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by on February 21, 2020

Four CRAZY days in The Amazon – Siona Lodge Review

The Cuyabeno Reserve is a pristine rainforest deep within the Amazon rainforest. The two major protected areas, Yasuni and Cuyabeno, are two of the most biodiverse hotspots for wildlife and plants. These two parks attract thousands of tourists yearly. The majority are faraway foreigners wanting to get a glimpse into the paradise of the rainforest and immerse themselves in nature. Here is my Siona Lodge review with an in-depth glimpse into what you will see if you visit during the dry season.

Siona Lodge Review Introduction

“Throw me a fish!”

I visited the Cuyabeno national forest in February 2020 to get a perspective of the dry season and will return in a few months to compare the wet season.

I stayed at the amazing Siona Lodge, which sat on a peninsula facing a massive lagoon, the “Laguna Grande.”

This area affords brilliant sunsets, with a sky full of vibrant red, pink, and orange hues. The name Siona derives from the Siona community, which has thrived in the Cuyabeno River for hundreds of years.

Cuyabeno is known for its many lagoons, a wonderful place to spot caimans, pink river dolphins, manatees, and aquatic birds.

The Ride into the Amazon rainforest

Siona Lodge Review - Canoe

The only means of transportation on the Amazon river!

It is possible to take a 50-minute flight to the Amazon town of Lago Agrio for 100-200 dollars. However, my girlfriend and I decided to save some money and take a private night shuttle for 20 dollars. If you have the money, one of my highest recommendations for this Siona lodge review is to take the flight. The bus left at 11:30 pm from Quito’s historic district, in front of a hostel called “The Secret Garden.” I found out through research that the public bus can take up to 10 hours. We couldn’t bear the idea of it, and glad we paid the extra money for the shuttle.

The journey was seven hours, and we were dropped off at a local hostel in town which had hammocks to relax in. We slept in the hammocks and waiting for the shuttle to the Cuyabeno River which arrived around 10:30 am. The bus took us to the Cuaybeno river, a 2-hour bus journey.

From the arrival point, we took a three-hour canoe ride. It would have been faster, but the water on the river was low as it was the dry season. On the way, we saw lots of beautiful birds and a group of monkeys.  It was exciting going deeper and deeper into the jungle, and at one point our guide turned the motor off and had us listen to the sounds of the forest. Suffice to say, after a 16 hour travel day, including 9 hours of busing, three hours of the canoe, and a 40-minute walk to the lodge, we were ready for a beer.

The Cabins and Living areas – Siona Lodge Review

From across the Lagoon, the Siona lodge is completely invisible. The forest hides away the lodge, a beautiful hideaway. After we arrived at the lodge, our guide showed us to our rooms. Stepping inside, I was surprised by the overall spaciousness and amount of compartments to store belongings.

Siona Lodge - Lounge Area

The Siona Lodge Dining Area

Covering the bed are large mosquito nets, which prevent the bugs from getting within. I always wore bug spray even before bed, to prevent any persistent bugs from sneaking in and getting a bite.  I recommend this practice to others too, as we woke up with a bump or two. This is likely due to the fact the net doesn’t completely fall to the ground (or Perhaps they rode in with us!)

Siona-Lodge-Review-Bed

Mosquitos nets are necessary to protect you from the bugs!

Every room had a beautiful back deck with hammock and cozy chairs to sit back and listen to the noises of nature. Between excursions, I would come here often and nap outside.

Running between the cabins of the lodge was a boardwalk leading to various areas of the lodge. The Siona has a station for rubber boots, a large dining area with plenty of furniture, and the best of all deck jutting out toward the lagoon. This was a fantastic area to watch the sunsets, drink a large beer for $3.50, and listening as the frogs and bats became active.

Dry Season – A crucial period for the Ecosystem

Siona Lodge Review - walking through mud

The Laguna Mud Walk.

During my stay in February, the lagoon was devoid of all water, a massive pit thick mud, which we traversed 40 minutes across to reach our lodge from the Cuyabeno river.

Every year for approximately one month, anytime from December to January, the lagoon dries up to a lack of rainfall.

While the mud walk may dismay some tourists that desire to stay in the lagoon, one must understand it is fundamentally important to the ecosystem of the reserve and the species that live within.

The dry period is a window of opportunity for vegetation to grow within the lagoon, which later affords aquatic creatures a chance to eat the tender leaves of young plants.

Additionally, fish get stuck in the drying lagoon, supplying a constant feast for great ibis, striated herons, and even caimans.

During this period, anacondas and caimans hunker down into the mud awaiting the rainfall, just their eyes poking out to observe their surroundings.

Pink river dolphins and manatees migrate downriver to the Aguarico River and the giant river otters hang out within inlets and small tributaries of the river. 

The Wildlife – Siona Lodge Review

Despite some of the more famous animals of the Amazon hiding or departed during this dry period, the forest maintains a shocking level of biodiversity. Our guide, Jacob, or Ako, from the Kichwa indigenous peoples. He explained during our first canoe ride to the lodge that growing up and living on the river has given him keen eyesight for spotting animals, and it was not a lie.

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Our unforgettable guide Jacob spotted every animal on the river!

Without our guide, it is likely we would only see 10 percent of the creatures that we saw. Ako had an unbelievable eye for spotting animals that were camouflaged, holding still, or very far away. During my visit, our group saw a large variety of animals and trees. I think everyone’s favorite was the 4 species of monkeys we saw during hikes and canoe rides. Some were acrobatically flinging from tree to tree, while others sat still eating fruits and scratching. We saw Toucans, Macaws, vividly colored songbirds, snakes, lizards. During the nocturnal hike on the first night, our guide spotted fascinating insects that are perfectly adapted to their environment. 

