SOUTH AMERICA's BEST AMAZON RESERVE: 10 FACTS:
tours, detailed maps, things to do, mammal list, bird
list, how to get there, conservation status
CUYABENO THE BEST AMAZON RESERVE IN THE
Imagine yourself walking through the immense Amazon
jungle. You want to see wildlife and birds. But most
animals run or fly through the treetops. Distinguishing
animals in tree tops at 35 m from the ground is almost
impossible. The contrast between the treetops and the
light of the sky is blinding and the leaves darken your
vision. Therefore, from the relative darkness on the
ground, it is difficult to distinguish the
particularities of birds and mammals.
So how is the reserve different from
other Amazon reserves in Andean Amazonian countries?
Well, only Cuyabeno has rivers and lakes in a totally
flat lowlands. Only Cuyabeno has plain plains where in
absence of hills, the rivers run relatively slow,
facilitating their navigability.
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
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
From the water, is is much easier to watch wildlife,
since the vegetation along the rivers is lower and many
animals like to move along the water's line. Moreover,
there is water loving wildife. The light illuminates the
lower branches of the trees on the banks where you are
not blinded by light from the sky. In addition, from a
canoe, you can watch wildlife comfortably, with camera
and binoculars ready and a bird book at hand.
From the water you can move conveniently and quickly to
the best places for watching animals in different
places. Cuyabeno is the only Amazon-Andean reserve that
offers these conditions as everywhere else in the Andes
foothills the landscape is too hilly to have such
conditions. You can check it out for all Countries from
Venezuela to Bolivia on Google Earth if you don't
It is located in the northeast
of the country, in the provinces of Sucumbíos and
Orellana, on an extensive plain very close to the Andes
foothills. That is unique throughout the
There are two types of soils in the area: compacted, little
permeable red with only superficial organic matter and high aluminum content,
which are, covered by forests. The other soils occur on marshy depressions, with
abundant organic matter. The latter are found between the Rivers Putumayo and
San Miguel, generally behind the natural dikes of the largest rivers, the
River Cuyabeno and River Aguas Negras.
most important rivers within the reserve are the Rivers Güeppi, Cuyabeno,
Lagarto, Zábalo, Zancudo, Pacuyacu and Yanayacu, which all originate in the
lower Amazon around 300 masl and flowing into the River Aguarico. Among the most important tributaries: Tarapuy, Aguas Negras,
Balatayacu and Quebrada Hormiga.
The Cuyabeno River crosses the Reserve
from northeast to southeast. North of the Aguarico River
are two systems which together have 13 lakes,
the largest of which, Cuyabeno Lake measure some 2 km.
During the dry season, they can fall completely dry. The
water in the lakes have a dark color, due to the
decomposition of organic plant material. The largest
lake of the entire reserve is Zancudo Coche, south of
the Aguarico River.
The River Lagarto black water watershed:
Formed by the Imuya River, the Lagarto River, the Lakes
Imuya, Redondococha, Delfincocha, Lagartococha and
numerous smaller lakes and (30) ponds.
Lake Zancudococha: It is the largest lake
in eastern Ecuador. It pours into the River Aguarico via
the Zancudo River.
The four aquatic ecosystems of the reserve are:
"coffee-and-milk" coloured sediment-rich rivers, the
largest being the Río Aguarico;
"black-water" sediment-poor rivers, like the
tributaries to the Río Cuyabeno;
permanent lakes that rarely fall dry, primarily
Zancudo Coche along the Río Aguarico;
semi-permanent lakes - the largest being the
Cuyabeno Lake - that most of the years fall at least
Cuyabeno was decreed
on July 26, 1979 Ministerial Agreement No. 322, Official Register of November
20, 1979 r. O. No. 69. Total area 590,112 ha; Altitudinal range 326 - 177 masl.
A management plan dates to 1993, but probably a newer one exists.
