Traveling South America and not going to the Amazonian rainforest felt like a no-go. Being on a budget but still wanting to avoid hoards of tourists, we decided to enter the Amazon basin in Ecuador and not the often preferred route through Brazil. The Napo Wildlife Center in Yasuni National Park offered a perfect family solution: comfortable eco-lodge owned by the Yasuni community, daily trips into the depth of the rainforest to ensure lots of wildlife spotting and respectful and knowledgable guides. Top Choice!

Tree canopy
Eco-tourism is a way to prevent the rainforest from being exploited – and destroyed – by the oil companies

Already on the first day we spotted a scary looking caiman in the lake on which the lodge was situated, as well as Giant River Otters looking for fish. The caimans looked peaceful enough but four years ago, when swimming in the lake was still allowed, a caiman attacked two guests. Although they both (miraculously) survived, the poor woman’s head had been stuck in the caiman’s jaws and she needed extensive surgery. Ouch!

The lake around the lodge has plenty of caimans, hence swimming is (now) forbidden.
Giant river otter
Giant River Otters are dangerous predators although feeding mostly on fish (and not little blond girls)

Early morning every day, we were taken by paddle boat along the black water creeks surrounding the lake. It was wonderfully calm and peaceful to float along slowly in the early morning light. Even the kids kept quiet to listen to the sounds of the rainforest!

Although we saw plenty of birds, especially Stinky Turkeys, the monkeys were often far away and difficult to spot. It was amazing, though, how well the naturalist (guide) and the native guide managed to spot animals and birds hiding in the bushes.

Yasuni national park has the privilege of having a few “clay licks”. Here parrots and parakeets go to eat clay in order to neutralise the toxins in their diet of fruits and seeds and, if you’re lucky, you can see masses of different parrots types gathering.

As a break from wildlife spotting (and of course a chance to further support the local community financially), a visit to the Yasuni community who owns the Napo Wildlife Center lodge was on the agenda. We said hello to the kids at the community school and an excited Max got a chance to play football with them at break time. A subsequent lesson in blow-piping made the visit a great adventure for Max, who was in such a good mood that he even tried the local delicacy – deepfried larvae! YUCK!!!

Extreme humidity, heat and mosquitos aside – we had a great time in the Amazonas. Although I wouldn’t have minded hanging another day at the lodge: just visiting the observation tower, checking out the local howler monkeys and sipping a multi-coloured drink in the sunset, three nights were absolutely sufficient and we all felt it had been a great adventure.