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7 Must-Do Things to do in Cuyabeno Wildlife reserve

To the northeast of the Amazon Region of Ecuador is one of the most important protected areas in the country, the Cuyabeno Fauna Production Reserve, considered one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, along with the Yasuní National Park, a “protected area [that] takes its name from the Cuyabeno River, which in its middle course overflows, creating a complex of 14 lagoons and forming the largest wetland in the Ecuadorian Amazon” (Ministerio del Ambiente (2015), Reserva de Producción de Fauna Cuyabeno).

El Cuyabeno is a true wildlife sanctuary that has become a paradise for nature lovers. This place has managed to attract tourists from all over the world due to its natural beauty and the unique experiences it offers to those who visit it. By getting to know it, you will be able to explore the impressive landscapes, forests, lagoons, flora, and fauna of the Ecuadorian jungle and share with members of local indigenous communities to learn about their worldview. To help you know more about this Ecuador destination, we will tell you what to do in Cuyabeno in this guide.

Photo courtesy of Cuyabeno Tucan Lodge.

Important facts about Cuyabeno

Below, we provide some helpful information about Cuyabeno, a wildlife sanctuary in Ecuador.

What is Cuyabeno characterized by?

The Cuyabeno lagoons make up the largest wetland in the Ecuadorian Amazon, which “favor the water flow of the Cuyabeno, Aguarico, and Napo rivers that finally converge into the Amazon River” (UICN (s/f), Las lagunas de Cuyabeno, mantos de la biodiversidad). 

This fascinating lake system is characterized by an intricate network of rivers, lagoons, and canals that extend throughout the reserve. These waters are home to many aquatic species. In addition, lakes and lagoons act as refuges for numerous species of fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals, and they are also essential habitats for a great diversity of aquatic plants and microorganisms.

Cuyabeno is also characterized by being a destination with an enormous biodiversity of birds, animals, and plant species and for being the ecosystem and home of unique species such as the mythical pink river dolphin. The incredible biodiversity of Cuyabeno is hard to beat. “His Flora is among the most diverse on the planet, with around 12 thousand species distributed in different habitats. As for fauna, it is estimated that there are around 1,320 species: 165 mammals, 493 birds, 96 amphibians, 91 reptiles, and 475 fish” (Ministerio del Ambiente, Agua y Transición Ecológica (s/f), La Reserva de Producción Faunística Cuyabeno galardonada por Travelers’ Choice 2013).

Another aspect that characterizes the Cuyabeno Fauna Production Reserve is its ​​vast cultural diversity. Some indigenous communities live in these territories, belonging to five indigenous nationalities of Ecuador: Siona, Secoya, Cofán, Kichwa, and Shuar.

Cuyabeno is a highly recommended destination for the best Amazon experience. Visitors can venture through the area’s exuberant ecosystems, home to fascinating species, explore lagoons, watch pink dolphins, and delve into Amazonian culture. 

Weather in Cuyabeno

In Cuyabeno, the climate is typically hot and humid throughout the year, while rain is expected there. “The average temperature is 25º C (77º F), and the average precipitation is 3,000 mm/year” (ECOLAP y MAE (2007). Guía del Patrimonio de Áreas Naturales Protegidas del Ecuador. ECOFUND, FAN, DarwinNet, IGM. Quito, Ecuador).

In Cuyabeno, the rainy season runs from February to April. At this time, there is usually heavy rainfall; however, it does not rain every day. The advantage of traveling during the rainy season is the higher levels of water in the rivers and slightly colder temperatures, which make it easier to observe mammals and alligators in the lagoons and increase the possibility of seeing pink dolphins.

The dry season runs from May to October, and July, August, and September are the months with the least precipitation. However, rainfall is still expected since it is a tropical jungle, but generally less than in the rainy season. During this time, it is possible to observe more birds and animals approaching the banks of the rivers.

How do you get to Cuyabeno from Quito?

