Rather than a set day to day itinerary, at Sacha Lodge you choose from a variety of daily activities, which are explained as you scroll down.
Getting to Sacha.
Your journey starts in Quito with a 40 minute flight to Coca. There a guide meets you and takes you across town by bus to the dock. Here you pause for a snack and use the rest rooms before boarding the covered motorized canoe for a 2-hour, 50-mile (80-kilometer) trip down the sediment-rich waters of the Napo River, the largest river in Ecuadorian Amazonia.
During the ride it is easy to spot handsome shore birds such as herons, kingfishers, spoonbills and ospreys between the scattered native huts as you travel steadily away from civilization. Upon arrival at Sacha Lodge's 5000-acre (2000-hectare) private reserve, you walk along a raised boardwalk through dense flooded palm forest where several species of monkeys are often sighted. Your luggage will be transported for you.
The path leads to Pilchicocha Lake, a blackwater paradise where you'd least expect to find any sign of people, but dugout canoes (and even paddlers) await to carry you even farther. As you cross the lake, the cries of tropical birds lead you to the lodge, your home base for an exciting jungle experience.
A typical day.
You spend most of the day in the forest. Starting early in the morning, groups are usually on the trail by 6:00 am. Not only is it cooler at this hour, but animal and bird activity is at its peak. However, each group may decide on its own wake-up and breakfast time, as well as the difficulty and duration of their morning outings. Usually you return to the lodge for lunch with ample time after for a swim and an afternoon siesta. In the afternoon, visits begin at around 3:00 and often continue into the evening, when the nocturnal insect and frog chorus begins. The trails vary in length from an hour to a full day, with enough variety for all abilities and interests.
In the evening, a night walk through the rain forest is an experience not to be missed -- a sensual delight filled with new scents, sounds and shapes.
Sacha's 5000 acres of rainforest covers a variety of different habitats, mostly in primary rain forest, but they range from terra firme to swamp to rivers and lakes. Although most tours are on foot, some can be combined with river trips in a dugout canoe.
Tours are not just limited to the ground. From the 135-foot observation tower, you can view the forest canopy up close among the epiphyte-laden branches of a kapok tree. From here you see the rainforest stretch to the horizon in all directions. On a clear day, the snowcapped peak of Sumaco, an extinct volcano 100 miles away, is often visible. Flora and fauna invisible from the ground can be studied at close quarters from this vantage point. Water-filled tank bromeliads stand side by side with sprays of orchids. Hopping between them are a host of exotic birds with equally exotic names: Paradise Tanager, Spangled Cotinga, Many-banded Aracari. The canopy is one of the least studied habitats and harbors thousands of still unknown plant and animal species. To be surrounded by such richness is a rare experience.
Parrot Salt Lick.
Further down the Napo from Sacha, you can visit a parrot salt-lick to see hundreds of parrots and parakeets. They are attracted to an impressive red cliff on the riverbank early each morning in order to fulfill their daily mineral requirements. Whether clinging to the cliff or wheeling in circles above it, these birds provide an unforgettable spectacle of color and noise.
Although the Napo River is a kilometer wide in places, it is often surprisingly shallow. Pushing a large canoe full of people off a sandbar is not something the crew wants to do, so the canoe zigzags its way down the river following the deepest channels. The riverbanks are home to Quichua communities. Traditionally, their thatched roof houses are raised on stilts and surrounded by small gardens or chacras, where they grow coffee, bananas and yuca, among other things. In recent years, enormous oil reserves have been discovered in this region and signs of the oil industry are now a common sight along the river. Your guide will explain the surroundings in more detail and answer any questions.
AVAILABLE WALKS AND TRIPS AT SACHA LODGE
Groups are divided up according to interest, physical fitness, and age, with about five passengers per guide. Each group is accompanied by a naturalist bilingual biologist and a local guide. This way you learn about the scientific and cultural aspects of the region. Wherever the destination, you take a leisurely pace in order to appreciate the fascinating details that the guides point out around you.
