Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve with CarpeDM Adventures Review

written by local expert Anna Faustino

Anna is a co-founder of Adventure in You and has been traveling the world for the last 9 years. She has spent time living in Thailand, Mexico, Indonesia, and Spain and is our local expert in these areas. Her expertise on travel, gear, and building businesses have been featured on Foundr, Business Insider, Yahoo Travel, and more.

As part of our goal to experience the Top 50 Adventure Holidays in the world, we set off to the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador to go on a multi-day trek and boat safari trip. Representing over half of the planet’s remaining rainforest, this tropical jungle is spread out over 9 countries.

Between the incredible amount of wildlife, the picturesque views of the lush jungle, and the insider’s glimpse into the self-sufficient lifestyle of the local tribes, a trip to the Amazon Rainforest is definitely an adventure holiday worth doing.

If you’re interested in taking on this experience for yourself, read through our experience below and get in touch with our adventure partners for a discounted rate.

Experiencing the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve through CarpeDM Adventures

Surrounded by lush forests and the faint sound of insects and animals, the three days that we spent in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve is one of my favorite experiences to date. I don’t know if it was the fact that we were finally unplugged from our electronics (realities of being a travel blogger!) or if it was the calm and tranquil atmosphere that went with being surrounded by nature.

Everything happened in one big blur as we were running out of time in Ecuador. One minute I was paragliding over a volcano in Baños, and the next, I was on a bus heading to the Amazon Rainforest.

The awesome people at CarpeDM Adventures arranged every part of visiting the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve for us. After taking a four-hour bus from Baños, we arrived in Quito at 11 pm. Despite the late hour, CarpeDM Adventures had arranged for a private bus to take us to Lago Agrio through the night.

Not only did we get a voucher which said exactly what we needed for the tour but we also got a very nice welcome upon arrival. Their office is conveniently located in the Old Town of Quito and always has friendly and helpful staff to give you information. They have a wide range of Amazon Tours to choose from which vary according to your budget and needs. The staff were extremely professional and friendly, giving us all the information that we needed for the trip.

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Getting to the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve from Quito

From Quito, you can hop on a 7-hour bus which will take you straight to Lago Agrio. Alternatively, for those that are short on time, Lago Agrio also has an airport so you can fly directly there from Quito without having to go through the pains of the long bus ride.

As mentioned, CarpeDM Adventures put us on a private bus which drove through the night. Unfortunately, it was raining heavily through the night which caused landslides. Our 7-hour journey turned into 11 hours as there was lots of debris and trees. Despite the delay, we made it to Lago Agrio where we were promptly met by a member of the Caiman Lodge in Cuyabeno.

We stopped quickly for breakfast then hopped on another bus heading to the wildlife reserve. Admittedly, at this point, I was starting to feel a bit nauseous after being on transport for almost 18 hours straight. Despite this, we were more than excited. I mean, who wouldn’t be? Exploring the Amazon Rainforest has always been something that I have wanted to do and I couldn’t believe that it was finally happening.

A group of people on a canoe

Our Arrival at the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve

Upon arrival in the Cuaybeno visitor’s center, we were given a hearty meal to kick off before separating into groups. As soon as we got to our group, we set off and boarded a motorized canoe which we would use to make our way to the lodge. We spent almost 2 and a half hours on the boat weaving through the Amazon River.

We stopped and spotted various animals from birds to snakes, to monkeys along the way. It was such a cool experience! The guides in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve were all very knowledgeable and knew their surroundings really well. They knew the scientific name of every animal and was able to share information about the animal’s habitat and behavior. Throughout the boat ride, I couldn’t help but pinch myself. Was I really in the Amazon Rainforest?  

Bird in the wildlife reserve

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The Caiman Eco Lodge

After almost two and a half hours on the canoe, we finally reached what would be our home for the next two nights. The Caiman Eco Lodge, although was simple, exceeded our expectations. The last time we did jungle trekking was deep in the jungles of Sumatra and we slept in makeshift tents with paper thin mattresses. We entered our room and was more than happy with what we had!

A big bed with a mosquito net and a large bathroom with warm water! It was definitely more than what we were expecting. The lodge itself was breezy and had lots of open space. A tall tower which had more rooms and an amazing viewpoint was the central focal point of the whole lodge. It towered over the other rooms and was a great place to watch the sun go down. 

