The Huaorani are a timeless tribe. Their origins are unknown and their language (Huaorani translates as ‘The People’) has no relation to any other known tongue. For thousands of years they have made their home in the lush forests of the Amazon, moving silently through the jungle, living amongst the animals and plants, leaving little trace of their presence.
‘The People’ still maintain their traditional lifestyle. But unlike some closely related tribes, who shun outside influences and can be dangerous to approach, they are no longer nomadic hunters. The Huaorani now lead a more settled and open existence in the humid tropical forests of Ecuador.
Huaorani territory takes in some 1.7 million acres, but the presence of western life can be felt even here. The missionaries, the loggers and the oil companies have all had negative impacts on this isolated, but culturally significant people and the health and diversity of its tropical environment. Faced with the destruction of their surroundings and the possible disappearance of their way of life, the Huaorani have chosen to resist. By inviting small numbers of people to share their world for short periods they intend to keep their culture alive. They have opted for sustainable tourism. This is Huaorani Ecolodge.
Getting to know the Amazon - an astonishing environment
The Ecuadorian Amazon, or ‘Oriente’ as it is known locally, forms part of the largest tropical rainforest and river system on the planet, famous for its profusion and diversity of birds, plants and animals. The lush forests are a magnet for discriminating wild life experts, travelers and explorers from all over the world.
Huaorani territory is pure Amazon, complete with wide slow moving rivers, blue skies and a multitude of lush green flowering plants and trees, many of which have still to recognised and classified. A wealth of plant and animal life is waiting to be seen and Huaorani Ecolodge has been designed to provide an intimate entry point into this astonishingly diverse world. Up to now more than 191 species of birds, have been identified by clients and guides. Pumas, Jaguars, Deer, Marmots and numerous other species native to the region have also been spotted.
Huaorani Ecolodge is small. It has been designed to be intimate, harmonious and environmentally sustainable way to share time with the Huaorani and experience the richness of their natural environment, while creating the least possible impact on the surroundings. To that end the lodge provides accommodation for a maximum of ten people housed in five comfortable, traditionally built, palm thatched cabins. All cabins are fully meshed to keep you safe from biting insects, and are spaced to provide privacy and a chance to enjoy the sounds of the balmy Amazon nights.
All contain: a pair of twin beds (which can be joined to create a double if desired); a private bathroom equipped with a shower and flush toilet; drinking water at all times; a porch with comfortable chairs. Electricity is provided 24 hours a day by solar panels. Environmentally-friendly soaps and shampoos are provided. For those days when relaxing is the priority the Lodge provides a hammock house on the banks of the Shiripuno River.
The restaurant provides nutritionally balanced meals, hygienically prepared with care and artistry by the local chefs. Locally grown produce is used wherever possible. Fruit, tea and coffee are always on hand and a bar is available for beer, wine and soft drinks. Locally made handicrafts and souvenirs can be bought from the community shop.
At the Lodge daily activities are designed to give you an opportunity to interact with the host community, observe wildlife and get to know the life of the Huaorani as they move within their forest world. Carefully chosen expert guides and community members will open windows into the Amazon habitat for you. With their knowledge and experience of the jungle they will help you recognize important features of the forest - plants and animals - explaining their significance for the community and showing how the Huaorani live and hunt in this special environment. You will travel quietly, moving by dugout canoe along the strong and tranquil Shiripuno River and on foot along extensive rainforest trails, often in the course of the same day’s activity. Should you feel like spending some time alone in the forest, self guided trails will enable you to enjoy your surroundings.
The Huaorani Ecolodge has a variety of trails (moderate, intermediate and challenging) and activity options that are suitable for a broad range of interests, ages and fitness levels. Our guides will seek to adapt each program according to the interests and capacities of each group.
Every day at the lodge is different, weather changes, river levels increase and decrease, and so on. Ours typical day is structured like this:
These are the approximate times and may vary.
(All itineraries are organized according to your interest and the climatic/seasonal conditions - please find an example itinerary below)
After being picked up early at your hotel, you leave the bustling city of Quito on the first leg of your adventure heading south and across the continental divide and down into the Amazon Basin, known locally as el Oriente, the East. Following a stretch of the Pan American Highway dubbed the Avenue of Volcanoes, an acknowledgement of Ecuador’s membership in the Pacific rim Ring of Fire, you pass near haciendas, towns and protected areas before turning east through a mountain pass to begin the descent toward the rainforest. Many of the haciendas are huge, mostly for raising dairy cows and bullfighting bulls, and invite neighboring indigenous cowboys, chagras, to carry out an annual roundup of scattered cattle known as a rodeo.
