“All my life I’ve been running around, seeking a moment of happiness, and now I’ve found it, in the tranquility of this riverboat as it goes down a huge river like the Napo, in no rush at all.” This was written in the travel diary of a modern adventurer who traveled to the Amazon on board the Manatee Explorer riverboat in search of traces of an ancestral culture.
His trip was not so much touristic, but more of an archaeological expedition. However, the sensations, feelings and emotions awoken by this jungle journey made a profound impact on this person. Sailing on this riverboat that glided silently along the Napo River in the presence of exotic jungle wildlife transformed his life and changed his perception of many realities.
That is precisely what happens to adventurous travelers who travel to the magical and challenging Ecuadorian Amazon, especially when their guide knows and understands life deep in the jungle. Such guides can reveal the best of this challenging destination to those who journey here.
The crew of the Manatee Amazon Explorer — a small riverboat with a capacity for 30 passengers, and designed specifically to sail the Napo River — is qualified to serve as the best ally in such an Amazonian experience. In fact, both the crew of this comfortable Amazonian vessel and its bilingual naturalist guides (many of them locals) are the “jewels in the crown” of the Manatee. Undoubtedly, its staff is one of the five “highlights” in this adventure in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Here we will spotlight these highlights:
Excellent Manatee guides and crew
Experienced, well- trained, and above all passionate about their work, the Manatee guides and crew — those in Quito as well as the staff in the Amazonian city of Coca — will make all the difference in your journey through the Amazon. Who can know more about a place than someone who was born there, has lived in it, and loves the region? The Amazon guides who will accompany you on your daily rainforest excursions know the jungle like the palms of their hands. They can recognize each plant and know its use, just as they know the sound of each animal hidden in this dense tropical forest. They can tell you what’s the best time and the best place to appreciate wonderful species, and they can, of course, serve as the best intermediaries between you and remote Amazonian communities, whose members you’ll have a chance to meet.
In most reviews of this cruise, travelers highlight the friendliness and fine service delivered by the Manatee crew. The attitudes of each crew member are visible in subtle but significant details, such as in the serving of a delicious Amazonian fruit juice after each excursion, or the guides’ attention to each question posed by travelers while trekking through the rainforest or sailing down a tributary of the mighty Amazon River. You’ll find captain Juan Carlos to be very careful and organized, while Pepito is a well-disposed waiter, and Hugo a magnificent cook. “Every day we had a varied and exquisite menu,” wrote an Argentine traveler in TripAdvisor. “A very special mention should be made of our guide, Rubén, not only for his training and knowledge of the environment, but also for how he showed such sincere enthusiasm,” said another Spanish tourist. The passengers’ satisfaction with the crew of the Manatee speaks for itself.
Great excursions deep into the jungle
While it’s great that the cruise through the Amazon is comfortable and spacious, and it’s good that you’ll have an excellent crew, but no one can deny that the “main course” of a trip like this are the excursions into the jungle. The staff and management of the Manatee Amazon Explorer know this, which is why they offer travelers complete and well-thought-out itineraries that will take you into the very heart of the Amazon basin.
Sailing along the Napo River, the most important tributary of the Amazon River, this ship cuts through the jungle, stopping for you to take walks (day and night), experience exciting kayak adventure, and go swimming with dolphins and even piranhas! (yep, you read that right). Plus, you’ll experience close-up encounters with the wonderful and rich human communities that live on the banks of the Napo.
For the most part, you’ll be traveling through the Yasuni National Reserve, which is the largest protected area in continental Ecuador. This exuberant tropical forest environment is inhabited by an enormous diversity of species of plant and animal life. Here, you’ll find huge and ancient trees that seem to contain the spirit of the rainforest, as do the wide rivers into which raindrops splash to create a singular symphony. In addition, found here are large animals such as jaguars, eagles and anaconda, as well as colorful birds and small species like a pocket monkey. And be ready for the “beautiful surprises,” like sightings of Pink river dolphins or lumbering manatees that swim right up next to the boat. Then too there’s the incalculable human wealth embodied in the Waorani, Tagaeri and Taromenane ethnic groups, peoples who live in voluntary isolation in this region. These are part of the secret of the jungle.
The Manatee’s itineraries in the rainforest span from three nights to seven nights, during which times you can enter the endless green of the jungle, accompanied by bilingual naturalist guides, many of them local, who will reveal all the secrets of the Amazon jungle to you. You can even do some jungle “glamping” (glamorous luxury camping).
