Survival guide for families in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Heading off to Cuyabeno Lodge in our motorized canoe, wearing our rain ponchos, and wondering what we were getting into…

What do you think about when you hear the words Amazon rainforest? To us, before we went there, it was a jumble of words like: rivers, trees, ‘lungs of the earth’, impenetrable jungle and Tarzan vines, exotic animals like capybaras, toucans and pink dolphins, medicinal plants and indigenous tribes living in blissful ignorance of the rest of the world…

But we also thought about dangerous (or at least scary) animals like tarantulas, snakes, mosquitoes, caiman and piranhas, heat, damp and discomfort, deforestation and destruction from land clearing and mining…

And then we thought about how the Amazon rainforest provides 20% of the world’s oxygen, is an enormous carbon sink, and how a 3 degree rise in global temperatures is likely to destroy three-quarters of this amazing, life sustaining place. And we thought maybe we’d better see it while we still can.

We almost changed our mind on discovering how expensive the lodges are and that in some places spotting the wildlife has become more difficult and you might not get to see much. But then I heard about Cuyabeno: a reserve close to the Andes that is rich in wildlife and where the lodges are comparatively accessible and affordable.

Approaching Cuyabeno Lodge, our home for 3 nights. Access to this island lodge is via a 2-hour canoe ride downriver from the nearest road.

Cuyabeno lodge is one of only two lodges perched in prime position right on the edge of Laguna Grande. It consists of a number of thatched huts in a garden on a small hill, surrounded by jungle and water. The standard huts (where we stayed) are fairly basic but do have some screens, private bathrooms with flushing toilets and hot water, mosquito nets on the beds and low-voltage electricity – to be used sparingly as it’s solar powered. There is no air conditioning, wifi or fans and small animals can and will invade the huts from time to time. There is a separate hut where you can lounge in hammocks and charge your devices during the day. The restaurant hut is where everyone meets for (delicious) meals and hangs out when it rains hard. It’s open to the elements and the sides can get a bit damp, but you can sit and chat or play games and watch troops of monkeys passing through during the day and fireflies flitting between the trees at night.

Cuyabeno Lodge from the top of the viewing tower.

Somewhat to our surprise, the heat and damp turned out to be tolerable and we were both comfortable and relaxed at Cuyabeno Lodge. We spent hours reading in the hammocks or watching monkeys and other animals right outside our hut.

There are at least 4 squirrel monkeys in this picture. Can you see them?
Watching an army of Leafcutter ants carrying their haul back to the nest.

But the rest of the time we were having adventures!

Maille: On the first day we went out on the canoe to see some monkeys. There were lots of different types of monkeys like squirrel monkeys and black monkeys. They jump and swing from tree to tree. They were funny!   

Black monkey

Next we saw pink dolphins, but they weren’t pink they were grey. They actually were the young ones but when they grow up they will be pink. I wanted to enjoy the dolphins because they are my favourite animals, but I needed to pee!

Our guide William pointing out a dolphin. They were quick!

Then we went swimming in the middle of the lake (TIP: go swimming in the middle of the lake to avoid caiman and piranhas.)  We dived off the boat! The water was nice and cool plus it was sunset. I felt so happy!

Eliane: HOW TO SURVIVE HIKING IN THE AMAZON JUNGLE

  • Don’t touch anything
  • Watch where you are stepping
  • Follow the guide

Our guide William told us these rules on our first hike. It was through tierra firma rainforest and swamp. We walked for three hours, always on the lookout for interesting animals and plants – and we definitely found some. The coolest plant had sap that you could use for candles because it was soft like wax but smelled really nice. Other plants did things like repel insects or were made into canoes. The most interesting animal was definitely the anteater. We were very lucky to see it, as it’s only spotted about three times per year. The anteater was tan coloured and quite small. It was cuddling a branch.

Sleeping anteater
The jungle girl’s new home?

The swamp was awesome too. The mud was very deep and it reminded us of the fire swamp in the Princess Bride, although not dangerous. It was so deep it got up to my mum’s knees! Maille and me had to be carried across!

Then we did the night hike. I loved the night hike because we saw loads of amazing nocturnal creatures that you can’t see anywhere else. My favourite thing was the Tarantula. It was enormous, its bottom was almost as big as a golf ball and its legs were as thick as a pencil!

Tarantula

The creepiest spider was the Banana Spider. The Banana Spider got its name by turning up in shipments of bananas. It is a hunting spider like the tarantula and almost as big. It gets its prey by jumping on it and sinking its highly venomous fangs into the body and dragging it away. If you want to end up in hospital then annoying a Banana Spider is the right thing to do, because it’s the most aggressive and venomous spider in the world. Though you will not die. As long as you follow these survival rules you will have no problem at all.

Banana spider

The cutest thing we saw was the cat snake, by far. The cat snake is not venomous. Our guide took the snake off the branch and put it around a lady’s wrist. It held itself straight up in the air. I can’t describe how amazing it was. Unfortunately we didn’t get a picture.

Despite all the freaky things I just described we actually felt quite safe in the Amazon. It’s not scary because the people at Cuyabeno Lodge make you feel secure and welcome.

Sunset on the last night. It was so hard to say good-bye to all this beauty.

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