Discover yourself in the Amazon Rainforest
Adventure, culture, and nature in Ecuador's Andes & Amazon
TRAVEL WITH PURPOSE
We believe that travel is the best tool we have for connecting with people and nature. Engaging with and learning about people of different cultural backgrounds expands our view of the world, while spending time in nature can definitely have a healing power. Travel can transform us and help us grow as human beings, improving our awareness of global issues, our awareness of our own footprint, and of our responsibility with society and with the environment.
We have designed a travel experience in Ecuador that connects you with the Amazon Rainforest and the Achuar indigenous people, challenging you to explore and experience something that we hope, in the long run, will create a positive change in your life.
ABOUT ECUADOR & THE AMAZON RAINFOREST
Ecuador is a multiethnic and culturally diverse country. In the coastal region, the culture has developed around the sea, where fishing is one of the most important activities. Further inland, agriculture represents the main economic activity. Ecuador produces bananas, coffee, cocoa, rice, and more agricultural products that profit from the fertile volcanic soils.
The Andes cut through the country, running North and South. Here we find Inter-Andean Valleys where most of the Ecuadorian population lives, nestled between two mountain ranges to the East and West, where we find indigenous communities, haciendas, volcanoes and snow-capped mountains. To the East lies the Amazon Rainforest, a territory mostly occupied by indigenous communities, who rely on tourism as an alternative to preserve their forests and protect their customs and traditions.
Ecuador is a small country with lots of friendly people and diverse landscapes, worth visiting more than once. Small distances between destinations and good road connectivity make Ecuador an ideal country to encounter warm people in different settings, from snow-capped volcanoes to historic colonial towns to diverse and unique natural areas. For a responsible traveler with an adventurous soul, Ecuador offers a variety of options to explore.
This is especially true for the Amazon region, which represents 47% of Ecuador's mainland territory. In Ecuador's Amazon there are 10 indigenous nationalities; each with its own territory. The Achuar Indigenous Nation in south-east Ecuador is one of them; owners of 800,000 hectares in one of Ecuador's last large tracts of primary Rainforest. For the Achuar, tourism represents a tool for conservation and sustainability, and an alternative to industries like oil, large scale agriculture, deforestation, and other extractive activities, present in many areas of the Amazon region.
Kapawi Ecolodge is an award-winning ecotourism enterprise located deep in the Achuar territory of Ecuador's south east Amazon Region.
When Kapawi first opened its doors in 1996, it represented a pioneer ecotourism joint enterprise in Ecuador and the region. Kapawi was developed as an economic alternative to support biodiversity conservation and cultural preservation, while creating employment and income for local Achuar families. In 2019, Kapawi finished a complete renovation of its cabins and grounds, and opened new river, forest, and community activities.
All buildings at Kapawi follow a traditional Achuar architecture style, and were built by the local communities.
Key social, economic, and environmental standards were an essential part of the original 1996 project, and 25 years later remain sustainability objectives. The ecolodge remains fully owned and operated by the Achuar communities, training and employing 100% of its staff from the local communities, and working along the local value chain to generate additional income for local producers and service providers. A percentage of every traveler's income is used to support community education, health, conservation, food security, and sustainable production needs. Kapawi also works to implement environmental standards to reduce its footprint, such as 100% energy consumption provided by solar cells.
It wasn't until 2020, however, that we realized we had to further evolve to create a deeper connection between traveler and destination. To do this, we reinforced our work with our partners and friends, and increased our collaboration with the local communities. As described in the following itinerary, a deeper community engagement and interaction will let you be part of the relationship that the Achuar people have with the Amazon Rainforest. We hope that this opportunity for close interaction and immersion in the Achuar world will inspire you to ponder your own relationship with nature and society, and help you take new actions in life.
TRIP SUMMARY & HIGHLIGHTS
Wild, wonderful, contemplative, and unforgettable are a few adjectives that perfectly describe our travel experience in Ecuador, the Amazon Rainforest, and Kapawi Ecolodge. We travel at a pace that allows a deep, authentic, and cultural experience, three key aspects of our travel purpose. Flying on a small chartered plane 160 kilometers over the Amazon is wild, as it is hiking at night in the Rainforest. Observing pink river dolphins while paddling an Amazon river is wonderful. Appreciating the sunset from a hammock in our hearth house by the river can produce a contemplative moment. Experiencing the Achuar life in the Amazon Rainforest is unforgettable.
All buildings at Kapawi follow a traditional Achuar architecture style, and were built by the local communities.
