I’m really tempted to call this blog “Tena things to do in Tena, Ecuador” instead of “Things to do in Tena” but I have a feeling that might get flagged.
Tena is a decent-sized city on the eastern foothills of the Ecuadorian Andes. As the altitude drops from the sierra, the temperature increases and what started as a cloud forest turns into dense, humid, tropical rainforest – the Amazon rainforest, in fact.
One thing I love about Tena is that it’s not trying too hard. It’s still very much an Ecuadorian Amazonian city, despite the increase in tourism and resulting improvements to infrastructure. The weather is generally pleasant, in a tropical way. It’s never too muggy and, coming from the oxygen-depleted Andes, breathing the air here is like…I want to say Nutella, but I feel like that’s a weird comparison. You feel like you can finally breathe, in any case.
Though many people, Ecuadorians included, consider Tena more of a stepping stone to the deeper Amazon, it offers more than what initially meets the eye! Instead of skipping this stop, consider the following things to do in Tena, Ecuador during your next visit.
Visit a park or two
Definitely, one to add to your “Tena Ecuador things to do” list: visit the parks and caves located in town.
There are a few parks in Tena worth visiting. One of which that can be combined with lunch by the appropriately named Tena River.
The first park isn’t technically a park at all and is instead a boardwalk, or malecón, which happens to have its own Facebook Page (very Ecuadorian!). It faces the Tena River and has a few food and drink kiosks, as well as benches and shade. From here you can cross the river and climb up a tower to get a better vantage point for those panoramic shots we all love so much.
Across the street, along the malecón, you’ll find a few restaurants and cafés worth checking out. My personal favorite is Café Tortuga, which offers wifi, quinoa burgers and is pet-friendly. While you’re there you might meet Luis, a young man who sells hand-made clay sculptures and pipes. I encourage you to support his work!
Parque Amazónico “La Isla” is another popular spot within the city limits. It’s technically a zoo and botanical garden and, as implied by its name, Parque Amazónico “La Isla” is actually an island. To get there, you’ll need to hire a canoe for a short ride. The entrance fee is minimal and you can explore the island along the signaled trails.
Cavernas Jumandi: Closer to Archidona (the town before Tena), Cavernas Jumandy is a great activity to do if you have a morning free in Tena. You’re required to hire an indigenous guide ($3/hr) who leads you through various caves, many of which have swimming holes. There’s one stalagmite rock formation that resembles a penis, appropriately called Jumandy’s Penis. Supposedly the water dripping from this thing will give you fertility. #WeirdThingsToDoInEcuador
Important note: You will get soaking wet on this tour.
Experience river life / Have a walk along the river
One of the reasons Tena is such a pleasant place to visit, in terms of climate and overall feel, is because of the rivers that run through it. It’s likely the reason people settled here to begin with! One of my favorite things to do in Tena is exploring these waterways.
The easy way to appreciate Tena River is to walk along it, starting at the malecón mentioned previously, crossing the bridge to the other bank. Cross back to grab a coffee and brownie at one of the restaurants. This is the plan I would choose if my parents were in town because they get tired quickly and like coffee.
If you’d rather hike along a river, visit Cascada de Latas, about 13 km from Tena along the Tena-Misahualli road. The entire hike takes about 45 minutes and you’ll come across three beautiful waterfalls along this path, one of which is a natural slide.
If you happen to be feeling more hard-core though, the ultimate river experience involves white water river rafting. The rivers around Tena offer class I to IV rapids and attract rafters and kayakers world wide. There are a number of tour operators you can go through to organize your trip. In fact, there’s one on the malecón I mentioned earlier (I basically just live on this malecón when I go to Tena – slight bias, I suppose).
Gifts to buy in Tena
Another crucial activity to add to your “Tena Ecuador Things To Do” list is shopping for gifts. Though I live in Ecuador and visit the rainforest quite regularly, I always stop through Tena to buy a few gifts. Here are some of my gift recommendations:
- Hammock – surprisingly, hammocks here are pretty darn cheap. You can buy a basic one for only $10-$12. The more colorful and 100% cotton hammocks cost around $25-$40.
- Kichwa woven bag – though not cheap, these bags are entirely hand woven from natural plant fibers. This is a keepsake item or gift, but expect to pay around $100 per bag – and that’s a good price.
- Macagua – these are ceremonial cups often used in Ayahuasca ceremonies or to serve chicha, a traditional alcoholic beverage made from yucca. These Kichwa cups are beautifully painted and quite cheap. The smallest ones go for $3/cup and the bigger ones sell at around $15/cup or bowl.
- Handmade jewelry – The Kichwa people of this region are known for their skills in traditional jewelry making. Using seeds collected in the rainforest, they design and craft beautiful pieces that people back home would love to receive as gifts.
- Kallari chocolates – Kallari is a local brand of chocolate based in Tena and another great gift option, if you’re looking for some. Though you can find the bars in a few shops in town, you can also go directly to the Kallari office to buy directly from the producers.
- Guayusa tea – Called nature’s caffeine, Guayusa is a medicinal plant and herbal infusion that has been used by indigenous communities for centuries. It is naturally caffeinated and is traditionally had in the mornings to ward off hunger and provide energy. Recently, it’s been popularized and exported, but you can buy it in its raw form in Tena. Keep your eyes peeled for green wreaths hung at the entrances of stores and kiosks – this are Guayusa leaves and only cost about $1-2 per wreath.
Where can you go gift shopping in Tena? Just walk along the main road, “Calle Teniente Hugo Ortiz” that runs parallel to the river and you’ll find shops that sell all of these objects.
Wrapping things up…
You may have already noticed, but Tena is one of my favorite spots in Ecuador. It’s a short drive from Quito, there are vegetarian restaurants there, and it’s surrounded by de-lush-ious nature (new word alert!). I don’t need much more to make me happy.
There are many more things to do in Tena, Ecuador and nearby. Keep your eyes open for upcoming blogs on the subject.
If you already have questions, send us a comment below. We’d be happy to provide suggestions on things to do in Tena.
Until then, happy wandering!