Amazon Basin, Ecuador
This community-run ecolodge combines comfort, sustainable practices and amazing Amazon animal encounters deep in the jungle.
The adventure begins long before you reach Napo Wildlife Center Ecolodge on the edge of the Yasuni National Park in the Amazon basin in Ecuador. First, there's the two to three hour speedboat ride on the Napo River away from the port town of Coca. Then guests transfer to long canoes which are paddled by very able bodied staff members along a small, meandering tributary. With no motor to frighten wildlife away, guides easily point out birds and monkeys during the relaxing journey. About an hour and a half later, the tributary opens up into a large lagoon and the Napo ecolodge presents itself on the bank, a vison of thatched roofs and swinging hammocks.
The 16 rooms at the lodge all have wood floors, good private bathrooms with hot water showers, great beds, ceiling fans, 24–hour electricity, window screens, mosquito nets, and private porches with hammocks and furniture. The four larger suites have king beds, an indoor sitting area, plus a furnished porch and outdoor Jacuzzi. There's even Wi-Fi, albeit through a satellite link which means speeds are slow and bad weather can knock it out entirely.
Though all of the accommodations have at least a partial view of the lagoon, rooms 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 are actually waterfront and offer unobstructed vistas.
Ecological measures at the lodge include solar electricity (there is a back-up generator), a ban on outboard motors (hence the paddle canoes), and a hunting and fishing ban. A bio digester turns organic kitchen waste into gas used for cooking, joining a recycling program and a glassed-in "green" elevator that needs less energy to take guests to the top of a new seven–story tall observation tower.
The lodge is owned and operated by the local Kichwa Añangu community. Eighty percent of the staff comes from the Añangu community and 30 percent of lodge profits are distributed to the more or less 30 Kichwa Añangu families in the area. The lodge also uses part of its profits to pay for better teachers and better doctors for their community and they've built a traditional architecture high school that serves students in the whole region. Napo guests can take a day trip to a nearby village to see the development for themselves and even stay overnight there in a rustic sister lodge.
Rates at Napo Wildlife Center include three meals a day and the new kitchen turns out hearty plates made with local ingredients including green plantain, cassava, papaya, pineapple, guava, and more in season. Dishes include Ecuadorian favorites like ceviche (a guest favorite as well), seafood cazuela (a kind of hearty soup) as well as meat and vegetable dishes. Breakfast and dinner are served buffet style and lunch is served as a plated meal. All guests eat together and special diets can be accommodated. The new bar, in the seven–story tower, serves up cocktails, beer, and wine with jungle views (alcohol is not included in rates).
Even more memorable than the services, facilities, eco measures, and community-minded practices at Napo is the caliber of wildlife watching that's possible from the lodge. The area is reportedly home to 173 species of mammals, 567 species of birds, 105 species of amphibians, 83 species of reptiles, 382 species of fish and more than 100,000 species of insects. Guests can go on guided canoe trips or take a short hike to a nearby platform built 130 feet up a tree to observe animals in the tree canopy at dawn. Colorful birds, caimans, and other animals are often visible right from the patio of your room.
During my stay at Napo I saw a three–toed sloth, a pygmy owl, groups of endangered giant otters, blue–and–yellow macaws, white–fronted capuchin monkeys, a prehensile–tailed porcupine, howler monkeys, and much more. The same community that operates Napo Lodge also controls the best clay lick in the area, so Napo guests are also assured access to it and the chance to see one of the planet's rarest and most breathtaking natural spectacles: hundreds of parrots and macaws landing on the ground to eat the mineral rich clay which counteracts natural toxins in their diet.
Then it's back to the lodge for a nap in your hammock or a trip up the tower to enjoy an Amazon sunset, cocktail in hand.
Web Address: www.napowildlifecenter.com
Total Number of Rooms: 12 cabins and 4 luxury suites
Published rates: From $1,289 to $1,489 per person double occupancy for a 4 day/3 night itinerary which includes roundtrip airfare Quito to Coca, all meals (excluding alcohol), boat transfers, and all tours. Guests must be more than five years of age.
Review by Karen Catchpole and photos by Eric Mohl.