For the next three days, this place was our home. We would go out on excursions all day but would come back to the Eco Lodge to have our meals. The food that we had during our time there was absolutely delicious! Breakfasts were made up of bowls of fruit, served with an omelet and bread along with coffee and tea (that were available all day).

Lunch and dinner were as satisfying as we ate three courses composed of hot soup, a meal with rice and some fresh fruit for dessert. During the evenings when we were there, we enjoyed every meal that we had. From steamed fish to chicken stir-fry’s, we felt very spoilt! 

Jungle huts

The Cuyabeno Reserve Wildlife

After arrival, we settled in then headed back out to the canoes to look for freshwater Amazonian dolphins and go for a swim in the lagoon. As we got to the central area, we were left in absolute awe of the beautiful sunset unfolding before us. The whole sky lit up in pinks and orange as we saw the dramatic backdrop of the rainforest cascade in the background. Just a little bit further in the horizon, we could see the dorsal fins of the wild dolphins playing nearby.

Palm trees and their reflections

It was a surreal experience and is something that we wouldn’t forget. Soon, we made our way to the center of the lagoon where we could swim in the river. Naturally, a few of us hesitated as not too long ago, our guide was talking about anacondas, caimans, piranhas, and all sorts of other animals. We were assured though that no predators went to this part of the lagoon as the water was too deep for them to find food. Despite our skepticism, everyone jumped in as we all knew we wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to swim in the Amazon River. Soon, I found myself floating in the water as we watched the sunset and turn the sky into many shades of orange and pink.

Close up of a hand holding a frog

After a refreshing swim in the lagoon, we headed back to the Lodge to relax for a bit before we headed back out for some night trekking. After a good meal, we put on long trousers, decked out in bug spray, and geared up with our flashlights. We started just walking around the lodge and within a couple of meters from our rooms, we had already spotted frogs, poisonous spiders, and all sorts of creepy crawlies.

A spider on it's web

I was laughing throughout the trek at the number of spiders we saw during our walk. If my mum was there, she would have most definitely freaked out! We saw scorpion spiders, giant tarantulas, scorpions, and different kinds of insects. Our guide Fabvicio explained every creature that we saw and made remarks on the animal’s behavior. After about an hour or so, we made our way back to the lodge and got ready for bed. We lay back in our bed and let the sounds of the rainforest lull us to sleep.

Visiting the Amazon Indigenous Tribes and Local Villages

We woke up bright and early, amazed by the good night’s sleep we had. The sound of crickets, birds, and monkeys hooting orchestrated a symphony which knocked us straight out. We made our way to the breakfast hall then headed out to the boats. We headed downstream to the Puerto Bolivar Siona Community where a woman and her family would show us how to make Cassava flatbread. The trip to the community was fairly long but we were well entertained by the amount of wildlife that we spotted along the way. We went with a different group this time and our guide David was able to spot a wide variety of birds, snakes, and even sloths along the way.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Maria and her family. She brought us to the small yuca plantation that they had where we began harvesting a yucca tree. During the course of the day, we slowly helped her make this staple bread which they eat with every meal. Together, we peeled, grated, and squeezed the water out of the yuca in order to process it into a flour-like consistency. Our guides entertained us by sharing insights from the life of the people and the local community. The other tour guide, David was absolutely fascinating. He filled us with information on the way of life of the people, how he acquired his knowledge of the rainforest (he lived with an indigenous tribe for a year!), and how the Cuyabeno Lodge has implemented sustainable tourism that gives back to the local people.

A woman with a machete in the forest

Read: Why We Choose to Support Sustainable Tourism

After a hearty lunch enjoying the fruits of our labor (yucca bread), we once more headed back to our canoes to visit one of the last four Shamans of the Siona tribe. We parked our canoes and walked into this open area with a large dilapidated house in the middle. The house apparently belonged to the Shaman’s late father, another Shaman who had already passed. You know the saying if these walls could speak? Well, that is exactly how we felt as the walls, although dilapidated and rickety, has so much character.

They have lived through years of medicinal and magical healing from the Shamans. After a couple minutes of waiting, the Shaman appeared, fully decked out in his healing gear. During our conversation, he said that every part of his outfit had a meaning in the spiritual world. The jaguar teeth from his ancestors, stalks of leaves attached to his arm to wade off bad spirits and different charms and necklaces from that come from Amazon Rainforest.

