Coca in Amazonian Ecuador

prtfrncscHere is where things get tricky. Puerto Francisco de Orellana is a riverside port city in Ecuador that is seldom referred to by its correct name. Everybody calls it Coca, and it is a relatively new city that has been built to service the burgeoning resources energy.

The city is located at the junction of the Rivers Coca and Napo in the Amazon region east of the Andes Mountains. It is the capital of the province of Orellana. Interestingly, its official name is a tribute to Francisco de Orellana a Spanish explorer and Conquistador who completed the first known navigation of the Amazon, and was the person who named the river after the women he saw fighting alongside the male warriors.

Most travellers don’t visit Coca to enjoy the delights of the city, as it is a typical jungle boomtown, rough, tough and a bit seedy catering for oil industry workers, and those who like to profit from them. However, Coca is the perfect place in which to base yourself in order to visit the excellent Amazon parks and reserves that are nearby.

Coca is also a gateway to several isolated jungle lodges and most of the lodges are located a two to three-hour boat ride downstream from Coca where the wildlife-viewing is top-notch. If you haven’t pre-booked then it is relatively easy to wander down to the docks to find a boat and a guide. Ecuador’s regulations require visitors to travel into the parks and reserves with accredited guides.

One of the best known of the parks is Yasuni National Park which is considered to be one of the most biologically diverse spots on Earth. With an area of 9,820 square kilometres, it alone is home to over 150 amphibian species, 121 different types of reptile, 382 known species of fish, 596 varieties of birds, 10,000 different types of insects (take your repellent with you) and over 4,000 plant species, not even counting the vertebrates.

The other main reason for visiting Coca is the Huaorani Reserve which is home to the Huaorani People who even today live as hunters and gatherers. True jungle people, they had no contact with the outside world until the end of the 1950s when they were contacted by missionaries. The Huaoranis’ way of life remains much the same as it has for many centuries. Tourists looking for an experience that is truly out of the ordinary can gain insight into the lives of these extraordinary people by visiting the Huaorani Eco Lodge.

Unfortunately, the Huaorani way of life is threatened by the oil which exists underneath their land, and they are constantly under the threat of losing their rights to the oil companies. Income derived by people visiting their land helps in their fight for preservation.

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