Although Tena is most commonly used as a launching pad for jungle tours in the upper Napo region, there are a few places nearby you can visit independently. To the north of Tena, a trip to the colonial town of Archidona can be combined with a visit to the Cavernas de Jumandy, the most developed and easily accessed of many caves in the area, or one of the two local forest reserves, the Reserva Ecológica Monteverde or the Reserva El Parra. Beyond here, the scenery en route to Baeza concertinas into a range of forested gullies and ridges as you pass between two remote protected areas, the Parque Nacional Sumaco Napo-Galeras and the Reserva Ecológica Antisana.
Heading 7km south of Tena brings you to Puerto Napo, where there’s a road bridge over the eponymous river. Two roads branch off the main highway to the east at this point, servicing either side of the upper Río Napo. Along the northern bank, one runs for 17km as far as the port of Misahuallí, the long-established embarkation point for tours of this region. On the southern shore, and joined by a bridge from Misahuallí, the other road passes several tourist cabañas, the Estación Biológica Jatún Sacha and, 28km down the line, the crossing point by boat over the river at La Punta, from where the road dribbles on for a couple of kilometres as far as Ahuano. Meanwhile, the southbound main road from Tena and Puerto Napo continues to Yuralpa where a French oil company has its operational base. A bridge and 7km of road are the only things missing to make the link from Puerto Napo to Coca, but the inevitable rise of the oil and lumber industries in the area means they won’t be long in coming.
Caves and petroglyphs around Tena
Caves and petroglyphs around Tena
While famed for the Cavernas de Jumandy, the Tena region has many other less-visited caves, the majority of which are on private property meaning you’ll need the owner’s permission to visit them. The area is also littered with petroglyphs, rough but lyrical etchings of shapes, creatures and faces onto rocks and boulders, dating from several thousand years ago up until the sixteenth century. No one is exactly sure of their significance, but they are often found near waterways or on high ground, places of strategic and habitational importance. One of the best groupings, composed of at least sixty petroglyphs, is Los Petroglifos del Valle Sagrado, located on the hillside north of Cotundo, a village about 10km north of Archidona. The Fundación Sinchi Sacha (t 06/2889044, in Quito t02/2230609, www.sinchisacha.org) is developing a guidebook and an archeological park with trails around them; you can find out more information and hire a guide at their Centro de Turismo in Cotundo.
Anyone interested in caving should talk to Gabriel Guallo in Tena, who takes trips to the so-called “Grand Canyon” system near Mondayacu about 10km north of Archidona, as well as deep into the Cavernas de Jumandy. He’s a good guide, but better on day-trips ($40) than more logistically difficult overnighters; contact him at Las Grutas de Gabriel, Abdón Calderón and Juan León Mera (t06/2887894 or t09/8839922).
For many years MISAHUALLÍ, a bustling little port at the confluence of the ríos Misahuallí and Napo, was the place in the Oriente in which to organize a jungle tour. The road linking Tena to Coca, completed in the late 1980s, changed that, slashing the port’s commercial trade, while its surrounding forests were cleared or severely disturbed by settlers and oil prospecting. What primary forest remains in the upper Napo has shrunk to such an extent that larger animals, particularly mammals, have all but disappeared from the region. The oil industry continues to probe ever deeper into the east, opening up far remoter regions to visitors, where the big reserves protect thousands of acres of pristine rainforest and all its wildlife.
Luckily for Misahuallí, its lingering reputation as a good meeting point for arranging jungle trips at the drop of a hat has kept the port in business. With its constant trickle of tourists, almost every hotel, restaurant, craft shop and racketeer offers forays into the jungle, and the section of the Napo around here has more tourist lodges and cabañas than any other part of the river. Competition is fierce, keeping prices consistently low – another of the port’s attractions for budget travellers – and the large number of tour operators offer similar activities and facilities, such as guided jungle hikes, swimming under waterfalls, gold panning and canoeing down rivers, with accommodation either at campsites or in simple cabins. English-speaking guides are pretty thin on the ground, so meeting them before you set out is always a good idea; check they have a Ministerio de Turismo-issued guiding licence and that they can produce written authorization from the community concerned if they plan to visit the Waorani. Tours to the remoter Cuyabeno or Yasuní reserves, the Río Tiputini or more distant rivers are more expensive and need to be at least four or five days long to be worthwhile. Before you leave Misahuallí by canoe you should register your passport at the Capitanía.
Having chosen your jungle trip, there’s not a lot else to keep you busy in Misahuallí itself. You can take a dip in the river, or visit the Jardín de Mariposas, a butterfly farm located a couple of blocks north of the square on Rivadeneira, where you can see over a dozen colourful species in the various stages of the lifecycle. Ask at the Ecoselva office for someone to lead you around the farm. Outside town, there’s a good short hike up to some small waterfalls and bathing pools on the Río Latas, a favourite place for local children. Take a bus from the central square towards Puerto Napo and ask the driver to drop you off for “las cascadas”, around 7km from Misahuallí. They’ll leave you at the trailhead; the biggest falls are about a ninety-minute hike away, but most people settle for the streams and pools along the way.