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25 BEST NATURE PLACES TO VISIT IN ECUADOR: Culture, Nature & Outdoors Activities. Check Tours, Lodging, Weather, Prices

In 1974 a forestry project of the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) set off a process that totally changed the conservation history of Ecuador. Until then Galapagos National Park and Cotopaxi National Park were the only national parks in the country, opposed to 51 protected areas now. Much of continental Ecuador was still largely unknown with two third of the country being virgin tropical rainforest: most of the Amazon region, or the "Oriente", as Ecuadorians call their Amazon region, half of the outer Andes slopes and most of the Esmeraldas coastal lowlands and mangroves of Ecuador, as well as a good part of the Guayas mangroves The biologists of the FAO team started exploring the entire country for the best natural areas for their evaluation; several members of that study team would later become the founders of the Cuyabeno Lodge as well as the developers of the National Parks Tour Ecuador.


Dear visitor, our website gives you info about our National Parks Tours, our Galapagos programs, the Cuyabeno Loop, as well as our Cuyabeno  and Cofan Lodges in the Amazon.   For those who want to combine the Exuberant Nature of Ecuador with the Famous culture of Peru, we even have a 7 days Highlights of Peru extension! Our website gives you the best information on the internet, because we are the only tour operator run by professional biologists. Take a look:



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Indians take you in their agile dug-out canoes along winding rivers.


Start your Cuyabeno journey on Ecuador's most scenic wide Amazon tributary, the Aguarico River. Spend 3 nights in the Cofan Lodge, exploring the lower Cuyabeno and Zábalo Rivers.



Price: $ 499

 4 days

Children learning about the rainforest.


The Cuyabeno Loop explores the breathtaking scenery of lower Cuyabeno and Zábalo Rivers and the Cuyabeno Lake. Watch the amazing birds and wildlife. Pass 2 nights with the amazing Cofan Indians in the Cofan Lodge and enjoy 2 nights of comfort in the famous Cuyabeno Lodge.

Price: $ 799

5 days


Birdwatching by visitors of the Amazon in Ecuador


The Lagarto Cocha Expedition on hidden creeks and lakes is the best Amazon journey in Ecuador! Discover Indian tribes in Ecuador, Monkeys, Sloths, Dolphins. No other Amazon rainforest in any of the Amazon-Andean countries can match the wildlife viewing of Cuyabeno and it is far better than Yasuní!


Price: $ 1099

7 days

excursion on Lake Cuyabeno


The Cuyabeno Lake Program explores all the wild places surrounding the Cuyabeno Lake. Bonsai-shaped Macrolobia trees with the whispering of the mysterious prehistoric Hoatzin birds and the noisy Blue and Yellow Macaws. Our Cuyabeno Lodge is on the best location, because we were the first and chose the best location on a seasonal island in the Cuyabeno Lake itself.

Price: from $ 410

4 - 5 days


Alpacas in Chimborazo Wildlife Reserve are the domesticated form of the vicuñas.


Our Northern Andes Tour lets you get a taste of some of the best Andean National Parks, visiting the highest groves in the world: the Polylepis trees, the highest mountain in the world calculated from the center of the Earth, the Chimborazo with Vecuñas and Lamas, the highest active volcano in the world, the Cotopaxi.


Price: from $1149

5 days

San Rafael Falls


Our National Parks Tours take you on a fantastic journey along the best possible sample of Andean and coastal parks. They have been designed to complement Galapagos and/or Amazon cruises. They can start from different places, particularly Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca. While the full program lasts 9 days, it is possible to make a limited selection of parks, like the 6 days' "Andes and Coast" module.

Price: $ 1999

9 days


Bartelome Island at Galapagos National Park


We have a fabulous selection of Galapagos programs, including cruises, island hopping, scuba diving or relaxing on one of the many different hotels varying from modest inns to deluxe resorts.


Price: from $ 550

from 3 days

Inca wall in Cusco.


