Ecuador is an amazingly diverse country, in both landscape and culture. Traveling around Ecuador can be quite affordable, but avoiding expensive tours can require some creativity.
Visiting Ecuador’s slice of the Amazon, or the Oriente, is one of the best ways to see the Amazon: it is the most biologically diverse part of Amazonia, and it is one of the most easily accessible parts as well. I have spent nearly a collective year in the Ecuadorian Amazon since 2011 for my research, and I have managed to go on a number adventures in the area as well! This series on how to explore the Ecuadorian Amazon on a budget, independently, and without an expensive tour is a compilation of the knowledge I’ve picked up during this time.
GETTING THERE If you want to visit the Ecuadorian Amazon on a budget, the town/small city of Tena, in the Amazonian province of Napo, will be likely your home base. If you are coming from Quito (the capital city in the Andes, or the Sierra), you can take a bus to Tena. There are 2 major interprovincial bus terminals in Quito – one in the north and one in the south. To get to Tena, take a bus from the Quitumbe terminal in the south.
You may also consider spending some time with Puyo as your home base, another town/small city in Pastaza province, a couple hours by bus south of Tena. You can get to Puyo on a bus that also leaves from Quito’s southern Quitumbe terminal (and passes through the famous town of Baños, Ecuador in the cloud forest).
If you are traveling from Tena to Puyo, you will purchase a ticket at Tena’s main interprovincial terminal terrestre to Puyo and leave from the terminal.
If you are traveling from Puyo to Tena, you will catch a bus on the road that’s heading to Tena, likely having just come from Baños. There is no schedule for this, but they come pretty frequently. This is located out on the road at the back entrance of Puyo’s lovely riverwalk park, and any local can direct you to the spot. You will pay your fare on the bus rather than purchasing a ticket ahead of time.
TENA ACCOMMODATIONS There are some great options for budget accommodations in Tena. My absolute favorite is Hostal Limoncocha, my go-to hostel where I have stayed on and off since 2011. Hostal Limoncocha is run by the absolute sweetest family. The rooms are clean and the common areas, including the kitchen, have unbelievable views of Tena surrounded by jungle and mountains. Located at the edge of town, it is fairly quiet here (with the exception of this one damn rooster). It is $8/night for most rooms, though if you want a television and private bathroom it is closer to $12/night, and if you stay for an extended period of time you can work out a deal with the family for a little less than the $8/night.
There are a few other great options as well! Occassionally Hostal Limoncocha can get a bit bogged down in tour groups, so you may want to try Welcome Break Hostel in the center of town. They have a wide range of accommodations, from $6 to $12 (I splurged on their $12 terrace room for a weekend once and it was absolutely amazing). Since Welcome Break Hostel is in the center of town, it is noisier, but it is a short walking distance from the Tena’s island park and a few great cafés, restaurants, and bars.
When I was doing research in a nearby community, a friend of mine came to visit and stayed at the beautiful Hostal Pakay. It is a little more expensive – between $13 and $17 per night – though this includes a great breakfast. They are also located just on the outskirts of town with a few acres of their own lushly forested land, so it definitely has more of a jungle feel than most of the cheaper accommodations in the middle of town, while still being close enough for the convenience.
PUYO ACCOMMODATIONS I have 2 favorite hostels in Puyo that I generally switch between:
Hostal el Colibrí <–not my image
and Hostal del Rio <–not my image
– both of which are very beautiful, affordable, and include amazing breakfast for a small additional fee. They are both in town, and you can catch a local bus or taxi to anywhere else in town from right near your hostel. They are also both rarely filled with people, and the few people who are around are almost always some of the most fascinating people!
Now that you know how to get there and where to stay, it’s time to figure out what to do! Look out for the next posts in this series on independent & budget Amazonian adventures & activities in Part II: Adventures around TENA and Part III: Adventures around PUYO, coming soon!