Orientation Walking the thin wooden bridge over the marsh separating Yaku Runa from the main road, you will feel, justifiably, like you are no longer in Kansas. Or Quito. Minutes later, you will suddenly be surrounded by jungle, with houses made of wood and grass thatch, with no sign of electricity and little sign of […]
Walking the thin wooden bridge over the marsh separating Yaku Runa from the main road, you will feel, justifiably, like you are no longer in Kansas. Or Quito. Minutes later, you will suddenly be surrounded by jungle, with houses made of wood and grass thatch, with no sign of electricity and little sign of the modern world. Just an hour from the city of Puyo, the indigenous Shuar and Quechua people of the Yaku Runa reserve actively preserve their ancient cultural traditions through their food, their artisan work, their farming, and their overall lifestyle. They supplement their subsistence living with tourism, sharing their culture as authentically as possible with visitors like you, who will receive a indigenous, cultural experience unlike any other you’re likely to encounter in Ecuador.
The cultural tour combines elements all of the other tours listed below. The tour begins in a traditional meeting hut, where you will get an introduction to Shuar and Quechua culture and beliefs through a brief presentation, spiritual activities, and a sampling of local, indigenous food. You will also go on a short hike into the jungle to see the Yaku Runa botanical garden, where a local will explain the medicinal and gastronomical uses of each plant. When you return to the hut, some local women will demonstrate their indigenous methods of creating artisan goods, such as bowls and jewelry, out of natural materials.
Trip Time: About a half day
Learn about the jungle through the eyes of local artisans. During the tour, your local guides will teach you to recognize and gather different types of fibers, seeds, and other natural elements needed to create artisan goods. You will then learn to turn the raw fibers and other elements, by hand, into an artisan product. By the end of the tour, you will walk away with a deeper knowledge of the jungle, appreciation for hand-crafted artisan goods, and a product you made with your own hands.
Trip Time: 2-4 hours
Through dreams and rituals, the mystical world connects human beings and nature. With a local guide, discover the jungle like a pre-Columbian, 14th century native and connect with nature like you never have before. Cap off the tour with a mystical ceremony that purifies the body and soul and leaves you energized and spiritually purified.
If you want the complete experience, you can also drink ayahuasca – a hallucinogenic jungle vine that induces visions, which help guide you through your spiritual and emotional issues. However, please read our Note on Taking Ayahuasca at the bottom of this page before you decide to try it.
Price: $12; extra $25 to do ayahuasca
Trip Time: 2-4 hours (much longer if you try ayahuasca)
Join the locals for traditional fishing, plant and fruit gathering, and harvesting. You will then take these wild and farmed ingredients to cook a traditional and natural meal. A local woman will teach you indigenous recipes and cooking techniques. All your gathered, hunted, and farmed ingredients will go towards a ceremonial dinner, which you will enjoy with the local families.
Trip Time: 2-4 hours
There are multiple volunteer opportunities in Yaku Runa – we recommend trying to match your existing skills with some of the options listed below:
If you stay the night in Yaku Runa, you will stay in the house depicted on the left. The first floor has a hammock and some counter space, the second floor has a bed and a bookshelf. The nights are comfortable and relatively bug free and the community members give you your privacy when your door is closed (if it’s open, the kids might come by to visit with you or use the coloring books in the crate on the first floor). The bed is fairly hard, but the sheets are clean and the house tidy.
Price: $6 per night – includes dinner
Telmo’s family, whose information is listed below, will cook for you. Lunch is included in any of the tours and dinner is included with lodging. If you stay longer, outside of the tours listed above, look to pay about $12 per day for three meals and lodging. You can also pay $3 per meal. The family won’t present you a bill or even push you to pay them, so please don’t forget.
From Puyo: Take the Santa Ana or Palora bus from the Centinela del Oriente bus company. You can catch this bus from in front of the Puyo bus terminal, ten minutes after the times listed below, or go to the private Centinela del Oriente bus station near El Mercado Mariscal and catch it at the times listed below.
You will take the bus nearly to the end of the line (about an hour). Tell the driver and/or his helper you are getting off at ‘Yaku Runa.’ Shortly after the community Paushi Yaku at KM 14, you will see a large sign on the left that says Jardin Botánico Yaku Runa (picture to the left). You will have reached the reserve at that point.
The Oriente buses leave from Puyo at:
The president of the organization running the Yaku Runa reserve. You will be staying on his property and interacting mostly with his family outside of the tours.
Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic jungle vine that grows naturally near Yaku Runa and many other parts of the rainforests of South America. It is an integral part of Shuar and Quechua history and has spiritual, not recreational implications. It is perfectly legal. Do not take ayahuasca if you are just looking to “trip” – you should treat its consumption as at least a cultural experience, if not a spiritual quest. If you do drink ayahuasca at the end of your mystical tour, be aware that you are in a for a weird, potentially intense night.
The ayahuasca will kick in about 30 minutes after you drink it, and when you feel the initial symptoms (lightheaded and dizziness), concentrate on a part of your life in which you want guidance and hopefully the ayahuasca will help guide you. You will likely throw up and have diarrhea either that night or the next morning, so don’t plan on doing anything important or strenuous. You are not guaranteed to have visions or hallucinations and if you do, they could be pretty intense and unpleasant.
All of that said, enter the experience with an open mind and you will not forget it.