Last summer, I took my 15, 12 and 11-year-old children to Ecuador for two weeks. We spent 5 days on a boat exploring the Galapagos Islands. This was an extraordinary and unique experience with the days spent at the Yasuni National Park being outstanding.
Yasuni National Park is considered the most biodiverse place on the planet. The park is at the centre of a small zone where amphibian, bird, mammal, and plant diversity reach maximum levels. Napo Wildlife Center is a luxury lodge nestled deep within Yasuni National Park. To get here, you must take a 30-minute flight from Quito to Coca. Then, you are collected from the airport (a runway and a small building) by employees of the Napo Wildlife Centre and driven a few minutes to the Napo River, a major tributary of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador. There, you board a very long speedboat for a two-hour ride on the Napo River.
After two hours, you come to the mouth of another river, much smaller than the Napo River. The width of the river was around 20 feet or 6 meters (a fraction of the size of the Napo River). The Napo Wildlife Center has an outstation here where you stretch your legs and use the bathroom. This is the entrance to the Napo territory and all speedboats are now prohibited in this area.
Instead, you climb into a long canoe. My family of 5 and another four guests shared this canoe with one naturalist guide and two oarsmen. The oarsmen paddled all of us upstream for another two hours to Napo Wildlife Centre. Halfway through the journey, we met the mouth of Anangu Creek and continued down there. This creek was tiny – around 10 feet or 3 meters wide.
The Waters Around the Napo Wildlife Center
As you can imagine, being as close as we were to the shores of the river and the rainforest meant that we were mere feet or meters from most of the animals that we spotted. In most places, we could easily touch branches and leaves as they draped into the river or engulfed our surroundings. The silence of the canoes meant that we easily glided through the rainforest with the animals seemingly unaware of our presence.
We spent at least a couple hours a day on the rivers and creeks around Napo Wildlife Center during our four-day tour with the same naturalist guide and oarsmen. Each time, we spotted dozens of different birds, monkeys, lizards, snakes, sloths, insects, turtles, caimans, just to name a few. We never saw a person or evidence of any human life anywhere. We barely saw another canoe from our Lodge and never saw a canoe from another hotel.
One of our oarsmen was a “spotter” and what a gift he had. He found creatures hidden in the palms of leaves or sheltered in the shallow depths of the river that I would never have seen. Our naturalist guide was truly extraordinary. His level of knowledge of the animals, birds, vegetation was seemingly unlimited. He was incredibly gracious and so happy to share his knowledge with all of us.
Accommodation at Napo Wildlife Center
You find Napo Wildlife Center at the end of this incredible journey. One moment you are deep in the Amazon jungle and the next, you find yourself in the middle of beautiful Anangu Lake. On the far shore, Napo Wildlife Center sits surrounded only by nature.
Napo Wildlife Center is truly luxurious. We had two beautiful bungalows with large comfortable beds and gorgeous bathrooms, all with a view to the lake. While in this incredible bungalow, I had to constantly remind myself that I was at least two hours away from any civilization and four hours away from town. I do not know how they created such spectacular accommodation under these circumstances, especially when speedboats are not allowed in these waters. Meals were served in the main Ecological tower in the centre of the resort. This tower was 130 feet or 40 meters tall. The main level had the lounge, bar and dining room where delicious meals were served. There were several more levels of this tower, which housed a store, a library, a conference center, and ultimately, an observation deck at the top. The structure was extraordinary.
If you are considering a trip to Napo Wildlife Center, you need to appreciate the following.
- The days are long. You have very early starts and often do not end your day until just before dinner.
- The days are packed with activities. You need to determine whether you have the stamina to enjoy your time there. This is especially true if you have young children or are elderly with low energy.
- Remaining quiet and still is required for many activities. Apart from our time with the Kichwa Añangu community, we had to be quiet. Wildlife will run, fly, or slither away at the sound of human voices. In the canoe, we needed to sit still to keep the boat balanced and quiet so as not to scare the animals. We spent 3 hours on top of the canopy tower and hardly a word was spoken except to point at a bird or tell us its name. If you have children, you need to figure out whether they are capable of this standard of behaviour.
- The canopy tower feels safe for adults and older children. However, it would be a little unnerving to take small children. There is some space between slats on the guardrails and fencing for little ones to slide through. I would also be cautious of the tower if your children like to climb.
- Private tours are offered. You may wish to consider one if you want to deviate from the pre-assigned schedule. This might also be a solution if you are concerned that your children will need to move and talk more frequently. This way, you are only affecting your own experience.
- You are tired once you leave Napo Wildlife Center. We loved our time there. We would gladly return in a heartbeat and relive our itinerary. However, it is an action-packed full experience. I would recommend that you have a late start and a relaxing day planned following your stay at Napo Wildlife Center.
Our time at Ecuador’s Napo Wildlife Center and Yasuni National Park was a privilege. We were granted the opportunity to spend time in one of the most untouched and biodiverse regions in the world. We saw incredible wildlife and learned a lot about them. The clay licks were mesmerizing and our time on top of the canopy tower was magical. At the beginning and end of each day, we were treated to luxurious accommodation, delicious food and excellent service. I loved spending time with the Kichwa Añangu community and witnessing both their history and progress. If you are looking for an authentic, responsible and ecotourism experience for adults alone or families who don’t want to compromise on luxury accommodation and service, then look no further. Napo Wildlife Center awaits.
All photographs provided by Nicole Hunter
A little about author Nicole Hunter!
Nicole’s idea of the best day ever is to wake up on the other side of the world, with her husband and four children, and explore all the hidden secrets around her. This travel blogger prefers to take the path less travelled, searching for authentic experiences available in the environment she finds herself in. Hopefully, at the end of each day, luxury accommodation and five-star service and food are available, but that is not a deal breaker! Together, her family has visited over 35 countries, with much more to come. For more information about her adventures, please visit her blog: GoFarGrowClose.com.