Upon embarking on a South American adventure – well before we discovered hidden gems like Pailon del Diablo or the Swing at the End of the World, we knew we wanted to do was to visit to the Amazon Rainforest. Initially, we were a little scared to make the trip due to safety concerns. We wondered:
- Were we going to get kidnapped and killed by drug lords from Colombia?
- Were we going to be consumed by giant man eating catfish or even a piranha or crocodile that lurk in the brown waters?
- Were we going to get cooked in a pot and consumed by hungry tribes people?
Our concerns were only heightened by numerous Smart Traveller guides warning that this area was a red zone (an honour shared with the likes of Syria) and should not be entered for the risk of being kidnapped. It is true that in 2012, one Australian & one British girl were kidnapped by a Colombian gang. Regarding these concerns, we decided to ring Green Forest Ecolodge who completely put our minds at ease. ‘How safe is the area?’ We asked them, to which their reply was ‘Completely safe, you are in a canoe and the animals in the river wont harm you’. Completely unaware that we were not referring to the animals we clarified, ‘No, in regards to the kidnappings in the area?’ They informed us that this was an isolated innocent and nothing has before or since occurred. The area is 100% safe and it is even protected by guards. Furthermore, the situation in Colombia is much different to how it was back in 2012. This put our minds at ease and statistically we figured you are more likely to be run over by a car then kidnapped by Colombian guerrillas in any event. We made the decision to fulfill our dreams and head out to the Amazon, a decision we would not regret. We never once felt in danger staying at Green Forest Ecolodge.
How to get to Green Forest Ecolodge, Cuyabeno
We booked an overnight bus from Quito at 11.15pm for $12 USD, leaving from Quitumbe station and arriving at Largo Argio with Transport Banos (the most comfortable and reliable company running the route).
Arriving at 6:00am we took a taxi for $3 USD to Green Forest Ecolodge’s meeting point, Planet Azul Hotel. The Ecolodge have teamed up with the Planet Azul to ensure their clients safety if they arrive early in the morning by a night bus. We throughly enjoyed this perk as we were not looking forward to waiting in the bus station for three hours until 9am.
Planet Azul offered solid complimentary wifi and hammocks to sleep while you wait for your pick up. We were also served a delicious breakfast at around 7.30am (included as part of the tour).
It’s also easy to reach from Colombia, just catch the bus from Ipiales to Quito first. You can read more about negotiating the notorious Colombia – Ecuador border (hint: not as we expected).
First Amazon River Experience
At 9am sharp our 1.5 hour transfer arrived to take us to the port of Lago Agrio where we would begin our Amazon adventure. After a delicious lunch at the port, we took a motorised canoe 2 hours down the river to reach Green Forest Ecolodge.
The Cuyabeno rainforest is absolutely teaming with wildlife. As we made our way towards our lodge we saw a group of about 50 squirrel monkeys playing in the tree overhead along with another 4 more species of monkeys, a two toed sloth, many birds and the biggest most beautiful blue butterfly you have ever seen.
As we travelled down the river, we saw a number of the other the lodges. Most of them looked a little old and run down so we were pleasantly surprised when we pulled up at the Green Forest Ecolodge as it looked like one of the most luxurious lodges on the river.
We later learnt that it only opened in late 2016 so it is one of the newest establishments. The lodge consists of a cabana overlooking the river with hammocks and chairs, a cabana used for dining and around 6 bungalows that house varying amounts of people.
Green Forest Ecolodge Excursions
That afternoon, we travelled by motorised canoe to Laguna Grande, one of the main attractions of Cuyabeno National Park where we were absolutely delighted to witness pink dolphins playing in the water.
Our amazing guide Elvis took us to the deepest part of the lagoon where we had the opportunity to swim in the water. We were a little nervous at first, after all, piranhas and caimans lurk in these waters.
However, Elvis assured us that the area was 100% safe for swimming as the animals prefer to swim in the shallower waters. After witnessing a whole family of Germans dive head first into the water without apprehension, we decided to take the plunge.
While swimming in dark water was a little scary, how often can you say you have swum in the Amazon River? Upon retreating to the boat, the most beautiful sunset followed.
We then waited until it become completely pitch black and went looking for more animals as the rain forest comes alive at night.
