I have already recommended it to friends who share my commitment to low impact sustainable tourism and who are considering an Amazon adventure.

Overall Impression Travel from Quito, the decidedly 21st century capital of Ecuador, to the Napo Wildlife Center, deep in the Yasuni National Park was an easy journey back in time. It was less than a one-hour flight to Coca, a small town on the Napo River, which seemed to hark back half a century, until I noticed the proliferation of mobile phones along its busy streets and the modern boat dock. I boarded the awaiting Napo Wildlife Center motorboat with my guide Roberto, who had flown with me from Quito, and headed downriver into the timeless immensity of the Amazon Basin. Before long, the Napo River, although still almost 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from its confluence with the Amazon, was already several hundred meters wide, its distant banks a soaring jumble of rainforest. A couple of hours later, we left its cappuccino-colored waters (caused by sediment washed from the Andes Mountains) and turned into the so-called black waters of a narrow inlet; they were actually the color of strong tea, steeped in the tannins of rainforest vegetation. We had entered the northwest corner of the Yasuni National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve regarded by scientists as one of the highest bio-diversity areas on the planet.

We exchanged the motorboat for an awaiting canoe (no motorized crafts were allowed in the park) and quietly glided upstream under a thick arch of mangroves and palms echoing with birdcalls. We were in the crown jewel of the park, the ancestral territory of the Kichwa Anangu community. The abundance of wildlife was far superior to anything I had previously experienced in other areas of the Amazonian rainforest, and Roberto ensured I didn’t miss a single sighting. The 2.5 kilometer (1.5 mile) ride is estimated to take a little over one hour. Ours took twice that long. But one three-toed sloth, several monk saki and red howler monkeys and a dizzying variety of birds later, we emerged from the river onto the Anangucocha Lake. On the far side of the lake, a village of thatched-roofed, bright ocher adobe bungalows was nestled in the exuberant vegetation, and staff was hurrying toward the dock to welcome us with glasses of fresh mango juice. We were back in the best the present has to offer. In the heart of a great swath of pristine rainforest, the Napo Wildlife Center luxury eco-lodge sat on a low lakeshore ridge. The property and the 21,400 hectares (82 square miles) of conservation land that surround it were, at the time of my visit, wholly owned and managed by the Anangu community; and an inspiring testimonial to its determination to improve the quality of life of its people and preserve the integrity of their ancestral territory and culture by providing them with sustainable employment.

The lodge was designed to meet the high expectations of international visitors, including airy individual bungalows with well-appointed bathrooms and generous hot water pressure. There was round the clock electricity, and WiFi connection throughout, including the hammock on my private terrace overlooking the lake. At the top of the ridge, the common areas included a 19 meter (60 foot) thatched observation tower with a sweeping view of the lake. It was an ideal vantage point to enjoy the constant activity of the bird population nesting and feeding around the lodge grounds. Beyond the outstanding facilities and exceptional wildlife, what made my visit unique was the opportunity to observe first hand the positive impact of the Napo Wildlife Center program on the daily life of the Anangu people. The staff came mainly from the Kichwa Anangu community. Their pride in the Napo Wildlife Center was obvious, and translated into warm and attentive service. It was clear that everyone with whom I came in contact wanted to make my visit an unforgettable Amazon experience. Additionally, while the life of the community was separated from tourism activities, one hour downstream from the lodge, the women had created an association, Kuri Muyi (Kichwa for River Gold) with an Interpretation Center facility adjacent to their village. It was especially interesting to meet these women, who gave me a glimpse at the tasks of their daily lives as well as their traditional crafts and dances.

With its outstanding blend of luxury wilderness accommodations, pristine environment, abundant and varied wildlife and successful responsible tourism practices, the Napo Wildlife Center earned the prestigious Rainforest Alliance 2009 Community Sustainable Standard-Setter award. It also made the top of my personal short list of rainforest experiences. I have already recommended it to friends who share my commitment to low impact sustainable tourism and who are considering an Amazon adventure.

Camp Manager Miguel Andy. At the time of my visit on-site manager was Veronika Govea

Children The property could accommodate, by prior arrangement, children over the age of four.

Class Of Accommodation Luxury eco-lodge

Communications There was no cell phone signal in the park. Satellite WiFi was available throughout the property; speed was moderate but sufficient to place internet telephone calls. There was a nominal fee for internet access.