A fabulous program for visiting the most famous cultural highlights Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. At the same time it serves as the Lima hub for the Peru National Parks Tour. This module is an extension to our National Parks Tour Ecuador and/or Galapagos National Park and/or Amazon Cruises.

Price: $ 1199

7 days

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We traveled the four corners of the country, riding four-wheel-drives where we could until they would get stuck in the mud or until going further would be impossible for the presence of cliffs and jungle. We would explore the jungle for weeks on foot, hiring Indian guides until we would have a feel for the area. For the Ecuadorian Amazon - 90% of which was still was covered with virgin rainforest and incredibly inaccessible - a special team was led by the founding member of the Cuyabeno Lodge, to explore the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador. This team of explorers started combing the region by dug-out canoe as far as they could go into the smallest creeks. What could not be traveled by canoe, was first reconnoitered with small airplanes. We visited isolated Indian tribes landing on their airstrips, often no longer than a football field long and as level as a "freshly ploughed corn field". Those villages would later serve as base camps for exploring the jungle on foot, while the people of the tribe, would show their territories and teach us about their ways of life.


25 BEST NATURE PLACES TO VISIT IN  ECUADOR: Natural areas Ecuador exploration Sangay, 1975 historical side scan.25 BEST NATURE PLACES TO VISIT IN  ECUADOR: FAO natural areas exploration Ecuador, Cayambe 1975 historical slide scan.25 BEST NATURE PLACES TO VISIT IN  ECUADOR: FAO Amazon exploration natural areas Ecuador, 1975 slide scan25 BEST NATURE PLACES TO VISIT IN  ECUADOR: Amazon huarani airstrip. FAO natural areas exploration, 1975 slide scan

Historical pictures of the 1975 FAO exploration of outstanding natural areas in Ecuador from the slide archive of the Cuyabeno Lodge member who later founded the lodge. We would first explore by car as far as the road went, like this road into the Sangay area, and then continue on foot equipped with tents on our backs. In the lowlands of the Amazon, we would continue with canoes, as far up-stream as they would take us, as shown here were the river was no more than 10cm deep. Where we could not get by canoe, we would fly in with Short take-of and landing - stol - Helio airplanes of the missionaries to airstrips sometimes as short as 90m.


End 1976, about 92 areas had been studied and the majority of the areas that now make up the System of Protected Areas of Ecuador were based on the recommendations of this United Nations Study by the FAO (Spanish only). Originally 9% became protected in 13 areas, later to be expanded to currently almost 20% of the national territory in 50 protected areas. Among those areas was the Cuyabeno watershed, which was to become a "Fauna Production Reserve". Today, very few people know the background of that management category, so, let me explain. In the mid-seventies, the FAO was promoting wildlife farming and game cropping in Africa. So, we thought it a good idea to try something similar in Ecuador, with the idea to finance management costs from revenues generated from wildlife farming and hunting. We thought that it would also create opportunities for the indigenous people of the area, the Sionas, to become a part of fauna production operations taking benefit of their own hunting and fishing culture. So, Cuyabeno was proposed to become a Fauna Production Reserve.


In the course of the years, as the world's attention shifted more towards ecotourism, Ecuador was gathering more and more international fame for its Galapagos Islands as an holiday destination. As a result, legislation was never put in place to allow for fauna production use, and looking back, that was rather fortunate, as humid tropical forests are not suitable for such practices.  Now, for all practical purposes, Cuyabeno serves as a national park, and the Siona Indians are heavily involved in the tourism services, thus providing them with jobs, while much more of their traditional lands have been protected.


Putting an area under legal protection, however was not enough, and a bit at the time, people started moving into some of the gazetted areas cutting down forest. After roads for oil-exploitation had opened the area in 1983, Cuyabeno became very badly affected and lots of forest was being cut down by people who had invaded the Eastern watershed.



