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Cuyabeno: Ecuador's wilder side - Nuevo Mundo Expeditions
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Nuevo Mundo Expeditions / Amazon  / Cuyabeno: Ecuador’s wilder side
Kapok tree
7 Nov

Cuyabeno: Ecuador’s wilder side

We figured it would be appropiate to have a traveller tell you about the wonders of Ecuador, such as Cuyabeno, so we asked fellow globe trotter Tom Sylva from Indie Road travel blog to collaborate with us. Happy reading!

While a lot of people travel around South America, many tend to miss out Ecuador, and I can’t understand why. Furthermore, those who do visit have a habit of going with only the intention to see the Galapagos Islands, which is a fantastic location brimming with wildlife encounters, volcanic landscape, and sunburn. When you go to pick up a Lonely Planet guide to Ecuador, it is not just “Ecuador” written on the front cover, but indeed “Ecuador & The Galapagos,” and so today, I would like to shine the spotlight on a different player who is equally worthy of our attention. Welcome to the Amazon Basin and to Reserva de Producción Faunística Cuyabeno, or just Cuyabeno for short.

Laguna Grande
Laguna Grande or Cuyabeno Lake during the dry season (February).

I am sitting here in a German coffee shop, scratching at a piece of cake and trying to transport my mind back almost a year ago to what I consider the complete polar opposite of here. Around me are the sounds of espresso machines, German conversation, clinking cups and hissing steamers, but when I close my eyes I enter a world of thick vegetation, an impenetrable wall of insect noise, dense humidity and wild encounters. Cuyabeno is a world unlike anywhere else I have ever seen in almost four years of traveling.

Tom at Cuyabeno
Happy Tom at Laguna Grande or Cuyabeno Lake.

For those who regularly need to update their Facebook status to invoke jealousy and to post up-to-the-minute photos of the monkey that’s attacking their hair, Cuyabeno is not the place to go. You will be so far from cell phone reception that any chance of connecting to the outside world is basically out of the question. For those who demand caviar with aged vintage bottles of champagne for every meal time, this is also not the right place to be, as there aren’t silver spoon trained butlers lurking behind every tree. But for those who crave isolation and immersion into a wild and beautiful world filled with adventure and nature, Cuyabeno might just be what you’re looking for.

Sunset swimming
Swimming at sundown after a full day of activities.

So, the only way to experience the second largest protected area in mainland Ecuador is by booking yourself a place on a river cruise. Perhaps “cruise” is the wrong word as you will struggle to fit The Harmony of the Seas into the shallow water, but essentially you will be traveling by motorized canoe around the basin and sleeping in land-based accommodation. The standard length of stay is three nights, however, shorter excursions for those who are tight on time and longer trips for those who require more tarantulas in their life can also be arranged. From where the shuttle drops you off, you will jump on a boat with your belongings and shoot off into the rainforest, and within minutes you will leave behind the sounds of civilization and be looking for monkeys in the trees. And believe me, they are there, and probably plotting world domination.

Saki monkey
A saki monkey looking intently at our guide.

There are a number of different lodges located on the banks of the river which you can choose from, but they all offer similar packages. Your food and day trips from the lodge will all be included in the overall price, with the only additional charge being your alcohol consumption. Accommodation is relatively basic, but there is everything you could possibly need. You can choose between private huts with private facilities or something a little more shared. There won’t be glass covering the windows, but you won’t ever feel cold. There will be no air conditioning, but you shouldn’t require it to be comfortable. There will be no television, but you will feel thoroughly entertained. Of course, there are mosquito nets around the bed to protect you from being eaten alive, but other than that there is very little between you and the incredible nocturne to fall asleep (or not) to in the world; the symphony of insects living everywhere around you.

It is not uncommon to find tarantulas during the night walks. © Scott Arvickson

Speaking of nature, Cuyabeno has arguably the most abundant wildlife encounters out of the protected areas in the Amazon Basin in Ecuador. Where the tourism impact on nature is so minimal, it will be easy to spot the sloths in the trees (at least for the guides with their laser vision who will put you to shame), to see the glowing eyes of the caiman lurking in the water at night, and there is even a high chance of spotting an anaconda who wants some if you got buns hun (if you don’t understand that reference, you are a fortunate person). As a New Zealander, it is impressive to go out and to purposely look for wildlife as for us, if we spot anything at all, it is a rare chance encounter, but in Cuyabeno it may as well be guaranteed that you will see some rare and amazing animals. As well as the above, you might see pink dolphins, turtles, several species of monkeys, enough birds to intimidate and outnumber the army of pigeons outside Notre Dame, spiders that would scare your mother into the next cosmic dimension and fish that try to be birds as they take to the skies and hit your face while you drive by in the boat.

Caiman watching near the lodge. © Scott Arvickson

Every tour is a little different, but a typical activity will be to visit one of the indigenous villages in the rainforest. Here you can try some of the local food, learn about the culture of the people who dwell amongst the trees and find out about the medicinal values of the plants around you. Tribes have been existing in this part of the world for thousands of years, and it is fascinating, eye-opening and humbling to find out how people so removed from westernized culture can exist in a terrain so unforgiving. Some of them are quite up for some spontaneous soccer, which transcends all language barriers for those who don’t understand the local language of the Sionas.

Cassava cooking
Making cassava bread with the locals.

One more point to mention is the sunrise. For somebody who doesn’t like to rise before the crack of midday without a strong coffee being waved under my nose, the concept of waking up before the sun is somewhat nightmarish, however, being dragged out of my extremely comfortable bed to watch the first rays of light penetrate the dense rainforest was one of the greatest things I have ever witnessed. Not only does the golden light paint everything around in artistic and iridescent hues, the photos of which I was instantly itching to show off to my friends, but this is the hour when the birds take to the skies in an impressive natural display of aerobatics. Every tree becomes another potential rare wildlife encounter, and soon you will be forgetting that your favorite barista is probably struggling to feed their family without your money in their pocket.

Do yourself a favor when you book your trip to the Galapagos and spend a little extra time in Ecuador. Cuyabeno is just one of many outstanding and mind-blowing places, and you are not likely to regret such a rustic, wild, affordable and unique experience inside this natural reserve.

Expect to hear more from Tom in future posts. Meanwhile, start your Amazon adventure here!

Julieta Muñoz