The Achuar culture is based on dreams and visions. The Achuar start the day very early, 3-4 am, drinking wayus tea. Wayus is a tea from a native plant, Ilex guayusa, that contains caffeine and antioxidant properties. This is how the Achuar begin every day, drinking Wayus and sharing dreams, and this is also how the day starts at Kapawi Ecolodge, in our hearth hut by the Capahuari river sharing Wayus with the Achuar.
The Achuar are people of the forest, of palms and medicinal plants. Our experienced Achuar guides will guide you through forest hikes and will share their knowledge of the plants and their traditional uses. Wildlife excursions are also a great opportunity to learn from the Achuar about rainforest biodiversity. Pink river dolphins, different species of primates, resident horned screamers, caciques, and many other birds and species are present in and around the ecolodge's grounds.
The Achuar are people of the Ajá (Ah-Ha), or family garden. We will visit the communities and families, and learn from them about the daily garden and practices, the most common plants used in subsistence agriculture and local medicine, and will learn from them about local gastronomy. Sharing a meal prepared in the firepit with an Achuar host family is one of the highlights of every visit to Kapawi.
The Achuar also face many challenges. Education, health, food security, territorial protection, biodiversity conservation, climate change, and alternative production, are the most important development challenges for the Achuar nation. We will learn from community leaders about the Achuar fight for self-determination and territorial sustainability. We will visit community projects like fish farming with native species, hot pepper production, or we will visit the local School to speak with the Achuar teachers and students about the role and expectations of youth in ecotourism and other local development alternatives.
The Achuar are people of conversations and community gatherings. We will have daily opportunities to learn from our Achuar guides and hosts about the Achuar life. The Achuar are always willing to teach, and they are always open to learn and share with their guests. What can we learn from the Achuar, and what can we share with them from our own life, is a travel purpose throughout our experience in the Amazon.
The itinerary starts and ends in the city of Quito, Ecuador's capital and main point of entry. From Quito to the Amazon basin, we follow the main Panamerican Highway running from north to south, before turning east and descending the canyon of the Pastaza river past Baños to the town of Shell, where the Amazon adventure begins. After visiting Kapawi, we complete the overland roundtrip returning along the Amazon Highway north, before climbing up the Andean foothills to Papallacta on the way back to Quito.
Over the years, we have partnered with friends along this route to guarantee that the same principles, beliefs and purpose are always part of the comprehensive traveler's experience. We favour local healthy products in our menus, we work with friendly local family-owned businesses, and we have selected experienced team members and service providers who understand not only what good service means, but who are also great hosts that understand the meaning of traveling with a purpose.
Below is a more detailed description of the 8-day itinerary.
DAY 1 - ARRIVAL TO ECUADOR
International flights usually arrive in Ecuador in the afternoon, evening and night, so this is a traveling day to Ecuador. Upon arrival in Quito's International airport (located 30 km. from the city), you will be greeted by your tour leader who will take you to a small Guest House Casa de Campo near the airport. Traffic into the city can sometimes take up to one hour, so it is great to have a place with open spaces and gardens only 15 minutes away from the airport.
Depending on arrival time, we can include dinner and some optional activities in the area.
Our experience starts in the town of Shell, from where we fly to the Achuar territory on a small 3-, 5-, or 9-seater small chartered plane. The flight covers approximately 160 kilometers as we enter to the last area of isolated Amazon Rainforest.
We fly deep into the southeastern region of the Ecuadorian Amazon. The Pastaza river can be seen as the plane flies into the Achuar territory.
We will fly to the community of Kusutkau, located 20 minutes upstream from Kapawi. Upon arrival to the ecolodge, you will be taken to the main gathering and dining area, where we give you an introductory talk about the Ecolodge, the Achuar territory, and the different possibilities for activities, both natural and cultural. After the introductory briefing, you will be shown to your cabins, and lunch will be served in the dining area.
After lunch, you will choose, together with your guides, the best activities for the afternoon. Kapawi offers a wide range of activities in the trails surrounding the ecolodge, and also in the Capahuari river. We usually start with a hike in the forest, to understand the incredible ecology of the Amazon Rainforest. Some hikes start right from the lodge, while others start near the lodge a few minutes away by motorized boat.
Return to the lodge after the activity for some free time. Swimming in the river right from our dock is always available, as well as relaxing in our social areas by the river or in the main area where our dining area and bar are located. We will have dinner at the lodge at 7.30 pm, and after dinner you can go over the next day's plan and activities together with your guides. Overnight at Kapawi Ecolodge.
