Following the Napo River down the eastern slope of the Andes will bring you to the steamy tropical lowlands of the Ecuadorian Amazon, known as the Oriente. The rainforests of this region are the most complex biological communities that exist, and provide the single greatest reservoir of genetic diversity on Earth: a small area can boast 500 species of birds, 400 species of fish and over 100 species of mammals. Not surprisingly, this forest remains a focus for scientific investigation. Estimations suggest that, a mere tenth of the insect species have been named, let alone studied. A short walk soon reveals the huge variety of forms: a monkey just bigger than a mouse; a liana as thick as a man’s waist, a striped frog with poisonous skin; a dry leaf that suddenly sprouts legs and starts walking.
The wonders are there for all to see. The Sacha Lodge lies in the heart of this wilderness, 50 miles down the Napo River from Coca, a small jungle town. Blessed with a stunning lakeside location and experienced and enthusiastic personnel, the lodge provides a base from which to appreciate the raw beauty of the rainforest and a relaxing retreat in which to enjoy the comfort and services available.
After a brief orientation, groups of 4-6 people are assigned their guides, a bilingual naturalist and a local Quichua guide. Before setting out on your first tour, you will be able to settle into your cabin. The accommodations at the Sacha Lodge are truly comfortable, verging on luxurious. While care has been taken to preserve the flavour of the jungle, a few extras have been added to make your stay more enjoyable. .
Our 14 double cabins have been constructed from wood and other natural materials to maintain a rustic feel. Electricity is available from dawn to 10 p.m. and the modern bathrooms have hot showers. Windows are screened against the insects. The cabins are linked together with elevated walkways to the main building where the dining room, bar and lounge are situated. Above the bar is a small look-out that offers views over the lake and lodge. Most of our day, however will be spent in the forest. Mornings start early; groups are usually on the trail by 6 am. Not only is it cooler at this hour, but animal and bird activity is at its peak.
Most trails return you to the lodge for lunch with ample time after for a swim and an afternoon siesta before you hit the trails again. In the evening, a night walk through the rainforest is an experience not to be missed, a sensual delight filled with new scents, sounds and shapes. The trails vary in length from an hour to a full day and there is scope for all abilities and interests.
Sacha Lodge owns 3000 acres of rainforest covering a variety of different habitats, mostly in primary jungle; they range from terra firme to swamp to rivers and lakes. Although most tours are on foot, some can be combined with river trips in a dugout canoe.
Tours are not just limited to the ground either. The forest canopy has been made accessible by the construction of an observation tower that climbs 135 feet into the epiphyte-laden branch of a kapok tree. The jungle stretches to the horizon in all directions. On a clear day, the non snow-capped peak of Sumaco, an extinct volcano 100 miles away is often visible. From this vantage point, flora and fauna, invisible from the ground, can be studied at close quarters. Water-filled tank bromeliads stand by side with spray of orchids; hopping between them is a host of exotic birds with equally exotic names Paradise Tanager, Spangled Cotinga, Many-banded Aracari.
The canopy is one of the least studied habitats and harbours thousands of still unknown plant and animal species. To be surrounded by such richness is a rare experience. One of only a few rigid, self-standing suspension canopy walkways in the world, Sacha’s new addition is also one of the largest such walkways on the planet!
Located within Sacha´s private reserve, 2 miles from the shores of the Rio Napo and 1 mile from the lodge, the bird walk gives guests the opportunity to get an up close and personal view of the rainforest canopy.
Two of the three towers have observation decks every 12 meters (40 feet), making the towers accessible for everyone. The 275 meters (900 feet) long canopy walkway suspended 36 meters (120 feet) above the forest floor, gives guest a “bird’s eye view” of all the wonders and beauty the tropical rainforest has to offer. The canopy walk is designed as a sturdy walkway enabling guests to casually move along at their own pace while enjoying the spectacular views. Further down the Napo from Sacha, a parrot salt lick offers the opportunity to see hundreds of parrots and parakeets.
They are attracted to an impressive red cliff on the riverbank early each morning in order to fulfil their daily mineral requirements. Whether clinging to the cliff or wheeling in circles above it, they provide an unforgettable spectacle of colour and noise.
It is always advisable to consult your physician regarding health measures before travelling. For a short visit to the rainforest, the malaria risk is minimal. Bar items and tips are not included. Drinks at the bar are put on a tab to be paid on the last night. The bill can be paid with US dollars cash, or traveller’s checks. For tips we recommend 5-10 dollars for each guide and 5 dollars for the staff, per person, per day.
Your luggage will be put into plastic bags for the trip down the river, but it is advisable to bring extra bags for valuables and wet clothes. The canoe is covered to protect against sun and rain, but a light jacket or poncho is useful to protect against the wind and the spray. Please remember that no laundry service is available at the lodge so be sure to pack extra T-shirt and socks.