I had the special opportunity to venture deep into the Ecuadorian Amazon to Tiputini Biodiversity Station, a research station operated by my host university (USFQ). Yasuni National Park, where the station is located, may be the most biodiverse place on the planet. It is so remote that we had to take a 30 minute flight from Quito to Coca, then a 1.5 hour boat ride down the Napo River, a 1.5 hour bus ride through an oil facility and indigenous communities, and then a final 2 hour boat ride down the Tiputini River. The scenery kept getting better as we got deeper into the jungle.
After getting pelted by rain during the final boat ride, we arrived excited (but wet) at the station. I was surprised at how sophisticated the station was. It is amazing that they are able to run a facility like that in such a remote place. There is a dining hall, a lab, a library, and cabins. All have electricity (albeit only for certain hours of the day) and running water that is drinkable.
The physical features are marked by the Tiputini River, a small lake, lots of hiking paths, and salt licks where animals gather. Two of the more unique and special features are a platform and staircase in the canopy of one of the largest trees, and bridges that are situated above the forest with platforms in smaller trees. We had the chance to visit both places, observe the wildlife that lives in the canopy, and have a fantastic view of the forest. A large portion of the time was spent hiking with guides. We even went on a night hike with headlamps, and took a canoe on the lake. One day we woke up very early to see a sunrise from the platform. That was one of the most amazing views I have ever seen.
The majority of the wildlife I saw consisted of plants, insects and spiders. Never have I seen so many different kinds of unique plants and insects. Word of warning: if you don’t like spiders, don’t go to Tiputini! I enjoyed seeing all of the different kinds of spiders, but I’m sure some people wouldn’t enjoy that. I also saw three types of monkeys: wooly monkeys, howler monkeys, and the rare pigmy monkey. The birds I saw consisted of curassows, toucans, a heron-type bird and many smaller birds. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see many amphibians or reptiles, which I heard is common on a two day stay.
The climate: hot and very humid during the afternoons where it didn’t rain. When it rained, the temperature was actually quite nice. It was so humid one afternoon that I was dripping sweat, despite not physically exerting myself. For this reason, they recommend putting electronics in a bag of rice or in special “dry boxes” that they have at the station.
How can I best describe the experience? It was like summer camp or outdoor school but 100x better. We had down time where we played cards, hung out, and ate together like at camp. However, we weren’t just in any location, we were in the real Amazon Jungle, where we got to see an almost untouched forest, and incredible wildlife.
Next stop: Galapagos!