Amazon River Basin Ecuador History and facts

This page looks dated, WHY? Because it tells you about the history of the Amazon River Basin of Ecuador and facts that few Ecuadorians even know about.  The how do we know about that? Because we were part of the team that selected Cuyabeno to be protected and we initiated ecotourism to Cuyabeno!


In 1974 a forestry project of the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) set off a process that totally changed the conservation history of Ecuador. Until then Galapagos National Park and Cotopaxi National Park were the only protected areas in the country. Much of continental Ecuador was still largely unknown with two third of the country being virgin tropical rainforest: most of the Oriente, as Ecuador calls its Amazon region, half of the outer Andes slopes and most of the Esmeraldas coastal lowlands and mangroves of Ecuador. As well as a good part of the Guayas mangroves The biologists of the FAO team started exploring the entire country for the best natural areas for their evaluation; several of this study team would later become the founders of the Cuyabeno Lodge.


Hi, our website gives you information about the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, our Cuyabeno Lodge, and Ecuador in general. Our lodge is located on a small seasonal island in Lake Cuyabeno and thus it is in the most beautiful spot in the most beautiful Amazon reserve of all the Amazon countries. Here you find our program. Our website shows you hundreds of photos and valuable information about Cuyabeno and Ecuador. Clicking on the thumbnails opens the photos in very high resolution.


We traveled the four corners of the country, riding four-wheel-drives where we could until they would get stuck in the mud or until going further would be impossible for the presence of cliffs and jungle. We would explore the jungle for weeks on foot, hiring local guides until we would have a feel for the area. For the Ecuadorian Amazon - which was still was covered by 90% with rainforest and incredibly inaccessible - a special team was led by the founding member of the Cuyabeno Lodge, to explore the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador. This team of explorers started combing the region by dug-out canoe as far as they could go into the smallest creeks. What could not be traveled by canoe, was first explored with small airplanes. We visited isolated Indian tribes landing on their airstrips, often no longer than a football field and as level as a "freshly ploughed corn field". Their villages would later serve as base camps for exploring the jungle on foot, while the people of the tribe, would show their territories and teach us about their ways of life.


AMAZON RIVER HISTORY & INTERESTING FACTS [ECUADOR]: Natural areas Ecuador exploration Sangay, 1975 historical side scan.AMAZON RIVER HISTORY & INTERESTING FACTS [ECUADOR]: FAO natural areas exploration Ecuador, Cayambe 1975 historical slide scan.AMAZON RIVER HISTORY & INTERESTING FACTS [ECUADOR]: FAO Amazon exploration natural areas Ecuador, 1975 slide scanAMAZON RIVER HISTORY & INTERESTING FACTS [ECUADOR]: Amazon huarani airstrip. FAO natural areas exploration, 1975 slide scan

Historical pictures of the 1975 FAO exploration of outstanding natural areas in Ecuador from the slide archive of the Cuyabeno Lodge member who later founded the lodge. We would first explore by car as far as the road went, like this road into the Sangay area, and then continue on foot equipped with tents on our backs. In the lowlands of the Amazon, we would continue with canoes, as far up-stream as they would take us, as shown here were the river was no more than 10cm deep. Where we could not get by canoe, we would fly in with Short take-of and landing - stol - Helio airplanes of the missionaries to airstrips sometimes as short as 90m.


End 1976, about 92 areas had been studied and the majority of the areas that now make up the System of National Parks of Ecuador were based on the recommendations of this Study by the FAO (Spanish only). Originally 9% became protected in 13 areas, later to be expanded to currently about 13% in 50 protected areas. Among those areas was the Cuyabeno watershed, which was to become a "Fauna Production Reserve". Today, very few people know the background of that management category, so, let me explain. In the mid-seventies, the FAO was promoting wildlife farming and game cropping in Africa. So, we thought it a good idea to try something similar in Ecuador, with the idea to finance management costs from revenues generated from wildlife farming and hunting. We thought that it would also create opportunities for the indigenous people of the area, the Sionas, to become a part of fauna production operations taking benefit of their own hunting and fishing culture. So, Cuyabeno was proposed to become a Fauna Production Reserve.


