Let me tell you a story about one of the most beautiful journeys I have ever experienced. A journey to the heart of the living and pulsating Amazonia. Such wonders only in Ecuador!
Despite its small size, Ecuador is a fascinating and full of surprises South American country, still less chosen than other countries of the continent and definitely less discovered by mass tourists. All this speaks in favor of Ecuador. Ecuador owns the beautiful Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean, and on the mainland, the country has breathtaking coastal beaches and deserts. Further inland, there is the majestic Andes Mountains range with snow-capped peaks and lovely valleys, and on the eastern slopes, there are over 42,000 square miles (108,779 km2) of the Ecuadorian rainforest.
Over the years, this precious ecosystem has remained almost intact and underdeveloped, making a visit here a great opportunity to experience what it means to be fully immersed in the natural, unspoiled jungle of rainforests.
The Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest is one of the most magical places on our planet, full of life and multi-sensory experiences. Many captivating sounds, landscapes, textures, tastes, and smells guarantee an experience like no other, and every now and then, you have to pinch yourself to make sure that you’re not daydreaming.
The Amazon can be explored in several ways, but cruising is definitely one of the most unique. There is only one company that offers this experience – Anakonda Amazon Cruises. The Anakonda’s Amazon cruises traverse the mythical waters of the Napo River, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon, and plunge into the abysses of the Yasuní National Park, which in 1989 was recognized by UNESCO as one of the biosphere reserves and was chosen by National Geographic as one of the seven sustainable destinations in 2022.
And this is just the beginning…
Amazonia – welcome to the green heart of our world
By entering the Ecuadorian Amazon, you are entering a world that few people have the opportunity to experience. The smells, sounds, and flavors here are completely different, unique and will undoubtedly be remembered forever.
Ecuador covers only 2% of the entire Amazon, but this relatively small area is one of the most diverse and unspoiled areas in South America and perhaps in the world. The Yasuní National Park is located here, recognized as one of the most biodiverse places on Earth due to the massive number of species of animals and plants that inhabit it.
There are over 200 species of butterflies, 596 species of birds, 150 species of amphibians, 121 species of reptiles, and 200 species of mammals in the Yasuní National Park, and their number is constantly growing. More than 1,100 species of trees grow on every quarter of a kilometer (62 acres) of land. Some scientists say the park’s level of biodiversity is so high that any trip to the rainforest may end up discovering a new species. This alone is impressive because each subsequent day can make you see something that no one has seen before, and this in our world is truly unique.
Anakonda Cruise and Manatee Cruise – a ship cruise around Amazonia
When I was going to Ecuador for a cruise on the Amazon River, I knew it would be a bridge between the Amazonia world and the modern world. It is a way to immerse yourself in a place full of ancestral traditions, history, and the most amazing species of animals, but in a unique, luxurious form. I like such non-obvious ways of traveling, the echo of which stays in my head for a long time.
Anakonda Amazon Cruises is the only cruise line operating in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest to be nominated in three different categories in the first edition of the World Cruise Awards and received the Latin America’s Best River Cruise Award. The Anakonda Amazon cruise ship received the Best Boutique Cruise Line in South America award, awarded by the World Travel Awards in 2016. And this is not surprising because Anakonda ships offer incredible experiences, combining adventure with luxury.
There are two cruises to choose from:
The first is the Anakonda Amazon Cruise – the Amazon’s most emblematic expedition vessel inspired by the powerful holy spirit of the Anakonda, giver of life, and guardian of the waters.
It is majestic and impressive. It reminds of the famous expedition in search of the El Dorado and the Valley of Cinnamon by Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana, which began in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Although the goal was not reached, it led to one of the greatest discoveries of the time – the largest river in the world – the Amazon River.
The second is the Manatee Amazon Explorer – a luxury adventure ship inspired by the protection of species inhabiting this amazing natural paradise and named after one of them, the elusive and gentle Manatee. This beautiful ship symbolizes the vital role of biodiversity in maintaining the balance of the pristine ecosystem of Ecuadorian Amazonia.
I was fortunate to be on both of them.
Life on a cruise sailing through the Amazon
Everyone always wonders what life on board is like in a place as cut off from civilization as the Amazon, and interestingly enough, the experience has nothing to do with the harsh conditions of the jungle. It is downright obscenely luxurious, which I found out, again and again, every day of the cruise.
On both ships, there are four spacious deluxe suites (24m2/258 sq ft) with a private balcony, AC, and a private bathroom with hot water and a spa bathtub.
