Bucket List Places: Amazon Rainforest Experience Rating
|Overall Experience||★★★★★||Excellent for those who enjoy wildlife and adventure.|
|Service||★★★★★||Service on the Manatee Amazon Explorer was outstanding.|
|Food||★★★★★||Delicious food. One of the best culinary experiences on any cruise.|
|Cabin||★★★★★||Comfortable cabin with balcony, floor to ceiling glass windows, scenic bath tub.|
|Boat||★★★★★||Gorgeous design with lots of lounge areas and incredible views from every deck.|
Into the Jungles of the Ecuadorian Amazon on the Manatee Explorer – An Anakonda Amazon Cruise.
Traveling to Ecuador is a bucket list experience in and of itself. The Ecuadorian Amazon is a vast wilderness filled with adventure, wildlife and incredible scenery. Although it could be done as a short trip from Quito, for the ultimate Amazonian bucket list experience we highly recommend a trip with Anakonda Amazon Cruises aboard the Manatee Amazon Explorer. Read on for a detailed account and review of our experience.
Day 1. First Impressions.
Power Canoe ride down the Napo river.
Our guide, Avel, greeted us at the Coca, Ecuador airport when we landed. Together, we headed to the Coca dock where we boarded the power canoe. Excitement took over as we took off down the Napo river into the jungles of the Ecuadorian Amazon.
The canoe ride flew by quickly, quite literally, as we sped down the massive river taking in the jungle surroundings. Our guide talked about the history of the area, and about the indigenous tribes that make this vast Amazon jungle their home. He described some of the wildlife we may be lucky enough to encounter on our journey. After approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes, we spotted our home for the next 5 days, the Manatee Amazon Explorer.
Exploring the boat and amenities.
Arriving at the boat, I was awestruck by its beauty and modern design. The Manatee Amazon Explorer had recently undergone renovations. The details of every part of the boat were well thought out and luxurious. There were several lounge areas with many floor-to-ceiling glass windows. This guaranteed a great view no matter where you are located on the boat. It became clear that choosing where to lounge would be the hardest part of the trip.
We set sail down the river, deeper into the Amazon toward the Peruvian border. Our suite was the Anakonda on the third floor. It comes with a private balcony and a bathroom outfitted with a jacuzzi tub by a large window. The setting is perfect for enjoying the views while you soak.
The room is a decent size with amazing views and impeccable design. After exploring our room, we took off to the dining room for lunch. With a morning full of traveling, we were quite hungry and looking forward to it.
First dining experience.
The Manatee Amazon Explorer dining room offers surrounding views of the jungle. This allowed us to enjoy the cruise while we ate. With large glass windows, it was easy to spot howler monkeys in the tree tops and a toucan flying across the river into the canopy.
The meal was incredible. Each dish was unique, allowing us to try a variety of new flavors that we have never had before. Our favorite from lunch was the dessert. A fig and cheese cake with crispy crust on the top and bottom. Perfectly balanced and fresh.
First excursion aboard The Manatee Explorer.
After a bit of relaxing, it was time for our first excursion of the trip. We boarded the power canoe for a tour with our guide. Circumventing an island in the middle of the Napo, we looked for wildlife native to the Ecuadorian Amazon. Although we didn’t see any big animals, we did see many different types of exotic birds. Some birds we saw included yellow-headed caracara, greater ani, jays, great herons, and many others. We got back to the boat as the sun was setting, just in time for dinner.
Day 2. Crossing into the Pervuian Amazon.
Morning Amazon wildlife viewing from the top deck.
The morning started off with an opportunity to wake up early to do some bird watching. Our naturalist guide pointed out wildlife from the top deck as the jungle awoke around us. I was the only one to take advantage of this and was able to ask lots of questions about the area and our guide’s life.
Since our guide is Quichua and grew up in the Ecuadorian Amazon it was very interesting to hear from him about his life, his family and the cultures of the various tribes in the Amazon region in Ecuador. We spotted many interesting animals including a Golden crested tamarind monkey which is quite rare to see. We also saw many birds including macaws, parrots, caracara, and many others.
Time flew by and it was time for breakfast. The meal started with a bowl of fresh fruit, fresh baked pastries and a variety of cheese. The main course was a Benedict Manatee-style, covered in a delicious citrusy hollandaise sauce.
Spotting the Pygmy marmoset.
After breakfast it was time for our first off-boat excursion of the day. We took off from the boat to meet an indigenous family. This family was also Quichua, like our guide, so they were able to speak the same language. We had the opportunity to see how they live and learn about their lifestyle.
