Tena - Napo - vacation review

Tena Trip Review – What to expect from a jungle vacation?

In this review, we’ll describe how we experienced our trip to Tena. We explain what we did and how we liked it. We’ll end our Tena trip review with a DOs and DON’Ts list.

During our 3 weeks’ vacation in Ecuador, the Amazon jungle was one of the places on our bucket list. We decided to go to Tena by rental car, because this was easy to combine with Papallacta and Baños. 

Ahead of the trip, we were a bit worried about the drive. Eventually, it turned out fine, even enjoyable. It was a 3.5 hours car ride through the mountains. The roads were mostly good and not busy. Most definitely, it did help that we had a local advisor supporting us with our travel planning (Soledad). This way, we knew what were the best times and roads for the drive.

“To review our trip to Tena, I’d say it was perfect for our road trip because it’s at the edge of the Amazon Jungle. If we would have wanted to go deep into the jungle, we’d had to fly.”

We stayed in a resort with small private cottages just outside Tena. The place we booked was very beautiful and comfortable. From our cottage, we had a view over the Napo river.

day 1: Arrival in tena and the monkey island

We left Quito at 11am and arrived around 2h30pm.  When we arrived, one of my wife’s first questions was (as always): “How safe is Tena”. To which the owner of the resort answered: “A month ago, 2 chickens got stolen. But everyone in this town knows each other, so they found the thief within a few days. … Ah yes, you may want to be careful at the main square: once a monkey took someone’s iPhone and then climbed high up in one of the trees. Eventually, he dropped the phone and it broke.”

After the check in, we had lunch and relaxed a bit at our cottage to enjoy the beautiful view over de Napo river. That left us only little time until sunset.

Right next to the resort was a small lake with a monkey island in the middle. There, we enjoyed a small tour of around one hour, which turned out to be the perfect closure of the day.

canoe tour in Tena

Day 2: Exploring the jungle by canoe

The next day, a guide took us with a motorized canoe over the Napo river. That day, we visited 3 places: a local chocolate farmer, a wildlife rescue center and an indigenous family. Because we had arranged the tour locally, it was just us and the guide and no other tourists.

Local chocolate farmer

First stop: a local chocolate farmer. The humidity, combined with the heat of the sun made us very aware that we had left the highlands of Quito and we were in the Amazon jungle. Even though I couldn’t possibility had put anymore bug spray on myself, as soon as we got off the canoe on land, the mosquitoes smelled my “gringo virgin blood”. Ironically, our guide, without bug spray, was left in peace.

The chocolate farmer took us through the complete production process. It was a very small local farm, where everything was done manually and only for the local market.

He showed us where they grew their beans, where the fermenting process took place and where they dried their beans. After his tour, we grinded our own beans and his wife prepared us some nice chocolate milk. 

chocalate farm visit Tena Ecuador

We got back into the canoe to visit our next destination: the wildlife rescue center.

amazon wildlife rescue center

At an island in the middle of the river, an NGO ran by volunteers takes care of animals who were victim of illegal trade. Besides taking care of the animals, they also prepare them for going back into nature.

One of the volunteers gave us a tour over the island. It was a good place to see all local animals at a single place and in the meantime, contribute to the organization’s cause. We saw snakes, monkeys, turtles, a variety of birds, wild boars and many more.

Some of the animals were traumatized. Sad, but also a little funny, was that one of the monkeys thought it would be a good idea to flip the turtles on their backs. The smaller monkeys didn’t know any better and started to follow his example. This kept the volunteers busy flipping turtles back on their feed every day.

visit to an ecuadorian indigenous family

Our next and final destination of that day was a visit to an indigenous family. The family’s house was built on wooden posts about 2 meters above the ground. This to protect their house from floods during periods of extreme rain.

amazon hunt

The host showed us how they hunt by blowing arrows through a pipe. We tried to shoot (not for an actual hunt) and aiming turned out to be way more difficult than it looked.

After, they prepared some ‘chicha’ for us. A local delicacy prepared from ‘yuca’, a vegetable which only grows in the jungle.

We hiked a bit into the jungle and away from their house. On the way, we were shown some exceptional vegetation. Such as the “palmera caminante”, a walking palm tree which can walk up to 20 meters per year to look for the perfect combination of sun and rain.

We arrived at a little lake full of Caymans where we fed them some small pieces of chicken.

day 3: hike to a waterfall in the amazon jungle

The following morning, we drove about 20 minutes from the resort to a nice little creek. Going upstream was a beautiful hiking path. It would had been better if we had proper hiking shoes instead of slippery sneakers. Nonetheless, it was doable and totally worth the experience.

That night, we woke up around 3am. Huge rain drops were smashing on the rooftop. Light flashes lighted up the whole cottage. Normally, I sleep through almost everything, but these thunders were so loud. This sure was the heaviest thunderstorm we had ever experienced. It was a little scary, but exciting at the same time.

day 4: heading for the next ecuadorian experience

The next morning, everything was completely peaceful and calm again. It almost seemed nothing had happened that night.  Only the water level and speed of the river gave that night’s storm away. During breakfast, we checked in with Soledad (our local travel advisor) to make sure the roads were still safe to travel, because we had planned to get back on the road later that day.

Soledad did some investigation and got back to us after an hour: some roads had been flooded, but these were all cleared again. Around 10.30am, we were back on the road for a 2.5-hour drive to our next destination: Baños.   

Looking back, we really enjoyed the 3 days in the Jungle. We’ll conclude our review our trip to Tena with a DOs and DON’Ts list:

tena: dos and don'ts

DO:

Rent a car. It worked out very well for us. It gives you freedom and flexibility. The drives are beautiful and the roads are good at most places. But make sure you are well informed so you’ll take the right roads at the right time.

Use local planners/advisors. Thanks to this, we had a smooth planning and private tours. Moreover, it saved us from a lot of hassle.

Take the Napo river by canoe. It’s beautiful and you’ll get anywhere. With the dense vegetation in the jungle, the river is an important part of the infrastructure in Tena.

DOn’t:

Don’ t take a massage in Tena. We took one after our hike. We saw our masseuses cleaning and cooking the next day. In Baños or Pallacta, you’ll get a professional massage for the same price.

Don’t buy food at small street stands. You can get sick. Just eat in restaurants and your Hotel or buy something from the supermarkets.

Don’t wake up too late. At 6pm it gets dark and there is little to do. You don’t come to the Amazon jungle for its nightlife. If you wake up early, you’ll have a lot of adventure in a single day.

By Belén and Bram

are you looking for more information about traveling to ecuador?

At What To Do in Ecuador?, you’ll find an easy and inspirational summary of what to do  in Ecuador.

In the Stories section, you’ll find more stories about travelers’ experiences. You’ll find articles comparing best places to visit and there are several articles giving you practical travel tips.

At Services, you’ll see how South Trips can help you during your trip.  You can think of as little as an airport pick-up, the organization of a part of your trip, or as much as a complete day-to-day organized vacation. Any support is always completely personalized.

If you have any questions about Ecuador, traveling to Ecuador or something you did, or did not read at our website, don’t hesitate to  contact us. We’re happy to answer all questions.

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