Not only from a biologically but also
culturally. there are 7 indigenous communities in the
reserve belonging to five tribes: Sionas, Secoyas,
Cofanes, Quichuas and Shuaras. The communities that are
on the banks of River Cuyabeno are: Puerto Bolivar, Tarapuy (Sionas); Pucapeña (Secoya), Playas de Cuyabeno
and Zancudo (Quichuas). On the banks of River Aguarico are: Zábalo (Cofán), Taikiua and Charapa (Shuaras).
The Sionas and Secoyas are relatively old settlements in
the Reserve, while the others settled relatively
recently. These communities date back to approximately
the 1960s. Previously to that period, the Sionas,
Secoyas and Cofans probably were semi-nomads, who
wandered through the Putumayo, San Miguel and Aguarico
watersheds. After the settlement of the Ecuadorian
Amazon region by small-holders from the mountains, these
groups established themselves permanently.
The Cofans have best conserved their
customs and traditions and still have a considerable
knowledge of the plants, animals and ancestors. More than
two decades ago, this community migrated from the upper
Aguarico, escaping an invasion by settlers of its
original village. Indigenous communities still use many
products of the jungle, trey practice small scale
farming and are involved in ecotourism, particularly in
providing the transportation needs with their canoes,
while the Cofans have their own
how to shoot a blow gun.
shaman with children of the village and visitors.
The Ministry only allows tours accompanied by licensed naturalist
guides. Most of the tours are made entering the reserve by its main entrance "El
Puente" at a distance of 2 hours from Lagoagrio. From there, motorized canoes
take you on an astonishing ride along the winding Upper
Cuyabeno River to Lake Cuyabeno, which is surrounded
by a dozen lodges.
It is also possible to enter by navigating the Aguarico River, on
Loop, a route that takes more time, but that shows the
immensity of the Amazon rainforest and the system of rivers, lakes, marshes and
The flora is among
the most diverse of the planet, with more than 12 000 species distributed in
different ecosystems and each of them with different ecological characteristics
and particularities. It is unknown how many species grow in the reserve.
However, Ecuador's Red Book records some 47 species endemic to the reserve.
Among the species that stand out are: Unonopsis magnifolia,
Astrocaryum urostachys, spearhead, Columnea tenensis, Besleria
miniata; Miconia hylophila, Cousarea spiciformis, Pourouma
petiolulata, and 10 species belonging to the orchid family such as:
Eltroplectris rosii, Maxillaria neilli, Palmorchis imuyaensis,
There are five major vegetation ecosystems:
Humid tropical lowland evergreen forest, well drained: A
very diverse forest, with three vegetation strata canopy (30 m), lower trees
(15-25 m) and a ground layer of herbs and low shrubs. The canopy
occasionally has trees with heigher trees, up to 40 m, like the chuncho (Cedrelinga
cataeniformis). No species in particular dominates the vegetation, which is
characteristic of the humid tropical forest.
Palms in these well-drained forests are not abundant.
Characteristic species include Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) and
guayacan (Tabebuia chrysantha) which used to be common in these forests,
but today it is difficult to find them as they are very valuabe and have been
cut along the rivers. Other Species of this formation are guarango (Parkia
multijuga), ceiba (Ceiba pentandra), rubber, Hevea guianensis,
Guadua cane (Guadua angustifolia, shimbillo (Abarema laeta),
Strangler fig (Psittacanthus cucullaris), ungurahua (Oenocarpus bataua),
palo de cruz (Brownea grandiceps), quince or python (Grias neuberthi),
cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa), huito (Genipa spruceana), dragon's
blood (Croton lechleri), Eucharis formosa, copal (Protium
nodulosum), Lemon ants Tree (Duroia hirsuta), whose hollow branches
are inhabited by ants that produce citric acid, protecting the tree from
The mouth of the Cuyabeno River, frequently visited by
canopy tower of Cuyabeno Reserve with view on the coranas of
Tropical evergreen humid lowland forest, frequently inundated:
Found mainly along the Rivers Aguarico and San Miguel, where the forests often
get flooded for several days. Numerous streams cross the forests and lots of
fallen trees are on the ground. In good condition the forest may get as high as
30-40 m. Important species are Calycophyllum spruceanun, hen's blood (Otoba
parvifolia), Ficus insipida, Iriartea deltoidea, toquilla
straw (Cardulovica palmata, Cyclanthus bipartitus), Adam's ribs (Monstera
dilacerata), sanango (Abuta grandifolia), ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis
caapi). Along the river banks are Inga punctata, Guarea guidonia
and Balsa (Ochroma pyramidale), a tree characteristic of secondary and
recovering lowland forests.