Comfort, first-class service, and security
The Manatee Amazon Explorer riverboat is small but comfortable, as its capacity for only 30 passengers provides it a certain intimate charm. The first boat designed specifically to make cruises on the Napo River, the ship has 14 standard cabins, each covering about 20 square meters, and four 24-square-meter luxury cabins with Jacuzzis. All cabins are equipped with air conditioning and electricity 24-hours a day. They all also have private bathrooms with hot water and large windows so you won’t miss a single detail of the Amazonian landscape. Of the ship’s four decks, on the Main Deck are located the dining room, the kitchen, the crew cabins and the engine room. The Upper Deck has 10 more cabins and a boutique, while the Superior Deck is one of the favorite places for guests to socialize. On this deck — in addition to the bridge, four cabins and the conference room — you’ll find the bar/lounge and an al fresco dining room, where delicious national, international and vegetarian meals are served. Finally, the Observation Deck is another favorite place for travelers, as this is where guests can enjoy the ship’s Jacuzzi, which is a perfect space to relax and enjoy the Amazonian landscape.
While a cruise of this nature is characterized by adventure, safety is the main priority for the crew of Manatee. This is why the cruise ship is fully equipped to navigate on the Amazonian waters and its crew has proven experience and training. In addition, tough and versatile motorized canoes are available for emergencies as well as for daily excursions. What’s more, before each disembarkation, passengers receive complete and adequate information about the destination and weather conditions.
The Manatee will take you to visit the true owners of the rainforest. For centuries indigenous peoples have lived here and protected the jungle. They have achieved a perfect balance in which they can receive what they need without destroying their surrounding environment. However, in recent times they have had to adapt to the profound changes. Still, the Waorani, Tagaeri and Taromenane peoples are the human and cultural gems of this remote and rich region of the world.
The importance of the Manatee Amazon Explorer’s crew to these local populations is fundamental. On the ship’s excursions, visits are included that will allow travelers respectful and personal contact with these people of the jungle. They will show you what happens in their daily lives and invite you to join in with some of their activities. Would you like to learn ancestral housekeeping techniques? Or what about learning how to make cassava bread, which is a fundamental part of the Amazon diet? Get ready, because you can be part of these and other fascinating activities. The Manatee Amazon Explorer makes stops so that you can venture out on the banks of the Napo River. Here, the local school in one of the communities opens its doors so that visitors can not only learn about the educational system, but above all interact with the children. To complete this approach to Amazonian culture, another interesting visit will be the Yakukawsay Kichwa Interpretation Center, administered by the Kichwa community of Nueva Providencia, which is located northwest of the Yasuni National Park. While one of the objectives of this center is the conservation of ecosystems, it also constitutes an alternative source of income for the community. You can also take part in a fiesta, which is an important part of life in all Amazonian communities. In this way, you can appreciate their songs, their dances, the happiness of celebrating abundance in the production of food with offerings of yucca, palm, spears, necklaces, bracelets, bird feathers and ancestral drinks. In summary, over the few days of your visit, you’ll get a close-up look at authentic Amazonian life from the perspective of the local population themselves.
When traveling onboard the Manatee Amazon Explorer, not only will you enjoy one of the best experiences of your life, but with your visit, you will be contributing to the conservation of the jungle and its species, as well as to the development of local communities. In conjunction with these populations, the Manatee’s crew works on wildlife preservation projects, especially those involving charapas, Pink dolphins and manatees, as well as sustainable programs of local communities and other conservation entities in the area. For each passenger who visits the area, the Manatee makes a payment to the community, and those resources are invested in preservation. In addition, there is a project to reintroduce threatened species such as manatees back into the rainforest, but always in conjunction with the local communities and other environmental organizations.
However, Manatee’s commitment to the environment is realized in more than these specific projects, as the entire operation of this riverboat is respectful of the environment as the ship seeks to cause the least impact on the fragile Amazonian environment. Some of the measures applied in its operation are the treating wastewater with ozone rather than harsh chemicals, so as to avoid polluting the river; limiting the use of water to cleaning the boat, laundry service and personal use; providing biodegradable products in the cabins and as cleaning products; employing reusable bottles on field trips; recycling paper, plastic and organic waste; using equipment that reduces fuel consumption; and training the staff and the community to maintain safe practices that respect the environment.
In summary, there are many reasons to choose this riverboat cruise if you want to discover the Ecuadorian Amazon. We assure you a unique up-close and first-hand experience where you’ll find the best the Amazon rainforest has to offer. Together with locals and an expert crew aboard this safe and enchanting boat, this magical region will open its secrets to you in an adventure that will be impossible to ever forget.
Alfonso Tandazo is President and CEO at Surtrek Tour Operator. Surtrek Tour Operator is a well-established firm, specializing in custom-designed luxury tours in Ecuador, the Galapagos and throughout the rest of South America.