There are few places in the world as wild and spectacular as the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in Ecuador. This Amazon wonderland can be visited over a short 2-4 days and is easily accessible from Ecuador’s capital, Quito. On top of that, it’s an excellent choice for families that want to experience the Amazon in a comfortable and safe way.
If you don’t yet have the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve on your itinerary, it’s time to make space for it!
Where is Cuyabeno
Cuyabeno is one of Ecuador’s largest reserves and is located in the province of Sucumbíos in the northeast of Ecuador’s Amazon. The reserve spans 590,112 hectares and is considered one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, along with Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park. If there’s anything lacking in Ecuador, it isn’t biodiversity (and we haven’t even covered the Galapagos Islands!).
So, what’s so special about Cuyabeno and why would you go there instead of, say, the Yasuní?
Apart from being the site of Naked and Afraid XL3 (true story), the Cuyabeno is unique because of its ecological characteristics. In fact, you won’t find a place like it anywhere else. The main reason is because its ecological characteristics are directly influenced by the adjacent Andes mountain range.
Cuyabeno can be described as a swamp-like flooded rainforest. It’s made up of 14 lagoons and many rivers, home to the rare pink river dolphin and Hoatzin, an eagle with an 8 ft wingspan.
Due to its unique environment, the biodiversity and concentration of flora and fauna that you’ll observe in Cuyabeno are beyond what you can imagine!
How to get to Cuyabeno?
To get to Cuyabeno you have a few options. From Quito or Guayaquil, you can take a LATAM, Avianca or TAME airplane to Lago Agrio, the gateway city into Cuyabeno. The flight only takes 45 minutes from Quito.
If you’re traveling by road, you’ll find regular $11-12 buses to Lago Agrio from Quito, a trip that takes about 8 hours. You can usually find a night bus so that you arrive in the morning.
Once you’re in Lago Agrio, you can find tours into Cuyabeno, or if you purchased your tour in advance (recommended), your provider will likely organize a shuttle service from Lago Agrio to your lodge.
Do you want a hassle-free option for your visit to Cuyabeno? Check out this Cuyabeno tour package with Wanderbus.
Things to do in Cuyabeno
At the rate we’re destroying the Amazon (not exaggerating), this might very well be your only chance to explore the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in Ecuador – make the most of it! We recommend:
There’s really nothing like hiking through the dense Amazon. Sometimes the air feels so heavy, it can seem suffocating. In reality, this is probably the purest air you’ll ever breathe – straight from the lungs of the Earth aka the Amazon rainforest. If you’re with a good guide, you might spot bird, monkey, and snake species (among many other species!)
Cuyabeno is a birdwatcher’s paradise. People often travel here just to birdwatch. There are hundreds of tropical bird species that can be found in Cuyabeno. In large part due to its marshy conditions and abundance of fish, insects, and crustaceans.
Spotting for cayman, especially at night, is a thrilling activity. Though they don’t grow as large as an alligator or some species of crocodiles, caymans still boast a nice set of teeth. These beautiful reptiles can often be seen basking in the sunshine surrounded by butterflies – they make for beautiful subjects if you’re into nature photography.
Catch and Release fishing
Piranha fishing is a satisfying activity, especially for those of the younger generations. Piranhas can’t help but grab whatever bait you throw at them! However, be extremely careful removing the hook from their mouths and, if you’re inexperienced, its best to let a guide do this for you – it isn’t unheard of to lose a chunk of a finger.
Definitely don’t miss doing a night walk while you’re in Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. During the night, you’ll experience another face of the Amazon. Animals you’d never see during the day begin to peer from within the depths of the forest, timidly (and sometimes ferociously) foraging for food. Make sure to follow your guide closely, the Amazon is teeming with wonderfully poisonous creatures 🙂
Swim with Pink dolphin
Amazon’s pink dolphins are one of the world’s rarest species and they can be spotted in Cuyabeno. Laguna Delfincocha, one of the 14 lagoons in the reserve, is a place where you can spot and even swim with the pink dolphins.
Visit a Siona Community
The Siona are an indigenous ethnic group that live in this area of the Ecuadorian and Colombian Amazon. While in this region, you’re invited to visit their communities and learn about their culture and traditions. Some visitors also partake in ceremonies involving medicinal plants, like ayahuasca.
Best places to stay in Cuyabeno
It’s recommended to organize a tour that includes accommodation before leaving Quito, just so you get the best prices and find availability. A few nice places to stay include:
This lodge was established by a family of the Siona community, with the support of sponsors. All profits from lodge accommodations to eco-tourism activities are shared by both stakeholders. This lodge runs its operations in an environmentally conscious way. It uses solar panels for electricity and saving water through the use of dry toilets. All the activities listed in the section above, and more, can be experienced at Tapir Lodge.
Cuyabeno Dolphin Lodge
If the idea of swimming with pink dolphins sparked your curiosity, the Cuyabeno Dolphin Lodge might be a good place to stay while in Cuyabeno. Here you can swing lazily on your hammock while overlooking the river and its pink river dolphins (spotting the dolphins is not guaranteed, but likely).
So you’ve just spent a few days at the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in Ecuador, what now?
The possibilities are endless! Depending on your time and budget, you should consider visiting some of the following destinations.
You’ll need at least 5-7 days to make the most of the Galapagos Islands. Also, this isn’t really a budget destination, but it’s worth every penny!
Check out some of our Galapagos Islands packages among our extra tours.
The Ecuadorian Andes
If you haven’t had a chance to see some of Ecuador’s most picturesque destinations like Quilotoa and Cotopaxi Volcano, you’re missing out. This is a great option if you’re on a tight budget and don’t have much time to spare.
Both Quilotoa and Cotopaxi can be visited in just 1 day on our Jacamar Pass.
There are a number of beaches in Ecuador you can’t miss. Among these are Los Frailes, Isla de la Plata, Ayampe, Mompiche and Montañita.
If you have a few days to spare, consider doing a tour of the Pacific Coast, learning Spanish and getting your surf on.