In addition, 14 apartments on the riverside (20m2/ 215 sq ft) with French balcony, air conditioning, and private bathroom.
The best part is that each room has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the river and rainforest regardless of the room option. Such view every day in the morning after opening your eyes and just before falling asleep, is in my opinion the greatest luxury that you can imagine.
Ecuadorian coffee at sunrise with the sounds of the jungle in the background has never tasted as good as here.
The cruises themselves are a master of technology and seem to meet all the needs of passengers. They are perfectly equipped and designed. Each ship has three decks. On the first deck of the ship are the hall, dining room, and crew quarters. The restaurant is impressive and elegantly decorated; a multi-course à la carte menu is served three times a day. There were new dishes to choose from every day, and no dish was repeated. The selection and presentation were surprising, top-notch, and in a gourmet style. I would never expect to enjoy steak, fresh seafood, or artistic, original desserts in the heart of Amazonia. And all rich in local flavors straight from Ecuador. In addition, a wide selection of wines adapted to each dish.
Disclaimer! It was just my opinion, I asked all cruise participants what they thought about the meals served, and everyone said that the meals were amazing and that they liked literally everything. Let’s also appreciate the fact that preparing sophisticated dishes at the level of a five-star restaurant on a ship sailing through the Amazon is quite a challenge and a phenomenon! I was truly impressed by the chef and all the staff for reaching this level.
On the second deck of the ship, there are boutique and standard suites, and on the third deck, there is a bar, spacious lounge with a view, and deluxe suites.
The best, however, is the upper deck with sundeck and attention – the rooftop jacuzzi. I don’t know if there could be a more unreal experience than sitting in a jacuzzi and drinking champagne on the roof of a ship that sails across the Amazon. Simply wonderful!
Anakonda and Manatee are virtually identical, and the only difference is that Anakonda is a bit larger and can accommodate more guests. I really liked the fact that the ships were intimate, and even with full occupancy, about 30 people there was a calm, relaxed atmosphere on board, and there were no distractions from nature around.
Cruise around the Amazon – day by day
Ship life starts very early in the morning – around 6.00 am when breakfast is served. At around 7:30 am, we take a canoe down the river and deep into the jungle. Firstly, because it is easiest to see the animals and birds in the morning, the light is the best, and the weather is most tolerable. Rain is also the least likely in the morning, and rain has an entirely different dimension in the Amazon. Rain is intense and can turn the plans upside down, so the guides do everything in their power to avoid it.
Depending on which ship and what cruise schedule you choose, you can count on different experiences and activities. However, all of them will be unique and will allow you to get to know the fantastic world of Amazon. There are four, five, and eight-day cruises to choose from.
Sure, the longer the journey, the more time and possibilities, but personally, I think five days on the ship gives enough time to come back with a range of experiences. Many of the activities planned for the guests are the same on both cruised.
I started with the Anakonda cruise, and then I moved to the Manatee ship on which I reached the border of Ecuador and Peru.
Let me tell you what this trip was like …
Quito – Coca – Napo River
My journey began in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. After a 30-minute flight from Quito to the Amazonian city of Coca, I changed to a speedboat, which for 90 minutes glided down the river into the Amazon. The journey down the river, offering the first contact with the beauty of the Amazon, was already an attraction itself. I was warmly welcomed by the ship’s entire crew, local naturalists, and the captain when I got on board. Ecuadorians are incredibly kind people with smiles on their faces, so you feel comfortable around in the twinkling of an eye.
The first day was mostly time on the ship and enjoying truly luxurious rooms overlooking the river, chilled champagne waiting in the room, a hot shower after a long day, and a great dinner served by an excellent chef. The first impressions were stunning!
After dusk, we went with a guide for a night walk in the forest to listen to the sounds of the rainforest and observe the night animals.
Pañacocha and mystical Piranha Lagoon
On the second day at dawn, immediately after breakfast, we set off in a motorized canoe for a journey downstream to the Pañayacu delta. Our goal was not only a have a walk in the jungle but also to take a canoe to Lake Pañacocha (in Kichwa: Piranha Lagoon), an ecosystem flooded by the black waters of the river.
The surrounding protected rainforest is inhabited by primates and birds, and it is also an excellent habitat for piranhas, Paíche, or pirarucu (one of the largest freshwater fish in the world), the white caiman, and hundreds of other aquatic animals. The surrounding protected rainforests are home to primates and various species of birds that jump over our heads all day long. As you probably guessed, I kept the camera in my hand all the time because it was such a beautiful experience that I wanted to capture every little detail.
