worth making the effort to see when planning a trip to Panama.
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    Scarlet Macaws in the Jungle

Obviously we hope to spend more time in different rainforests in other parts of the world. There is such a diversity in the biology of the jungle that it really takes several days to truly get an understanding of everything that there is to see. If you ever get a chance to spend a few nights in the rainforest, we’d highly recommend it as it allows you to see it both during the day, but also at dawn and dusk when the animals are the most active.

How to Make the Most of a Trip to Ecuador

Ecuador is such a wonderful country in South America with so many different places to see and explore. It is a country made up of three distinct ecosystems from the coast, the peaks of the Andes Mountains, and the dense Amazon Rainforest. Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is centrally located, making it the perfect location to start any adventure. Ideally, any visit to Ecuador would last for at least two weeks, but if you don’t have that much time, you’re going to have make some difficult decisions. During our trip, we made sure to make the most of our time there, but we had to decide whether we wanted to go to the Galapagos Islands or spend time in the Amazon Rainforest as we didn’t have time to do both. For an ideal trip to Ecuador, here are the top places to see during your time there.

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Front of the Basilica in Quito, Ecuador

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Inside San Francisco Church and Monastery

  1. Quito – The city of Quito has a wonderful, old-world feel that will almost make you feel as if you are in Europe. There is the Basilica del Voto Nacional, San Francisco Church and Monastery, and an old town area that is very walkable. Even if you are heading the coast or the rainforest to see the wildlife, you should certainly allocate several days to spend in Quito.

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    Scarlet Macaws in the Jungle

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    View from the Top of the Lodge Deck in Ecuador
  2.  Napo Wildlife Center – For an experience in the Amazon Rainforest that you will never forget, staying at the eco-lodges of the Napo Wildlife Center cannot be beat. From giant river otters, hundreds of birds, monkeys, sloths, caiman, and more, there is so much to see during time in the jungle. Also, visiting an indigenous village as well as seeing hundreds of parrots at the parrot clay licks is extremely impressive. You will need to spend at least four to five days in order to really make the most of your time in the Amazon.

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    Middle of the World Monument

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    No Experiment, Just Us at the Equator 🙂
  3.  The Equator – Going to the middle of the earth is a fascinating experience and the Intiñan Museum at the true equator has a variety of interesting science experiments. It is fun for adults and children alike. There is also a very interesting museum, La Mitad del Mundo, that is at the location previously thought to be the equator and it can be seen during the same trip to the real equator.

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    The Bottom of the Trail

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    View of the Quilotoa Caldera and Lagoon in Ecuador
  4.  Laguna Quilotoa – Visiting this lake in the crater of a dormant volcano is one of the most spectacular sights within Ecuador. It is certainly worth taking the time to hike down to the lake itself or you can ride a donkey down and back up if you want as it is quite steep. You can also kayak out onto the sulfur lake, but you can’t go swimming.

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    View of Quito

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    Amazing Peaks as We Hiked Above the Teleferico
  5.  The Teleferico – Located on the outskirts of Quito, the Teleferico is a cable car that will take you up the side of the Pichincha Volcano with amazing views of the city. There also several hiking trails after the cable car drops you off at the viewing station. It is at a very high elevation, so it is wise to pace yourself if you do decide to go hiking. It is certainly worth the effort as the views are absolutely amazing.

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    Driving Towards Cotopaxi Volcano

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    Walking the Nature Trails Below the Volcano
  6. Cotopaxi Volcano – Hiking on an active volcano may not be on everyone’s bucket list, but is certainly a very interesting experience. At this time, you can only climb to the mid-station on the side of the volcano due to the fact that it is an active volcano and the risk for an eruption remains high. There is also a park with nature trails located at the base of the volcano that is certainly worth taking the time to hike as well.

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    Sea Lion – Provided by Happy Gringo Tours

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    Hammerhead Sharks – Provided by Happy Gringo Tours
  7.  The Galapagos Islands – Unfortunately we had to choose between spending time in the Amazon or going to the Galapagos Islands, so we’ll have to return at a later time to see the amazing wildlife that is there. The tour company that we used provided us an interesting article on the animals of the Galapagos that certainly has us wanting to return.

When we first decided to go to Ecuador, we were surprised at how little we actually had seen or read about this fascinating country. There is certainly an abundance of things to see in Ecuador and we used Quito as our home base for our time there. From an abundance of wildlife and dramatic scenery to the historic city of Quito, Ecuador definitely has something for everyone and is a gem of South America.

Flying to the Amazon

When we were in Ecuador, we had to take a flight from Quito to Coca, which is a small town in the jungle. The tour company booked our flight for us, so we really knew nothing about it until we reached the airport. We knew that our flight was on a local airline and that it would take a little over 30 minutes to reach Coca, but that was all that we knew. In general, flying does not make us nervous, but this was not necessarily a typical flight.

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Our Plane

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Flying Over the River

Once the announcement occurred that it was time for us to board our flight, we walked out onto the tarmac to head towards our plane. It wasn’t a tiny plane, but it was small enough that we consider it to be a “puddle jumper”. Being in a small plane wasn’t a concern as we have flown in them many times in the past, but we immediately knew that the flight would likely be more bumpy as that is often the case in smaller planes.

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Close to the Mountains

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First Glimpse of the Jungle

The flight itself was over some interesting terrain as we had to fly over the Andes Mountains and then eventually over the Amazon Rainforest. Again, we’ve flown over mountains and forests in the past, but being in a smaller plane also meant that we would be flying at a lower altitude. While that would give us great views of the mountains and jungle, it also meant that we would be closer to the mountain peaks than we would have preferred.

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Outside of Coca

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Andes Mountains

In general, the flight was fine, but we definitely experienced quite a bit of turbulence. As we neared Coca, it became evident that it was a much smaller town than what we were expecting. It also made it clear why we needed to be in a smaller plane as the airport and runway were very small. It was really more of a clearing in the jungle with a small building than a traditional airport.

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Coca

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Surrounded by the Jungle