Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve is a 600,000 ha area of tropical rainforest in the Amazon region of Ecuador. The reserve is the second largest in Ecuador and has some of the highest biodiversity on Earth. It’s location next to the Andes mountains gives it a unique nature – with a colder and wetter climate than most of the Amazon creating a labyrinth of flooded forests, lakes, and rivers. These unique conditions mean that Cuyabeno is home to a huge range of species including green anaconda, jaguar, caiman, squirrel monkeys, Amazon river dolphins, and harpy eagles.
Average rating: 5.0 (very good)
Average cost: a five night stay in a lodge in the area can cost around $390 per person.
Best time to visit: the best time to visit Cuyabeno is December to March when the rainfall is less intense. If you want to see dolphins head there in April to November when river levels are high.
How to get there: you can get there from the oil town of Lago Agrio which you can reach from Quito by bus or plane. From there it takes around 1.5 hours to the reserve. Most tours offer transportation from Lago Agrio although there is a bus that stops at the entrance to the park.
Typical activities: animal watching, bird watching, boat trip, jungle trek
Number of reports: 2
WILDLIFE IN Cuyabeno
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the most popular species that can be seen here are:
Amazon river dolphin – 50% OF WildSide Users (1/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Due to the high levels of rainfall and large areas of flooded forest, Cuyabeno is a great place to spot Amazon river dolphins. A 2019 survey of the four rivers flowing through Cuyabeno recorded a population of 48 individuals – up from 21 – 32 estimated in 2012. The survey included both ‘pink’ and ‘grey’ dolphins. Grey dolphins – also known as tucuxis – are smaller and more likely to be seen leaping out of the water. While they can be found in freshwater rivers such as Cuyabeno, they aren’t actually river dolphins and are more closely related to bottlenose dolphins. Both species can be seen year round but the best time is in the rainy season when river levels are high (April to November).
Caiman – 100% OF WildSide Users (2/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
There are three species of caiman which can be found in the area. The most common are black and spectacled caimans although smooth-fronted caimans are also present. In the Amazon, black caimans tend to prefer slow moving water and can be seen around lakes such as Laguna Grande. While spectacled caimans can typically be seen in rivers or sunning themselves on the banks.
Caimans are relatively easy to see in the area and sightings are pretty much guaranteed on tours. The best way to spot them is to take a trip out on the river at night and shine a torch along the banks. When exposed to light caiman eyes gleam a shining red, creating an unforgettably eerie experience. Sightings are reported year round although the best time to see caimans is during the dry season (December to March). This is because they like to stay in or close to the water and so can be seen gathering by the remaining pools of water in the dry season.
Green anaconda – 50% OF WildSide users (1/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Seeing one of these giant snakes is a fantastic experience in the Amazon. Particularly when canoeing through one of the many swamps, rivers, or areas of flooded forest in Cuyabeno. Sightings are challenging given the sheer volume of water and density of plant life. However, there are regular reports of anacondas in Cuyabeno and it is a great place to look out for them! Due to their preference for remaining submerged, anacondas are harder to see in the wet season. During this time the forest floods and they can easily conceal themselves. As with caimans, while they can be seen year round, the dry season (December to March) is a better time as there is less water for them to hide in and move through.
Harpy eagle – 50% OF WildSide Users (1/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
One of our most memorable encounters in South America was finding a harpy eagle’s nest in the Cuyabeno reserve where we watched an adult with its chick. Unfortunately such encounters are rare! Cuyabeno is a great place to look out for eagles but chances of spotting one are low. Unless your guide knows of a nest in the area. The nests are large (they can even sleep humans!) and they tend to use the same nest over a period of years so they are a good point to look out for. If you do find one it’s likely to be near the tops of some pretty tall trees – so take binoculars! A 2017 study of harpy eagle behaviour in Cuyabeno provides a fascinating insight into the lives of these incredible birds.
Jaguar – 0% OF WildSide Users (0/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Cuyabeno is part of the Napo-Putumayo wildlife corridor which runs from Peru through Ecuador and up into Colombia. A WWF camera trapping study of the corridor estimated that it supports a population of around 2,000 jaguars with a density of 1.5 per km². The results of the study suggest that the ecosystem and the jaguar population are in generally good condition. However, while there are jaguars in Cuyabeno, the chances of sighting them are low. Reports on TripAdvisor suggest they are seen infrequently by visitors to the reserve but for most people sightings are unlikely. The best spots are along river banks where the vegetation is less dense. Good luck!
Squirrel monkey – 50% OF WildSide Users (1/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Squirrel monkeys are found throughout the area, typically roaming through the forest canopy in large troops. They are an extremely curious primate and are seemingly undisturbed by the presence of humans below them. Some are even inquisitive enough to throw twigs at people standing beneath them. Thanks to their boisterous behaviour, when they are nearby they are often one of the first monkeys that visitors see. This is despite them only being around 35 cm in size!
Photo credit: WildSide team member Chris White