From Coca to Iquitos

One of the most adventurous ways to travel from Ecuador towards the Peruvian Amazonian rain forest is to cruise along the Rio Napo, embarking on the cargo boats that follow the route Coca (Equador) – Iquitos (Peru). We have been attracted by this adventure for a long time, but the extreme uncertainty on delays and distances, has forced us to renounce. This is the information we have collected, hoping it can be useful for other travellers. Coca is situated in the North-Eastern region of Ecuador and there are three ways to go there:

  • Quito-Coca, 12 hours of direct bus.
  • Quito-Tena-Coca, with a stop in Tena (rafting, canyoning, kayaking, ecotourism in the Amazonian forest).
  • Quito-Baños-Tena-Coca, with a stop in Baños for trekking and thermal baths.

Coca, a rainy city born as base for the explorations of the oil companies, it’s the place where all the roads end, the travel continuous on the cargo boats along the Rio Napo: near the port of Coca you will look for a boat going to Nuevo Rocafuerte, officially supposed to leave on Mondays and Thursdays, but there could be others. Meantime, it’s necessary to get your passport stamped at the immigration office (the last one before Ecuadorian border). The travel until Nuevo Rocafuerte lasts approximately 12 hours, but could be interesting to program a stop along the way (Limoncocha for example): it’s one of the wildest zones of the Amazon, for a long time the Rio Napo borders the Yasunì National Park, where Huaorani, Tagaeri, Achuar and Siona isolated indigenous groups still live. We advise to contact a local guide before your arrival. From Nuevo Rocafuerte, you should find a canoe to Pantoja, the first village in Peruvian territory, where it’s possible to get your passport stamped. From Pantoja the hardest part of the travel begins: four or five consecutive days by boat, until the city of Masan, from where other travelers suggest to take a moto-taxi to a port of fast lanchas (canoes) directed to Iquitos, in order to save 13 hours of boat trip.

Probably a long and debilitating travel, to be undertaken with a lot of calm in order to know a wonderful part of Amazonian forest, surely an adventure.

Condor and Colca valley

At the station in Arequipa, few travelers mingle with the multitude of people who return to their villages of origin, after a visit to relatives in town or after a day’s work. They are natives who go in many small pueblos that dot the Andean valleys. We follow a similar route and head to the Colca Valley, we cross lands lashed by a cold wind, the Andean paramo and steps that reach 5000 meters. We are surrounded by pastures, flocks of llamas and alpacas and meager huts of Aymara farmers who live following their animals in the perpetual movements in search of forage. The nomadic life. We arrive in Chivay, a village at the mouth of the Colca Valley, where the atmosphere is extremely quiet and where there are still strong ties with ancient life styles. To prove it, a subtle distrust that local people show towards us. Time seems to be suspended in this valley, the life cycle chases the sun and the technology did not upset this delicate balance with the electricity. Chivay is situated about 3800 meters above sea level and that in itself would be enough to make life tough: the soroche, as it is defined in the local language altitude sickness, relentless strikes those who are not born to such a life. The children are curious along the paths that lead to their huts outside the village, bringing with them some animals, often sheep or alpacas. This is their daily task, instead of the school. They smile. On the slopes of the mountains surrounding the valley, looking carefully, you can see disparate groups of vicunas, the only species of Andean camelid that has not agreed to be domesticated and continues his lonely existence in the most inaccessible places in the Andean cordillera. Higher up, in the clear sky of the morning, sail unperturbed rare condors of the Andes, the real rulers of this majestic paradise. In Pinchollo, faded images of a distant past resurface in the timid glances of the people, and they tell us …

“I was chewing coca four years old
alpacas were faster than me
I was still chewing coca ten years old
the ground was harder than I
I was still chewing coca twenty years old
the children were crying louder than me
Now I am almost thirty years old
and I continue to chew coca
because my children have left
but I was too sad wherefore
death would take me too
and time to weep
Here on the plateau, there is none”

Colca valley