The Amazon-Tour or no Tour-Tena, Ecuador
Tena, Ecuador is one of three major entry points into the Ecuadorian Amazon. It’s easily accessible from Quito, or Baños /Puyo. Tena, a bit dirty and dusty, is a city in itself with a few bars, a few restaurants, and a newly opened vegetarian restaurant.
After a fairly short walk into the city and settling in to my hostel, I made my way to over five different agencies to get a bunch of information about jungle tours. Let me just warn you, if you haven’t noticed already, it’s confusing and full of information and different choices. Are we more interested in learning about medicinal plants? Perhaps waterfalls and trekking? More of the community aspect, learning some Quechua? How many days are you interested in? And so on…
To help with the confusion, I’m going to do a quick run down on the benefits and positives of tours, and possibilities of eating veggie. Make sure to see the chart below, and see my second post on what my final decision was!
After talking with many different tour guides, I learned the most general ones are going to be 2-4 days, involve sleeping in a cabaña in a Quechua community, a trip to a waterfall, and some plant specimens to check out. Most tours (depending on the season you go in…) are going to run you from $40-50 a day. If you are in a bigger group, or speak pretty good spanish and build a rapport with someone, don’t be afraid to barter it down! You could easily get a $50 tour to $40. It’ll be a bit harder to get them to go down from $40 to $35, but hey, it doesn’t hurt to try.
In the end, while I decided not to spend that much money on one day, I did ask around about vegetarian/vegan food on these tours! Most agencies will be prepared to do vegetarian food and it sounds like they’ll easily make things vegan for you. I was informed that there would be bread in the mornings, lots of fruit throughout the day, and yuca (a potato like starch that is pretty good). (Depending on how strict you are, bread may be tricky, I generally will let bread go on things like this since I can’t buy it myself… and it’s confusing to people, but I’m sure you can either offer to bring your own bread or really get into specifics).
Tours always scare me and are off putting to me as a vegan, often initially assuming wrongly that it will be impossible to be vegan on tours where I don’t control the food, but…You should remember that these companies want you to go on the tour for the money. They are willing and used to odd requests from travelers. Don’t be afraid to ask and specify what you want. If you’re Spanish isn’t up to par, brush up on your essential phrases with the Essential Spanish Guide. If you do end up on a tour, I would probably pack a few extra snacks for throughout the day, hit up the Tía (a main grocery store chain in Ecuador) by the main bus terminal, and grab some habitas, peanuts, and maybe a few packs of oreos. hehe.
On the other hand, IF YOU DON’T WANT TO DO A TOUR, YOU CAN STILL SEE THE AMAZON! I decided, after talking to the all the tour guides and the main information touristic center in Tena to keep Tena as my main base and do a few day trips out of Tena.It was a bit more work at times, but in the end, I stuck to my budget of $25 a day (or less!), ate what I wanted, and had a great time. (Minus the bug bites!). See PART 2 of my Amazon posts to hear what I did, how I did it, and what I thought!
Remember, that both have positives and negatives involved…