The Cuyabeno Fauna Production Reserve is located in the province of Sucumbíos, in the northeastern area of ​​the Ecuadorian Amazon Region. To reach this destination from Quito, you must go to the city of Nueva Loja, the capital of the province of Sucumbios, also known as Lago Agrio, the closest town to the reserve. The trip from Quito to Nueva Loja by car or private tourist transportation takes approximately five hours, while public transit takes approximately seven hours.

Once in Nueva Loja (Lago Agrio), you must go to the Cuyabeno bridge, a site known as the starting point for visiting this reserve. There, local guides receive tourists and take them to their respective accommodations. You will board a motorized canoe with the rest of your group and sail downriver to the Laguna Grande de Cuyabeno. The canoe ride usually lasts approximately an hour and a half. Most of the hostels in Cuyabeno are located in or around Laguna Grande.

Remember that entry to the Cuyabeno Fauna Production Reserve is only done with authorized tour operators and certified naturalist guides. Almost all tourists who visit Cuyabeno pre-book an organized tour, which is an attractive option for getting to know this destination since the permits, canoe transfers, guide, and accommodation are usually included in the tourist package you hire. With a simple reservation, everything will be organized so that you can enjoy a fun and hassle-free trip.

In our note about how to get to Cuyabeno, we will tell you more about your options for arriving at this destination in Ecuador. You can do it on your transportation, public transportation, or our tourist bus if you opt for our Multiday Tour Cuyabeno. We offer multi-day tours that will allow you to discover the most surprising corners of Cuyabeno and discover the magic of this natural paradise full of biodiversity. 

things to do in cuyabeno lodge
Cuyabeno Tucan Lodge.
Photo courtesy of Cuyabeno Tucan Lodge.

List of recommended activities in Cuyabeno

Next, we tell you what to do in Cuyabeno. We have made a list of the best activities in this protected area. 

1. Jungle exploration

Accompanied by a tourist guide, enter the primary forests of Cuyabeno. Observe the area’s flora and fauna while you walk safely. Doing so will teach you about medicinal plants and animals such as frogs, insects, birds, etc. 

Several walking trails are in the reserve, ranging from short to multi-hour hikes. The trails typically take you through the rainforest, past lagoons, and more.

By being in Cuyabeno, you will be able to experience a deep immersion in the values ​​of Mother Nature and the opportunity to experience the natural harmony and tranquility that we did without when living in the city. Visiting this site provides a first-hand experience to understand the damage humans cause to nature and awakens a strong desire to live better.

things to do in cuyabeno jungle
Photo by Best Trip Ecuador. 

2. Visit Indigenous communities 

Several indigenous communities live in the area covered by the Cuyabeno Fauna Production Reserve. Hence, we recommend you visit some of them with your guide since only this activity is complete to Cuyabeno. Fortunately, most tours to Cuyabeno offer this opportunity.

Visiting an indigenous community will teach you about its culture, way of life, and worldview. Members share their knowledge about the region’s flora and fauna, as well as the history and culture of its people. 

During this visit, you will get closer to the world of shamanism, ancestral medicine, and local gastronomy. Once in an indigenous community in the area, you will be able to witness how the preparation of ancestral drinks, such as chicha, is carried out, and you will be able to observe the preparation of the traditional casabe bread (a thin dough tortilla obtained from freshly grated); you will learn about ancient hunting practices; And, you will learn about local crafts made with seeds and other forest products, which members make of the community and you can purchase.

things to do in cuyabeno indigenous
Tomas Grefa
Photo courtesy of Cuyabeno Tucan Lodge.

3. Swimming

Swimming in the middle of the flooded forest will allow you to live a refreshing experience in the largest wetland in the Ecuadorian Amazon, whose flooded trails are one of the points of the most incredible species diversity. 

Laguna Negra is a trendy place to swim in Cuyabeno. Its waters are known for their color due to the decomposition of the plant matter that lives there. Immerse yourself in its waters and enjoy the beautiful sunsets! 

things to do in cuyabeno swimming
Photo by Best Trip Ecuador. 

4. Canoe rides 

Sail in a canoe through the Cuyabeno Wildlife Production Reserve and enjoy the serenity and beauty of the aquatic landscapes. You can hear the sounds of wildlife while enjoying the landscape along the waters of the Cuyabeno River. Canoeing on the Cuyabeno is often the best opportunity to spot wildlife. Cuyabeno is famous for its narrow, shifting channels that link the more extensive lagoons.

