Ecuador's El Oriente occupies the lowlands of the Amazon basin, and for many years, the portion, south of the Pastaza river, was the subject of a border dispute between Ecuador and Peru and consequently not well visited.
This area is now more accessible, though it retains much of the wilderness feeling of mountain and rainforest. With the discovery of gold in Zambija, north of Zamora,interest and travel to El Oriente has boomed.
Adventure travelers have long known El Oriente as a tropical escape: a land of wild rivers for kayaking and rafting.
The Amazon basin lures birders and ecologically minded visitors for the birds and wildlife. Lodges provide naturalist guides to take you by dugout canoe into the backwaters for an up close look at the vibrant eco-system.
These cities, north to south, offer gateways to El Oriente:
Ecuador's new oil town is close to the Reserva Faunística Guyabeno, the rainforest home of the Siona and Secoya Indians on the protected Cuyabeno lake and river system. From here, visitors travel to lodges like this one, to explore the rainforest.
Officially named Puerto Francisco de Orellana, oil-town Coca sits at the juncture of the Napo and Coca rivers. From here, vistors go to the Parque Nacional Yasuní. Ecuador's largest national park, for virgin rainforest, wildlife and Huaorani Indians. Travelers also use Coca as a base for Rainforest Expeditions.
For being small, Misahuallí sees a lot of action at the junction of the Napo and Misahuallí rivers. thus is a popular jumping off spot for a Amazon Jungle Trek. It's now possible to use the Napo as the connection between Puerto Misahualli - Iquitos, and thus to the Amazon river. Misahualli – The Forest which you'll see more of at Jatun Sacha, the rainforest conservation and research foundation with a lodge for visitors, professional and amateur scientists. In addition to the ecological interest, there is also the cultural. Anaconda Dances, from the Anaconda Band, folk art dancers, shouldn't be missed.
Tena, with many rivers flowing through and around it, is a natural jumping off spot for rafting, kayaking, jungle adventures and visits to local tribes, such as the Quichua of the Upper Napo River.
The Pastaza river, near Puyo, divides El Oriente, and Puyo is a good embarcation point for either direction. Close to Baños, in the Andes, the town is a favorite destination, such as this Baños - Puyo bike run. Nearby is the Parque Nacional Sangay (photos and text in Norwegian), where tours take you close to the volcanos.
The largest small town in southern El Oriente, Macas was once known as the Sevilla del Oro due to its great wealth from surrounding gold mines, and now offers access to the cloud forest along the Rio Abanico.
Podocarpus National Park, between Zamora in the lowlands and Loja in the highlands, is a favorite with birders, hikers and visitors who enjoy forests, lakes and tropical flora and fauna. More info.
Wherever you go in El Oriente, buen viaje!