We started off the excursion with a short walk on the family’s land into the jungle in search for the world’s tiniest monkey, the Pygmy marmoset. Our guide said there is a family of them that lives in the trees in the area. If we were lucky, we may have a chance to spot them. After a while searching, our guide called us over. He was able to spot a single Pygmy marmoset in a tree.
Excitement built as we quickly rushed over to him to try and catch a glimpse.
Pygmy marmoset grow only to a maximum of six inches. This makes them very difficult to see, especially high up in the trees. After minutes of trying to identify what our guide was pointing to, I finally spotted it in the upper branches. With big eyes and tiny hands, this adorable Pygmy marmoset monkey was clinging to a tree watching us. We spent some time observing and taking pictures before it was time to go and meet the family.
Meeting the Quichua family.
When we got back to the home where the family lives, our guide heard another call in the distance. This time it was a different species of monkey, a Black crested tamarind monkey. After spending some time searching in the direction of the call, he was able to spot them. In the distance, a family of monkeys were jumping around from tree branch to tree branch. It was truly incredible how much knowledge our guide had of the birds and animals in the surrounding area. He was able to identify them simply from their calls.
Being in the family’s home and learning about their life was fascinating. The patriarch of this family is raising the children on his own because his wife passed away. The daughters were in the other living area watching television thanks to a local NGO, who with the help of the government, set up electricity for them.
One of the younger daughters cautiously emerged from the other room to take a look at us. She hung around and observed us with curiosity while our guide described the life of the native people. Soon it was time to go back to the boat and relax a bit before lunch. We would have a full day of exploring the jungle in store for us in the afternoon.
First experience seeing Amazonian pink river dolphins and grey dolphins.
As always, the meal was delicious. In general, the dining on board was the best I have had on any cruise ship. It was a culinary experience in and of itself. The boat approached the Peruvian border and it was time to load back into the power canoes to explore deeper in this part of the Peruvian Amazon. I was excited to step on land in Peru to meet another indigenous family from a different tribe called Secoya.
On our way, we stopped by the head of another river. The area is common for spotting the famous Amazonian pink river dolphins. This is because a lot of fish converge in that area creating the perfect fishing ground for them. Right as we arrived, our guide spotted a grey dolphin in front of our boat, hunting. It is much smaller than the pink dolphin and unlike the pink dolphin has a dorsal fin. Our guide said they are very rare to see.
We were fixated on the grey dolphin when our guide called out to us. The Amazonian pink river dolphins were also there on the other side fishing. We had the opportunity to watch both species of dolphins as they fished in the dark, murky waters.
Meeting the Secoya family in the Peruvian Amazon.
Once the dolphins disappeared, we continued on to meet the Secoya family. The tribe was located on the Peruvian Amazon border. This time, we visited a village where many houses were seen along a dirt road. The patriarch of the family came to greet us, dressed in local attire. This was a contrast to the previous family who were dressed in jeans and t-shirts.
Our guide was famous with this family because last time he was here he made a grasshopper out of leaves from a palm tree. They pleaded for him to do it again. He pulled down a set of leaves and began weaving. The whole family, adults and children alike, gathered around in wonder. The pure joy and delight on their faces was heartening to observe.
Exploring deeper into the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest.
The next stop on our trip took us to another creek where at the mouth, dolphins come to fish and feed. There were no dolphins when we arrived so we continued up the small creek and headed toward a large lake that the creek stems from. The scenery on the creek was breathtaking. Vegetation and trees of all type towered over us as we floated deeper into the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle. Along the way we looked for wildlife. We spotted different species of birds and a family of red howler monkeys up in a tree.
The lake was massive, filled with islands covered in vegetation. Our guide described the wildlife in the area that makes this great lake their home. Everything from anaconda, several species of caiman -some he described as especially aggressive, piranha and others. Makes you extra alert to keep all hands and feet inside the safety of the canoe.
The sun was starting to go down and we had a long journey back to our boat. After a short stop to observe one pink river dolphin back at the mouth of the river, we took off back to the boat where a delicious dinner was waiting for us.
Day 3. Day Time and Night Time Adventures in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Private morning bird watching excursion.
We woke in the morning to gorgeous Ecuadorian Amazon jungle views from our bed and eagerly got ready for our 6:30am bird and wildlife watching tour. Since the trip was so early, we were the only guests that wanted to go so we had the pleasure of a private tour. The jungle was wide-awake and ready for us. Varieties of birds including two different species of toucans buzzed around between trees looking for their breakfast.
As we made our way down the creek, we spotted a bat falcon perched in the tree followed by a roadside hawk on the opposite side of the river. We then came upon a log poking out of the river and our guide motioned to us to come over. “Tell me what you spot on that log,” he said. Looking up and down the log I saw nothing that stood out to me. Then, toward the lower end of the log I saw movement. It was a dozen or so tiny bats clinging side by side on the log. The bats were adorable; quite a treat to end our morning tour before we headed back to the boat.
