Cuyabeno National Park
Paradoxically, Lago Agrio, the heart of Ecuador’s oil industry, is the gateway to one of the most remote places on earth. There are plenty of lodges to stay in and tours that you can take for a weekend or longer, depending on your needs. If you’d like to understand the impact of oil extraction on the natural world, starting out in Lago Agrio and booking a tour of Cuyabeno National Park (you can do this in the city’s downtown area) will give you a whole new way of seeing the Amazon.
Go Local: Sapara and Sarayaku Territory
The Sarayaku are one of the indigenous groups of Ecuador that have taken their fight against oil extraction practices in Ecuador to court. They are leading the fight to halt extraction in the area and keep oil in the ground. In order to reach Sarayaku territory, you need to start with a 30–40 minute aeroplane ride, followed by a long walk or a canoe ride, depending on exactly where you want to go.
The Sapara are one of the smallest indigenous groups, and their language is endangered. Gloria Ushigua is one of the activists fighting to preserve the group’s customs and language and to avoid oil extraction in their territory. You can stay with them, and arrange a tour with Manari, a tour guide and one of the local leaders. You can fly here from Puyo, a town about four hours from Quito. From Puyo, you can take a 30-minute aeroplane ride and then start your hike or canoe ride. You will be in the heart of the Amazon, and you will be part of the community you are visiting, eating with them and helping out in their activities. It’s a good idea to ask them for advice on what you need to bring with you.
Manari +593 958876553
Coca and Tiputini
By going to the town of Coca and then taking a seven-hour canoe ride, you can get to know the settlements and local communities of the area in a whole new way. If your curiosity to travel is fuelled by a desire to understand human cultures, this might be the best tour for you. On the canoe ride, you can see the impact of oil exploration in the area and on the communities you are visiting. A useful contact in the area is César Rodas, a naturalist guide in Nuevo Rocafuerte. He can help with finding tours and with accommodation options.
Another option is to stay at the new, community-operated Millay Lodge in Coca. The staff, part of the Cuyabeno community, can meet you at the port.
César Rodas +593 62382185
If you decide to go for an all-inclusive lodge, you have several options. Kapawi Lodge is operated by the Achuar community deep in the Amazon. Napo Wildlife Center, on the other hand, is the place to go if you want to see as much nature and as many unique species of wildlife as you can. You will need to book direct with the lodges; they will also help you to arrange your travel.