From Coca, the muddy waters of the lower Río Napo flow in broad curves for over 200km to Nuevo Rocafuerte on the Peruvian border. Long, motorized canoes ply the shallow river, searching for the deepest channels between large and slowly shifting sandbanks, while half-submerged logs wag vigorously in the currents. The region is only sparsely populated, and you’ll pass just the odd Kichwa homestead linked to the riverbank by steep dirt footpaths. The Río Napo is the region’s motorway, and its network of tributaries and backwaters forms the basic infrastructure to remote indigenous communities deep within the remaining tracts of pristine rainforest. In the forests to the south, between the ríos Napo and Curaray, lies the Waorani Reserve, home to about two thousand people. Their territory acts as a buffer zone to the Parque Nacional Yasuní, Ecuador’s largest national park, protecting a number of habitats and an extraordinary wealth of flora and fauna.
Since Coca became more accessible in the 1970s, this wild part of the eastern Oriente has been one of the country’s top natural attractions, and also the location of several of the best jungle lodges, which provide the most comfortable way of experiencing the rainforest here. Many of them have an observation tower – a high vantage point to see life in the jungle canopy that’s all but invisible from the ground – and own private reserves close to much larger national parks. A number of less expensive jungle-tour operators (see Tours from Coca) also run trips down the Río Napo from Coca, some using their own basic accommodation, others making do with tents and campsites. Añangu, three hours’ drive east from Coca, on the edge of the Parque Nacional Yasuní, is one of the few indigenous communities along the lower Napo that has developed its own ecotourism programme.