Examples of tropical
vines or lianas, as they are often referred to in the rainforest. In the
photo on the right you can clearly see that very few plants grow on the
dark soil of the rainforest, while vines race up towards the canopy.
Found on very poorly drained plains, with trees up to 25 m. They
occur primarily on the plains along the Rivers Cuyabeno, Lagarto, Zancudo and
Zábalo. In the rainy season, the water may get as high as of 3-4 m in these
forests, while during the dry season even the lakes may fall dry. Diversity is
much lower as compared to lowland forests. Common species are: along the lake
shores Macrolobium acaciifolium, pambil, (Iriartea deltoidea),
tagua (Phytelephas tenuicaulis), Astrocaryum jauari, Bactris
concinna, Chamaedorea sp. Other characteristic species are
Coussapoa trinervia, Guatteria sp., Herrania nitida,
Theobroma bicolor; Vismia sp., Balsa (Myroxylum balsamum),
saniyura (Picramnia sellowii), Heliconia orthotricha, Vriesea
dubia and a variety of ferns.
trees in the swamps of Lake Cuyabeno overgrown with epiphytes.
Tropical evergreen humid lowland forest, semi-permanently
inundated, dominated by palms:
Poorly drained, the vegetation is dominated by canangucho palms (Mauritia
flexuosa) or Scheleea brachyclada. Many plants and animals depend on
these palms for food and shelter. You can also find Triplaris weigeltiana,
Euterpe precatoria; cordoncillo(Peperomia serpens), "Black Lips" (Blakea
Semi-permanently inundated forests flooded by black-water rivers, or igapó (Pires
and Prance, 1985), dominated by macrolobium trees:
Macrolobium trees - often growing not higher than some 8m-, some palms and
shrub, submerged most of the time make up the vegetation. The former are covered
with blankets of epiphytes, and homes to herons, blue and yellow macaws and
Submerged herbal vegetation:
Found along lake and river shores, they consist of rooted water
plants and shrubs that endure long-term submergion. Common are (Cyperus
odoratus), Montrichardia linifera, Saggitaria sp. and certain
species of the families Onagraceae, Pontediraceae and Polygonaceae.
Approximately 1,400 species of vertebrates call Cuyabeno home:
±165 of mammals, ±540 of birds, ±100 of amphibians, ±100 of reptiles, ±475 of
Of the 165 species of mammals, bats are the most abundant. In
order of abundance: fruit bats of the genera Artibeus, Sturnira
and Carollia are most abundant, followed by fishing bats (Noctilio sp.),
insectivore bats (Rhinchonycteris sp.), Pollen eating bats,
hematophages, etc. Probably, the largest bat of the Americas, Vampyrum
spectrum, is also present.
More conspicuous mammals are: Jaguar, Panthera Onca,
Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), (Eira barbara), Lowland Tapir (Tapirus
terrestris), capybaras (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), giant armadillos
(Priodontes maximus); Collared Picary (Pecari tajacu), Whiteliped Peccary
(Tayassu pecari), anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), Giant Otter
(Chironectes minimus), (Caluromys lanatus). Monkeys include the
pocket monkey (Callithrix pygmaea), the second smallest pirmate in the
world, the black or yellow-headed cotyledon (Callicebus torquatus),
chorongos (Lagothrix lagotricha), howler monkeys (Alouatta seniculus),
barizos (Saimiri sciureus).
Check out the complete mammal list of Ecuador.
Aquatic mammals are common, including: Pink dolphin (Innia
geoffrensis), Grey dolphin, Giant otter (Pteronura brasilensis) and
manatee (Trichechus inunguis).
