Our guide said that in our 8 days in the jungle, we would spot and identify at least 50 different species of birds. We easily surpassed that. I'm not much of a bird fan except for the famous and more exotic looking birds. We saw plenty of Macaws and even the rare harpy eagle. If you're a bird lover, you'll definitely get a heavy dose of birds. If possible, ask for Luis, the bird expert, as your guide. I wish I knew his last name. He's one of the top bird experts from Ecuador, but he does tours with different outfitters. We got him through Ecomontes Tours.
This is a very relaxing activity. If you are upriver from your campsite or lodge, ask to be dropped off in the river with a life preserver and float downriver. Don't worry, the piranhas don't bite. In one area where there were lots of dolphins, we also went for a swim. They are very playful and unpredictable. Forget about trying to photograph them. Jump in a swim with them! Be careful though, because the current can be swift.
When camping in the jungle, you have to do as the locals do. Take a bar of soap and shampoo into the river and take a bath. While the Cuyabeno River looks brown and dirty, it is not. The brown comes from decaying leafs. While I wouldn't drink the water, it is fine for taking a bath. In fact, the water in many of the lodges comes straight from the river! It was a fun experience and gives you an idea of what the locals have to do. If you choose to do this, please, please, please use only bio-friendly soap.
Remember your guides are working and they need breaks sometimes. Sometimes we want to pack so much in that we are not considerate of our guide. If they say it's time to rest, enjoy the time of rest. Listen to the sounds of the jungle. Especially on that first day you'll want to see a lot, but if you traveled by bus, you'll probably arrive with a headache because of the extreme change in climate. Even if you don't, be considerate of others who may not have handled the change as well as you.
If you have an opportunity to try ayahuasca, take it. Yes, it is a hallucinagin, but if you do it with a shaman, it can be a life changing experience. I have never done any kind of drugs in my life, but I tried ayahuasca and am glad I did. There are risks to take into consideration, but overall, I think they are minimal. If you plan on trying it, read on.
Before you take the ayahuasca, have a plan in mind. Do you want the answer to a spiritual question? Do you want to connect better with your surroundings? Anytime you go on a journey, it's important to plan ahead.
When you take the ayahuasca, drink it quickly. It is probably the worst thing I have ever tasted so you'll want to get it down quick. Then you will get sick and vomit. This usually happens after about 15 to 30 minutes after taking the ayahuasca. Don't fight it. Imagine the ayahuasca traveling up and out your body. Once you free your body of the toxin, you can enjoy your experience.
Don't take too much your first time. Everybody reacts differently to ayahuasca just like people react differently to alcohol.
Don't try to externalize your experience. Try to be alone or only with a shaman if you take it. If you try to describe what you see while you're experiencing the effects, the journey won't be as good. The indigenous don't talke about their ayahuasca experience for at least 2 weeks.
Try to approach this as a spiritual journey and not just an excuse to trip out. If you do, the experience can be life changing.
Ask your guide if he can take you out at night to hunt for caymans - with a flashlight that is. When you see the pearlike dots shining from the shore, you´ve probably spotted the eyes of the cayman. Pictures are next to impossible, but you can see some great caymans.
The first night outside our room, our guide caught a baby cayman. They look cute, but they can bite, so be careful.
Forget everything you know about fishing when you fish for piranhas. When you stick your line in the river you'll want to move it as much as possible. Raw meat is the best bait. Splash it around like crazy and call out to the piranhas. They are attracted to splashing and think the meat is an ailing animal. The best places to fish are inlets with fairly stagnant water. Once you catch one, pull it in quickly as they have a knack for taking the bait and getting away. With jaws of steel I can see how. Let your experienced guide unhook the piranha as they will bite to get away. Ouch!
Take a slow jungle walk. It's not about reaching a destination or covering a lot of area in the jungle. There is so much life in just a small area, but you'll miss it if you walk quickly. During the day, listen for the birds and try to spot them in the trees. At night the real interesting creatures come out. Walking quickly, we hardly saw anything and thought the jungle was asleep, but when we stopped and really looked, there was so much to see. We stopped for 10 minutes in one area and saw a boa, three giant tarantulas, a false coral snake, congo ants (or bullet ants). This was all in an area no larger than 5 square meters! You'll find the spiders and boas in the trees and the ants and other snakes closer to the ground.
Anacondas, Piranhas, Tortugas, Birds, Insects, Monkeys, Dolphins, Caiman, swinging from jungle vines, paddling in dug out canoes.
We booked our 5 day Jungle Tour from Quito. The total cost was US$165 plus $US10 National Park entry fee.
Jungle Village visit
Basic Bush Survival
The food was excellent and the guide and staff at the camp were super friendly and made us very comfortable.
The camp consisted of about 8 open air huts. Each containing 2 beds (with good mossie nets) and toilet with hand basin. Our camp also had gum boots for everyone. You really needed these rubber boots when walking through the jungle as most of the mud puddles were knee high.
They also provided fishing lines for the Piranha fishing trips.
Definatly a worthwhile experience.
DON'T FORGET YOUR PASSPORT! It is a condition of entry to present your original passport.
During our boat rides in the Cuyabeno Park we did see a lot of Bromeliads and Orchids.
Both plants grow on the branches of trees. In fact these plats are kind of parasites.
Some of these Bromeliads were blooming. The result of this blooming was red and yellow flowers. Unfortunately we did not see any blooming Orchids.
We did see a lot of toucans flying over the river. But it was very rare to see one sitting in a tree near the river bank.
Except for this one, but it was still far away. Thanks to my big lens I still could make a picture.
I just love the colourful bills of those birds.
During my trip in Guatemala (last year) I did see some toucans sitting on the lower branches of the trees.
During our last boat ride in the Cuyabeno Park we did see a great spectacle; dozens of small monkeys were playing in the trees along the river.
They were jumping from one tree to another, they were chasing each other.
It was very funny to see, but not so easy to make a picture as these small monkeys were very quick.
Our walk in the Laguna Area started with a wet landing. As this part of the Park is partly flooded during the rainy season, it is obvious that it is not always easy to get on the shore.
But of course it did not matter as everyone was wearing rubber boots, so no wet feet.
During our hike in the jungle of the Laguna Area, our guide, Freddy, told us a lot on the plants, trees and flowers and about the use of it by the local Indians.
He also showed us the Quinine plants, which are used by the locals against the malaria disease.
For us westerners, it was really amazing to hear that there are so many plants with healing qualities.
The advantage of being accompanied by a local guide is that these guys are used to walk in the jungle and also the fact that they have a sharp eye for animals and special details.
Like this beautifully camouflages bird's nest. Without the guide we would all walked by this nest, also because of its camouflage. It is amazing how ingenious this nest is camouflaged with pieces of moss.
By the way there were even 2 little eggs in the nest.