We were lucky to see a boa constrictor and caiman up close & personal. Upon our return to the lodge, we were treated to a delicious chicken & plantain dinner.
Amazon Rainforest Walking Tour
The next day we departed on a 3 hour walk through the primary rain forest. The lodge provides you with boots and a poncho for the jungle trek (which are entirely necessary).
In rainy season, you reach the entry point by small canoe then you are required to wade in knee deep water for a few hundred metres until you reach dry land.
During our jungle trek we saw numerous tarantulas, frogs and monkeys playing in the trees overhead.
Our guide, Elvis, also informed us about the medicinal plants and animals that the local tribes use to survive on in the rainforest.
We also had the opportunity to try some lemon ants which were actually (surprisingly) delicious.
Piranha Fishing in the Amazon
After lunch, we set off by boat again to look for piranhas. While it is technically prohibited to fish for piranhas for food in Cuyabeno as it is a protected area, it is permitted to have a look at one or two quickly for educational purposes.
Just as you might imagine, piranhas are definitely a pack of hungry hyenas. The way you go about fishing for them is to splash a stick around in the water (as they think a rat or small mammal is swimming by) and literally within minutes of putting a rod with a piece of red meat in the water, one has attacked!
The teeth of the piranha were amazing – they looked like real human teeth. You could easily imagine how a school of piranhas could swarm a human and kill them by chomping into them.
Despite our vivid imagination, our guide Elvis informed us that this wouldn’t normally happen unless you were badly injured and attracted them.
Cuyabeno Wildife Reserve Night Walk
After our amazing experience piranha fishing, we moved a little further down the river where we went on our night walk through the rainforest.
Our guide Elvis told us that on the night walk you can mostly expect to see insects. However, to our delight, we also managed to see quite a number of tarantulas & a small Cat Eye snake as well.
We came home to an amazing dinner consisting of beef with rice and vegetables and banana with chocolate for desert.
Visiting a native Amazon tribe
Our last full day in the Cuybeno reserve involved visiting the Siona tribe. We learnt from a female member of the tribe how to make Casabe, a staple dish of the tribe, which is a type of bread from a plant in the ground.
This involved pulling the roots out of the ground, grating the plant down and then sieving it finely into flour before frying it into a flat pancake style bread. It was quite enjoyable and we ate it with a tuna salad.
The tribe live a relatively contemporary lifestyle as our guide told us that they had been in contact with the western world for quite sometime. However, the houses did not have doors, windows or a concrete floor.
Also, despite living more wildly in the past, cannibalism and polygamy are practices which no longer occur within this tribe. In saying this, they haven’t lost all their traditional ways as they still hunt & eat local wildlife (outside the protected area) including monkeys, snakes and caimans.
Spiritual Healing from a Shaman (and trying Ayahuasca)
Following our delicious Casabe lunch, we visited the Shaman, a spiritual & medical advisor for the tribe. The Shaman heals the tribe medicinally from various diseases in the jungle and also wards off evil spirits.
It takes many years to study to become a Shaman. Our Shamon starting training at 18 and graduated at 39, having travelled abroad to Columbia to learn more about medical plants and procedures.
If a person comes to the Shamon, he takes the hallucinative drug Ayahuasca which enables him to have visions to determine what is wrong with the person.
Despite this drug being illegal in the western world, different variations are legal in many countries in South America. On tours 10 years ago, they allowed tourists try a full dosage of Ayahuasca but these days, they only allow you to try a drip on your finger to see what the taste is like (a little like copper).
Following our small taste-test of Ayahuasca, the Shaman completed a spiritual ceremony with us where he warded off evil spirits. After we had been cleansed of evil spirits, we set off to watch our final sunset & swim in Laguna Grande.
On our final morning at Green Forest Ecolodge, we rose early at 6am for bird watching in the area and managed to see the most beautiful macaws, snake birds & stinky turkeys among other wildlife. This early morning tour concluded our time at the Ecolodge and we made our 2 hour journey back to the port where our driver was waiting for us and transported us back to Lago Agrio bus terminal.
Overall, we had the most amazing experience in the Cuabeno Amazon at Green Forest Ecolodge. We would highly recommend it to anyone looking to experience a trip of a lifetime in the Amazon Rainforest.
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This trip was in part sponsored and made possible by the Green Forest Ecolodge. However, it does not in any way influence our views or opinions of the experience.