Experience Ecuador’s Amazon Culture and Nature at the Yachana Lodge and Foundation
The first thing you realize when arriving at Yachana is the amazing views of the Napo River that snakes through the valley below the lodge. During the evening hours, the sun sets over the western horizon where the Amazon Rainforest meets Ecuador’s Andes Mountains. On clear days, the peaks of five volcanoes can be seen on the horizon as you peer from your cabin porch out over the dense jungle.
To have a chance to view this amazing show of nature is reason enough to make the trip to the Yachana Eco-Lodge. But, for those wanting to experience all that the Amazon Rainforest has to offer, this is where you should start. Whether you’re looking for bird watching, family adventure, hiking, trips to local communities or a relaxing time in nature you can find your next adventure here. Oh yea, and the food is some of the best that can be found at any Amazon lodge.
The name Yachana is derived from the local Kichwa word for “a place for learning.” At first glance, many people wonder why a “for profit” Amazon lodge would have such a name. Visitors soon realize that the lodge is only one part of the whole Yachana Foundation. By combining funds from donations and income from the for-profit lodge, the non-profit Yachana Foundation was created to engage with the communities of Ecuador’s Amazon. Their mission is to help improve lives while protecting the environment that our world is dependent upon. Over the past 10 years, the Training Center has educated over 500 students to reach their full potential and lead a life that will not only help themselves, but also give back to their communities.
The Eco-Lodge is located on the 2,500 acre Yachana Preserve. It includes 14 upscale cabins that are tucked into a dense jungle that provides privacy and escape. Each cabin includes a private bathroom, hot water, Wi-Fi and a large porch where you take in the stunning scenery all around you while relaxing on the hammocks. Remember to keep an eye out for our little nature friends, like the colorful toucans or the very rare glass frog.
A short walk from the cabins is the thatch-roofed dining pavilion where you can enjoy your meals with amazing views of the Napo River. All of the cuisine is made from ingredients that are purchased locally. The world class and on-site chef has invented unique and delicious dishes by using the techniques and ingredients of the local cultures. For those interested in cooking, ask about the “Lost Foods of the Amazon” program, where you will have a chance to learn the traditional cooking methods that have existed in the region for thousands of years.
All the hardwood cabins and buildings on-site were constructed locally by students at the Yachana Foundation.
What to Do
Yachana offers a variety of programs for guests. The top programs include the 4 Day & 3 Night Itinerary and the 5 Day & 4 Night Itinerary.
Possible activities during the traditional programs may include –
- Pick-up at the Coca Airport
- Deep jungle nature hikes
- Transport by rancheros
- Tour of the Training Center
- River floating on tubes
- Night walks to find wildlife
- Motorized canoe transport on the river
- Visit to a local community
- Shaman cleansing ritual
- Learn indigenous hunting techniques
- Visit to a local farm
- Learn how to make chocolate from scratch
Yachana also offers programs to fit your specific needs and group such as the –
Kichwa Cultural Immersion – This journey (not included in the regular package tours) takes 1 1/2 days. It includes a 3-4 hour journey down the Napo River to a deep Amazon Kichwa Community. You will have the chance to fully immerse yourself in the culture and learn about the community’s way of life and cultural practices. Your night will be spent sleeping in tents around the community.
The Honeymoon Package – This trip is perfect for those newly married couples who want a little extra privacy to spend time with one another. It includes all the full lodge activities, a private deluxe cabin, private waterfall and canoe tour, and romantic candlelight dinners topped off with a bottle of wine.
White Water Rafting and Transfer – This whitewater rafting adventure includes private one-way transport and a full-day white water adventure on the Upper Rio Napo. Beginners and expert rafters can find a trip that suites them.
Service Learning – The Yachana lodge and foundation gives school students the chance to take part in educational and interactive trips. Yachana’s goetourism and educational programs immerse students in the Amazon’s culture and nature.
Amazon Culinary & Gastronomy Tour – This tour gives guests a chance to take part in the preparation for their meals. The “Lost Foods of the Amazon program” uses a variety of natural ingredients and indigenous cooking methods to teach you about the local Amazon cuisine and culture.
Teenagers Jungle Tour – This 4 days & 3 nights package helps teenagers explore the Amazon through cultural and social exchange. It includes a variety of recreational activities and immersion in the local communities.
Evan & Melina, the founders of South American Outdoors, had the opportunity to visit Yachana and experience some of the activities available. Here are the accounts of their favorite experiences –
Cabins – When we first arrived in our cabin we were overjoyed. The stretch of cabins sit on the edge of a sloping cliff that looks out over the Napo River. The cabins appear to be relatively new and maintained very well. We had a large king-sized bed where we could sit and stare out the windows as the sun set over the jungle.
Its unique cliff-side location brings the tree tops right up to your back porch. We spent much of our free time reading and relaxing on the outdoor hammocks as exotic birds glided around us. At night, you really get the feeling that you are sleeping in the jungle. Being located many miles away from any large communities means there is little light pollution. The stars seem to cover the sky from horizon to horizon and reflect beautifully off the flowing Napo River. We spent every night falling asleep to the busy Rainforest sounds all around us. It reminded me of those nature meditation recordings, but it was all real life.
By far the location of this lodge is hard to beat and is one of its greatest features.
Jungle Hikes –
It seems like any time you trek through the Rainforest you’re bound to come in contact with some unknown species of life. I lost track of how many times we found very strange looking insects that the guide (who grew up in the Amazon) had never seen in the jungle before. There is such a large variety of life in the Amazon that you never truly know what you are going to run into.
