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.