Cuyabeno Reserve

The Cuyabeno Reserve is located in the Napo and Sucumbíos Provinces of the Ecuadorian Amazon. The protected area, founded in 1979, contains 603,380 hectares of tropical rainforest stretching north towards the Colombian border and east to the Peruvian border. A variety of canoe and hiking tours are offered in the Reserve providing excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. Frequently seen fauna include several species of monkey, birds, caimans, pihranas, turtles, and conga ants. Freshwater dolphins, giant armadillos, anacondas, and manatees are also occasionally spotted. The main watershed of the Reserve consists of the Aguarico and the San Miguel Rivers, and the Cuyabeno River and its tributaries. Halfway down the Cuyabeno there is a system of 14 spectacular lagoons created by lowland rainforest floods, typical of the wet season.

Cuyabeno was once part of a Pleistocene refuge, an area in which the process of evolution continued throughout the last Ice Age while life around it ground to a frozen halt. Consequently, Cuyabeno is now a hot spot of biological diversity.

With over 500 species of birds, 250 species of fish and 100 species of mammals, the Cuyabeno Reserve is a superb example of the Amazon’s tropical richness and beauty.

Since its creation, the Reserve’s boundaries have changed due to oil exploitation of the area that began shortly after the protected area was designated. Petroleum extraction and the activities derived from the oil industry such as road building, colonization, and agriculture have negatively impacted the environment. Responsible tourism, the involvement of local populations, and various NGO’s have helped preservation efforts in the Reserve, but the battle continues to protect this incredible habitat.

Toucan in the Ecuadorian jungle.

A variety of indigenous groups, including the Cofan, the Siona, and the Secoya have traditionally inhabited the area. Recently, the Lowland Quichuas have immigrated to the area. Some of these indigenous communities are involved in “Indigenous Community Controlled Ecotourism,” and offer jungle tours that support responsible tourism.


Imuya, an network of lagoon and rivers in the remote south-east corner of the Cuyabeno reserve is considered to be one of the biologically richest areas in the region. The Imuya forest is primarily flooded igapo forest which provides visitors ample opportunities to explore by both foot and canoe.

Pink fresh water dolphins, red howler monkeys, scarlet macaws and the myriad of other wildlife species make Imuya reminiscent of a heavenly garden.

Although Imuya (which means River of the Howler Monkeys in Paincoca, the language of the Secoya people) is uninhabited, a journey to the Amazon would be incomplete without meeting the indigenous people who live there. For this reason most tours to Imuya and Cuyabeno are led by a Siona, Secoya or Cofan guide.

The Cuyabeno Reserve is best accessed via Lago Agrio, an oil town approximately nine hours east of Quito by bus or 30 minutes by plane. Once there, you can join a jungle tour, which generally passes through Puerto Chiritza, down the Aguarico River and into the Reserve as far as the Peruvian border.

Limoncocha Biological Reserve

The Limoncocha Reserve, located on the north shore of the Napo River between the Coca and Aguarico rivers, is on mostly level ground characterized by the presence of wetlands and swamps. The Limoncocha Reserve is one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world, but its flora and fauna are continually threatened by increasing oil activity. Scientific studies have identified over 450 bird species in the area and unique trees such as the giant ceibo, cedars, laurel, the balsa, and the Pambil are common. The Reserve also contains the Laguna Limoncocha, which is famous for being an excellent bird watching site.

Lowland Quichua families live nearby the lagoon and grow mainly subsistence products along with some cash crops. Petroleum activities during the 1980s and 1990s have negatively impacted this region and its people. Therefore, the community is open to ecotourism and other alternative uses of their fragile environment.

The best way to access the Reserve from Quito is by taking a plane to Coca or Lago Agrio. Buses travel to these two destinations as well as directly to the town of Limoncocha. There is also fluvial transportation from Coca to two small ports (Puerto de Palos and Puerto Pompeya).

Yasuní National Park

Created in 1979, Yasuní is Ecuador’s largest mainland National Park (982,000 hectares). UNESCO declared it an International Biosphere Reserve in the same year of its foundation. This large area in the rainforest protects three types of vegetation ranging from woodlands on dry soil to semi-permanently flooded forest. Rubber boots are imperative for exploring the numerous wetlands, marshes, and swamps. The main rivers traversing the Park are the Yasuní, Tiputini, Cononaco, Nashiño, and the Curaray. The flora and fauna found in the park is varied. Visitors will encounter vegetation such as large cedars, laurel, chonta, and sangre de drago and numerous animals including tapirs, harpy eagles, and pumas.

Yasuní is mostly uninhabited, except for several Huaorani indigenous families who have lived within the park boundaries for generations. A large concentration of this indigenous group resides in the Huaorani Reserve created in 1991. This reserve borders the National Park to the north and serves as a buffer zone helping to maintain conservation efforts. In 1991, the Ecuadorian government gave “Conoco,” a U.S. based oil company, the right to begin exploitation within the Park but Maxus Oil Consortium and currently YPF of Argentina later replaced it. Since then, a 110-km road has been built into the area for the use of oil workers, locals, and researchers. Nevertheless, this area remains remote and relatively difficult to explore. Yasuní is best accessed from Coca via the Napo River, and hiring a tour guide is highly recommended due to the remote location and difficulty involved with solo travel.