Among the towns is one famous for ice cream (Salcedo) and another for jeans clothes (Pelileo) and should the weather hold, you may see one or more of the peaks for which the Avenue is named, all high and steep-sided strato-volcanoes known to have sudden and violent eruptions with long periods of dormancy – among them Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, and Sangay. From the city of Tulcan in the north to Riobamba in the south, there are more than 60 volcanoes, eight of which are considered “active” (have erupted at least once since the Spanish conquest) and 10 of which are “potentially active” (have erupted at least once in the past thousand years). You physically pass over proof of Tungurahua’s recent (late 1999) activities in the form of a river of ash and sediment covering the road, and pass by large stands of non-indigenous eucalyptus and conifer planted to contain erosion and provide firewood, a mixed blessing, and clusters of greenhouses for the huge market in fresh flowers.
The first major town once through the pass is Baños (bah-nyos), named for the thermal baths that draw national and international visitors year round and famous for its sugarcane juice and taffy being pulled in many doorways. Here you join the Agoyan River (which changes name to the Pastaza once it crosses into the province of the same name) and pass through several fairly new tunnels built to avoid some of the many landslides that once upon a time brought traffic to a halt for days on end, while admiring the waterfalls on the other side of the ravine and wondering how anyone could farm such steep slopes. The views are dramatic.
There is a definite change in vegetation, noticeably Spanish moss, bananas and tropical palms, although the air may feel a bit chilly still. A brief stop along the way to partake of a boxed brunch across from one of the larger waterfalls is topped off with local fruits sold at stands along the way, from the same fields you wondered about earlier, including tomate de arbol and granadilla. You arrive after this 4-5 hour drive in the town of Shell (yes, after the oil company), where regular flights in and out of el Oriente by the military, missionaries, various aid groups and charter companies facilitate timely transportation in this vast region that still has few overland routes.
If the weather is on your side, you take off around noon in a light aircraft heading northeast, over the green vastness below punctuated by rivers and settlements, and land in the Huaorani community of Quehueri’ono (keh-weri-oh-noh) 40 minutes later to be greeted by your hosts. Your luggage is taken ahead of you, so you will want to keep your day packs with camera, binoculars, sunscreen and hat with you (and something dry to keep them in); at this point, the rain poncho and rubber boots that you use daily for the rest of your visit are distributed.
You are then poled downstream in a shallow dugout canoe known as a quilla (kee-yah), enjoying the thick vegetation growing along the Shiripuno River (shiree-puno) and catching glimpses of riverside birds such as the Yellow-rumped Cacique, the Greater and Lesser Kiskadees, and any of the four Amazonian kingfishers. You arrive at the intimate setting of Huaorani Ecolodge to settle in, listen to an introductory briefing about the Huaorani and their relationship with the rainforest, and have dinner. L/D
After breakfast, an hour-long walk through the forest to the village to introduce yourselves and meet with your Huaorani hosts. We should stress that although there are still some clans of Huaorani that live down river in voluntary isolation (The Tagaeri and Taromenane) most of the Huaorani today, including our hosts and partners are semi-settled and although they still maintain many of their traditional customs and practices no longer live naked. They typically were shorts and t-shirts. This opportunity to meet with the Huaorani, natives of the rainforest, at home in their territory, is an exceptional and privileged experience. Working together we have structured this visit in a way that establishes a positive and egalitarian relationship between host and visitor - one that is mutually enriching. It is important to read the guidelines for visiting the rainforest provided prior to the visit. The experience of your time with the Huaorani will surely be an enduring memory.
After the community meeting, you will usually visit a Huaorani household for a more personal chat with one of the host families and experience what domesticity in the Amazon headwaters looks like. Around midday you’ll have an expedition lunch on the river or in a forest clearing.
In the afternoon wend your way down river back to the lodge poling in a dugout canoe and watch out for birds and other animals. Dinner.
Most rainforest animals are nocturnal – especially mammals and amphibians, you’ll realize that on your first night with the cacophony that companies nightfall. This evening we normally take a shorter guided walk into the forest around the lodge to look for wildlife. The stars of the night are the insects and the bats, both attracted by your lights, and other animals from insects to caiman reveal their presence by the reflection of their eyes. One of the revelations of a visit to the Huaorani Ecolodge is the night sky. The clarity of the stars on a clear night is truly breathtaking. The complete lack of light pollution allows you to witness the night sky at its absolute best. B/L/D
Hunting day! And you thought this was an environmentally-friendly project? But the Huaorani are hunters and gatherers, and their main sources of protein are mammals (yes, including monkeys), fish and birds. The goals of this project are to protect the tropical rainforest and provide an opportunity for the Huaorani culture to continue flourishing, not to stop their traditional practices.
After breakfast, you go for a long hike with the Huaorani guide, also an experienced hunter. You learn firsthand about the secrets of survival in the rainforest without killing any of the creatures that live there. You learn how to set traps, make fire without matches, build a shelter in minutes, use a blowgun, practice the perfect swing of the machete, and catch fish in small creeks. Your guide may also show you edible insects, medicinal plants, the right clay to make pottery, and honey produced by stingless bees.
