It’s a short 30 minute flight from Quito to Coca; a gritty little oil town on the banks of the Napo river, in the Amazon Basin.
Our naturalist guide, Dario, meets us at the airport.
We are joined by 2 other couples: Rose and Alex from the US and fellow Australians, Steve and Judy; with whom we will spend the next four days exploring the Amazon.
In addition to Dario we also have a native guide – Jose, looking after us.
From Coca we board a motorised canoe for a 2 hour journey down the river to Sacha Lodge. After a 30 minute hike through the rainforest we arrive at lake Pilchicocha, after which we then paddle across a lake in a small canoe.
Sacha Lodge (“Sacha” is the Quichua Indian word meaning “forest”) was a dream founded by Arnold Ammeter, or as he is more commonly known, “Benny.”
Born in Interlaken, Switzerland, Benny boarded a ship and headed for Chile in 1963.
His thirst for adventure and passion for the forests of South America have kept him in the region ever since.
Spending time in Chile, Bolivia and Peru, he then headed for Ecuador and opened his first tourist lodge in 1985; ” La Casa del Suizo,” on the Upper Napo at the village of Ahuano, which still operates today.
As civilization slowly approached Ahuano, Benny, who was captivated by the wilderness, he decided to search for a place to build a lodge deeper in the forest.
By 1989, his search had taken him throughout the entire Ecuadorian Amazon region, more commonly known as “El Oriente.”
One day after leaving Pañacocha (located two hours downstream from Sacha Lodge) he stopped to speak with one of the locals living on the bank of the lower Napo .
Benny spoke of his dream and the gentleman told him that he knew of the perfect place for a lodge. Together they hiked through a swamp, not knowing that the trail would soon become Sacha’s present day boardwalk (“El Anden”), and arrived at an isolated lagoon.
Benny immediately fell in love with this lake, called Pilchicocha. In October of 1991, 170 employees began construction of Sacha Lodge and it’s famous wooden tower (” La Torre “).
Sacha Lodge was officially opened in April 1992 with six guest rooms, a dining room, and housing for guides and other staff.
Today, the property extends for 5,000 acres and offers a safe refuge for a tremendous variety of plants and animals native to the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Arriving early afternoon, we are welcomed with a refreshing drink and shown our rooms. We have a few hours to relax, which in our case means taking a nap.
Before dinner, Dario takes us on a night canoe ride; we paddle silently across the lake looking for caimans (small alligators) with their glowing orange eyes peering out at you from amongst the thick reeds.
The black water lake is home to many species of fish and animals, including Pirhanas!
Dinner is a feast of soup, fresh salads, chicken and pork, after which everyone retires early – It’s been a long day.
What they don’t tell you in the brochure is that the day starts with a 5am wake-up call!
By 6am we are crossing the lake again to make the return journey back to the Napo river. A motorised canoe is taking us further down river into the Yasuní National Park.
Mid-journey we stop at a ‘parrot lick’, an exposed clay riverbank where brightly coloured parrots gather in the early morning to eat the red clay.
Apparently, the birds’ diet includes a toxic berry, but specific minerals in the soil neutralise the toxin. Each morning they flock to the cliffs to line their bellies with the clay.
We stop at a local Quichua community where Sacha Lodge pays the teacher salaries for the village school.
With most of the men working either in the oil industry, or at Lodges in the area, the running of the community and raising children is left in the hands of the women.
We are shown around the village and farm, then given a demonstration on how they weave palm leaves for baskets, plus sample some local cooking – though I don’t think anyone but Dario ate the worms!
Basically, each day was divided into a number activities during the day and night; canoe rides through the tributaries feeding lake Pilchicocha and walks through the Sacha reserve, bird watching high up on the canopy walk, or in the Kapok tower.
The canopy walkway is 36 meters high and 275 meters long, where you get a “birds eye view” of all the wonders and beauty the tropical rainforest has to offer. Designed to be a self-standing rigid suspension canopy walk, it is one of only a few in the world!
One of Sacha Lodge’s highlights is the 43-meter observation tower. Situated on a hill and constructed around a giant kapok tree, the observation platform provides a magnificent view of the surrounding area and an ideal spot for avid ‘birders’.
One day we fish for the razor-toothed piranha in the lake. Dario tries to convince us that piranhas will never attack a person and swimming is perfectly safe – you first Dario!
I doubt we would have got as much out of the four days without our guides.
As a qualified naturalist, Dario provides detailed insight into the environment and native wildlife.
Jose has a knack for spotting things we’d just pass by, or something hidden deep within the jungle.
They open our eyes to the wonders of the Amazon, showing us the many plants, animals, spiders, birds and insects that inhabit this hot and humid environment.
The plethora of wildlife we encounter is too long to start naming and I don’t remember all the names!
Enjoy the photos instead…