Their are plenty of travel agencies in Quito that offer tours to the jungle. I chose Cuyabeno because it was way off the beaten path and my trips to Baños and Tena didn't really feel too exotic because there were so many tourists. I chose Ecomontes Tours because the price was right, and it offered camping as part of its itinerary. Make sure you ask questions about sleeping accommodations, size of the tour, the guide, transportation, and food and water. In our tour, we took a public bus to the area. Luckily, our guide came with us and told us where to get off. Sometimes you might have to meet your guide in Lago Agrio or around Cuyabeno.
If you like birds, ask for Luis, the bird expert, as he is one of the top bird guys from Ecuador (I wish I remembered his last name). He speaks English and knew every bird in the jungle.
I received more than I expected in the tour. The food was absolutely fabulous, and the canoe was comfortable. Some canoes don't have cushions, so you might want to bring something soft to sit on just in case.
If you are a single, going on a tour like this is a great way to meet interesting people and swap stories.
The best bet for visiting Cuyabeno is with a tour. It is impossible to travel around the area without a canoe. There are no roads deep in the reserve and if you want to see the maximum amount of wildlife, you'll have to do it on a canoe. While the canoes seem narrow and small, they have an amazing capacity. Our group had a tremendous amount of luggage (several were traveling the globe and had all of their belongings), but it all fit on the canoe. The tour outfitter provided tarps to cover the bags, because you WILL encounter rain while on the canoe. Make sure you have a poncho to keep yourself dry.
Don't be afraid to go for a swim in the rivers. While the rivers contain piranhas, caymans, and anacondas, they don't feed on people. In fact recently a man swam the whole length of the Amazon. The water is warm and relaxing. Once you get back on the boat, you dry very quickly. I swam with my lightweight hiking shorts and they were dry within 15 minutes back on the boat. Don't be afraid to take off your shirt and enjoy the sun. Mosquitos are not a problem as long as you are moving.
We left Quito late at night and arrived at our destination in the Cuyabeno Reserve twelve hours later. While this wasn't the longest bus ride I've taken, the comfort of the trip leaves something to be desired. The quality of the buses are nowhere near the quality of the longhaul buses in Argentina. The temperature fluctuates a lot during the as you pass over elevations of over 4000 meters to an elevation under 1000 meters. Bring layers of clothing for the bus. In Ecuador, there are numerous landslides along the roads to the jungle, so be prepared to wait a little while in some areas.
On the bus you definitely get a first hand look of the destruction caused by oil exploration. It's ironic that the same roads built by the oil companies to get into the heart of the jungles are now being shared by eco tourists and people trying desperately to save the jungle.
Make sure you have your passport handy because there are several passport stops along the way. If you are going to sleep, make sure you have your backpack strapped to you as you sleep and never leave your bag unattended. If you check your baggage, which you will probably need to do, keep an eye out when the bus makes stops to make sure nobody walks out with your bag. You don't receive a ticket identifying your bags, so the risk of theft is always present. If you do check your bags, try to engage in some kind of conversation with the attendant so that he makes a personal connection with you and your bags. Also, they will help you know when to get off. If you travel with a group, try to keep all your bags together to minimize the risk of theft.
Cuyabeno is near the Colombian border and drug smuggling is a growing problem so obviously don't let anybody put anything in your bags.
For a price of $10, each way, this is the most cost effective way to reach Cuyabeno.
With all that being said, nobody in our group of 8 had any problems with our bags.
At Cuyabeno Park we stopped at a bridge.
Down this bridge, three canoes were waiting for us. One canoe was filled with our luggage, the food and drinks and some extra mattresses.
The group was dived in the two other canoes. Like this we started for a three hour boat ride.
Life Jackets were obliged during this trip.
It was a wonderful boat ride through the dense rainforest, and during this boat ride we already spotted the first birds and monkeys.
The road from Lago Agrio to the Cuyabeno Park was a dirt road. So I can tell you, when we arrived in Cuyabeno National park, we were all covered with a thick layer of dust.
Especially as this whole region is exploited by big oil companies, there is a lot of traffic on this road by big trucks which are transporting all kind of drilling equipment.
And as we were in an open truck, all the dust entered. When we arrived in Cuayabeno Park, we all had a nice brown colour, but it was not by the sun . . .
So we arrived in Lago Agrio after a half an hour flight. And there we changed our way of travelling, from the Airplane to a Ranchero.
A Ranchero is a kind of open wooden bus.
I can tell you that the wooden benches in the ranchero were very hard and painful after a while. And it was a three hour trip, so we all arrived in Cuyabeno Park with painful but.
So, maybe a tip for future travellers, take an inflatable cushion.
Our trip to Cuyabeno Park started with a domestic flight from Quito to Lago Agrio.
The flight company was Tame, an Ecuadorian domestic flight company.
The flight was rather short, only a half an hour. But to make the same trip by bus you would need 8 hours.
The service on board was perfect.