Siona-Lodge-Review-Sloth

Slow but Methodical climbers

Among them, we saw bird-eating tarantulas, stick bugs, a devil spider with horns, massive bullfrogs, and leaf-cutting ants. The leaf-cutting ants were especially fascinating. The ants go in various directions until they find the perfect leaves, and the ants release a pheromone once they find the shortest trail to that tree.

On the very last day, we were lucky enough to see a sloth crossing the Cuyabeno river, slowly but methodically. Ako told us that during other times of the season, you can see many of these guys meandering along the jungle.

Siona-Lodge-Review-Stick-Bug

Can you see the stick bug?

The Siona Community Visit

One of the most interesting aspects of the entire trip was visiting one of the four Siona communities within Cuyabeno. During our visit, we met with two community members, a female that was once a community leader, and one of five Shamans. These two shared many insights with us about the culture and lifestyle within the communities. They were also happy to answer any question we thought of!

The Shaman and Siona Community Member

Siona Shaman

Shaman of the Siona Community

With the female member of Siona, we participated in making a yucca bread from scratch. She took us to a small plantation, where it is typical that each family has its own plot of not only yucca sufficient for the year but medicinal plants as well.

With the female member of Siona, we participated in making a yucca bread from scratch. She took us to a small plantation, where it is typical that each family has its own plot of not only yucca sufficient for the year but medicinal plants as well.

We pulled the yucca out of the ground, peeled the skin, grated the yucca, and squeezed the water out through a sieve made of the bark of a tree. From there we had a Yucca flour that was spread across large clay hot plate over a fire, and within minutes we had a delicious bread.

We discussed with her about some of the various natural medicines and teas the community used. One, a bright red flower made into a tea by the Shaman, once drunken is able to stop the woman from having babies. Another tea can be drunk to resume the ability to have children. When asked how effective it was, she said 100 percent! A one-time natural birth control, no surgery or hormones involved! 

Other natural remedies include teas for treating headaches, stomach aches, and various sicknesses. How do they find the uses of these plants when there are thousands and thousands of plants in the Amazon? The answer comes from the Shamans.

The shamans train for 12+ years to learn the ways of the Shaman. They dress in elaborate outfits, with the style and colors of the fabrics created based on visions during Yahe, or ayahuasca ceremonies. During these ceremonies, members of the community consume a potent hallucinogenic medicine composed of two plants within the Amazon boiled down for many hours. With thousands of plants in the Amazon, nobody can answer the mystery of how the indigenous found the right combination of the two plants.

The members of the community take this medicine when they have a significant issue in their life they wish to address, and the medicine often connects them with the answer during a spiritual journey. From the summer months of August to September, nature is most vibrant in the rainforest.

This is when a Shaman may consume this medicine up to every other day. During this period, he connects with the spirits within animals and plants. They show Shamans the various medicinal properties of plants and how to create medicine. When people have medical issues that cannot be remedied through typical treatment, the Yahe shows the Shaman the ailment the person is suffering, and how to treat it. Often times, when typical western treatments for anxiety and depression (described as thinking too much by the Shaman), he is able to cure these issues. 

Education of the Siona community

The education that children receive is a fascinating lesson in caring for the planet. The communities integrate the importance of the environment into schooling. This includes lessons of the value of animals and plants within the Amazon. We could see these lessons make an impact, as the Cuyabeno river was very clean and free of litter, showing how much they care for the area. Additionally, as we traveled the river we saw many Siona members actually cleaning the river, removing giant logs that made the river impassable.

Sustainability in the Amazon – Siona lodge review

During my trip, I spoke with various people along the journey that spoke of how Amazon in Ecuador has changed over time. I asked them what they want visitors to know, and which rules they should follow. One important rule was to make sure that insect repellent is a lotion and not an aerosol. Moreover, put on repellent within the lodge before tours. Repellents can change the patterns of animals within the forest. If it is necessary, apply it only in your hand and spread it around your body.

They also spoke with me about how animals frequent the area less over time. This is due to the traffic and motors causing noise and fuel pollution. Consequently, the animals are moving to quiet areas farther from the lodges. In one year, 16,000 visitors came to the reserve, which averages out to 43 people a day. When I asked what they think would make a significant difference, one recommended limiting tourists by half. Increasing the price for international tourists coming from abroad could be a possible method to slow the influx of tourists. Additionally, finding ways to replace gas motors could be a viable way to substantially decrease sound pollution. Electric motors could substantially decrease sound and fuel pollution.

Siona Lodge Monkey

Monkey see Monkey do

Siona Lodge Review and Recommendations

Overall, my experience in the Amazon rainforest was a beautiful eye-opening lesson. The sheer amount of biodiversity, even during the period where animals were hiding the most, made for an incredible adventure. 

The staff of the Siona lodge is professional, friendly, dedicated, and very helpful. Our chef, Blanca, prepared delicious and healthy meals. They were the perfect portion to satisfy the stomach after a full day of adventure. The boat driver was talented, getting us through the river safely and always stopping to see the wildlife.

Our guide, Ako, or Jacob, was knowledgable, friendly, and very polite. His ability to spot animals was out of this world.

My primary recommendation for elderly travelers is to make sure the lagoon is full. Otherwise, stay in a lodge along the river that doesn’t require any walking. If you have the ability, visit when the river is high, as you will have more opportunities to see wildlife. You can do this by speaking with our travel staff as GreenGo Travel. They will be happy to answer any questions you have.


About Keenan Ennis

Keenan Ennis studied Conservation and wildlife biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. This eventually lead him to a program in Ecuador studying hummingbirds and their keystone nutritional species in the Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve. Since, he has worked with the critically endangered Bandurria Andina, or black-faced Ibis of the Andean Páramo. Through his ecological background, he provides an in depth insight into the conservation processes of the Galapagos Islands.

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