Activities are spread out over a wide area allowing you to explore several distinct but equally fascinating habitats. Several trails lead through pristine terra firme forest, where 150 foot kapok trees tower above and roots form huge buttresses to give trees support. Others follow strategically raised boardwalks in seasonally flooded forests, where walking on the ground would be nearly impossible during most of the year due to groundwater. One popular trail leads across fallen tree trunks and a steel cable zip-line through rich swampland!
A favorite activity is to paddle dugout canoes along tannin-rich black-water creeks and lakes, where luxuriant lianas, orchids, bromeliads and palm trees thrive. Wherever an outing may lead the possibilities of spotting animals, from the tiny pygmy marmoset to the feared ocelot or puma, are endless.
During free time at the lodge, swimming and piranha fishing are also activities not to be missed. Don't worry! Piranhas are scavengers and the guides will prove that swimming is perfectly safe.
For adventurous souls, the day does not necessarily end with dinner. Night walks and canoe trips, with the aid of flashlights, often reveal creatures seldom seen during daylight. Caimans (of the alligator family) and giant insects rule the forest after sunset.
A sampling of the available excursions:
Full morning canoe ride to the Tarabita (a swing that crosses the Orchid stream)
Full day trip to the Indillama river (an arm of the main Napo river). This river crosses virgin park forest and provides huge possibilities for fauna observation.
Half day trip visiting the Parrot Lick which is an impressive reddish wall where very early in the morning, hundreds of parrots, parakeets and parrolets gather to nourish themselves on valuable minerals. The sound of the activity and color of these birds are outstanding.
Every day the guides take you on hikes in the rain forest to a variety of biodiversity sights. The walks can take from 3 hours taking a soft pace observing and waiting for things to happen, to a full day of trekking through a vast jungle.
Our 135-foot tower has a large observation deck that can accommodate up to 15 people. The Ceibo tree has a large branch which is covered with orchids which bloom during certain seasons.
The Lianas, short and long are dry land trails with interesting jungle flora and insect life which fulfills the curiosity of the general interest passengers.
Our two lakes, Pilchicocha and Largartococha offer us the possibility to observe caymans during the night
Anyone who has ever planned to visit the rainforest has at least once asked: What animals will I see?? There is an incredibly high diversity of species found around Sacha Lodge, and you will have the opportunity to see many fascinating creatures here. However, the wild is unpredictable and no two visits are ever the same! Monkeys are seen quite frequently, but how many of the 8 species found here will cross your path? They range in size from the tiny half pound pygmy marmoset to the noisy 17 pound red howler monkey, and night monkeys can be found in groups as small as 2 while squirrel monkeys can travel in groups of more than 150. Besides monkeys, there may be as many as 60 other species of mammals within our reserve (not including up to 50 species of bats)! So keep your eyes open, and maybe you'll spot an anteater, a 3-toed sloth, or even an ocelot as you explore their natural habitat. But please keep in mind that the density of the rainforest foliage often makes it very difficult to spot wildlife. It's best to keep an open mind as well as open ears and eyes, and to appreciate the rain forest in all of its ways.
As for reptiles, be sure to take advantage of the night activities to look for one of Pilchicocha's resident spectacled caimans. Members of the alligator family, caimans are often seen from canoes out on the lake, and sometimes the babies even come to hide under our dining room! A variety of lizards and snakes can also be found along our trails, if you move quietly and keep your eyes peeled. Several different boas, vine snakes and even the giant anaconda have been seen during many excursions. Frogs, on the other hand, are much more common and easy to see, from bulgy-eyed tree frogs to camouflaged leaf frogs to tiny colorful poison-dart frogs. So watch your step, day or night! And then, of course, there are birds.