The trail has two overlooks as it winds toward the community; the first one has tree trunk seats for some much-needed rest and to allow you to enjoy the view over the forest canopy, where you may see vultures soaring and trees in bloom.
Now down to the river, where you have time to plunge into the water; the canoe will have brought up your swimsuit and sandals and there are plenty of places to change if you use your imagination. The Huaorani love swimming and playing in the water and may join you. Lunch is served on the beach.
Later this is your afternoon with the community. Your visit is not intended to be a pre-planned activity as such, but rather a relaxing, informal social visit. You may call on several houses, talk to family members while sharing a bowl of chucula (a sweet drink made of ripe bananas) under the filtered light of the thatched houses, and admire their beautiful handmade artifacts, including woven hammocks and bags, blowguns, traps and necklaces.
Later on, you visit families’ gardens and learn how to grow edible plants and try to harvest manioc, also known as yucca or cassava. Perhaps you will be invited to join in a game of soccer! Some time is left aside to visit the handicraft market to buy handmade products if you desire. You return to the Lodge by canoe at the end of the afternoon to relax and have dinner, after which your naturalist guide offers a half hour talk, or charla, on a subject of interest.B/L/D
Breakfast, then head down the Shiripuno River in traditional Huaorani style in order to appreciate the sounds and sights of the rainforest, watching for birds and other wildlife. We never know what we will see, but our wildlife monitoring project has confirmed that all the rainforest mammals are present in our Conservation Area, and this is where you have the best chance of seeing something.
Leaving early, you are sure to catch many birds unawares, and the tranquility allows you to appreciate what life must have been like before the advent of motorized canoes. You can use this time to have intimate conversations with your spouse, to learn some Huaorani and/or Spanish vocabulary, and to enjoy the simplicity of traditional slow travel in the rainforest. The sound of wooden poles splashing in the water as you wind your way down river is hypnotic. Rounding a bend the dugout arrives at the tiny village of Apaica where Huaorani families will welcome you with smiles and playful entreaties to buy their handicrafts as you take a break to stretch your legs. Shortly afterwards a short stop for lunch on a beach and a swim recharges you for the rest of the trip.
This 6-7 hour journey ends at the Nenquepare campsite, where your tents will be already erected for you on wooden platforms beneath palm thatched roofs. Overnight at Nenquepare campsite. B/L/D
Breakfast, then back on the river for the last stretch of the river journey, depending on river conditions this may be poling or with a motorized dugout.
You continue downstream emerging from the primary forest of Huaorani territory into the world of settlers and oil companies (although it all used to be Huaorani territory). At the point where a road built by oil companies in the early 1990s crosses the river, you leave the forest and head to “civilization”.
The symbols of modern deforestation are the roads. They provide access and means for human populations to grow at a rapid rate, which affects indigenous peoples by displacing them from the best and most accessible agricultural soils (which aren’t particularly well-suited to begin with); reducing territory available for hunting and gathering; and encouraging them via settler example and government policy to increase their reliance on agriculture and timber extraction and to convert their land from communal resource.
Here, you witness the crude reality of our collective thirst for oil as you ride alongside the miles of pipelines, which go from the Huaorani community of Tihuino to Lago Agrio, the oil hub of el Oriente, to be pumped across the Andes to the port of Esmeraldas and then onto a gas station near you. This brief journey through oil territory illustrates the reality of the threat facing the rainforest and the Huaorani people. After a 2.5 hour ride, you reach the banks of the Rio Napo and the town of Coca, where you board your scheduled flight to Quito.B
NB:Please read all itineraries as a guide only. All routes and programs can change without notice due to National Park policies and regulations, weather conditions, seasonal changes, safety reasons and the wildlife encountered during the travel. Flexibility is the key to the success of any tour. Nevertheless the safety and the interest of our passengers is always our first priority.
|5 DAYS 4 NIGHTS||USD|
|4 DAYS 3 NIGHTS|
Included in the price:
Accommodation in huts for 2 people each with private bathroom with shower and toilet
Local Huaorani guide
Bilingual naturalist guide
All meals (B= breakfast; L= Lunch/Box Lunch; D= Dinner)
Free purified water, coffee, tea
Use of all general equipment (rubber boots up to size European 44;
American M 10.5 / F 12; British M 10 / F 9.5 , rain ponchos, lifejackets, umbrella)
Biodegradable soap & shampoo
Not included in the price
Entrance fee to Huaorani Territory (US$10 per person)
Rubber/Wellington boots greater than sizes: European 44;
American M 10.5 / F 12; British M 10 / F 9.5
Alcoholic beverages and soft drinks
Everything that has not been included in the program