Near the Napo River, two hours from Coca, Ecuador
Now the most luxurious lodge in the Yasuni National Park region of Ecuador, La Selva emerged in mid–2013 under new ownership and major capital investments to offer a great experience in nature and back in your room.
After 30 years of operation, it was time for a changing of the guard at La Selva Jungle Lodge. The European owner of Columbus Travel Group took over the operation and injected some much–needed capital, rebuilding the main lodge and cabins. While making them stronger and more attractive, they are now also up to the standards expected by today's luxury travelers, so the experience is consistently good from wake–up call to bedtime.
The property is in a stunning location on the shore of Lake Garzacocha, a scenic canoe ride from the large Napo River that feeds into the Amazon. This means that in addition to jungle walks and bird–watching from the canopy, you also get a terrific view that changes throughout the day and many excursions skirt the banks of the lake. Despite all the water around, mosquitoes are not much of an issue here: the acidic run–off from the jungle combined with the constant movement of the water together keep them at bay.
Getting here requires some time and effort: a plane ride to Coca, then a two–hour motorized boat trip down the Napo River, then a short walk and canoe ride. Apart from a few oil rigs along the way though it's a pleasant trip and the last part may start you off right with some monkey sightings.
The main building is well laid–out, with a small reception area for orientation and nature presentations, then an expansive area one level up that's a lounge, restaurant, and bar. This communal area has sofas with a view across the water, other sitting areas for conversation, and various dining configurations according to group sizes. A high–powered telescope can zoom in on any birds you see in the trees. You can belly up to the bar and order a cocktail or glass of wine after the day's excursions.
The cuisine here gets high marks from guests, who are surprised to be eating this well so far from a town of any size. Breakfast and often lunch are served buffet style, but with well–chosen, fresh items, including lots of the fruit Ecuador produces in abundance. An omelet station cooks eggs to order. Dinners are more formal and served a la carte from what's fresh. Diners with allergies, special needs, or just "I hate onions" are carefully accommodated.
Activities generally follow a schedule that's set by the animals. You get up early for the first excursion, with a wake–up knock on your door in the wee hours to get ready for breakfast. Up with the wildlife in the cool morning, you may scale the steps to the top of the treetop observatory and see macaws and toucans at their level. Or you may take a quiet canoe trip along the shore of the lake to see tamarind monkeys, squirrel monkeys, howler monkeys, or sea birds skimming the water. One day you'll venture back to the Napo River to see the clay licks where parrots like to load up on minerals, then visit a local village where you can get a sample of life along the waterway and try your skills at shooting a blowgun.
After a combination of lunch and some down time to sleep or do what you want, you go on a later excursion. This may be a night hike with flashlights, a sunset boat trip when the long–nose bats and bulldog bats come out, or a hike to see other animals that come out when the air cools down. During the hours in between, you can take out a kayak, swim in the lake, or visit the butterfly farm on the property.
The "spa" part of La Selva's new name can mean a massage to work out your kinks if you need it, or a package that includes daily yoga classes.
The 18 suites are in multiple buildings spaced across the property. They're a mix of imported niceties (marble tile floors, L'Occitane toiletries) and locally appropriate materials (like bamboo and thatch.) The "Scenic Suites" are quite large, with balconies that have a water view and another sitting area inside. The Superior Suites are similar but have less of a view, while the three Family Suites add more space to the bathrooms, a hot tub on the porch or deck, and a hammock.
All the rooms have fine linens, good reading lights, safes, and lots of nice little touches that take them beyond a basic room in the jungle. Housekeeping services them twice a day, leaving purified drinking water and replenishing towels if desired. You won't get a bath butler or room service, and you may find a frog wandering into your shower, but these accommodations are far more luxurious than you would expect in such a remote setting. There's no air conditioning, which would suck up power and be noisy, but during my stay I actually needed a blanket at night anyway: the breeze and ceiling fans were more than enough. Being lulled to sleep by the sounds of the jungle — but outside the screen doors — was a special way to end the day.
My small group had an excellent guide during my stay, who was knowledgeable without being a show–off and had a strong enough grasp of English to understand three different nationalities' accents. Staffers are friendly and helpful, from top to bottom.
There are basically three professional jungle lodges to choose from in the buffer zone of Yasuni National Park and one further to the south that can only be reached by plane. With La Selva having the newest facilities and best–equipped, however, this is the best choice for those who value comfort and service as high on their list as bird #78 to be checked off a list.
Web Address: LaSelvaJungleLodge.com
Total Number of Rooms: 18
Published rates: $1,100 to $1,370 for 3 or 4-night package, including meals, guided tours, and transfers from Coca airport.
Review and photos by Timothy Scott