Coca to Iquitos-Part 1-Preview to Upcoming article
This is a preview of a full article I am writing for this blog about the trip downriver from Coca to Iquitos that I took with five others to visit communities and learn about the culture and conditions there. I am posting this as it has specifics about travelling the route that I couldn’t find or would not have known if not for the experience. Feel free to email me with questions at savvytravellerecuador@Gmail.com-Jon
For the adventurous, the trip downriver from Coca to Iquitos is an out-of-the-way route towards discovering Ecuador’s jungles and indigenous communities. The trek can last anywhere from a week to a month, depending on how you it. Don’t fool yourself, it’s a litness test for tried and true travellers. little information is available on the internet and what is there is unreliable due to the nature of travelling the waters.
Many a traveller will tell you of the horrors of the public launchas; food ill-suited for consumption, poor hygienic conditions and crowded sleeping conditions. This can be true to an extent, it’s not the Galapagos, but with a little understanding of the climate you are traveling in, a lot of Spanish and much appreciation of the people you meet, the trip can be an adventure worth taking.
There isn’t anything straight forward about the trip and you really need above average conversational Spanish. Think beyond Spanish teachers and classes towards convincing someone with your language that they should help you. Understanding the culture, the customs and the people contribute a lot towards finding new routes away from the public launcas.
The public launcas are the Gringo trail way down river as they leave fro a few points and then go straight through to Iquitos stopping along the way to pick up and drop off cargo and people. They are giant, rusting boats that carry and feed hundreds of people with facilities lacking for the amount of people. To some, this is an experience, but to most, it becomes an ordeal.
Smaller launchas are one of a few ways that people start the journey from Coca, Ecuador. Get there by taking an overnight bus from Quito, the capital or an hour flight. Coca is the first staging point for getting things downriver; oil companies equipment, food for different communities, electronics and people. Plan on arriving in the morning after an overnight bus trip or the afternoon after a flight.
Hotel Oasis is located on the river next to La Mison which is the pick up point for lodges downriver. Its also close to the town center and the boardwalk where you can catch public launchas. It’s outdated but comfortable.
Coca is a mix of a few hostels and restaurants, a very well-done hotel, La Mison , and everyday Ecuadorian society. Stock up on food supplies, buy equipment not brought from Quito and sit by the water and have a few beers.
The public launchas that leave daily in the early morning from the end of the town’s boardwalk hold around a hundred people. Go early and buy tickets as they can fill up to the extent that there is no room what-so-ever for another body. Despite this its a fun ride, the villages the launcha visits present an honest view of the everyday life of the people who live there.
The other option downriver is by private transport or Jungle Lodge transport. There are a few options as far as a wide variety of lodges. A few such as Sani Lodge, are run by Indigenous communities overtaking those owned by others. Visiting a lodge is a great way to start the trip into Peru. Sani in particular is an experience into the community along the river and an example of what that community can accomplish.
Other communities worth visiting by the river launcha are Pompeya and Panacocha, each for its own reasons.
Pompeya is around an hour and a half down the Rio Napo or Upper Amazon. Its a staging point for oil companies, a town and an animal market. While the official story i that they no longer permit wild game such as turtle or wild boar, the word on the river says differently. The market takes place every Saturday. Up the Pompeya Sur-Iro Road, is the community of … Like Pompeya, it was started and left by missionaries and taken back by the communities they interacted with. The missionaries from … made great strides in documenting many of the hundreds of indigenous languages. There is a school there that services many villages along the river that accepts volunteers for different lengths of time.
Panacocha is five hours down river from Coca. While accommodations are sparse its worth spending a day visiting the lagoon and seeing firsthand what the government and petrol Ecuador are doing.
This is Ecuador off-the-Beaten path. The town consists of ten or so buildings off the water line which serve as accomodation, places to eat and to arrange trips and onwards travel. As a part of everyday life on the river, it is an information center about the comings and goings along its banks.
The lagoon is around an hour up a subsituaray of the Napo past the residents houses and oil fields into pristine forest. Boats can be hired at the townfront and should be negotiated. Hotel Oasis from Coca owns the elegant Dolphin Lodge on the lagoon and can arrange accommodation and activities.
From Panacocha most people take a public launcha to Neuvo Rocafuerte. The town has the Ecuadorian Immigration office and a few good hostels. A public launcha usually comes once a week with the other pick up spot being Pantoja, Peru. This is also the site of the Peruvian Immigration office.
Around Neuve Rocafuerte are some great places to check out the jungle. the Yasuni Resreve’s border is nearby. Ask around town for locals who offer tours. This is a small town so ask a few people and see whose name keeps coming up..
This is also the town to find smaller, private transportation downriver or to buy a boat to go it alone. One good man with a boat for hire is Don Reynaldo. If you can not find him ask for his nephew Hamer. For five people we paid $350 and fed the three crew members.
If hiring a boat, buy supplies at the stores on the maindrag. Also buy sugar, drago(homemade hootch), salt and vegetables to trade with the people along the way.
If taking a public launcha, it takes patience. Launchas do go up and downriver frequently but normally come once a week. Ask around on boats that have just come from other places for the best information.
Bear in mind that in either case you will be travelling along stretches of the river with no electricity or water. The launcha stops in towns along the way and at times you can hop off the boat and goto the store.
If travelling by private boat, you will be sleeping at Indigenous peoples houses along the way and pulling over to an island to make lunch. Hammocks, water, plates, etc should be on the packing list.