Pink Dolphins, Inia
geoffrensis, can be recognized by its dorsal fin in the form of a hump.
Particularly males may be pink, but often in Cuyabeno are quite gray. The
Amazonian Pink Dolphin can turn its head 90 degrees each way.
540 species have recorded for the reserve; 17 are considered threatened, 31 are
rare, 3 are very rare: common gull (Sterna hirundo), (Brotogeris
sanctihomae) and (Geotrygon violacea), and possibly an extinct
species Crax globulosa. Among the most important species are: macaws (Ara
ararauna, A. macao) which can live up to to 30 or 40 years; (Chrysoptilus
punctigula), Common Potoo (Mothotus momota), (Crotophaga sp.)
colonizing bird of open areas, (Penelope jacquacu), masked tangara (Ramphocelus
nigrogularis), toucans (Ramphastos vitelinus), kingfishers (Megaceryle
torquata), Pigme kingfisher (Chloroceryle aenea) the smallest of
Among the reptiles we mention first of all the anaconda (Eunectes
murinus) for which the reserve was famous already back in 1975, when I first
visited it. Supposedly there were giants of up to 6 m. The good news is, such
giants are still there. The Boa constrictor, which has more of a reputation,
than actual size, with a maximum of no more than 3m is there. Other snakes are,
(Corallus caninus), living exclusively on trees, green snakes (Pseustes
sulphureus), (Bothriopsis bilineata), the infamous Equis (Bothrops
atrox), the Wart snake, (Lachesis muta) the largest venomous snake in
America (4.5 m long).
The turtles include: charapa (Podocnemis unifilis) a
species hunted for its meat and its eggs, motelo (denticulated Chelonoides)
and tapaculo (Kinostermon scorpioides). Among the caimans we have:
(Caiman crocodilus), Specticled Caiman and dwarf caiman (Paloesuchus
trigonatus). There are also lizards like Guichenot iguana (Enyalioides
laticeps); Geckos like (Gonatodes concinnatus), which are very common
in houses; and the Tropidurus flaviceps a strictly arboreus species.
Among the amphibian species we can mention the Giant Toad,
Leptodactylus pentadactylus, poisonous toads, Epipedobates bilinguis,
which cares for and tags along its tadpoles to a water source, leaf frog,
Phyllomedusa vaillanti, Dendrophyniscus minutus, and tree frogs like,
Cruziohyla craspedopus, Hypsiboas granosus, and Dendropsophus
triangulum. Other amphibians include salamanders, like (Bolitoglossa equatoriana).
Studies of the Aguarico basin indicate
that there are over 475 species of fish, which is the
highest known diversity of species in any of Ecuador's
watersheds. Most common are white piranha (Serrasalmus
cf. Humeralis), paco (Colossoma dibens), a
large fish characterized by having a double row of teeth
very sharp teeth, and very popular. Other species
include (Aequidens sp.), that live in the Lakes
Lagartococha, Limoncocha and other stagnant water
bodies. Further: Paiche (Arapaima gigas), tetra (Bryconops
caudomaculatus), leporin (Leporinus trifasciatus),
barbudo (Pimelodus sp.), (Caenotropus
labyrinthicus), (Calophysus macropterus),
Catfish, some of which may grow up to several meters (Pimelodella
sp.), Hacha (Thoracocharax stellatus),
carachama (Hypostomus sp.), (Leporellus
vittatus), (Heterocharax macrolepis) and
trahira (Hoplerythrinus unitaeniatus). Fishing is
no longer allowed in parks, except for indigenous people
who can fish for personal use.
best tours we refer you to our page
Programs and other great programs in Cuyabeno National Reserve.
CUYABENO, GETTING THERE AND BACK
There are 3 options to travel to the Amazon Lowlands:
Take the night bus from Quito to
Lagoagrio (usually leaves at 11 at night) from the "Terminal Norte"
in Quito and arrive in Lagoagrio at dawn, which takes about 7 hours. It
costs about $ 25 for the round trip and you have to leave from your hotel in
Quito to the terminal an hour before departure (by taxi). Alternatively, you can
take a day bus, but then you will have to spend the night in Lagoagrio. For Nuevo Unión (2 hours
from Lagoagrio), where we embark in our canoe at about 12:30.