In the course of the years, as the world's attention shifted more towards ecotourism, Ecuador was gathering more and more international fame for its Galapagos Islands as an holiday destination. As a result, legislation was never put in place to allow for fauna production use, and looking back, that was rather fortunate, as humid tropical forests are not suitable for such practices.  Now, for all practical purposes, Cuyabeno serves as a national park, and the Siona Indians are heavily involved in the tourism services, thus providing them with jobs, while much more of their traditional lands have been protected.


Putting an area under legal protection, however was not enough, and a bit at the time, people started moving into some of the gazetted areas cutting down forest. After roads for oil-exploitation had opened the area in 1983, Cuyabeno became very badly affected and lots of forest was being cut down by people who had invaded the Eastern watershed.



The, director of the reserve, visited the Dutch founding member of the lodge in his home in Netherlands to ask him to go back to Ecuador and work with him at a solution. After analyzing the situation, the two biologists concluded, that the invaded watershed could best be eliminated from the area as there already were too many people. There was still a lot of uninhabited jungle to "move" the reservation eastward. They advised the Government accordingly and now, the park reaches all the way to the border with Peru, also including the Lagarto Cocha Lakes, thus making Cuyabeno Faunistic Reserve the second largest nature reserve of Ecuador. In 1985, our founding member participated in a United Nations team on sustainable development of the Oriente of Ecuador. Cuyabeno remained under pressure as Ecuador depended on oil revenues and continued to open exploration roads into the reserve.


AMAZON RIVER HISTORY & INTERESTING FACTS [ECUADOR]: new oil exploitation service areas created in and around Cuyabeno in the early 80s.AMAZON RIVER HISTORY & INTERESTING FACTS [ECUADOR]: The new oil exploitation service town Tarapoa in 1983.AMAZON RIVER HISTORY & INTERESTING FACTS [ECUADOR]: Settlers started clearing forest in Cuyabeno to raise cattle.AMAZON RIVER HISTORY & INTERESTING FACTS [ECUADOR]: release of oil at oil extraction pumping stations, 1983 slide scan.

Photos from scans of historical slides of 1983 and 1985 of massive deforestation following the construction of the road to the border with Colombia, traversing the Cuyabeno Nature Reserve. Besides deforestation for oil exploitation purposes (slides 1 and 2) the road had opened up the area for settlers to move in, who started clearing the jungle for raising cattle. In addition to that, in those years, oil exploitation was extraordinary messy and at each pumping station, the water with remnants of oil were dumped simply drained into the jungle. Please note, these are scans of  our  historical, partly restored, slides of the 80s. They are not our modern quality pictures.



After lots of brainstorming, we concluded that in order to rescue the area, it would be necessary to create alternative forms of income in addition to oil revenues, thus creating an interest at the level of both local and national governments. This could only be achieved if there were a sleeping accommodation. Our founding member suggested he would be willing to initiate a special marketing effort to bring tourists to Cuyabeno. The government appreciated the offer and agreed that an experimental Amazon rainforest lodge at the Cuyabeno Lakes was needed as an alternative to deforestation for agriculture and cattle raising. The first group of visitors – from the Netherlands - came in 1986. From 1986 until 1989, the tourists were hosted under rather basic conditions:

