We just spent a few weeks traveling around the Amazon Basin and Yasuni National Park in Ecuador. We’ve been on boats, canoes and trails up and down the Napo River and its side channels exploring the rain forest, oxbow lakes and flora and fauna that make this area one of the most biologically diverse in the world. The place was full of surprises (and not just the kind with wings, fur or scales) and our full reports will be coming soon. In the meantime, here are 9 great big Amazon travel myths to get straight before you plan your own Amazon adventure.
Motoring through the Amazon Basin in Ecuador.
Amazon Travel Myth #1: You have to go to Brazil to see the Amazon
The Amazon River is 4,345 miles (6,992 kms) long and its associated basin covers 2,720,000 square miles (7,050,000 square kms) through Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Bolivia. That’s almost the same area as the lower 48 states in the US. The Amazon River has over 1,100 tributaries, 17 of which are over 930 miles (1,500 kms) long. The Napo River in Ecuador is one of these major tributaries.
Sunset over the Napo River in the Amazon Basin in Ecuador.
Amazon Travel Myth #2: The heat will be epic
We were prepared for the type of steamy weather in which just breathing makes you sweat. Imagine our surprise when we were putting on pants and long-sleeve shirts during boat rides and in the evenings to ward off what can only be described as a chill in the air. Yes, the temperature and humidity can rise to uncomfortable levels in the Amazon and you’re gonna sweat whenever you’re exerting yourself. However, temperatures can dip too (especially after the clouds roll in post-rain) and the average Amazon high is only in the mid 80s. Pack accordingly.
Amazon Travel Myth #3: You’ll be tripping over wildlife
The Amazon Basin is one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet and home to a mind-blowing cast of characters. New species are discovered here every year, but it’s very hard to see most of them. For one thing, the Amazon rain forest is wicked thick. Also, in many areas wild animals were hunted as recently as five years ago and some indigenous communities continue to hunt on a subsistence level so the critters still have a healthy fear of humans. That said, with persistence and the help of guides we saw dozens of species we’ve never seen before including a tiny, brightly plumed bird called a wire-tailed manakin, red howler monkeys, endangered giant river otters, many new types of macaws and a porcupine with a prehensile tail.
A white-fronted capuchin monkey in Yasuni National Park in Ecuador’s Amazon Basin.
Amazon Travel Myth #4: You’ll never see the oil exploration in the Amazon
We thought the controversial oil exploration activity in the Amazon Basin would be hidden deep in the jungle, however, international oil companies from the US and China are looking for oil all over the place in the Amazon Basin. You’ll see evidence of oil camps, pumping stations, natural gas burn-offs and barges and helicopters transporting heavy equipment up and down the Napo River and all along the riverbank.
Natural gas is burned off 24-hours-a-day at this oil exploration operation on the bank of the Napo River in Ecuador’s Amazon Basin.
Amazon Travel Myth #5: Everything in the Amazon is huge
If all of the animals in the Amazon were weighed, some scientists think ants and termites would account for one-third the total weight. Some things do get big, however, including endangered giant river otters which can be more than six feet (two meters) long, anacondas which have been documented at 60 feet (15 meters) long and then there’s that 12 foot (four meter) long black caiman we saw.
Black caimans grow big and mean in the Amazon but it’s the small stuff that makes up the bulk of the animal life.
Amazon Travel Myth #6: It’s hard to get to the Amazon
Actually, to get to the lodges, trails, lagoons, Yasuni National Park and rain forests of the Amazon Basin in Ecuador all you have to do is take a 30 minute flight from Quito to Coca then get on a motorized canoe for a 2 hour trip down the Napo River to your lodging of choice.
Amazon Travel Myth #7: Piranhas are vicious killers
Blame Hollywood for the piranha’s man-eating reputation. Everyone in the Amazon Basin does. There are three species of piranha in the area, none of which are considered dangerous. In fact, Eric went swimming in a lagoon full of the things and exactly zero feeding frenzies ensued.
Eric catching his first piranha in Ecuador’s Amazon Basin. Yes, we threw him back.
Amazon Travel Myth #8: If the piranhas don’t get you the insects will
Readers of this travel blog know that if there’s an insect within half a mile it will find and bite Karen. With visions of a rain forest (and, probably, our room) full of mosquitoes the size of Smart Cars and lord know how many other hungry biters we packed enough Deet to defend the entire population of Ecuador. We used very, very little of it. As we’ve found in other fairly pristine natural areas, an ecosystem in balance usually doesn’t have too much of anything. In the case of the Amazon Basin we were pleasantly surprised by the relative lack of biting bugs.
A tarantula in Yasuni National Park in the Amazon Basin in Ecuador.
Amazon Travel Myth #9: Monkeys are good swimmers
Most species of monkeys do just fine with short swims in relatively calm the water. Wide rivers with swift currents, like the Napo River in Ecuador’s Amazon Basin, are another story as we witnessed when a squirrel monkey fell into the river near our boat one day. Despite its best efforts the monkey was clearly drowning. As the current swept it down stream its head began to sink below the surface and we maneuvered the boat near enough to the monkey for our guide, Fredy, to reach it and get it on the boat. It was drenched, exhausted and scared but at least it wasn’t drowning. The monkey “thanked” Fredy by biting his hand as he pried him off the boat and placed it safely back on shore.
This tiny squirrel monkey was no match for the swift current of the Napo River in Ecuador’s Amazon Basin. Don’t worry. We saved it.