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.

Visiting an Emberá Village in Panama

 

Visiting an indigenous village is always fascinating and if you go to Panama City there are tours that will take you to an Emberá village. The Emberá people are tribes that live in the Panama rainforest and still keep their traditional lifestyle. They make a living by hosting tour groups and selling their native crafts which include wood carvings, basket weaving, and jewelry. You can find these crafts being sold in Panama City, but purchasing them in the village will ensure that the money spent goes directly to the families that created them. They are very proud of their traditions and are happy to share them with the people who visit their villages.

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Dugout Canoes

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First Glimpse of a Village

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Greeting Us at the Entrance

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Ceremonial Masks

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Music as We Arrived

There are several different villages along the river in the rainforest, each comprised of different families. In order to reach one of the villages, we travelled in a motorized dugout canoe, which was hand carved by the villagers. On our way, we stopped to see a beautiful waterfall. We were fortunate that there were no others on the tour besides ourselves, which made it even more enjoyable. In order to reach the waterfall, we walked up through the stream, so bringing a change of shoes is advised. If you want to go swimming, you can also bring swimming suits, although we chose not to during our tour.

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Women of the Village

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Wood Carvings

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Beautiful Waterfall

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Happy Children

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Traditional Dance and Music

Our guide took us to one of the more remote villages, which was nice because not as many tours take the time to go there and we ended up being the only people to visit that village that day. As we beached our canoe, family members came to the village entrance and greeted us with traditional music. We then had time to wander through the village and learn more about their daily life. Their homes are simple huts with open walls and everyone sleeps on the floor. In the past, the Emberá tribe members wore nothing but small swaths of cloth around their waist, but now the women also cover up their chests as well since tourists were tending to stare at them too much.

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Simplistic Hut

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Adorable Child

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Waiting for Lunch

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School Room

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Our Canoe

Lunch was being prepared for the entire village as well as for ourselves and while it cooked over an open fire we watched the children playing in the open area in the heart of the village. The only modern building in the village is the school, which is built by the government, and teachers arrive on weekdays to provide lessons for children up to the age of 12 to 14. Although older children will leave the village to go on to higher education, most of them return upon completion to rejoin their village or to marry into another village. It is a very simple life, but the people that live in the village seem very happy.

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Cooking Lunch

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Tilapia and Plantains

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Hut with Crafts

 

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Children Dancing

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Colorful Baskets and Jewelry

After eating our lunch of tilapia and plantains served in a banana leaf, the villagers gathered together to play traditional music and dances. We also had the opportunity to get a tribal tatoo, which is more like a hemp tatoo that only lasts a couple of weeks. Afterwards, we took our time to look at the crafts that were set up in a large hut with each table belonging to a separate family. For any craft that you purchase, the money goes directly to the family that created it. We were told before going to the village not to give candy or money directly to villagers other than to purchase items. If you want to give them money, it should be given to the chief, who will then be sure that it gets distributed properly.

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Coming to the Shore to Say Goodbye

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Dancing Like a Local

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Getting a Tatoo

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Birds on the Shore

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More Crafts

As we went down to our canoe to head back to our van, many of the villagers came down to the river to wish us goodbye and to cool off by swimming in the river. Once again, we were invited to join them, but chose not to go swimming. It was truly an interesting day and the Emberá tribe members were extremely friendly and welcoming. Visiting an Emberá village is certainly worth taking the time to do when spending time in Panama. It is also an excellent way to spend a little time deeper in the rainforest, enjoy the beautiful scenery, and see some of the wildlife in the area.