In recent years Sacha Lodge has become a favorite destination of both professional and amateur ornithologists. Of the incredible 1600 bird species registered in Ecuador , 587 (37%) have been seen at Sacha Lodge. That's almost 7% of the species found in the entire world! This is a staggering number, especially if you consider that approximately 900 species have been registered in the entire continental United States and Canada .
In only 4 or 5 days, it is not uncommon for even the most casual birder to see over 250 species here. With only minimal effort you can expect to see dozens of colorful parrots, toucans, hummingbirds, tanagers, hawks and oropendolas, and of course there are plenty of elusive LBJ's (little brown jobs, of course) to keep the avid bird enthusiasts occupied for days. Our guides will carry telescopes along to bring your birdwatching experience close-up, and be sure to keep your binoculars handy at all times!
Your guide will lead you through a variety of habitats where mixed flocks are common, and generally begin before sunrise to take full advantage of the morning peak. You may even take a box lunch along if you wish to stay out all day, and return only for dinner before heading out again in search of owls and other nocturnal species. Groups are as small as possible ( 5-6 people is ideal), and a minimum of 5 days is recommend to cover as much ground as possible. However, stays of a week or more are easily arranged in order to take full advantage of the local diversity!
Avid birdwatchers can request bird-specialist guides. (Please request in advance to make sure one will be available.) These guides know the best spots for the hard-to-find species, and can easily identify species by both sight and sound. Oscar Tapuy, our local expert who has been with at Sacha since 1995, estimates 60 species per day (sighted, of course) to be his average tally!
The Butterfly House
Sacha Lodge is home to one of the largest butterfly farms in Ecuador. Designed as a live exhibition conservatory, the Butterfly House is now successfully breeding nearly 40 local butterfly species! Guests will be shown how these beautiful insects are bred and raised, and later be free to wander through "the flying room", where hundreds of colorful butterflies flutter from flower to flower. Transparent glass-wing butterflies, spectacular blue morphs, striking tiger longwings, bright yellow swallowtails and giant nocturnal owl butterflies are only a few of the species you'll encounter here, up close and personal.
The Canopy Walk
A new and much anticipated addition to Sacha's activities is the 940-foot (275-meter) long canopy walkway. At approximately 94 feet (30 meters) above the ground, imagine exploring the rainforest up in the treetops! This sturdy walkway is fixed to the ground by three metal towers for stability, and offers an unbelievable opportunity to spot dozens of animals and epiphytes seldom seen from the ground. Thousands of colorful birds can to be spotted, and with some luck you can follow troops of monkeys as they forage through the forest canopy. Taking a leisurely walk above the trees on this incredible structure, to emerge even higher on the top of the towers surrounded by an endless sea of rainforest, is an experience not to be missed, and as far as we know found nowhere else in the world.
The Kapok Tower
One of Sacha Lodge's original attractions and an all-time favorite of our guests is the famous 135-foot (43-meter) kapok observation tower. Situated on a hill and constructed around a giant kapok tree for stability, this tower allows you another opportunity to climb into and above the rainforest canopy for a magnificent view of the surrounding area. This tower has been a faithful delight for birdwatchers, where specialist bird guides have reported seeing over 80 species in a single morning! With some luck, you may see the noisy howler monkeys or the gentle three-toed sloth, especially with the aid of a powerful telescope.
The Yasun¡ Parrot Lick
At a short distance from Sacha Lodge is Ecuador's most accessible parrot lick, an exposed clay riverbank where brightly colored parrots of several different species gather in the early morning. In ideal conditions (sunny and dry) hundreds of parrots will perch on and eat the exposed clay in a spectacular show of sound and color! The lick is located on the edge of Yasun¡ National Park, accessible from Sacha by a short canoe trip down the Napo River. Recently, the park service has set up blinds in order to watch the parrots from very close. If weather permits (the parrots won't be there in the rain), the extra cost of this optional excursion is $15.00 per person for entrance into the National Park (subject to change, and to be paid at the Lodge).