My husband and I just returned from a 7 night stay at Napo Wildlife Center and 7 nights were not enough for us. I doubt that this review will be able to adequately put into words the absolutely amazing time that we had at this wonderful lodge. As biologists, our primary interests were to see the vast and diverse fauna that call the area home, and we were not disappointed. We were fortunate to have wonderful guides – Guido and Freddy – who seemingly could find anything. This was the trip of a lifetime for us.
Searching for wildlife in the rainforest can be difficult – so many places for the animals to hide. Small, quiet, patient groups are more conducive to success. We like to go at our own pace, and we’ve been known to watch the same group of monkeys for 20 or 30 minutes. We are as thrilled with finding small frogs, lizards and snakes, as we are at finding monkeys and macaws. We like to see biology in action. There are a number of strategies that can be used to improve the odds of seeing wildlife - go slowly and look carefully; be as quiet as possible; be patient; be willing to search in the day, night, sun and rain. We did all of these things, but really the two most important aspects are luck (which you have little control over), and having an expert guide. Because wildlife viewing was so important to us, we decided to spring for a private naturalist guide; this also provided us with our own local guide as well as a canoe and paddler just for us. We were so fortunate to have Guido (a freelancer arranged by NWC) as our naturalist guide – his English is excellent, he knows and can communicate a lot of biological information on the rainforest and its inhabitants, he listens to the interests of his guests, he is quite charming, and is a talented photographer. Freddy, our local guide was awesome – he was friendly, knowledgeable, and took very good care of us. They kept us safe from the wildlife, dehydration, and our clumsy selves.
The second decision that we made that enhanced our trip tremendously was that we decided to stay 7 nights, rather than the standard 3 or 4. Like those on the 3 or 4 night options, we were able to hike and view wildlife from the canoes and observation tower as well as visit the clay licks and the Kichwa interpretation center. Staying for 7 nights also allowed us to visit the Kichwa community and see the new school and some of the interesting and innovative sustainability projects they have implemented. We spent a day searching for pink river dolphins and fishing for piranha at Panacocha, and we took a night hike to clay lick #2 and spent the night there (every day of the trip was great, but this day was extra special). Overall, we saw 8 species of monkey (squirrel, red howler, owl, dusky titi, monk saki, capuchin, wooly, and golden mantled tamarin), 2 agouti, a herd of collared peccaries (talk about thrilling – Freddy heard them and took us off trail to hear and see them smashing through the forest), a three toed sloth, a tayra crossing over the creek just 15 feet ahead of us, and a giant otter family; 18 species of frogs (including poison dart frogs); several species of lizards; 6 species of snakes (including an anaconda); and over 70 species of birds. The number of birds may seem low for a 7 night trip, but except for one morning at the observation tower, we really were not looking for birds – most of these we just sort of ran across. We saw monkeys stealing eggs from bird nests and other interesting biological interactions. Note that there are no guarantees that you will see as much (although you may see more) – this list is just provided to demonstrate that the area is teeming with wildlife.
Not only did Guido and Freddy find tons of wildlife, it was great to see how thrilled they were when they did so. Very (authentically) enthusiastic about seeing and experiencing nature. This seemed to be the case for all of the guides at Napo – when one guide heard about something being seen (like the anaconda), word quickly spread to all of the guides, who would then seek out their groups and get them quickly to the right spot to maximize the chance that the animal would still be there.
The lodge itself, the location, and the staff are all wonderful. We concur with the rest of the 5 star reviews in terms of the:
Cabinas – well designed, very clean, comfortable bed, great shower (hot water! excellent flow), and view (ours, cabina 6, was right next to the lake)
Food – three well-prepared meals a day, with snacks (small cheese or chicken salad sandwiches and/or fruit) served on hikes and other excursions. The food was perfect for us – nothing fancy but good home-style local food. Favorites included the ground plantains with chopped bacon for breakfast; the delicious fresh fruit; different breads/rolls at dinner each night; avocados; beef with sauce; roast pork; fried yucca. Fresh juices you can’t find in the US, but served every day at breakfast in the jungle. Our favorite – cold fresh juice (or on the one cool rainy day – hot chocolate) provided to us at the end of every excursion.
Service – service seems like the wrong word because everyone was genuinely kind and caring, and did the best they could to make our visit the best vacation ever. By the end of the week we felt more like friends than clients. Please tip generously – the guides, paddlers, and other staff work extremely hard to make your stay wonderful.
A few tips you might consider:
1. Private guide! This is one option that I think NWC could make more obvious on the website – we probably would not have known it was an option if we had not read it in the TA reviews. And it made our trip unforgettable.
2. The lodge sells (but does not seem to advertise) an illustrated booklet of the birds and mammals found in the area. You can buy it at the bar, and it was a great resource. If only they had the same for reptiles and amphibians!
3. Be open to the experience. Visiting the community with our guides (both Kichwa) was a great experience. Sleeping overnight at the parrot clay lick in the middle of the jungle was unforgettable. We ate ants (taste like lemons!) and drank chicha. We trekked after the elusive wooly monkey. Experiences we will never forget.
4. Have reasonable expectations as to what you will see. We had two incredible night hikes and didn't see a single mammal on either hike – frogs, sleeping lizards, snakes, spiders, and similar animals are much more likely. At the observation tower, many birds will be far away and you will need to take a look through your guide’s spotting scope. Sometimes you come up empty – we never did see the river dolphins and only saw the otter family on the third try (and not where they were supposed to be, but back in the lake as we were heading back to the lodge for the last time). Nature is fickle.
5. Don’t be freaked out that you are asked not to hike without your guide. If we had known this ahead of time it might have been a deal breaker for us and that would have been a huge error. It turns out that there are few trails that can be reached without getting to them via canoe, and the secretive nature of the fauna makes it unlikely that you will see much anyway without a guide. So we did not find being with our guide on all hikes to be a problem. Guido and Freddy were great – we told them we did not need a lot of down time and that we wanted to do night walks and they made it happen.
6. Be kind to the animals. For your safety and theirs, handling the wildlife is mostly off limits. On occasion you may have the opportunity to hold something your guide says is safe. If you have deet or other bug spray on your hands – don’t hold the frogs! They breathe through their skin and can easily absorb toxins.
7. We didn’t want to carry a lot of cash to Ecuador, so we checked with the lodge ahead of time and found that we could charge our tips to our Visa card. You might want to contact the lodge before you leave home to make sure that this is still allowed, but this helped us a lot.
We cannot recommend NWC highly enough, and we are already trying to decide when we can visit next.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- The Napo Wildlife Center offers visitors a number of vantage points from which to admire and experience the spectacular, awe-inspiring diversity of the Amazon Basin. Climb the 120-ft. High galvanized-metal stairs to the jungle tower for otherwise impossible eye-to-eye views of canopy dwellers such as monkeys, eagles and macaws...Spy on clay licks teeming with parrots and occasionally visited by jungle cats or a magnificent elephant-muzzled tapir...Experience Man's ageless interaction with the jungle through the native community's perspectiveEnjoy evening walks to witness the astounding nightlife of the dense, entangled understory...Explore the many trails through "terra firme", "varzea" and swamp forest in search of the best that Amazonia has to offerBe it from the ground up, or from the canopy down, from hidden viewing blinds to silent paddling up black-water creeks, we deliver the biggest most intricate picture possible of this wonderful world. Napo Wildlife Center not only provides the educated perspective of bilingual guides but also the hands-on knowledge of the true guardians of Anangu, who live and witness the marvels of their jungle home every day. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Napo Wildlife Centre Hotel Yasuni National Park
- Napo Wildlife Centre Ecuador/Yasuni National Park