Handicapped Access One bungalow had an access ramp and was wheelchair friendly.

Length Of Stay Four nights

Location On the shore of the Anangucocha Lake, within the Yasuni National Park in Northeastern Ecuador, 250 kilometers east of Quito: three hours downstream from Coca by motorboat and canoe.

Owned-Managed The Napo Wildlife Center was wholly owned and managed by the Kichwa Anangu community. It is the brainchild of Jiovanny Rivadeneira, a once subsistence farmer and hunter who had gone on to be a boatswain, then guide and ornithology specialist before returning to the community. Rivadeneira has been a leading force behind the program and remained its general manager.

Power There was round the clock electricity throughout the property. It was supplied by silent generators supplemented by solar panels.

Size The lodge consisted of 16 individual bungalows that could accommodate a maximum of 48 guests. It employed a staff of 60 including 10 guides. There were 10 paddle canoes for travel around the park, and three motorboats that ensured transportation for guests, staffs and goods between Coca and the lodge.

Year Open-Renovated The property opened in 2003. It was the object of meticulous on-going maintenance.

Lobby And Common Areas The open plan main lodge held all common areas. It was a large raised structure of wood and thatch in the traditional Kichwa style, open to the forest and the lake to let in cooling breezes and scenic views. The floor was made of dark, polished hardwood planking. In the center of the space, rows of heavy rectangular tables were arranged refectory style, surrounded by matching chairs with tawny cotton cushions. The rear wall divided the common areas from the kitchen and service area. It was covered in a mosaic of bright green-lacquered pebbles. In the center of the wall, a sideboard held a permanent coffee and tea service. To the left, a recessed area housed the library. Tall bookcases were filled with reference books on the natural history, biology and conservation of the Amazon, and a small lending library of contemporary fiction. There were also glass-fronted display cases with an assortment of branded t-shirts and other Napo Wildlife Center souvenirs, and a desktop computer with Internet connection for guest use. In the center of the library space, two open-arm wooden armchairs with tawny cushions faced a square coffee table. To the left, a staircase led to a mezzanine furnished with sofas, armchairs and coffee tables similar to those in the library, and a pull-down projection screen for slide presentations. At the far end of the main hall, under the mezzanine, there was a U-shaped built-in full-service bar outlined by eight wooden barstools. From the mezzanine, a stairway led up to the thatched viewing platform of the observation tower.

Bathroom The spacious bathroom had a large glass-enclosed shower with rain showerhead and good water pressure. The floor and the walls behind the flush commode and the shower were covered in natural stone tiles. The outer, white plaster wall had a large window with natural cotton draperies. It also held a vanity with a built-in sink, a wood-framed rectangular mirror, and wooden soap and toothbrush holders. Near the shower a towel rack held large white terrycloth towels.

Room My 43 square meter (450 square foot) bungalow, Number Six, was an inviting adobe and thatch retreat with screened-in picture windows on all four walls. The walls were white plaster, which enhanced the dark polished hardwood floors and peaked thatched ceiling. My shaded terrace faced the lake. With its two rattan armchairs and inviting white cotton hammock, it immediately became my favorite lounging spot. The main bedroom had a king size bed covered in a tawny and white cotton quilt and draped in mosquito netting. There were bedside tables with reading lights on both sides of the bed. A deep bookcase with three storage shelves and a writing table and chair completed the décor. A high divider separated the main bedroom from a smaller area with a matching double bed.

Food Meals were a blend of continental and Ecuadorian dishes, abundant, wholesome and well prepared. Breakfast was served buffet-style with choices of fresh-cut tropical fruits and juices, yoghurt, granola and breakfast breads. Eggs and breakfast meats were available on order. Lunch and dinner were served plated. The lodge was equipped with a reverse osmosis water filtration system that ensured safe food preparation and drinking water. Special dietary requirements could be accommodated by prior arrangement.

Amenities There were two umbrellas and an electronic safe in the room, and pitchers of water for drinking and oral hygiene. Bathroom amenities included dispensers of good quality house brand biodegradable shampoo, conditioner and body wash. There were extra-large, heavy-duty rain ponchos on all the canoes; rubber boots were available as needed for excursions. A refillable water bottle was provided, to be used during my visit and kept for future use.

