We flew from Quito to Coca on the banks of the Napo river to begin our 2.5hour trip in a motorized canoe to Sani Lodge. This highly recommended tourist destination is deep in the jungle of Amazonia; set up and run by and for the benefit of the Sani community. The wide and brown river – a bit of a navigation nightmare with sand banks and studded with tree trunks is busy with boats ferrying locals to their homes and tourists to resorts along the river.
From the main river, it was a 10 minute walk, then a paddle in a canoe before we reached the lovely Sani Lodge.
On our first evening we meet Lucy, the resident 3m long caiman who lives under the deck. Fortunately she only ventures ashore when she is encouraged by staff.
A night walk uncovered very large, very hairy tarantulas, millipedes the size of dinner plates, frogs, bats and owls but fortunately no anacondas or pumas.
Our small group for all activities was great fun. David from London, Shome, a Brit who now lives in Sydney and Karen, an American travel writer.
The day starts early here. We met for 5.30am breakfast so that we could get to the 35m viewing platform early when the birds are most active.
The birdlife (500 species) varied from tiny humming birds to toucans, many species of parrot, macaws to osprey and vultures and spoonbills and cranes. We were so lucky, as we could see a wonderful assortment of colourful birds from the viewing platform. Our favourite was the toucan, feeding very close to the viewing platform.
Our superb guide (Victor) who speaks the local Indian dialect of Kichwa, Spanish and English who was born in Sani. He was amazing – he could spot a monkey at 200m high in the trees through dense jungle. We saw capuchin, spider and squirrel monkeys. We heard, but did not see the noisy, elusive but very aptly named howler monkeys.
We spent several days paddling the creeks, walking the trails, learning about the medicinal properties of plants and spotting a tiny fraction of the bird and animal life. Some favourites were many magnificent prehistoric ‘stinky turkeys’, large herons, and tiny bats which spent their day on a tree in the middle of the creek.
Victor took us in our small canoe piranha fishing one afternoon – you don’t do that everyday! Victor caught our dinner but the only piranha hooked flicked off before Victor landed him in the boat.
We joined other boats to view the hundreds of parrots who visit the ‘clay licks’ each day. The clay is important to detoxify palm seeds which form a main part of their diet.
We walked through more pristine jungle to a recently established butterfly farm run by a local family.
After our tour of the Sani community centre’s school and food growing areas, we were given the opportunity to taste some delicious traditional local food cooked by the Sani women.
We turned down Victor’s offer of eating a live larva from the palm tree beetle. These very mobile, thick white critters are about 8cm long and are eaten alive, head first, (as demonstrated by our guide Cerillo) are a great delicacy. The fact that they taste like prawns I’ll have to take their word for!
The Sani women raise money for the community by selling handcrafts and coffee.
After our faces were painted in traditional patterns we tried our hand at the art of blowgun hunting – amazingly accurate even for us mugs.
Our last night paddle spotted a number of caiman lurking along the river – surprisingly easy to spot as their eyes reflect the torch light beautifully.
A too early departure left us wishing we had a few extra days at Sani Lodge. A wonderful place – we’d definitely recommend you add this one to your bucket list! The staff, food, accommodation and guides were all fantastic. Not to mention the sunsets…..