In eastern Ecuador (the Oriente), tropical rain forests are home to indigenous people and hundreds of species of plants and animals. Rivers, such as the Rio Napo and Rio Aguarico, begin in Ecuador, and eventually join with the Amazon much further east. In the jungle, kids can see wide variety of birds and animals - caiman (also called cayaman, a relative of the alligator), macaws, toucans, monkeys, jaguar, pink river dolphins, manatees and piranhas. Imagine paddling your dugout canoe through the jungle.
To get to the jungle, travel overland from Quito, or take a quick flight to Coca or Lago Agrio. From there, take a boat down the river to a jungle lodge. The lodges, often staffed with indigenous peoples, will organize hikes, canoeing, and other activities in the rain forest.
Yachana Lodge - Take a boat down the Rio Napo from Misahualli to the Yachana Lodge (between Ahuana and Coca). Life jackets are provided for the two hour boat ride and you'll see incredible jungle along the Rio Napo.
See how to roast coca beans, grind them, then make your own hot chocolate to drink.
Visit a local healer who uses indigenous plants for healing. Learn how to blow darts from a big blow guns, aimed at a papaya, or throw spears. Try your hand with a fishing net or gold panning.
Take hikes in the jungle. Your guides will provide boots in kid's sizes for the hikes through the dripping wet rainforest. Kids will love the amazing bug life in the jungle, grasshoppers the size of a desk stapler and huge leaf cutter ants.
La Selva Jungle Lodge - Fly to Coca, then it's a 2-3 hour boat ride down the Rio Napo.
Paddle dugout canoes and take motorized canoe rides to explore the Rio Napo and Lake Garzacocha. Fish for piranhas (if you catch some, try eating them for dinner).
Hike through primary rainforest where you can see leafcutter and lemon ants (they taste like lemons if you eat them), howler monkeys, butterflies and, if you're lucky, jaguars. Picnic with parrots, parakeets and macaws. Go up the observation tower to watch birds in the jungle.
Take a night time excursion to see caiman, monkeys, bats and owls.
Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve - Fly to Lago Agrio, then take a boat down the Aguarico river (one option is the floating hotel, Flotel Orellana). Cuyabeno is a partially flooded rainforest (igapo), that is a maze of lagoons, rivers and watery forests. This region is famous for its pink river dolphins, and kids can spot manatees and piranhas, paiches (a fish that can grow to 6 feet long), squirrel monkeys, red howler monkeys, spider monkeys, hundreds of species of tropical birds.
Paddle dugout canoes, in the Caiman Cocha, a lagoon populated with caymans.
Swim with pink river dolphins and piranhas - major bragging rights for swimming with piranhas!
Hike with a Cofan, Siona or Secoya guide through jungle to learn about medicinal herbs and poisonous plants, local folklore and how to use a blow gun (bring back one as a souvenir).
Nighttime excursions to see tree frogs, fruit bats and kinkajous and cayman.
Tip: It does rain in the rainforest. Bring ponchos or lightweight anoraks, and consider bringing boots in kids sizes.