There are no longer flights to Lagoagrio.
Fly with Quito - Coca, which about $ 150 round trip, but it take 2 X
$25 to take a taxi to Quito airport. The flight usually leaves at 9 in the orning, and
takes 30 minutes to arrive. As many times the flight is delayed, count on
arriving around 10, and after getting your luggage, it will be 10:30. We'll
pick you up at the airport. This fight is great for the Napo River
Cruise, but it does not helpmuch to get to Lagoagrio and Cuyabeno.
Take our Private Trans-Andean Transportation to the
Aguarico, Cuyabeno River or Coca, of which you can read the details below. We will pick
you up at your hotel early in the morning and take to the Aguarico River in
about 8 - 9 hours depending how much time we spend on the way at the
overlooks into the Cayambe - Coca Ecological Reserve, the San Rafael Falls,
the Reventador Volcano and the Papallacta spas.
The same applies for the Lake Cuyabeno accommodations which pass through the
main park entrance on the Cuyabeno River.
Routes from the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve programss of Parks and
Tribes / Cofan Lodge:
Cuyabeno Lake Area including our new 1 daytrip;
Lagarto Coche Expedition with the Cuyabeno Lake area as an
Near the mountain pass you pass by
beautiful paramos and some of the highest rainforests in
the world along Lake Papallacta.
The San Rafael waterfall has collapsed into a sinkhole and
is no longer accessible.
Bordering Lake Papallacta is the Jamanco Spa with
great mineral water without prior filtration as done in
the Papallacta resorts. As a result, the mineral quality
is supposed to be better, while resort prices are a
fraction of the spas in Papallacta.
The Reventador is Ecuador's most
active volcano and frequently runs of lava can be
seen glowing in the night.
It is possible to
arrange for spending the night at either a Papallacta (costly) or Jamanco
(friendly and much more economical) Spa, but then another day is needed.
who take the private transportation, chose to fly back or visa versa.
Arrival at the airport of Coca.
On a clear day one can see the Cayambe exactly on the equator, as you fly around it. It is
the only major volcano as well as the only glacier in the
world precisely on the equator. On the way in, chose a
window on the right and on the way back on the left of the
WHAT IS INCLUDED?
National Parks Tours
All ground transportation on the National Parks tours;
flights where included in the national parks tour program, but NOT to/fro Galapagos
An English speaking naturalist guide. A German or
French speaking guide may also be available, but can't be guaranteed.
All entry fees.
Meals and beverages.
Excursions with professional nature guides;
include all meals, and fruit juices served with the meals. Our restaurants serve
a mix of international cuisine and occasionally, the Cofan Lodge offers a
sample meal of traditional Cofan dishes.
Meals include coffee, tea and bottled
Transportation between Lagoagrio and the access
Bottled and alcoholic beverages need to be paid.
Depending on the program you selected, we always try to give you
a discount on combined modules. Groups above 4 passengers will receive discounts, depending on group size.
HOW TO BOOK A TOUR?
Our programs are rather customized and we try to
accommodate the travel needs of our customers. To avoid misunderstandings, we
don't offer a prepaid travel option.
Just send an email to
or contact us through our contact data below.
Sending money from abroad is rather costly and we try to minimize money going to
Once your schedule has been worked out, we kindly request you to make a reservation guarantee
transfer of only $100 by
Western Union or
Moneygram. The balance you pay in CASH in
Quito upon arrival (we don't take credit cards!) This way you don't lose a lot
of money sending money. The $100 is NOT recoverable upon cancelation.
Why we don't accept credit cards in Ecuador either? The credit card services
charge 7%! We would have to charge you for that, making your trip more
expensive. We do everything to make your trip as cost effective as possible.
Already in Ecuador?
You can pay in our office mentioned below. We apply a cancelation fee of $100.