As soon as I stepped out of the plane in Coca, it became clear that traveling on an air-conditioned Amazon riverboat instead of an open-air lodge was a good choice. I would be sailing on the spacious and cool 40-guest Anakonda, which sails round-trip from Coca into the heart of Ecuador’s Amazon basin. We easily met our guides after clearing customs and were bussed down to the river where we boarded a swift motorized canoe for the hour-and-a-half ride to the Anakonda. The friendly staff greeted us and got us settled into our cabins before we pushed off from the bank and started our journey downstream on the Napo River.
On our five-day trip we were going as far as the Peruvian border and the virgin rainforest of the Yasuni National Park.
The Napo is a main tributary of the Amazon River, and Coca was the starting point for 16th century explorer Fransico de Orellana. In one of the most improbable yet successful voyages in history, Orellana managed to sail the full length of the Amazon River, ending in Marajo on the Atlantic coast (now part of Brazil). On our five-day trip we were going as far as the Peruvian border and the virgin rainforest of the Yasuni National Park.
The Anakonda’s cabins are clean and spacious, and all have floor-to-ceiling windows with ensuite bathrooms. The Deluxe Suites on the upper Third Deck have small balconies too. I stayed in a Standard Suite (the Caiman cabin) and thoroughly enjoyed my full view of the Amazon; at night, the ship would dock into a sandbank so the jungle was literally right outside my window at times. Also notable is the whirlpool tub on the Sun Deck. I went up and jumped in for sunrise on the first morning. The mist swirling around the treetops was magical.
After a buffet breakfast we put on our rubber boots that were provided and our life jackets. All the excursions are done from a motorized canoe that had a canopy to provide us with shade and shelter from cloudbursts. The canoe is much faster than the Anakonda, and each time we went out we would go on ahead and then the ship would catch up. That way the Anakonda could cover more ground each day. Due to the shallow river and the lack of navigation lights, there is no cruising after dark.
On our first outing, we saw capybara and took a short walk in the jungle. Our two guides were incredibly keen-eyed, both had grown up in the rainforest and it was amazing how nothing escaped their notice. They pointed out tiny pygmy marmosets, turned over leaves revealing monstrous insects and told us how locals would use the plants to make roofs and for medicine. They always took a high-powered spotting scope on each outing and would set it up for us to look through. Then it was back to the boat for lunch before, what for me, was the highlight of the cruise: a visit to the Yasuni National Park.
All signs of human life were left behind, and it felt we were in the very heart of the forest.
We all set off in the canoe after lunch and made our way to the tributary that flows out of the Yasuni National Park. At the mouth of the tributary we paused to spot pink river dolphins as they fished. As we continued deeper into the park, the rainforest became even more dense and huge trees towered along the riverbanks. All signs of human life were left behind, and it felt we were in the very heart of the forest. The sun came out, the sky went blue and the canoe’s canopy was rolled back so everyone could enjoy the surroundings. As the river got narrower, everyone was enthralled and excited. We saw all kinds of birds from kingfishers to king vultures. My favorite was the prehistoric hoatzin. Giant butterflies called blue morphs flashed past us. We stopped to fish for piranha and they were biting! Everyone caught one in a matter of minutes without even having to use bait. The first bite was within 10 seconds of dropping the line. No one took up our guide’s offer to go for a swim.
Another canoe showed up with a driver and while everyone else went back to the boat, I had another thing planned. I had chosen to go “glamping” (glamorous + camping) this evening, and I was the only one on board who opted in for this added activity. Most of the other guests thought that it was a crazy choice to give up the comforts of an air-conditioned cabin for a tent, but I’m so glad I did. As the only “glamper.” I had a private tour farther upstream before going to the camping site. The light was incredible. We went on a short hike into the densest and loudest forest I have ever been in. The insects were competing to make themselves heard. I stood awhile and soaked in the primeval atmosphere. Then we slowly made our way to the campsite that had been prepared by four other crew members. We saw fish-eating bats and my guide used his flashlight to spot caiman eyes in the reeds.
The campsite was all set up and dinner was ready when we arrived. I ate steak and potatoes with the guides in a mesh dining tent with a table for four and had a few beers around a campfire (using the smoke to keep mosquitoes away—it worked well) with the noises of the night all around us. I slept soundly on my camp cot in a spacious tent with plenty of room to stand in.
We saw spider monkeys, howler monkeys, long-nosed bats sleeping on tree trunks, toucans and a three-toed sloth. It was as though we had the whole national park to ourselves.
The next morning I woke to fresh coffee and eggs, bacon and toast and went for an early-morning kayak back downstream with my guide. We saw spider monkeys, howler monkeys, long-nosed bats sleeping on tree trunks, toucans and a three-toed sloth. It was as though we had the whole national park to ourselves. Eventually the crew members who had packed up camp caught up with us and we got in the motorized canoe and sped back to the Anakonda, which had been steadily making its way back upstream.
I was back in time for lunch and the afternoon’s hike through the forest. After dinner we went on a night walk and saw all kinds of frogs and creepy crawlies including a giant millipede and a tarantula the size of a dinner plate.
On our last full day we explored some narrow tributaries and had fun in a 15-minute tropical deluge. It turned out to be good timing since after rains animals will move about to dry off. This made it easier for our guides to spot creatures, and soon after the sun came out we saw more sloths and monkeys. Everyone was delighted with all the wildlife we were seeing and our next outing was much the same. We saw turtles and caiman and more monkeys while on a canoe that our guides paddled. It was nice to hear the forest without the motor.
The outing culminated in a hike to a canopy tower where we enjoyed a champagne toast while looking out over the misty forest with lightning way off in the distance.
Back on the Anakonda we had sushi appetizers and a steak dinner al fresco. Most of the talk at the dinner table was of how amazing the five-day Amazon experience had been and how much we had packed into those days. I would recommend at least the five-day cruise, as you get to go all the way downriver to the Yasuni National Park.
Before heading back to Coca the next morning there was time for one last outing to see the parrots at the clay lick and to release a baby turtle into the river. The owner of the Anakonda happened to be on the cruise with us and he was adamant about the importance of preserving the area. He was working on a project to bring back manatees to the Napo; hopefully when you go you will be able to check them off your wildlife list.
Our guide, Avel, grew up in the jungle and amazed us with his wildlife spotting. All of the crew made an already special Amazon experience even better.
The guiding was excellent and the service aboard the boat was very attentive. The crew were all very friendly and knowledgeable and made an already special Amazon experience even better. Pictured above is guide Avel, who grew up in the jungle and amazed us with his wildlife spotting. As our team at AdventureSmith Explorations often pairs Amazon travel with Galapagos Islands cruises, I’m now highly recommending the Anakonda as a Galapagos trip extension. But saying it like that makes it sound like the Amazon is playing second fiddle… Maybe I should be saying you should consider adding the Galapagos to your trip to the Ecuadorian Amazon!
For more photos from this trip, including monkeys and sloths, view my Facebook albumon AdventureSmith Exploration’s Facebook page.
This Amazon cruise review was written by an AdventureSmith Explorations crew member. Read all AdventureSmith Expert Reviews for more trip reports. For dates, rates and booking information on this trip, see Anakonda Amazon Cruise, or contact one of our Adventure Specialists to learn more about our small ship cruises and wilderness adventures: 1-800-728-2875.