DAY 2, 3, & 4...up to 7
(IN OUR WEEK LONG ITINERARY)
Every day, we will have an optional early activity, which involves time in the river (birdwatching and looking for wildlife). The early activity is usually between 6-8 am, followed by breakfast at the lodge. After breakfast we can include a full-day or a half-day activity. The activities vary every day between time in the forest, kayaking and paddling in a river, or visiting a community. You plan these activities the night before together with your guides. For example, you can choose from several 1-6 hour hikes, or a 2-3 hour visit to a local community.
Squirrel monkeys are one of 7 different species of primates that you can find around Kapawi Ecolodge on the river and inside the forest.
Kayaking the smaller Kusutkau river requires paddling upstream a flowing river, and is usually an activity that requires medium kayaking experience.
Kayaking the wider and bigger Capahuari river is an easy activity that can range from 1 hour to 3-4 hours in the river enjoying the scenery and looking for wildlife (birds, primates, and pink river dolphins, among other possibilities.
The Capahuari and Pastaza rivers can be explored with our motorized boats.
This spectacular strangler fig can be found in the trails that start from the cabins, and it's a great and easily accessible hike that can be done before breakfast, during the day or at night.
Our self guided trail has been designed to allow easy hiking right from the lodge inside primary Amazon Rainforest.
A visit to a local community allows a close interaction with an Achuar family to learn and experience the Achuar way of life.
Weaving different types of baskets is done by the men and is a cultural tradition in all communities.
Handicrafts and pottery are made by the Achuar women and are for sale in the communities around the ecolodge.
Local food tasting is another great experience of the Achuar culture. "Maitos" wrapped with native leaves and used for cooking fish, heart of palm, native cocoa beans, chicken, and even grubs collected in the forest, and served with manioc, plantain, squash, and other products from the local gardens. The experience includes visiting a local garden and helping in the harvest of local products.
An Achuar woman harvesting manioc (yuca), the main staple food for the Achuar.
DEEP COMMUNITY IMMERSION
One of the unique highlights of traveling to Kapawi Ecolodge is the opportunity to experience the Achuar culture by visiting our neighboring communities and their families. Our community immersions can be half- and full- day outings, and even community overnights. A community immersion offers the visitor the opportunity to visit an Achuar family in their home, and carrying out a cultural activity with them. These activities can include: learning about the Achuar way of life, visit their farming gardens (called chacras) to learn about local agriculture and medicinal plants, learning about weavings and pottery, practicing with a blow gun (used for hunting), and even hikes in the forest lead by the Achuar host, and fishing.
Some people want a deeper immersion and exploration of the Achuar culture. We visit several communities and offer 1- and 2- night overnight experiences in an Achuar community.
OTHER OPTIONAL DAILY ACTIVITIES
NIGHT HIKES & BOAT RIDES
Night activities offer a very different experience of the rainforest. Some species of amphibians, reptiles, insects, and mammals are active at night. We offer boat rides, hikes, and sometimes more adventurous experiences (night kayaking) for our clients.
WAYSENSA TEA CEREMONIES
Our Achuar Wayus House by the river allows for different activities during the day and night. It is a great place to relax, observe wildlife, listen to the sounds of the forest, meditate, or even practice yoga, overlooking the Capahuari river. Every afternoon we light a fire and the house is always open. The Achuar culture involves a daily routine of drinking wayusa tea every morning before dawn and before starting the day's activities. We offer this optional activity every day, together with the local staff.
ACHUAR MYTHS & TRATIONS
Also offered at the Achuar Wayus House, after dinner, your Achuar guide will offer a conversation about the Achuar culture, often including an Achuar story, myth, tradition, or answering any questions you may have about the Achuar way of life.
RELAX & HANGOUT
You can enjoy the Amazon Rainforest and the Achuar culture from within the grounds of the lodge. Our Wayusa House by the river is an excellent place for relaxing day or night.
Our cabins have outside decks, great places for relaxing and enjoying the sounds and views of the Amazon Rainforest.
Kapawi Ecolodge is owned and run by the Achuar, so hanging out with the hosts is also a great way to learn about the Achuar culture and its relationship with the Amazon Rainforest.
We will offer the usual early activity (river or forest) at Kapawi, followed by breakfast at the lodge. We will leave the lodge after breakfast for a boat ride upstream to the community of Kusutkau. From there we will take the flight to Shell. Weather permitting we should arrive back in Shell before noon.