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CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]

  1. Cuyabeno National Park

  2. Geology

  3. Hydrology

  4. Conservation status

  5. Things to do

  6. Vegetation

  7. Mammals

  8. Birds

  9. Other critters

  10. Getting there

  11. Best tours

WHY CUYABENO THE BEST AMAZON RESERVE IN THE WORLD?

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 fauna 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 Cuyabeno National 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.

 

Dear visitor, our website gives you info about our National Parks Tours, 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! Here you can find our Prices. Our website has hundreds of high-resolution pictures of National Parks and monuments of Ecuador, with thumbnails that open by clicking on them. If you love our pictures or find our info useful you can help others finding our pages too you can share them from the mobile menu bar with a

 

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 fauna. 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 believe me.

 

CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Reserva Faunística Cuyabeno.

CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]:

 

Geology

The reserve 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 Andean-Amazonian region.

 

There are two types of soils in the Reserve: 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.

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Hydrology

The most important rivers within the reserve are the Rivers Güeppi, Cuyabeno, Lagarto, Zábalo, Zancudo, Pacuyacu and Yanayacu, which all originate in the lower Amazon  below 300 meters above sea level 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. There is a system of 15 interconnected lakes and ponds in its upper watershed, 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 River Lagarto black water watershed: Formed by the Imuya River, the Lagarto River, the Lakes Imuya, Redondococha, Delfincocha, Lagartococha and numerous (30) smaller lakes and ponds.

 

Lake Zancudococha: It is the largest lake in eastern Ecuador. It pours into the River Aguarico via the Zancudo River.

 

CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: The Zábalo River is one of the few black water rivers in the Ecuadorian Amazon. CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: The black water of the Zábalo River mixes with the white water (rather coffee with milk) of the River Aguarico which is loaded with sediment.

The Zábalo River is one of the few black water rivers in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

The black water of the Zábalo River mixes with the white water (rather coffee with milk) of the River Aguarico which is loaded with sediment.

 

The average temperature is 25 ° C; the average annual rainfall is about 3 400 mm. See our climate page.

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Conservation Status

The Cuyabeno Fauna Reserve 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 200 - 280 m. Management plan of 1993. Please note that the official conservation status is "Reserva de Producción Faunística", which translates into "Wildlife Production Reserve".

 

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 flora, fauna 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 Cofan Lodge.

 

CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Learning how to shoot a blow gun.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: The Cofan shaman with children of the village and visitors.

Learning how to shoot a blow gun.

The Cofan shaman with children of the village and visitors.

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Things to do

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 the Cuyabeno Loop, a route that takes more time, but that shows the immensity of the Amazon rainforest and the system of rivers, lakes, marshes and flooded areas.

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Vegetation

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, etc.

 

CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: pink flowers along the river.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: White orchid.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: yellow orchids.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: pink orchids.

CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Heliconia flowers.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: heliconia flowers in the Amazon.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]:  helicónia flowers in Cuyabeno.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: helicónia flowers in Ecuador.

 

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 predators.

 

CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: The mouth of the Cuyabeno River, frequently visited by dolphins.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: The highest canopy tower of Cuyabeno Reserve with view on the coranas of the trees.

The mouth of the Cuyabeno River, frequently visited by dolphins.

The highest canopy tower of Cuyabeno Reserve with view on the coranas of the trees.

 

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.

 

CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: vines can spread along several tree canopies.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: you can clearly see that very few plants grow on the dark soil of the rainforest, while vines race up towards the canopy.

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.

 

Tropical evergreen humid lowland forest, seasonally inundated:

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.

 

CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Travel upstream the Cuyabeno River during the Cuyabeno Loop. CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Macrolobium trees in the swamps of Lake Cuyabeno overgrown with epiphytes.

 Travel upstream the Cuyabeno River during the Cuyabeno Loop.

Macrolobium 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 bracteata).

 

Submerged herbalvegetation:

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.

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Mammals

Approximately 1,400 species of vertebrates call Cuyabeno home: ±165 of mammals, ±540 of birds, ±100 of amphibians, ±100 of reptiles, ±475 of fish.

 

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.

 

CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: jaguars are rarely seen but omnipresent.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Ocelot cats are common but rarely seen.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: White-nosed Coatis are common in the Amazon.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Neotropic otters frequent the waters of the Amazon.

 

Aquatic mammals are common, including: Pink dolphin (Innia geoffrensis), Grey dolphin, Giant otter (Pteronura brasilensis) and manatee (Trichechus inunguis).

 

CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Pink Dolphins, Inia geoffrensis, can be recognized by its dorsal fin in the form of a hump.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Grey Amazon Dolfins are recognized by their shark-shaped dorsal fin.

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.

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Birds

About 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 kingfishers, etc.

 

CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Scarlet Macaws are more common along the Zabalo River.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Silver egrets are widespread but less common.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Chestnut-fronted Macaws are among the smallest macaws of the jungle.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Common Potoos rarely fly up, as they count on their splendid mimicri.

CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Blue and Yellow Macaws frequent the Cuyabeno Lake. CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Muscovy ducks you see in North America came originally from the Amazon.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Mealy Parrots are common in Cuyabeno.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]:  Hoatzins are primitive birds that frequent the Cuyabeno Lake swamps.

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Other critters

Reptiles

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.

 

Amphibians

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).

 

CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Green tree frog.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Giant Amazon Toad. CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: salamander in the Amazon.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Frog hunting for insects.

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Fishes

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.

 

CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: This Sucker-mouth Catfish is a new species for science. CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Peacock Bass are great predator fish in the rivers.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Bristle Nose Catfish are bottom dwellers that explore with their wiskers.CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Bagres, giant Catfish, are prized catches for their delicious meat.

CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]:  Indian family out fishing. CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: piraña in Cuyabeno.

CUYABENO NATIONAL RESERVE [ECUADOR's AMAZON]: Paiches have survived from paleontic times and are among the greatest acquatic preditors of the Amazon.

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Getting there

To enter into the park you will always have to join a program of a tour operator. We like to recommend these services.

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Best Tours

For the best tours we refer you to our page Cuyabeno Programs and other great programs in Cuyabeno National Reserve.

Dear visitor, our website gives you info about our National Parks Tours, 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! Here you can find our Prices. Our website has hundreds of high-resolution pictures of National Parks and monuments of Ecuador, with thumbnails that open by clicking on them. If you love our pictures or find our info useful you can help others finding our pages too you can share them from the mobile menu bar with a

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