Traveling to Ecuador? What you need to know
What to Pack for An Ecuador Trip
Getting from the Quito Airport to Quito City Center
Traveling from Quito to Banos, Ecuador
Top 8 Things to do in Banos, Ecuador
Bike Ride From Banos to Puyo and the Devil’s Cauldron Waterfall
Hike from Banos to Casa del Arbol and the Swing of Death
Amazon Jungle Trek, First Day
Amazon Jungle Trek, Second Day
How to get from Quito to Mitad del Mundo – “The Center of the World”
Amazon Jungle Tour from Baños Ecuador, Day 1
The previous night, we inquired at numerous tour companies about a 2-day Amazon Jungle Tour. Prices ranged from $60 to $120. When we asked about tour details, they almost seemed identical, so we chose the cheapest one, Marberk Tours (located across the street from the central market. We were told to arrive at 8:30 the next morning.
Being conscientious, we arrived at 8:20. We were immediately loaded into the bus and drove off, just the two of us. The driver then drove to a gas station, and then to his house, where we met his dog Jack. Then we drove back into town, and drove from company to company picking up other travelers. We kept taking laps around town until there were 12 of us in the bus and it was now 9:20.
Finally we left Baños and rode for a scenic 90 minute ride, past waterfalls and mountains shrouded in clouds, to Puyo where we stopped at the local market to pick up snacks for the day. Vendors sold all types of goods. The most interesting was a bucket of live grubs.
Hike number 1
We drove another 30 minutes into the jungle and pulled into a parking lot. We put on the rubber boots and loaded on the insect repellent. Our guide gave a long explanation in Spanish, little of which I understood. I figured I would just follow him, and I would be good. Soon we were off along a muddy trail into the jungle.
We crossed a stream. Then we crossed another and another. Good thing for the boots.
Finally we stopped, and our guide picked a plant and said natives chewed it to clean their teeth. It had a minty flavor. He picked another and showed us how to make a temporary tattoo with it. A little later he stopped and showed us a plant to clear the sinuses. The guide crushed the leaves and let the liquid drip into my nose.
My eyes started to water and my whole head was on fire. Fortunately the tears stopped after a couple minutes. Yep, it certainly cleared my sinuses!
Then it was back to slogging through the muck and crossing streams. We came to a small clearing with a grey rock face, and our guide scraped the rock face with his machete (yes he was carrying a machete), mixed it with water from the stream and soon had a ball of clay. He explained that this was the same stuff for which people paid big bucks as a facial mask. He asked if anyone wanted to try it. Sure. Why not? And he proceeded to apply the muck to my face and the faces of a couple other people.
After that, we proceeded back into the jungle, me with my facial mask, and after about an hour total of hiking came to highlight of our hike – an amazing, beautiful waterfall.
After spending about 15 minutes at the waterfall, we hiked continuously back through the mud to the parking lot.
The Canoe Ride
We got back in the bus and drove a little way to the river where we were told we were going for a canoe ride. When we exited the van, the only canoes I saw were authentic, wooden dugout canoes.
Six people, thankfully donned with life vests, climbed into each canoe, and our guides pushed off into the river. Unfortunately we do not have any pictures because we were told to leave our phones in the bus instead of risking ruining them. If you want to get wet, sit in the front (I can vouch for that). For the entire ride the canoe kept rocking back and forth and I got in a great core workout, trying to compensate each time the canoe tipped.
A couple of times we went through some small rapids, and the bottom of our wooden canoe would scrape along a rock. One time, traversing some rapids we scraped one rock, then another, the canoe rotated 90 degrees and we came to a stop. There we were – stuck in the river. Our guide had to get out and push us into deeper water.
All total, it was about a 40 minute scenic canoe ride through the jungle and past the occasional wooden hut with a grass roof. This is exactly the type of building I was expecting to see in the Amazon. As we neared one of the huts, our guide angled the boat toward the rocky shore. We didn’t slow down and eventually crashed to a stop and got out.
The bus was not there yet, so a local let us try some tea, and also some chichiwasa (a fermented beverage made from tree bark that tasted kind of like a cognac).
Once the bus arrived, we drove a few minutes down the road and pulled into a parking lot, in front of a large wooden building on stilts, where we were to have lunch.
The unique building was not the highlight though, as across the parking lot was a carving into the hill. It wasn’t just any carving, but a carving of a giant devil head. The devil carving had a cave dug where the mouth should be – a devil cave.
And if that weren’t enough, there were two giant devil heads.
The devil head on the left had a short tunnel, and I noticed a few bat residents. Time to get out.
The devil head on the right not only had a cave for a mouth, but also a tunnel off the back as if you were descending into the devil’s bowels. This tunnel exited about 100 meters farther around the hill.
It was now time for lunch. Lunch was a simple meal of chicken, plantain, rice, and beans – typical in Ecuador. But the highlight for me was that it was served on a giant leaf.