Learning to weave.
After a delicious Ecuadorian breakfast, we were summoned to the upper outside deck for a weaving demonstration. A man of many talents, our guide Avel was out there prepared with leaves from coconut trees ready to share with us his gift of being able to turn the plant into useful things. We learned to make baskets, a hat and a tool to delight children with, the grasshopper from the other day. It was a fun, creative exercise that everyone eagerly participated in.
We were so fixated on trying to make the perfect grasshopper that we forgot to watch the time. There was a cooking class led by the amazing Manatee Amazon Explorer chef that started two minutes earlier. We rushed down the stairs to the kitchen to learn to make a famous Ecuadorian dish, ceviche.
Cooking class led by the Manatee Amazon Explorer chef.
The center table in the dining room was set up with fresh vegetables. Two large empty bowls and carafes filled with a lime-passion fruit marinade and a lime-orange marinade stood on the table. Four stations were each set up with cutting boards. The chef directed a person to each station designated to chop different things; onions, tomatoes, hearts of palm and bell peppers.
The final result was two Ecuadorian ceviches; one was shrimp marinated in lime-orange with onions and tomatoes with a splash of ketchup, the other a vegetarian ceviche, made of hearts of palm marinated in lime-passion fruit with onions and peppers. They were both incredibly delicious but my favorite was the hearts of palm ceviche for its perfectly balanced flavor of acidity with a hint of sweetness.
Kayaking on the Napo River in the Amazon.
The day on the Manatee Amazon Explorer was filled with activities. After a short break, we boarded the power canoe for an afternoon excursion to go kayaking on the river. Our boat driver tied off the power canoe to a broken tree log wedged into the ground on the Napo river and plopped the kayaks in so we could take off on our adventure. The current pushed us down the Napo river in between beautiful islands as we searched for wildlife in the trees. It reminded me of floating down the lazy river at amusement parks.
The kayak excursion ended on a sandy beach where we had the opportunity to swim. I opted out and instead took a walk to explore the area a bit. We were, after all, in the Ecuadorian Amazon so the opportunity to see wildlife was endless. Soon our power canoe showed up to pick us up and take us on a tour to look for monkeys.
Again, Avel’s spotting skills delivered. In the trees were a family of Woolly monkeys. They were quite impressive in size and very human-like. It was a wonder to watch them as they made their way across the canopy, picking at leaves and berries in the trees.
Night walk in the Amazon jungle.
When we got back, we quickly changed into our gear for our night walk in the Amazon jungle. Nervousness and anticipation set in at the prospect of walking in a jungle full of dangerous wildlife with very little ability to see into the darkness. With torches in hand and boots on our feet, we set off down the path into the wilderness.
Avel pointed out various nocturnal creatures including a ground tarantula, the poisonous wolf spider and bullet ants, a green tree frog, a tiny frog that was also poisonous, various sorts of insects and a Kinkajou which is a nocturnal animal in the racoon family. After a fun night-time Ecuadorian Amazon adventure, it was time to head back to our boat and enjoy a late dinner to wrap up an incredible day.
Day 4. Monkeys, Piranhas and Sloths, Oh my!
The sloths of Pañacocha
The day started out bright and early with a morning excursion in Pañacocha (Kichwa for Piranha Lake). Pink river dolphins passed by to greet us as we entered the creek. It would be a foreshadow to a day filled with wildlife. Drifting further down, Avel spotted Dusty Titi monkeys in the trees. We stayed for some time watching and photographing them as they curiously observed us from the canopy.
The landscape in the area was completely different than we had seen on previous days. The vegetation grew through the water as there is no solid land for many miles. It was very different than the traditional mangroves that I had experienced in places like Florida and the Caribbean. Here, full trees grew from the swampy landscape and roots of trees hang down from massive tree trunks to dig themselves into the ground underneath the water.
Further down the creek, we saw a sloth way up in the tree top. We also spotted another log with the same type of cute tiny bats clinging to it as we saw the day before. The Amazon jungle teemed with wildlife. We spotted red howler monkeys and even a baby anaconda that swam across the river in front of our boat as we made our way.
Swimming and fishing for Piranhas in Pañacocha.
Eventually we made it to Pañacocha (Piranha lake) where our guide said people could jump in for a swim. The name of the lake definitely definitely gave me a pause but the heat certainly made the desire to jump in higher than the fear of Piranhas.