Man in tribal dress

Related: Why You Should Live Local while Traveling

He told us his stories of healing done through his Ayahuasca visions as our guide translated. His journey on how he became a Shaman dumbfounded us all as he began his training when he was merely 8 years old and fully became one when he was 40. We ended the talk with an energy cleansing ritual which he performed on a volunteer (me!). We made our way back to the lodge after a long but fulfilling day spent learning about the tribe’s culture and way of life in the Amazon.

Searching for Night Creatures in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve

A crocodile's head on the water surface

After we got back from our day in the community, we all ate dinner then set off to go on a night boat ride around the reserve. Our mission? To search for caimans and other night creatures. With our flashlights in tow, we boarded the canoes and set off in the darkness. Our guides could amazingly spot animals that were miles away!

A snake eating a bird

Together with another group, we headed towards a mangrove area where there was supposedly a caiman spotting. Our boat quietly crept in the water as we turned off our engines with nothing but our flashlights illuminating the way. Then, out of nowhere, a caiman popped out of the water. It began circling our canoe, eyeing up everyone that was on the boat. Although somewhat terrifying, it was definitely an experience to see them in the wild. Our next spot, was a snake that we found, feasting on a large bird. The snake was hanging off a tree, slowly choking the poor bird until the snake could eat it. It was like watching a scene from the National Geographic! 

What to Bring to the Amazon Rainforest

CarpeDM Adventures gave us a list of essential things to bring during our 4-day excursion. We only brought day bags and left most of our stuff in a nearby hostel for safe keeping. Here are a few of the essentials.

  • Long trousers
  • Water bottle
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Tank tops
  • Swimsuit
  • Rain jacket
  • Sunglasses
  • Flashlight
  • Toiletries (biodegradable ones are preferred)

Related: Check out our Recommended Travel Gear section.

Overall Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve Experience

Overall, we had a fantastic experience at the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve and couldn’t have asked for anything more. The Amazon guides that we had were all very impressive! Their knowledge on the animals, their surroundings, the Amazon itself and the community around them were top notch.

Unlike most wildlife guides that we have encountered in previous nature excursions, these guys definitely knew what they were talking about. We left the Amazon beaming from ear to ear from all the animal encounters that we were fortunate to have. The time we spent in the Amazon Rainforest felt like it came straight out of a surreal dream.

The service of the staff from Caiman Lodge as well as CarpeDM Adventures helped give us a fantastic Amazon experience.

Our Review: Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve with CarpeDM Adventures Review

CarpeDM Adventures organizes professional tours that are fun and safe. Although the trek itself wasn't physically demanding, the entire experience was well worth it, given all the wildlife encounters and picturesque scenery that we saw. The interaction with the local shaman also made the entire trip a lot more meaningful as we got a glimpse into the way of life of a few of the last remaining tribes in the Amazon Rainforest. We highly recommend this experience.

Knowledgeable guides
Variety of animals
Needed more info on what to bring

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One experience you have to have in Ecuador is exploring the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve!

Disclaimer: Please note that despite receiving complimentary services from CarpeDM, all opinions are ours and remain completely unbiased.

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8 thoughts on “Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve with CarpeDM Adventures Review”

  1. What an incredible experience! I definitely understand your hesitation before jumping into the lagoon, I always imagine things grabbing me from the bottom and considering that its the Amazon- the risks are high! The Caiman Eco Lodge looks amazing too, I’m a huge fan of eco lodges anywhere in the world. Seeing live National Geographic footage must have been thrilling!

  2. Wow, wow, wow! That is one heck of a trip! I could not do that long of a bus trip but the rest of your adventure sounds amazing. I love the Eco-lodge and your activities are just awesome. Nice having a great guide who understands the locals, the terrain, weather, and creepy crawlies.

  3. Sounds like a scary drive there with the landslides, but glad you made it there ok! Looks like an amazing trip! The lodge is so cool and searching for the night creatures would be so much fun! I could do without the spiders though, lol! 🙂 I would love to go to Ecuador sometime and have a similar adventure! Thanks for the great recommends on what to bring, too!

  4. So glad you had such an amazing adventure – will have to plan a trip to Ecuador soon! We spent 3 days in the Amazon in Bolivia and really loved our time there, we paid for a private tour which was only an extra $100; so cheap because I think this is maybe one of the least visited tourist parts of the Amazon 🙂 Highly recommend the Bolivian region if you’re keen on getting back 🙂


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