Meals and soft drinks were complimentary, as were all activities and guided tours, transfers to and from Coca Airport to the lodge and canoe transportation around the park. Alcoholic beverages were available from the bar and priced individually.

Facilities In addition to the observation tower attached to the main hall, another, taller observation tower was located across the lake, a 45 minute canoe and walking trip from the lodge. Built alongside a giant kapok tree, a 38 meter (125 foot) high platform offered a superb perspective of the wildlife above the forest canopy. There was also a thatched bird-viewing blind with benches and chairs, deep in the forest 30 minutes down river from the lodge. It faced a salt and clay lick visited daily by large flocks of parrots and parakeets. The blind was a 30 minute walk from the river bank, easily accessible by a neatly paved path.

Gift Shop In addition to a small gift case at the lodge, local pottery, weavings and jewelry by craftswomen of the Kuri Muyi association were available at the Anangu Interpretation Center.

Game Viewing The game viewing was exceptional, not only due to the abundant wildlife but because of the excellent guiding. At Napo, guides came in pairs: a bilingual, state-licensed guide and a native Yasuni Park-licensed ranger who doubled as a local guide. My guide, Roberto Cedeno, and ranger, Fabian Coquinchini, made an impressive team. Together, they had an uncanny talent to turn even the slightest quiver of the foliage into a sighting. And Roberto, an expert ornithologist and naturalist, and 24-year veteran of Amazon guiding, could concisely articulate the significance of each sighting within the context of natural history and environmental conservation.

Mammals I sighted included: pigmy marmoset, golden-manteled tamarin; howler, squirrel, night, monk saki and white-fronted capuchin monkeys, and brown-throated three-toed sloth. Amphibians included: green tree frog, black caiman, water turtle and forest dragon lizard. Butterflies: owl and iridescent blue morpho.

Birds: rufescent-tiger, striated and capped herons; hoatzin bird; great and undulated tinamou, swallow-tailed, snail and plumbeous kite; great yellow-headed vulture, black hawk, red-throated caracara, Buckley’s forest falcon, Salvin’s curassow and speckled chachalaca; blue and yellow, red and green, and scarlet macaws, dusky-headed and cobalt-winged parakeets, scarlet-shouldered parrotlet and Mealy Amazon parrot; greater Ani, pygmy owl, ladder-tailed nightjar and olive-spotted hummingbird; Amazon, ringed, green and pygmy kingfishers; ivory-billed aracari, white-throated and channel-billed toucans; rusty-belted tapaculo, great potoo, yellow-breasted flycatcher, lesser kiskadee, red-throated caracara and limpkin.

Activities There were twice daily excursions (early morning and mid-to-late afternoon) either hiking, canoeing, or a combination of the two.

Other The Napo Wildlife Center program engaged in rigorous sustainable tourism practices. All profits from the lodge were reinvested in the community, with education and healthcare as highest priorities. The program supported a small high school, including teacher salaries, school supplies and breakfast and lunch for the students. In addition to general education, the school offered a vocational degree in tourism. The center also returned a share of the annual profits to each family and a stipend to the elderly. It also donated medicines to the government clinic in Anangu. To limit the lodge’s impact on its environment, it has implemented an environmentally sustainable sewage system, with all waste waters treated to the highest standards before being released into the swamps. Trash was kept to a minimum and composted whenever possible. What was safe to burn was burned and buried, and the remainder transported to designated landfills outside the park. These practices have been extended to the Anangu community. Each family now has a composting toilet, and separates its trash, with non-organic materials placed in bags along the riverbank weekly for pick up by the center’s boat for transport to the recycling center. The Center also engaged in an aggressive anti-poaching program, with its conservation land patrolled by community rangers employed and equipped by the lodge.

Cleanliness Excellent

Date Of Visit February 2012

Reviewers Article and Photographs by Josette King

Service My bungalow was serviced twice daily. Every member of the staff with whom I came in contact was friendly and attentive.

Would You Stay There Again? Yes

Contact Information

  • Address:
    • Rio Yaupi N 31-90 y
    • Av. Maniana de Jesus
    • Quito, Ecuador
  • Phone:
    • +593 2 600 5893
    • +593 2 600 5819
    • +593 9 275 0069
    • (mobile number, operations)
    • +1 866 750 0830
    • (toll free U.S.A.)
    • 0 800 032 5771
    • (toll free U.K.)
  • Website:
  • Email: