If your time is limited and it's within your budget, the easiest way to see something of the Oriente, as Ecuador's Amazon basin is usually called, is to buy a package tour from a reputable operator, either in your own country or in Quito
. This way all arrangements will be made for you. You will be flown from Quito
to Lago Agrio
] or Macas
, and then it will probably be a rough road ride for a while, and then a motor-driven dugout canoe to the lodge where you are staying. In this way, you will experience the rainforest but won't suffer too much hardship.
Alternatively, you can fly in independently and arrange a tour when you get to one of the gateway towns, all of which have hotels, tourist facilities and agents who can arrange jungle trips that are less expensive than they would be if you arranged them at home or in Quito
. In this way you will probably save some money but it will take more time. The least expensive way is to go by bus. Of the four main land routes into the Oriente, the shortest is from Quito
over the Papallacta
Pass down to Baeza
. From this old colonial, but somewhat by-passed town, you can head on to Lago Agrio
. But the bus journey is long, bumpy and uncomfortable, and many people who go out by bus under their own steam decide to fly back.
One of the key factors in choosing a tour is the guide. If possible, meet the guide who will be taking you through the jungle to see if you get along with each other, whether he or she is knowledgeable about the things that interest you and, most importantly, how well you share a common language. Also ask to see the guide's license, as there are many stories of people being cheated by unlicensed guides. And check the terms of the agreement carefully to see what you have and have not paid for. Rubber boots, for instance, an essential item, might not be included in the deal. The usual rates for guides is between US$25*
per day, half of which you should pay at the end of the trip. Before leaving downriver you must show your passport and register its number at the port captain's office on the waterfront.
Operators might seem charming and plausible when you talk to them in their offices, but when it comes to equipment, food, routes and other facilities they might be a bit shaky. One trick is for guides to say they'll take you to their home village, but once there they have nothing to do with you. They've simply used your tour as a way to visit their family. Untrustworthy operators, it seems, will go to any lengths to win your confidence, even falsely using the name of a well-known guide. The best way to find a guide is by word of mouth. Talk to other travellers and read the comment books kept in some of hotels and cafes.
*The prices are approximately
||Article contributed by Dominic Hamilton|||