Tourism in the Puyo region is still fairly undeveloped, though a number of opportunities for ecotourism have been opening up in recent years, mainly under the initiative of OPIP (Organización de Pueblos Indígenas de Pastaza), an indigenous organization controlling the bulk of Pastaza’s territory. Some of the attractions are open to drop-in visitors, but OPIP prefers tourists to be accompanied by local indigenous guides, available at their associated tour agency, Papangu, or other affiliated operators as listed.
One popular day-tour, usually kicking off with a visit to the Zoocriadero El Fátima, is to the Fundación Hola Vida, a tract of secondary rainforest 27km south of Puyo near the village of Pomona. This can also be visited independently by taxi from Puyo for about $10 each way. On a two- to three-hour hike through the forest, you can visit a stunning thirty-metre waterfall, bathe in crystalline rivers and take in splendid views over the Amazonian plain from a mirador. Tours here often then continue to the nearby Proyecto Indi Churis (t 03/2887309 or t 2887988), where you can sample traditional Oriente dishes like maitos (meat or fish steamed in palm leaves), take part in a blowgun demonstration, participate in an evening cleansing ritual using medicinal plants, hike to a viewpoint and float on a river in a dugout canoe. Your visit can be extended by staying with a local family or sleeping in the project’s cabañas. Independent travellers can get here by taxi ($13), or on one of two daily buses, which also pass Hola Vida, leaving from the stop by the Mercado Mariscal at 6.15am and 1pm (1hr); the last bus returns at 2.30pm.
For a more costly but truly off-the-beaten-track jungle encounter, there are a number of far-flung indigenous communities (Kichwa, Záparo, Shuar, Achuar and Waorani) that have set up ecotourism projects which you can visit by making arrangements with Puyo operators. Many of the villages are reached by light aircraft from Shell, lengthy motor canoe rides with a return trip by plane, or – most adventurous of all – several days’ paddling in a dugout canoe. You’ll need at least four days to make the most of the further communities, even if flying. While facilities are rudimentary, you’ll get guided hikes in pristine forests with true experts and treated to a real insight into authentic rainforest life few outsiders experience.