Home of the legendary Pink River Dolphin and Secoya community
The following day we visited the lower reaches of the Napo River, which allowed us to observe various species of birds up close, including eagles, oropendolas, and the famous Amazonian woodpeckers. In the afternoon, we reached Yasuni National Park, one of the most biodiverse places in the world. The legendary pink dolphins live in Yasuni National Park. On the way, I saw a few of them, which is rare, so it was even more of a beautiful experience.
The area is also home to many indigenous communities living in the area long before the Spanish conquistadors first set foot in the Amazon. Their life revolves around the water even more than the rainforest itself because it is mainly the river and lakes that are their food source. This is reflected in the story of the creation of the world – it all starts with the creation of water, then forest, plants, animals, and finally, people. According to them, life began in the water, which is the driving force of the earth.
These ancient cultures call the rainforest their home to this day and continue the lifestyle of their ancestors, as they did long ago when they first embarked on a canoe carved from tree trunks to discover their world.
Currently, there are nine indigenous cultures in the Ecuadorian Amazon: Kichwas, Shuar, Shiwiar, Cofán, Siona, Secoya, Zápara, Andoa, and Huaorani. Many of them are open to contact with visitors, but there are also two tribes (known as the Tagaeri and Taromenane) who have chosen to live in isolation and avoid any contact with the modern world. They live within the boundaries of the Yasuní National Park, and the Ecuadorian constitution protects them and their right to remain undisturbed.
Secoyas also live near Yasuni. They eagerly welcome tourists and share their everyday experiences.
Colorful parrots and meeting with Kichwas
The next morning was probably the one that I was most excited about. On that day, we were scheduled to sail to one of the most amazing places on this side of the Western Amazon to see the famous clay licks. This unique place is rich in minerals and attracts hundreds of colorful parrots and Amazon birds that come here to feed on the clay. This allows tourists to have close contact with Macaw parrots, which are generally skittish and extremely rarely seen walking in the rainforest.
Parrots eat fruit and grains that contain toxins and have learned to eat clay to neutralize them. For this reason, they come here several times a day, which gives us a chance to admire them very closely. To be honest – it was one of my favorite moments of this trip.
To all those who also love bird watching and photographing – I guarantee you, you will be delighted!
In the afternoon, we also had the chance to visit the Kichwa women’s community project, where you can learn a lot about the lifestyle of the natives along the Napo River, the culture of their ancestors and their communities, as well as the opportunity to participate in the Charapas turtle protection program that Anakonda Cruises supports together with this community.
Observation tower and sunset over Amazonia
The next day started with another trip to the primeval forest and admiring the various species of endemic plants and wild animals. The guides were terrific! Most of them were born and raised in these areas, so they are great at showing their home. They do it with empathy, love for nature, and passion.
We visited a primeval forest full of various plant species and endemic wild animals including unique bird known as the hoatzin, or as it is locally called, the stinky turkey. The sounds of the jungle are a constant companion of the Ecuadorian Amazon and remind us of the abundance of life that surrounds us in this extraordinary place. Incredibly stimulating is the constant hum of insects, interrupted by the singing of birds, frogs, and toads, calling to attract their partners. And, of course, the monkey’s haunting call howls, a sound unlike any other that reminds you that you are, in fact, in the heart of the wilderness.
One of the great experiences in the Amazon is the 45-meter high observation tower built on top of a giant, 1000-year-old kapok tree. It offers an impressive 360° view of the treetops and the endlessness of the Amazonia.
You come here for the sunset because it knocks you down from this perspective like nowhere else. It was my last point of this trip, and honestly, I could not have dreamed of a better place to say goodbye to the Amazon and once again realize how wonderful, diverse, and mysterious our world is.
Sustainable traveling and a unique educational journey
I believe that in the present world of mass tourism, which is more and more developed and accessible to an increasing number of travelers, we must focus even more on sustainable travels and journeys that care for the environment, protect local cultures, and, above all, have educational value.
Amazon Cruises are a great example of such traveling, and I am more than happy that I could be a part of them and share my experiences with you. Behind the whole idea is CEO Raul Garcia, who developed a sustainable ecotourism model called the “Amazon Sustainability Circle”. It includes more than 15 indigenous communities along the Napo River and works with two endangered species conservation programs – Charapa turtles and Pink River dolphins.
Thus, the Anakonda Amazon Cruises created an alternative form of income for local communities. It provided authentic experiences for tourists, the opportunity to discover fascinating places, enjoy biodiversity, and learn about ancestral cultures while helping to protect this incredible ecosystem.
