The Best Ways to See the Amazon from Tena, Ecuador

The River Anzu stretches through the stunning Amazon rainforest in Ecuador
The River Anzu stretches through the stunning Amazon rainforest in Ecuador | © Goran Šafarek / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Angela Drake
Founder, Not Your Average American6 October 2021

Tena is a small but vital city in the Napo province of Ecuador, known widely for its direct and affordable routes into the Amazon rainforest. Thinking of exploring the area? Here are the best ways to see the jungle from Tena.

You can stay in a luxury Amazon lodge and go white water rafting through the jungle as part of Culture Trip’s epic eight-day Ecuador adventure, led by our Local Insider.

Take to the rapids

The many rivers in and around Tena, such as the Pano, Anzu and Jatunyacu, offer some of the best white water rapids in South America. These Class I to Class IV rapids provide opportunities for beginners, intermediates and experts alike, with plenty of calmer sections in between where you can sit back and admire the jungle scenery, watching out for Amazonian wildlife as you go.

With Culture Trip, you can enjoy a white water rafting adventure on the Jatunyacu River as part of our specially curated eight-day Ecuador tour, which also includes visits to Quito, the Cotopaxi National Park and several other fantastic destinations.

Three kayakers enjoy a stretch of white water in Tena, Ecuador | © Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Go wildlife spotting

Even without heading upriver, it’s possible to see a wide variety of animals in the secondary forests dotted around Tena, including several species of monkeys and birds. Laguna Paikawe, a small lagoon with an island in the middle, is a birdwatching paradise. Board a flat-bottomed boat or small canoe while a guide quietly paddles past prehistoric hoatzins – mohawked birds with brilliant blue faces and chestnut-brown feathers – and spider monkeys hanging from the trees.

The birds you’ll see in Tena come in more colors than you can imagine | © Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo

Hike to waterfalls and hidden caves

As well as the web of streams and rivers, there are numerous caves and waterfalls in the area around Tena. In Archidona, around 20 minutes’ drive north of Tena, the Jumandi Caves are among the most spectacular natural features in Ecuador, named after a resistance fighter who pushed back against Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. You’ll see stalagmites, stalactites, mud pools and waterfalls in abundance as you walk through this vast cave network, which shows a starkly contrasting side to Amazonian nature. Visiting with a guide is compulsory.

Many local communities like Yanayacu, meanwhile, offer hiking trips onto sacred lands. Guides will take you up trails to see waterfalls, rock pools and naturally eroded caverns, home to bats hanging from the dripping walls.

Head upriver

Basing yourself in Tena makes for a highly convenient, accessible and inexpensive Amazon experience. However, if you want to venture deeper into the jungle, there are plenty of accommodation options further up the Napo River towards Coca and the wilds of Yasuni National Park.

Itamandi Eco Lodge

Lodge, Eco-Lodge
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Courtesy of Itamandi EcoLodge / Booking.com

The Itamandi Eco Lodge is located on a small tributary that feeds the Napo and the Arajuno, around 40 minutes from Tena by car. This ecofriendly destination provides modern, spacious accommodation in a tranquil jungle setting, as well as a range of tours. Enjoy wildlife hikes, visits to a parrot clay lick, and cultural events with the indigenous Kichwa people.

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Selva Verde

Architectural Landmark, Hiking Trail, Sports Center
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Selva Verde Tours, run by local expert Luis Zapata, are based in the small town of Puerto Misahuallí, just a few miles east of Tena. They offer a variety of day trips up the Napo River, including kayaking trips, wildlife adventures and cultural visits to indigenous communities – ideal for travelers seeking an affordable, time-efficient Amazon experience.

If you’re after a more immersive, multi-day rainforest journey, they also offer excellent overnight tours to the Yasuni National Park – one of the world’s most biodiverse places – and the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, taking you deep into the Ecuadorean Amazon.

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