I’ve always been told that visiting the Amazon is a life changing experience. This August I was privileged enough to travel to Ecuador to serve in a rural village as a nurse with Shoulder to Shoulder, a medical brigade run by physicians from the University of Kentucky. 

There isn’t a photograph in the world that can capture the majesty the Amazon rainforest offers. The greenery, the beauty, and the tranquility are things I can’t put into words. With a myriad of wildlife and indigenous people, there is no shortage of life or diversity among the trees and canopies. 

I chose to stay in this beautiful country after the medical brigade to sightsee more of its secrets and wonders. While I was researching between the Galapagos and the Amazon, I found out about a new initiative taking place in the Ecuadorian Amazon revolving around ecotourism.

Native communities are standing up to companies who are destroying forests by investing money into building high end eco-lodges in the rainforest. This serves as an employment opportunity and a money-maker to protect the rainforest here.

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There are many eco-lodges to choose from throughout different parts of the Amazon basin.

I selected Napo Wildlife Center because of my fascination with the creatures of the forest. These neat hotel packages even come with an assigned natural guide, community guide and a paddler who lead you on pre-arranged excursions based on your interests. It was an adventure to get to the Napo Wildlife Center. The lodge is located far up the Napo River outside the gateway city of Coca. I took a 35-minute flight to Coca from Quito before spending 2 ½ hours on a small-motorized boat up river to the landing site. It took a mile walk from the landing sites to the docks where I boarded a paddle canoe that took another 2 ½ hours up a small black creek. When arriving at Napo, a towering thatch roof observation deck and cute cabanas greeted me.

Here’s what three days exploring Napo could look like for you!

Day 1: Wake up before the sun to beat the Amazonian heat and paddle across the Anagu Lake. Hike two miles into the “tierra firma” forest. You may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one of the nine species of monkeys or perhaps a wild boar that live here. Arrive at a giant kapok tree with a parallel tower that stands 125 feet tall. Climb the stairs at sunrise to see the most beautiful panoramic view of the canopy surrounding you. Your goal while up here is to see some of the raptor birds, exotic birds, and the smallest birds. I was fortunate enough to see scarlet macaws, blue and gold macaws, toucans, falcons, hawks, woodpeckers, and some of the smallest finch-like birds I’ve ever seen. Next walk the paddle back to the hotel for lunch and a siesta. In the afternoon, take a relaxing boat ride up the creek to spot more monkeys, boars, otters, snakes, tapirs, and even a jaguar.

Day 2: The next morning, wake up early again to beat the heat. Take a canoe down the creek to the landing spot to visit the Anagu people in their native community. Visitors can see the people who have dedicated their lives to the eco-lodge and how these people live. Go on a tour of the village and meet some of the men. Take a small trip to the women’s cultural center for an educational lesson on the cooking, dancing, agriculture, and tea making the ladies of the village partake in. After a picnic lunch you will be guided on a mile hike to the parrot clay licks. This special place is where the parakeets and parrots gather to eat the mineral clay from the walls and drink the mineral rich water below. It’s a stunning sight to see so many colors flying around one place. During my visit, we were lucky to see about 200 cobalt winged parakeets enjoying the clay before swarming off over our heads in a tornado of green and blue wings.

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Day 3: On the final day, wake up later and have a paddle around the lake. The guide may take you on a light hike to see more of the flora in the forest or you may choose to paddle the creek looking for more wildlife. If you wanted to return to the observation tower, make a request to do this. If you want to see specific animals, the guides will help you find the best view to spot them. Certain animals are elusive and rarely seen even by the guides like tapirs, jaguars, spider monkeys, and anacondas.

While on my journey, I was told that spirits hold the animals of the Amazon as pets and only those who have good karma will be shown to them. My karma must’ve been decent since I was able to see over 100 types of birds, many species of monkeys, a Brazilian tapir, a piranha, caiman lizards, giant river otters, a plethora of butterflies and insects. 

I recommend this trip for anyone interested in the rainforest, it’s animals, it’s plants, or eco-tourism. I can honestly say I left the Amazon a different person having seen this wild and untouched place. Just reminder, expect nothing but appreciate everything about the Amazon. Happy traveling!  

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