All the guides working for Anakonda Amazon Cruise are Ecuadorian and were born here, which is why they understand the nature and people here so well. Their sensitivity, knowledge, and respectful approach to the natural world and the minorities inhabiting these areas are unique, touching, and, most importantly, they really teach those who want to listen and understand this world. It is not an ordinary journey. It is a journey that you take a lot from and, above all, broadens awareness.
What you should know before traveling to the heart of the Amazonia?
Weather – from rain to sun in no time
The climate in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest never changes drastically. Throughout the year, temperatures range from 79°F to 95°F (26°C to 35°C). Due to Ecuador’s location on the equator, the sun rises and sets at the same time every day, without the need to switch to daylight saving time. For the same reason, Ecuadorian rainforests have only two main seasons, that is, the cooler dry season (June – September) and the warmer wet season (October – May). Regardless of the season, you have to take into account sudden rainfalls.
Living according to the rhythm of nature – you cannot always stick to the plan
Even though being on a ship can sometimes make you forget that you are in the heart of wildlife, it is enough to jump into a canoe in the morning to quickly remember that you are in a world where nature dictates its conditions. Although the entire crew of the ship tries to stick to the plan when it comes to visiting places and the things planned for a given day, plans often needs to be changed unexpectedly. Suddenly it will start to rain (and the rain in the Amazon will escalate very quickly), the tides in the river will change, so the ship has to slow down, or due to the dry season, there will be more shoals in the river, which affects the course of the voyage.
I have experienced it all, so my only advice is not to worry about the changes, take nature as it is, and accept any changes the ship’s crew proposes with a considerable dose of understanding. This is one of those unpredictable journeys, and you never know what Amazonia has to offer on a given day.
Internet and communication with civilization
The fact that you can sometimes connect to the internet is truly remarkable in a place so far from civilization. Depending on where the captain stays overnight on a given day, it is possible to catch the signal or not. It is not fast internet, but it allows you to check your e-mail. My advice, however, is not to plan to work during the trip because trying to stay in touch online can be frustrating (been there, done that).
The Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest is a living laboratory that invites you to experience things we have no chance for in a busy digital world. It allows us to return to the essence of life, learn from it and reconnect with nature. This is the purpose of this journey!
Vaccinations and mosquitoes
As for vaccinations, there are no compulsory vaccinations when traveling to Ecuador. There is only a standard, worldwide recommended set of primary immunizations that are simply good to have when traveling to the tropics: hepatitis A and B, typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria and cholera. In the Amazon region (especially from Colombia – that’s where it is required) – yellow fever vaccine is recommended.
Be sure to also take repellants with you (preferably with a high DEET content, such as Mugga), especially if you plan to go out during the rainy season. I traveled around the Amazonia in the dry season, but I used repellants regularly, although there were not many mosquitoes, which is even surprising and not what I expected from this region.
What to take with you to Amazonia
This is the Amazonia, so no matter whether it is dry or rainy, it will be hot, rainy and humid.
- Quick-drying clothes and those that are breathable, i.e., made of fabrics such as linen, work best. Choose long sleeves and legs because they also protect against mosquitoes. I spent practically the entire trip wearing leggings and linen shirts. They worked perfectly.
- Go with neutral colors for your clothes and avoid obtrusive bright or white clothes so as not to distract or scare the animals. The more you blend in with your surroundings, the better.
- Sneakers are a must. I walked around the Amazon in Vans, and it was great
- Rain boots and raincoat – provided for guests on board, which is a great help with limited luggage.
- Swimsuit – there will be places where you can swim. It would be a pity, if you would have to pass on it.
- High SPF sunscreen (the sun shines very hard close to the equator, even if you do not feel it through the clouds).
- Sunglasses with a UV filter – for the same reason as above.
- A cap with a visor or something else that will cover you head – irreplaceable!
- Nice and elegant things will be useful on the ship – after all, it is a luxury ship and you do not want to eat a tasting dinner in outdoor clothes.
- You don’t have to worry aboutcharging your devices- everything can be charged on the ship, there is normal electricity.
- A waterproof backpack will be useful – you often walk in the rain; you don’t want to get your camera wet in your canoe.
- Hand sanitizer will come in handy in the field, and always use it before eating. These are still the tropics, and you need to take care of hygiene.
- Photographic equipment – in my case it was Olympus OM‑D E‑M1 Mark III camera, and lenses: M.Zuiko Digital ED 100‑400mm F5.0‑6.3 IS and M.Zuiko Digital ED 14‑150mm F4‑5.6 II