When we first began exploring the Ecuadorian Amazon in the 1980s, we provided free medical treatment to communities of Kichwa indigenous people living along a part of the Napo River. One inspired community at Sani Isla decided to establish a strict 10,000 acre wildlife reserve on their land in order to provide a sustainable income from ecotourism. This is where Aqua-Firma will be running this 5 days Canoe, Lodge & Wilderness Camping safari, led by Ralph Pannell, formerly of Rainforest Concern and now a director at Aqua-Firma.
Ralph first explored these forests when leading a primate research expedition. Primates will certainly be one of the wildlife spotting targets for this trip, based for 3 nights in comfortable cabanas; whilst also trekking deep into Amazon wilderness with 1 night spent beside a narrow tributary which rarely sees a human being. We will establish a temporary tented camp here, all laid out with clean and comfortable bedding, surrounded by the sounds of primary rainforest.
From our tented camp, we will spend a long day paddling slowly south east, watching out for wildlife and birdlife as we go. Canoes enable us to move almost silently, causing minimal disturbance. We will be too far upstream to paddle all the way to where this river empties into the Napo River (and speed is not our aim), but by late afternoon, we will transfer to a motor launch to take us down to the Rio Napo and then back to our en-suite cabanas in time for dinner.
Spotting wildlife and exploring the Amazon environment in detail will be a priority. So too will be learning about Kichwa history and culture, taking the opportunity to visit a village where organic coffee and cacao is grown. We will also provide an insight into conservation challenges and solutions in this gem of a country on the Equator.
Some of our best birdwatching opportunities will be from a canopy tower, built around a huge Kapok tree. We will also head to clay lick where hundreds of parrots and parakeets often come to top up on the salt and minerals they need to neutralise acids their stomachs have to deal with when eating forest fruit.
Whilst much of our time will be spent north of the Rio Napo, we will also head south into the Yasuni National Park. This is Ecuador's largest protected area and the heart of this country's incredible biodiversity. Ecuador's north eastern lowland rainforests, an ancient Ice Age refugia nestled at the foot of the Andes, have been assessed as the most biologically diverse location on Earth. A few of its world records include 2,274 species of tree and bush, 83 species of reptile, 64 species of stingless bee and 100,000 species of insect per hectare. 644 species of tree have been found in a single hectare here, which is almost as many as you will find in all of USA and Canada combined. We can also find 550 species of bird, 13 species of monkey, 105 species of amphibian and 1,000 species of butterfly.
Of mammals we can hope to encounter, Red Howler Monkeys will almost certainly be clearly audible, with their dawn and dusk calls carrying up to 5km through the forest. The largest troops of monkeys you might see will be of Squirrel Monkeys or White-fronted Capuchins.
Of the smaller monkeys, Black-mantled Tamarins will be heard by their squeaking; whilst to see the world's smallest monkey, the Pygmy Marmoset, we will rely on the local knowledge of your indigenous Kichwa guides to locate a tree where they feed on tree sap.
Whilst larger mammals do their best to keep out of sight, camera traps set in this area have recorded Pumas, Jaguars, Peccary, Jaguarundi and Tapir. We will be looking out for the tracks of these elusive animals; and by day and night we will have good chances to see both Spectacled Caiman and Black Caiman, which are largest of all Amazon reptiles.
This hosted journey will take place just before one of our Galapagos Shark Research Insights and Photography Dive Liveaboard led by one of the World's foremost whale shark researchers and photographer, Dr Simon Pierce.