After a swim in the lake, Avel took us Piranha fishing so we could see these vicious fish close up. Piranha fishing in the Amazon rainforest is a bucket list activity for some in and of itself. The high water made fishing a lot more challenging. After some time he was able to catch one to show what the razor teeth looked like up close.
On the way back to the boat, Avel stopped at a section of trees with very sharp thorns and asked us to look between the branches to see if we noticed something. There, camouflaged with a branch, sat a night bird sleeping at the top of a broken tree.
Trekking through mud and swamp.
Our afternoon excursion started off with a walk through the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest that led us to a creek which had canoes waiting for us. We trekked through mud and in some parts even swamp that nearly reached the top of the rubber boots that were provided to us by the cruise company. It was an adventure and team building exercise as we piled one by one on the logs put in the water to keep us from sinking, the person in front holding the hand of the person behind them.
Canoeing through Amazonian mangroves.
Once we reached the destination, we boarded the canoes while Avel described the area and some of the possible wildlife we might spot there. He said we should be on the lookout for Black caimans, which are in the same family as alligators, and are regularly spotted in this area of the Ecuadorian Amazon as this is the ideal environment for them to live and hunt.
The canoes contained wooden bench seats. Each of the passengers got in one by one while Avel and another guide each took a spot at the front and the back of the canoe with paddles. It was quite a change from the power canoes we were accustomed to from the previous days of the trip but it felt quite nice to go slow down the river looking for wildlife at every turn.
The landscape was incredible. In some areas we went through overgrown mangroves which felt like a maze; unknowing whether we would be able to get through to the other side. Roots of trees hung over us as our guides kept ringing words of alarm to keep our heads down so we don’t hit the trees. The canoe trip took around forty-five minutes and we saw many different species of birds along the way.
Welcome To The Tower.
We pulled up to a clearing where there was a sign stating “WELCOME TO THE TOWER” in all capitals. This marked the start of a 700-meter-long trail leading to a hundred-foot tower above the canopy. The tower is built around a massive Ceibo tree towering over one hundred feet tall.
Climbing up the tower is a little nerve-wrecking as you catch a glimpse of the ground way below you. But reaching the top makes it all worth it as you take in the breath-taking views. To celebrate, Avel surprised us with a champagne toast as we looked out at the jungle beyond us in wonder and appreciation. The Manatee Explorer staff sure out did themselves. As I sat down to enjoy my champagne, I noticed something moving on the tree bark. Looking closer, I realized it was a Tree tarantula! I quickly grabbed my camera to capture some shots of this wild creature.
The sun began to set as we headed back on the canoe. Suddenly Avel called out that he heard Capuchin monkeys. They were somewhere right nearby. Looking around, we spotted a couple in a tree ahead of us so we paddled quickly to get closer look. The monkeys were just as curious about us as we were about them, shyly hiding behind branches while trying to get a closer look.
We heard more calls close by but this time from squirrel monkeys. There was a family of them in a neighboring tree. Avel explained that these two species of monkeys often team up and travel together so today we were in luck to see them both side by side.
By the time we got back to the trail it was already dark. With cell-phone lights in hand, we trekked for the second day in a row through the jungle in a bonus night-safari. Bats flew by our heads and we spotted a glowing beetle that looked like two glowing green eyes staring at you from the darkness. It was a perfect end to a long day of exploring as we headed back to enjoy our final meal of the trip and star-gaze from the Manatee Amazon Explorer hot tub for the last time.
Day 5. A Sad Return Back to the Real World.
We work in the morning with a hint of sadness knowing it was our last day. Thankfully we still had one last excursion to explore the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest before we departed. We set off on a morning excursion to do some bird watching to a famous parrot lick. Parrots come there to drink water and eat a special type of soil unique to the area.
When we arrived, there were dozens of parrots in the tree tops. It had rained recently, so they were not in their usual spot where the dirt was. Instead, they sat in trees waiting to dry off. We observed them for some time and then continued down the river.
Suddenly, we saw a lone spoonbill sitting by the river bank. These magnificent birds migrate to the area from Florida and other parts of the U.S. The locals nicknamed them the “Amazon flamingo” due to their beautiful pink color.
An incredible, bucket list experience.
We returned to the boat for sadly our last, but just as delicious, breakfast on the Manatee Amazon Explorer. Our trip was ending and it was time to board our speed canoe for a trip back to Coca. We couldn’t wait to come back again to the Ecuadorian Amazon. Our trip had been one for the record books and definitely deserves a place on anyone’s bucket list as a must do experience before you die.
Have more of Ecuador on your bucket list? Check out these posts:
Culinary Perfection in Mindo, Ecuador: Cuyana Restaurant Review
10 Incredible Day Trips from Guayaquil, Ecuador