While it's possible to visit the jungle on your own, organized tours and jungle lodges get you into the wilderness quicker and without all the logistics. And you'll avoid encountering ¡indigenous peoples who prefer to see tourists with guides or not at all.
First, figure out how much you can spend, what you want to see and how much time you have. The further youtravel from roads and development, and the more time you spend there, the more wildlife you'll see. The same applies for cultural experiences - longer. More remote trips result in more-authentic encounters. There are no guarantees on either front; the jungle ¡s neither an animal or human zoo.
Lodges and large hotel-style boats offer daily excursions from a comfortable base. Other toursmay include camping or sleeping ¡n communities.
Lower costs may translate to more basic accommodations, Spanish-speaking guides, non- naturalist guides, larger groups, boiled instead of purified water and visits to developed areas with less wildlife. !n some cases, operators may cut corners with practices that are not ecologically sound, ¡including hunting for food. The rainforest ¡s over-hunted;a no-hunting policy is a must.
Different operators emphasize different aspects of the jungle, and each can advise you on the probability of seeing specific wildlife. Observation towers greatly enhance the chances of sighting birds and monkeys.
Visiting indigenous cultures can be done through high-end operators or community tourism. , High-end programs will offer translators, comfortable lodgingand may run beneficial community programs. Community tourism usually offers a more authentic experience, and ¡s better suited to Spanish speakers with strong stomachs who don't mind a more flexible itinerary.
Some unscrupulous outfitters will offer other psychotropics used ritually in indigenous; cultures. These Illegal substances should be regarded with caution (see the boxed text, p256).
LaChoza de Don Wilson (SS 232-0627; mains $3-4) Almost everyone comes to this honky-tonk restaurant for an excellent fillet of trout an3 shots of aguardiente (sugarcane alcohol) to beat off the chills. You'll find it at the juncture with the road to Termas de Papallacta. Cement-floor rooms out back are plain but clean (per person $15), with views of the village below. An enclosed hot pool is a bonus.Situated 40 km along the Quito-Baeza road.
Hiking alone is not advised (it is a jungle out there). Whatever choices you make, tread lightly and respect local communities.
In Quito, numerous operators' offices (see p96) allow for quick, comparative shopping. Agencies can usually get you into the jungle with a few days' notice. Once you've booked a tour, you usually nave to travel tothe town where the tour begins (usually Lago Agrio, Coca, Tena or Misahualli). Thoroughly discuss costs, food, equipment, itinerary and group size before booking.
Booking a tour from Tena, Coca, Puyo or Macas ¡s best if you want short, guided trips to nearby reserves or communities. The Cofán, Hgaorani, Quichua, Shuar and other groups offer trips guided by their own community members.
A goodguide will show you things you would have missed on your own, whereas an inadequate guide may spoil the trip. Guides should be able to produce a license on request and explain their specialties. Recommended guides are always preferable, and many lodges are known for their quality guiding services.
What to Bring
Jungle towns have only basic equipment, including bottled water, tarps (for rain) andrubber boots in an array of sizes. Many guided tours lend the essential boots and rain gear, but check beforehand. Mosquito nets are usually provided in places that need them. If you're serious about seeing wildlife, bring your own binoculars. Some guides will carry a pair, but will need them to make sightings. Besides your general travel supplies, bring a flashlight with extra batteries, sun...