The first day we arrived, we trekked down to the nearby Ceibos. If you’ve ever seen one of these trees, you probably have never seen one as large as this! The tree climbed hundreds of feet up into the canopy until it got lost amongst the thick foliage. It probably stretched from 10 to 20 feet in diameter. Seeing this tree was a great introduction to our trip and a good reminder that we were finally in the Rainforest.
Over the next few days, we were guided over jungle paths and rivers through the dense foliage. Our guide Alfonso explained to us the vast knowledge he has acquired from living in the Amazon. We learned about the medicinal plants that the locals still use to this day. One of the guests in our group was a retired biology teacher who seemed fascinated by the vast amount of unique plants and animals that we ran into that included bats, colorful mushrooms, strange looking insects, and flowers that can be found nowhere else in the world. One of the coolest/creepy things we found was a tree that when cut into would bleed a thick red substance known as the Sangre de Dragon or Blood of the Dragon. This blood-like substance helps seal cuts and acts as a natural antiseptic.
Local Community –
This was one of the more eye opening experiences I have ever had in my life. We hear a lot about the beliefs and cultures of the communities that live in the largely undeveloped parts of the Amazon, but we never get to truly experience it.
The community we visited has been influenced enough by outside culture to use some modern conveniences and clothing, but they still hold on to many of their culture’s beliefs and practices.
To arrive at the community, we boarded a motorized canoe and were transported up the river. As we floated across the water, we could view other communities on the river’s edge and get a glimpse into daily river life. When we first arrived at the community, we were greeted by the community’s Shaman or Curandero , who brought us to the community center. Each individual in our group was treated to a cleaning ceremony that includes the Shaman blowing smoke across your body and waving leaves that is believed to sense and heal bad energy in your body. Rather than it just being a ceremony, it was also an educational experience. Our guide explained to us the historical and cultural context that these Shamans have within the indigenous communities.
Next, we were brought to an area where we could try out our hunting skills. Although the locals don’t tend to hunt with spears and blow-dart guns today, they still know how to use them by the knowledge passed down from their ancestors. After a short demonstration, each of us had the chance to throw the spears at targets or use the blow dart gun. This turned into a competitive match to see who could be the best hunter. I regretfully admit I was the last person to master the blow dart.
Inside one of the homes, a woman fom the community showed us the method for making Chicha, which is an alcoholic drink the indigenous people use for ceremonies and occasions.
We finished up the tour by watching a community soccer game. The game wasn’t set up for us and is a regular occurrence there. We were informed that members from another community, located further down river, had come to challenge the local team. We sat and cheered with the crowd, but were too cautious to pick a side.
Bird Watching – To be honest, I was never attracted to bird watching, but after this trip I have since bought birding books and have been keeping track of all the species I spot in South America.
The Yachana preserve covers 2,500 acres of protected jungle which is full of many rare bird species. We started early in the morning by climbing aboard a ranchero and began exploring around the preserve in search of birds. When we spotted a new bird, we would whistle to the driver to stop. Peering through telescopes and cameras, we were able to catch a glimpse of exotic Amazon birds we would have otherwise passed up. Our guide Alfonso was very knowledgeable in the identification of the different species. During this expedition, I was able to photograph the first toucan I have ever seen in the wild.
The Yachana Training Center – The trip to the training center helped clarify what the whole Yachana Foundation encompasses. We were able to see the grounds and accommodation where the students live while they attend the school. We saw a variety of farming techniques including a hydroponic system which are used to educate students on the newest agriculture techniques. We also explored the kitchen where students learn culinary skills that they go on to use in the professional world. One thing that makes the Yachana Lodge very unique is that, most of the funding generated from the cost of your trip goes towards building the Yachana Foundation. This allows students from across the Amazon to receive valuable education and experience.
Local Farm – We were told that for our dinner we would be collecting our own ingredients, so we could make meals using indigenous Amazon techniques. We were transported to a nearby farm where we took an educational tour of all the exotic fruits, cocoa beans, vegetables and other crops that are grown in the area. After collecting the ingredients for our dinner, we returned to the lodge for our culinary class.
Lost Food of the Amazon – For this class, we were allowed to enter the kitchen where we were greeted by Yachana culinary students and the head chef. For our “Lost Food of the Amazon class,” we cooked Maito which is a traditional fish dish of the Ecuadorian Amazon. To begin, we laid out thick leaves that would act as our cooking shells. We laid the Maito river fish in the leaf and added fresh cut vegetables, salt, spices, and Yuca onto the leaf. The leaf was then tied up to roast the fish inside and added to the oven. In about 15 minutes our rolled-up leaves came out of the oven. When untied, steam rose from the fish and we feasted on some delicious Maito.
Overall, we would highly recommend Yachana for an Amazon Adventure. It has a great location that is very secluded and private. Getting to the lodge takes a few hours by car over rough terrain, but is well worth the journey. When you arrive, you will be in dense Rainforest that cannot be found at other lodges around the same price.
Even though the local communities were putting on a show about their culture, it does NOT have a tourist- trap feel. More so, you will feel as if you are being invited into these communities, so they can show you their unique and secluded culture.
The food was never disappointing and always unique. Having world-class meals this deep into the jungle was very unexpected.
To top it all off, we were glad to see that the lodge was just a part of the whole Yachana Foundation. Responsible tourism is always a high priority for us when we promote tours on our website. To see how Yachana is using a for-profit lodge to fund the much large non-profit foundation made us glad to be visiting them.
For more information on the Yachana Lodge and Foundation and the tours they offer contact them HERE or –
Call: +593 2 252 3777