Originally from England, I am lucky enough to currently live in Ecuador, which is one the most bio diverse countries in the world. It boasts mountains, beaches, rainforests, and The Galapagos Islands.
I have visited the outskirts of the rainforest before and other areas, known as cloud forest, but until last weekend I had never gone all the way into the Amazon jungle. Visiting some of the world’s richest primary rainforest was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, as well as one of the most challenging, and I’m writing this article in the hope that if you ever have the opportunity to go jungle bound (which you should, because it is incredible), you can have the best experience possible.
- Do not underestimate the power of the sun. Ecuador is located on the equator (hence the name), which means the sun is right over your head. For us pale skinned Brits, particularly those of Irish descent like my husband, our skin is just not able to cope with that kind of intensity. In addition the jungle lodges that you will be going to could be deep into the jungle like ours was in the Cuyabeno Nature Reserve. From the nearest town, Lago Agrio, it took us 3 and a half hours to get there on a motorized canoe, and even longer on the way back. Despite wearing a big hat and slathering my face with factor 50 sun cream I still got burnt. You can’t be too careful.
- Do not underestimate the humidity. I have travelled all over the world and I don’t think I have ever experienced humidity like that. I am a very sweaty person anyway (nice!) and on the first night I foolishly drank a cup of hot tea – I know, so British – and my body went into melt down, literally. The heat from the tea, coupled with the humidity sent my inner temperature sky rocketing and I had to excuse myself from dinner to cool down. After about half an hour, a cold shower and a change of clothes I was back to normal. Normal for the jungle is dripping with sweat at all times.
- Don’t be afraid to go out at night. The lodge you are staying with will probably offer a night walk and please take my word for it – it is incredible! The critters are more afraid of you then you are of them and it is a truly magical experience getting a peek into the nocturnal world of the jungle. I highly recommend it.
- Stock up your first aid kit. If you usually take any medication it goes without saying that you will need stocks of that – there are no local pharmacies in the jungle (although I’m sure indigenous people would disagree). Make sure you take strong insect repellant with as much Deet as possible, Immodium (it is highly likely at least one of your group will get a bad tummy at some point), anti histamines, some kind of basic painkiller such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, and lots of plasters. You may also want to take some kind of soothing cream for insect bites – I have antihistamine gel, which is soothing and takes the itch away, and anti bacterial wipes or spray. The aim is to avoid getting bitten but it is inevitable that you will at least once and you really don’t want it to get infected. As difficult as it is, try very hard not to scratch, that is one of the main things that can lead to infection.
- Keep your electronics safe. We got caught in a torrential storm whilst on a jungle walk, luckily we had a dry bag for our cameras because by the time we got back to camp every single inch of us was wet, even our eyeballs.
- Put the camera down. No really! Unless you are an expert wildlife photography is tough. You don’t want to waste your time taking hundreds of blurry photos and not really enjoying the experience. We saw two types of river dolphins, one pod of grey dolphins, and two pods of pink. I didn’t take a single photo but I loved every single minute of it and they are memories I will never forget.
- Binoculars. Consider investing in a pair of binoculars as much of the wildlife is up at the top of the canopy, we never had a pair and I really wish we did.
- Do your research. We went to a lodge which was pretty basic or, as they called it, comfortable. That was absolutely fine for our needs but if you are looking for something a little more luxurious make sure you do your research before you leave to avoid disappointment.
- Clothing. You will need decent walking shoes or boots, sandals, moisture wicking shirts, loose fitting, long sleeved tops, at least two pairs of long trousers, a raincoat or poncho, and a wide brimmed hat. It really isn’t a fashion show – everybody looks ridiculous and that’s okay. Also try and remember to take a scarf or sarong to drape over you on that long boat ride. Don’t make the mistake I did and wear cropped leggings thinking I could just spray deet on the exposed patch of skin or your flesh, like mine, will be a buffet for every bastard mosquito in a two mile radius.
- Enjoy it! The Amazon rainforest is breathtakingly beautiful and despite the fact that the physical conditions are tough, it really was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I would highly recommend it to anyone, but particularly animal lovers. The list of animals we were lucky enough to spot is too long to mention but you know you’ve had a good day when you see two types of dolphin, six types of monkey and a sloth up really close.
What an experience! I don’t want to sound negative but if you spend time in a place where you have to cover yourself top to toe in several layers of chemical, take twenty type of medication, swaddle yourself in a mixture of fibers until not one inch of your skin is showing, and you’re not allowed to drink the water, I’d go out and a limb and say you have no business being there.
Finally, let me make one thing clear, I am a ridiculous person. I do not breeze through life in a chic, glamorous cloud of whimsy – I bumble through it, sweaty and often crying, dropping things and constantly apologising for being such a buffoon. You can imagine then that a trip to the jungle was, for me, less like a centre spread from Condé Nast, with wafty white linen draped over golden skin, and more a remake of Carry on Up the Khyber, where I emerged, half dead looking like a raspberry with measles. That said I’d do it again in a heartbeat.