The Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve is unique amongst the other protected areas of the Amazon as it lies at the foothills of the Andes Mountains. It straddles Sucumbios and Orellana provinces, and within that region Cuyabeno encompasses 6 major ecosystems. Moreover, all of the large Amazonian mammals can be found throughout the reserve: capybaras, two species of deer, lowland Tapirs, all of the Amazon cats including pumas and jaguars, the giant otter, manatees, and two species of dolphins. There are also 10 different species of monkeys represented within this region. If you’re hoping to spot some of Ecuador’s most iconic animals, this reserve is for you.
Several indigenous groups also inhabit the ecological paradise of the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. The Sionas inhabit an area along the Tarapuy river in the upper portion of the Cuyabeno network of lakes in a region known as Puerto Bolivar. The Secoyas and Cofans live near the larger Putumayo and Aguarico Rivers. The shamans of these indigenous groups are respected throughout the region, and they were able to maintain much of their cultural heritage for much of the 20th century. As the oil industry and ecotourism has spread, however, the communities have changed along with the rest of the area.
Ironically, the entrance to the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve is often through Lagro Agrio—a town that’s thrumming with the pulse of the oil industry. Nicknamed “bitter lake” after Sour Lake, Texas—the origin of Texaco, the oil drilling trailblazers—Lago Agrio embraces its industrial atmosphere even as it serves as the gateway into one of Ecuador’s best wildlife reserves.