The then, director of the reserve, Dr. Flavio Coello - now Professor of Nature Management at the Catholic University in Quito visited the Dutch founding member of the lodge, Dr Daan Vreugdenhil, renowned as the "Parks Man Daan", in his home in Netherlands to ask him to go back to Ecuador and work with him at a solution. After analyzing the situation, the two biologists concluded, that the invaded watershed could best be eliminated from the area as there already were too many people. There was still a lot of uninhabited jungle to "move" the reservation eastward. They advised the Government accordingly and now, the park reaches all the way to the border with Peru, also including the Lagarto Cocha Lakes, thus making Cuyabeno Faunistic Reserve the second largest nature reserve of Ecuador. In 1985, Dr Daan Vreugdenhil participated in a United Nations team on sustainable development of the Oriente of Ecuador. Cuyabeno remained under pressure as Ecuador depended on oil revenues and continued to open exploration roads into the reserve.


25 BEST NATURE PLACES TO VISIT IN  ECUADOR: new oil exploitation service areas created in and around Cuyabeno in the early 80s.25 BEST NATURE PLACES TO VISIT IN  ECUADOR: The new oil exploitation service town Tarapoa in 1983.25 BEST NATURE PLACES TO VISIT IN  ECUADOR: Settlers started clearing forest in Cuyabeno to raise cattle.25 BEST NATURE PLACES TO VISIT IN  ECUADOR: release of oil at oil extraction pumping stations, 1983 slide scan.

Photos from scans of historical slides of 1983 and 1985 of massive deforestation following the construction of the road to the border with Colombia, traversing the Cuyabeno Nature Reserve. Besides deforestation for oil exploitation purposes (slides 1 and 2) the road had opened up the area for settlers to move in, who started clearing the jungle for raising cattle. In addition to that, in those years, oil exploitation was extraordinary messy and at each pumping station, the water with remnants of oil were dumped simply drained into the jungle. Please note, these are scans of  our  historical, partly restored, slides of the 80s. They are not our modern quality pictures.



In order to deal with the situation, the two biologists, recommended that the government should promote ecotourism. That however was easier said than done, as there was no way to get to know the area without a sleeping accommodation. That was the reason the Cuyabeno Lodge was created. As being the first lodge, it was built on the best location in the park, a seasonal island in the Cuyabeno Lake. Another problem of the reserve is that all ecotourism is concentrated around Lake Cuyabeno. Cuyabeno however is a very large reserve with many different wonderful places. Therefore, the biologists developed an epic 200km odyssey through the Western part of the Reserve, the 5 days' Cuyabeno Loop. For the even more adventurous jungle explorers, there is the 7 - 9 days' Lagarto Cocha Expedition, that takes you through the entire park over rarely traveled creeks and hidden lakes, al the way to the border with Peru.



However, both biologists felt that other parks and reserves on the mainland were - and still are - seriously lacking visitation. Many areas only get several hundreds several thousands of visitors per year, often averaging 1 - 2 visitors per day. That of course is not enough to draw much political attention to the economical importance of the areas. So, that is why they decided to create the Ecuadorian company "Parks and Tribes" in collaboration with indigenous people. Having traveled for nature conservation so much in the country, Dr. Coello and Dr. Vreugdenhil are the most knowledgeable professionals on the protected area system in the entire country. They have used that knowledge to develop a logistically feasible tour that takes visitors along a  fantastic National Parks Tour showcasing a representation of Ecuador's most important ecosystems. As Galapagos National Park and the Amazon Parks.



For many clients, the opportunity to travel to south America only occurs in a lifetime. Therefore, they like to combine their trip with seeing the cultural highlights of Peru. For that purpose, we also offer a 7 days Lima - Cusco - Machu Picchu Module.


PARKS & TRIBES and the COFAN LODGE have their sales office in:

Calle Mariano Cardenal N74-153 & Calle Joaquín Mancheno Carcelen, Alto Quito


[email protected]

Skype: ecotravelworldwide