I’ve been to Ecuador a couple of times now and have been consistently amazed with the variety of things to see there. My expedition cruise in Galapagos still ranks as one of my favorite travel experiences of all time. But one shouldn’t let the exotic menagerie of Galapagos overshadow the rich diversity of life on the other side of Ecuador — to the east beyond the Andes. We flew into Coca (officially Puerto Francisco de Orellana, a very short flight from Quito) and then took a small boat 2 hours down the Napo River, which eventually feeds into the Amazon itself. I spent 3 nights at an amazing eco-property called Sacha Jungle Lodge which is set inside a 5000-acre reserve.
Every morning and every night we donned big rubber boots for the mud and followed two guides into the jungle to look for critters. One guide was the formally trained naturalist, the other was a member of the local Achuar tribe and had the training of having grown up in the jungle. Both were great, but the local guide seemed like a shop owner showing you where items in the store were. Owls? Down that path, two trees on the left. Squirrel monkey? Right over there behind that kapok tree. At night he just paused, looked around a bit with his flashlight, and strolled over to whatever plant, pulled back a fern, and bam! Why there’s a tree frog (like the fellow pictured here). Actually the frog looks as surprised as we were. It was admirable to see someone so in tune with his surroundings, with the ecosystem, and each night he paraded us around in the jungle with rarely a pause between animal sightings, from alien looking insects and snakes to monkeys and caimans (small crocodiles).