On board a canoe, you can move inland until you reach majestic lagoons. Many birds and animals prefer to hang out on the banks of rivers or lagoons, where feeding requires less effort. Unlike exploring on foot, the canoe glides smoothly and silently into your world. 

If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see the famous pink dolphins. In addition, you will be able to appreciate the charapas (freshwater turtles), paiche (Amazonian fish), manatees, and leafy macrolobium and huitos trees, which grow on the banks of the lake. There are also canoe expeditions in which you can search for alligators, an experience that will be highly unforgettable. 

Remember your camera and binoculars. This experience will be challenging to repeat!

things to do in cuyabeno canoe ride
Photo by Best Trip Ecuador. 

5. Bird watching 

One of the most fascinating aspects of Cuyabeno is the diversity of birds that can be found. Hence, Cuyabeno also has a lot of action for bird watchers. Get ready to marvel at chiefs, toucans, macaws, orioles, the prehistoric Hoatzin bird, among others. The diversity of birds in Cuyabeno is impressive since, on a single trip of several days, it is possible to observe hundreds of different species of birds.

things to do in cuyabeno macaw
Photo courtesy of Cuyabeno Tucan Lodge.

6. Enjoy the sunsets

In Cuyabeno, you can enjoy some of the most impressive sunsets in the world. The reserve has numerous rivers and lakes in which the sun’s rays are reflected, which creates a mirror effect and makes the sunsets acquire a unique charm. Furthermore, it is expected to see animals leaving the jungle in rivers and lakes in search of food during the sunset. It will be possible to see herons and ducks in the waters, spiders and howler monkeys in the trees, and iguanas and alligators on the riverbanks. 

things to do in cuyabeno
Photo courtesy of Cuyabeno Tucan Lodge.

7. Preparation and tasting of chocolate and coffee

Ecuador is known worldwide as cocoa’s birthplace, originating in the Amazon jungle. In fact, “cocoa beans have been cultivated in Ecuador for more than 5,000 years” (República del Cacao (s/f). Ecuador, la cuna del cacao. Hence, if you are in Cuyabeno, you should try the delicious chocolate and coffee made by hand.

Traditionally, preparing chocolate and coffee is included in many tours that run in the area; however, you should verify if this activity is included in your itinerary.

things to do in cuyabeno cofee
Prepair of chocolate and coffee in a traditional way in Cuyabeno
Photo courtesy of Cuyabeno Tucan Lodge.

Recommendations when visiting Cuyabeno

  • Book your tour to Cuyabeno in advance. Choose the tour you like the most from our Multiday Cuyabeno Tour, the best way to get to know this destination in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
  • Pack comfortable, light clothing. We recommend wearing long, light pants and long-sleeved t-shirts to avoid insect bites.
  • Bring trekking shoes, a hat, glasses, and a swimsuit.
  • Bring sunscreen and insect repellent with you.
  • Bring a bottle of water to recharge.
  • Carry a headlamp and extra batteries with you. 
  • Pack your binoculars and camera with a good zoom lens.
  • If you are still looking for shops in the area, ensure you are prepared to go to Cuyabeno.
  • Purchase your favorite snacks in advance.
  • Respect nature and local communities.
  • Do not use plastic material, and try to use biodegradable products.
  • Do not throw any waste or feed the existing fauna species.
  • Remember that there is no internet service in Cuyabeno, so you must be willing to disconnect from the world to connect with nature.
things to do in cuyabeno trekking
Photo courtesy of Cuyabeno Tucan Lodge.

Frequent questions

What can you see in Cuyabeno?

In Cuyabeno, you can see monkeys, piranhas, pink dolphins, alligators, sloth bears, snakes, fish, and frogs, among many other species. In addition, you can see flooded forests, giant trees with supernatural trunks, and a great variety of orchids. 

How important is the sector called Cuyabeno in the province of Sucumbíos?