AMAZON RIVER HISTORY & INTERESTING FACTS [ECUADOR]: Historical picture of ecotourists for Cuyabeno flying from Lagoagrio.AMAZON RIVER HISTORY & INTERESTING FACTS [ECUADOR]: Adventurous ride on the first ecotour to Cuyabeno in 1986.AMAZON RIVER HISTORY & INTERESTING FACTS [ECUADOR]: Participation of the Sionas en the first ecotour to Cuyabeno.AMAZON RIVER HISTORY & INTERESTING FACTS [ECUADOR]: Happy tourists were shooting pictures all the time on the first Cuyabeno ecotour in 1986.AMAZON RIVER HISTORY & INTERESTING FACTS [ECUADOR]: The first Cuyabeno ecotour in 1986 sets off. AMAZON RIVER HISTORY & INTERESTING FACTS [ECUADOR]: Sionas and tourists jointly set up camp on first ecotour in 1986.AMAZON RIVER HISTORY & INTERESTING FACTS [ECUADOR]: The bathroom for the first ecotour in 1986 was an outhouse and a field table.AMAZON RIVER HISTORY & INTERESTING FACTS [ECUADOR]: An entire Siona family including babies participated in the first Cuyaeno ecotour in 1986.

In 1986, we organized the first official ecotour ever, with 16 brave tourists from the Netherlands, who did not know what they were getting themselves into. But, without them realizing the full significance, their visit set into march a gradual stabilization of the conservation situation of Cuyabeno, as their visit financed the new promotion efforts and gradually Cuyabeno started to become known as a prime ecotourism destination. It is fun to see how this first group was transported in old Tame Electra propeller airplane to Lagoagrio and from there transported standing up in a pick-up truck to the entrance of Cuyabeno. A group of Siona families, under leadership of Chief Victoriano lived with the tourists at the very primitive conditions of the biological station camp with no more than a central roofed structure and an outhouse. The Sionas helped pitch their tents, prepared their food and lived with the group as one big family, babies included.


In 1988, we incorporated Neotropic Turis Cia. Ltda as a social responsibility company dedicated to the conservation of national parks through ecotourism and to become. In 1989, Neotropic Turis received its license from the Government to operate an experimental lodge for ecotourism and the construction could begin. From then on, one ecotour at the time, Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve accumulated fame as an ecotourism destination.


Neotropic Turis has always worked intensively with the Sionas, almost all its transportation business is subcontracted to the Sionas, even though Neotropic Turis is licensed to operate its own canoes. When we started the health services for the Indians were almost non-existing, so the company sent in doctor every month and financed basic treatment and occasionally hospital costs. Neotropic Turis with its tropical biologists, in colaboration with the Ministry, organized and paid for the training of guides as well as the Indians. During construction, the Sionas received on the job training in carpentry, which served them to improve their own houses.



After our pioneering days in the nineteen eighties, our Amazon Jungle Lodge Cuyabeno Lodge has continuously improved both its facilities and its programs. Packages can be booked as stand-alone modules such as our regular Amazon visits and special Ecuador Amazon Expeditions and programs being developed for birdwatcher and other groups specifically interested in birds as well as other Amazon Jungle Animals and/or Amazon Rainforest Plants. Particularly popular are combined packages with Galapagos National Park for which we can provide special discounts. Check our Cuyabeno Lodge rates.

Visitation of reserve has grown from the first 16 visitors from the Netherlands in 1986 to about 14.000 in 2012 and the area has become an internationally renowned tourism destination on mainland Ecuador. By now, most of the pressure of illegal occupation has disappeared, in part, thanks to the Cuyabeno Amazon Jungle Lodge in Ecuador and its proud owners.


With Modern amenities, the Cuyabeno Lodge is the best place from where you can explore the Cuyabeno: it has modern amenities, like hot showers, clean beds with mosquito netting and a great restaurant.


For detailed information on climate and weather conditions read: climate of Cuenca, Ecuador; climate Galapagos Islands in Ecuador; climate in the Amazon of Ecuador and climate zones of Ecuador.


Now that you read about these Amazon River Basin Ecuador History and facts, you can see why the Cuyabeno Lodge is the best lodge in the entire Amazon River Basin of Ecuador!


Cuyabeno Lodge:

Shyris Park Building, Av. de los Shyris N36-188 & Av. Naciones Unidas, Office 608, 6th floor, Quito

Phone Office: (++593) (0)(2) 292 6153

Cell (mobile) phone: (++593) (0)999 80 3395

Email: info@cuyabenolodge.com.ec