After dinner, we were encouraged to climb the stairs to get a nice view. There were a LOT of stairs, and I was hoping this climb was worth it. I was not disappointed, as I rounded a turn, looked right, and saw a simple structure, lined with hammocks, looking out over the jungle. I was blown away. The view was breathtaking.
The pictures do not do it justice. I picked a hammock and relaxed, taking in the amazing view.
My bliss was interrupted by our guide. Instead of leading us back to the bus, as I anticipated, he showed us what I would like to call Death Swing 2. This swing hung out much farther over the precipice than Casa del Arbol, and unlike the actual relatively safe looking seat at the end of a large metal chain at Casa del Arbol, this seat was just a simple piece of wood at the end of a rope.
No thank you. Initially there were no takers, so the guide climbed on and demonstrated. After that, three brave people gave it a try.
To this day I don’t know why (because I am scared of heights), but for some reason, I impulsively walked up to the swing and climbed on. I made sure the guide strapped me on with the safety harness he brought while I grasped the tree with one hand.
I remember making all kinds of nervous jokes and not wanting to let go of the tree. The guide kept saying things to me in Spanish. I yelled back “I have no idea what you are saying, so it’s not helping”. Then I heard, “Tres, dos, uno”, and I instinctively let go. I remember that I yelled something, but I did not swear this time, and my heart leapt into my throat as I swung out over the abyss.
I took three terrifying passes before the guide grabbed me and brought me back to mother earth. He unstrapped me and I immediately walked far away from the swing. For a while I was shaking and my heart continued to race.
We hiked back down to the bus, and drove a few minutes to the river where we initially got in the canoes. We crossed a bridge and came to a village of indigenous Ecuadorians.
A few of our group started a game of soccer with the local kids (Brandon scored the first goal).
The younger kids didn’t get tired, but eventually the adults did. We moved to a large hut where we got our faces painted by some of the local girls and were then treated to a local dance.
We each took turns using a blowgun.
And finally, we were introduced to some of the local pets, including a parrot, a giant snake, and a monkey who liked to eat Ruffles potato chips.
After the indigenous village, we drove a few minutes down the river. Those who chose the one day tour stayed on the bus. Brandon and I got out; so did Mathilde, a hair and makeup artist from Belgium – the three brave souls who were going to be spending the night in the jungle.
We were introduced to Alfredo, a small powerful man, who was going to be our guide for the rest of our tour. We exchanged greetings. Alfredo did not speak English. We barely speak Spanish, so we quietly started our walk.
Like the other village, we immediately crossed a bridge.
But this time there was no village on the other side. We continued on a path through the jungle, eventually coming to another bridge, which we again crossed – still no village and it was starting to get dark in the jungle.
We followed another path for quite a while, and after about 12 minutes of walking, we arrived at a tiny village.
After we were shown to our hut, and placed our bags on the floor next to the simple mattress. Alfredo then said “bano primitivo” and pointed to the woods. This community was very primitive – no bathrooms, no running water, no electricity, and definitely no wifi. This was our fate for the next 24 hours.
We regrouped in a big hut with a fire smoldering in the middle and sat on some benches wondering what was going to happen next.
Soon after, to my right, I heard someone greet us speaking English. I looked and saw a caucasian man, probably in his 60s, with long hair and wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt. We introduced ourselves, and I found out that he used to be a roadie for Pink Floyd, but moved to Ecuador, married a local woman, and has lived in the jungle for the past 20 years. I can’t make this stuff up; I’m not that creative.
After exchanging pleasantries, we asked what was next, and were told Alfredo was going to take us to the river so we could catch our dinner. You read that right.
Alfredo and Pink Floyd walked into the jungle. Brandon and I donned our headlamps (Mathilde used her phone) and followed. We walked through the dark jungle for about 10 minutes before reaching the river. We were told to wait on the shore, because the current was dangerous, while Alfredo disappeared into the darkness.
While waiting for Alfredo, we looked for eels in the rocks and noticed the most magical stars I have ever seen.
About 15 minutes later we heard a whistle. Pink Floyd told us Alfredo is upriver and we need to head back into the jungle. We walked a couple of minutes and stopped and waited. A couple of minutes later, Alfredo came out, completely soaked, including his hair. He laid his fishing net down. I tilted my headlamp and looked closely. I did not see any fish. Alfredo reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a couple small fish. He reached into his other pocket and pulled out a couple more. Pink Floyd told us Alfredo was very disappointed with his catch and was sorry. We literally applauded him for catching something.
Alfredo picked up his net and we headed back into the jungle. Along the way we stopped and picked some large leaves. We eventually got back to the fire. Alfredo’s wife wrapped the fish in the leaves and placed them in the fire.
About 15 minutes later we were escorted to a table and were presented a bowl with some noodles topped with a few of the fish – the entire fish.
I was not hungry, and I was not thrilled with those fish looking up at me, but I did not want to insult our hosts. I politely offered a couple of my fish to Pink Floyd, leaving only one for me. So I took a deep breath, pulled my fish apart and began to eat.
Dinner ended uneventfully, and by this time it was almost 10:00, so we went to our hut, and attempted to sleep.