Cuyabeno is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, along with Yasuní National Park. It houses an impressive river network with the Cuyabeno River as its backbone. It has multiple lagoons, flooded forests, blackwater rivers, and a concentration of plants and animal species.

Why is it called Cuyabeno?

The Cuyabeno Fauna Production Reserve is a protected area named after the Cuyabeno River, which, in the language of the Siona-Secoya nationalities (Pai coca), means “kind river.”

What is the most visited area of ​​Cuyabeno?

According to the Ministerio del Ambiente (2015), Reserva de Producción de Fauna Cuyabeno, “The most visited reserve area is accessed by sailing along the Cuyabeno River. The Laguna Grande, as its name indicates, is the largest of the 14 in the sector. You can visit others, such as Caimancocha, Mateococh, or Canangüen,o through small canals. Around it, several trails go into the mainland forest. The most visited are Palma Roja, Saladero de tapirs, and Quebrada la Hormiga.”

How many days is it recommended to visit Cuyabeno?

You should stay in this destination for at least three days. However, the more time you spend in Cuyabeno, the more opportunities you will have to enjoy it fully. Four and five tours or days are ideal for fully exploring this impressive corner of Ecuapain.

At Best Trip Ecuador, we offer the Multiday Cuyabeno Tour, an exploration adventure in the Cuyabeno Fauna Production Reserve. We provide multi-day tours that will allow you to discover this essential destination in Ecuador.

Is Cuyabeno worth visiting?

There are numerous reasons to visit the Cuyabeno Wildlife Production Reserve. This exceptional Amazon rainforest environment is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. It is home to an astonishing diversity of wildlife, including many birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, making it ideal for nature lovers. 

The reserve also offers some of the most spectacular jungle landscapes in Ecuador. It is an ideal place to escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life, as you can completely disconnect and relax in an unparalleled natural environment. 

Cuyabeno is also an ideal place to immerse yourself in the local culture and enjoy an unforgettable adventure. The reserve is home to many indigenous communities where you can learn more about their customs and traditions.

If you want a unique and memorable experience, a Cuyabeno Fauna Production Reserve tour should be on your list of essential destinations.

What is the best time to go to Cuyabeno?

Cuyabeno is a destination that can be visited throughout the year. However, if you want to see the most wildlife, the best time to visit is during the dry season. While if you want to experience the lush greenery of the rainforest, the best time to visit is during the rainy season.

What can you do in Cuyabeno during the rainy season?

Cuyabeno can be visited at any time of the year, even during the rainy season. If it rains heavily during your visit, we recommend relaxing in a hammock and appreciating the lush surroundings.

things to do in cuyabeno lagoon
Photo by Best Trip Ecuador. 

The Cuyabeno Fauna Production Reserve in the Ecuadorian Amazon region is one of the most desired places by tourists who visit the country. Whether you are a nature lover or simply someone looking for a breathtaking escape, Cuyabeno will always have something magical to offer you. Prepare to be impressed by this highly recommended destination to live the best Amazon experience.

things to do in cuyabeno monkey
Photo courtesy of Cuyabeno Tucan Lodge.

Multiday – Cuyabeno Tour (3, 4 and 5 days)

Now that you know what to do in Cuyabeno, we recommend you make your reservation to visit this destination. At Best Trip Ecuador, we offer the Multiday Cuyabeno Tour, an exploration adventure full of impressive landscapes, forests, lagoons, flora, and fauna in the Cuyabeno Fauna Production Reserve. These multi-day tours will allow you to discover the most surprising corners of the jungle and experience its magic to the fullest.

Our expert guides will take you on an unforgettable journey through the Amazon rainforest, where you can do a series of exciting activities, such as hiking in the jungle, visiting an Indigenous community, bird watching, and canoeing along the rivers—winding and lush forests of the area, preparation, and tasting of chocolate and coffee, among others. The number of activities you do will be determined based on the days you decide to stay in the protected area.

We work tirelessly to ensure our clients have an unforgettable experience in Cuyabeno. We recommend that you discover the beauty of its flooded landscapes and the mythical animals that inhabit them in our company. 

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