October 25, 2014

Visiting El Oriente: Ecuador Unplugged in Misahualli

Encompassing Andean slopes, rainforest and the headwaters to the mighty Amazon river, El Oriente in Ecuador is one of several ecological destinations the country has to offer.

During our trip there, we stayed at an affordable eco lodge on the river called France-Amazonia, took a river tour and checked out a great animal rescue project.

Misahualli was the town we used as our launch point for exploring the Amazonian headwaters.

While we had a private trail to access the river for our boat tour pickup, you could also easily access the waterfront from Misahualli proper, which is where the various tour agencies, food establishments and sundries shops are located. Not really much shopping in the town of Misahualli, as just the basics are available. However, there are a few places to purchase indigenous handicrafts along the river, depending on which tour you book.

There’s an inside tip for visiting El Oriente in Ecuador that you really should know before going.

At the time of our visit, there were absolutely no ATM machines in the general area. This means you’ll really want to make sure you have enough cash on you for the duration of your stay, as running out of cash would mean a drive back to civilization or  trying to procure a bus ride that you don’t as of yet have the money to pay for. Just keep your cash supply separated and stored in a number of safe personal locations, and you should be fine.

Culture and ecology reign supreme in El Oriente.

The tour we booked was a combination cultural and ecological tour. Technically billed as a family-style adventure, the other options were hiking through the jungle for the sake of hiking at various points without any real focus. We wanted to get an inside peek as to the lives of the local people and animals.

The first stop on our scenic boat ride was a cultural center where our guide showed us how to create face paint with plants, use a blow gun, get medicine from trees and how a variety of homemade animal traps worked to procure food in the jungle. We also stopped to pan for gold with a local family, which was very interesting. I don’t think they made a ton of cash at this endeavor, but it was interesting to see that people still bring in a bit of income this way.

Artisan crafts are a part of the river community’s economy in the area around Misahualli.

Other stops included a pottery-making workshop where the coil method was used, along with plant-based paints, and a volunteer rainforest animal rescue project known as Selva Viva. Animals in need are rescued and sent to this establishment where scientists and volunteers see to their treatment and rehab. Those who are able are released back into the wild, which is one of the cool things about this project. The organization also has an eco lodge around the bend which supports the rescue efforts with funds obtained from paying guests. We didn’t know this until we got there, or we would have arranged to spend at least one night there.

While this was just a “toe in the water” of Amazon River exploration, Misahualli is a great place to see a bit of rainforest ecology and culture. There are also towns nearby where you can launch more intense Amazon explorations such as three-month excursions across the continent by cargo boat hopping. Have you had an adventure in Ecuador’s El Oriente or Misahualli? I’d love to hear your tales in the comment section below. Feel free to post a link if you’ve written about this area of Ecuador yourself.

Other Ecuador Adventures: Exploring all of the things to do in Quito, Ecuador, taking a trip to Termas de Papallacta and a daytrip to Otavalo.


Photo Credits: Trek Hound – Additional Ecuador images, such as these pictures of Papallacta or more pictures of El Oriente, are available through a creative commons agreement through our sister site, PicturesofTravelPlaces.com. We ask only for a courtesy link back to the photo gallery.