Tena, the capital of the Napo Province
, is an attractive and quiet city in the Amazon rainforest
. Known as the “cinnamon capital" of Ecuador
, and originally founded by missionary explorers, Tena has emerged as one of the top industrialized centers of Ecuador. It is the home to a major regional hospital and many tourist related businesses, including a small airport and a vital bus terminal.
Tena is a popular launching point for jungle, kayaking
tours in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest region. The entry to the city is marked by a statue of the indigenous hero Jumandy
, who courageously led an uprising against the Spanish colonizers in 1578, and was subsequently executed.
At the confluence of the Tena and Pano rivers in the center of town lies a popular pedestrian bridge, "el puente peatonal". The rivers become the Tena River, which soon joins with the Misahualli and eventually flows into the Napo River. The Napo winds its way east into Peru and Brazil, and is in effect the 9th largest tributary to the Amazon River.
The town is popular with travelers, since it is known as being peaceful, orderly, clean and more geared towards tourists. Many inexpensive hotels, tourist agencies, and restaurants cater to backpackers who commonly use the town as a jumping-off point for trips into the rainforest. Tena is surrounded by forested hills and is located at the edge of the Andes, which are visible to the west.
Tena and its surrounding indigenous communities are also bases for many volunteers working for reforestation projects, with community support in development initiatives in diverse, and connected areas such as bio-piracy, ecotourism and capacity building. Ecuador has one of the best politically organized indigenous populations in Latin America and Tena houses two major confederations, Fonakin (Federacion de Organisaciones de la Nacionalidades Kichwa de Napo) and Ashin (Association de Shamanes Indigenas de Napo); one of the major stand-offs during the 2001 indigenous uprising in Ecuador, took place here.
In comparison to Puyo, the capital of the neighboring province Pastaza, which is both bigger and growing faster, Tena has a lively night life with bars that cater to foreigners. Friday and Saturday nights crowds of volunteers, guides (both indigenous and foreign), and local young people assemble in the "discotecas" playing reggaeton, salsa, and pop music. One will also find a wide variety of "comidas tipicas", preparing and serving food in the traditional manners of the local peoples.
For a rainforest city, Tena's climate is surprisingly comfortable and cooler than the jungle to the east, due to its elevation at 500m above sea level. There's rainfall year-round, with an annual average of 171.65 inches (4,359.91 mm). The heaviest rains come in April, May, and June, but even in this very wet time it doesn't necessarily rain every day or all day when it does rain. The rain is pleasant and warm, but if you plan to be outside for long periods even warm rain can bring down your body temperature so it's wise to have a raincoat or umbrella.
Most roads in the Oriente are unpaved and subject to landslides and other delays, especially during the rainy season. The road from Quito to Tena is no exception, though it continues to be improved. There is regular bus service to Tena via Baeza, but you should book in advance as the buses fill up fast, particularly on Fridays and Sundays. There is a small airport outside of Tena with commercial flights, small white truck-taxis are abundant in the city. It's a good idea to negotiate your price before getting in because the taxi drivers in Tena, like everywhere else in South America, often overcharge.
Where to Eat
Tena's selection of good eateries is sparse. But there are a few recommended:
In this country at zero latitude where life is lived with ease, rich in history and folklore, thousands of dishes are prepared every day with the quality, exoticness and freshness of the ingredients, herbs and spices, preserving variety and tradition.
- Chuquitos - turn left after crossing the pedestrian bridge and it will be just up the road on your left. High points are the good fish and chicken dishes, a bit more lively than normal, and great views of the river from their open-air dining room. Directly below Chuquitos is Araña Bar, which is a major meeting point for locals and tourists in search of a great night out. The cocktail list is extensive, and the owners are always welcoming. Enjoy!
- Cositas Ricas; on Avenida 15 de Noviembre near the pedestrian bridge. Standard but good Ecuadorian fare, i.e., chicken or fish with rice, avocado, and a small salad.
- Pizzeria La Massilia; located at the corner of Olmedo and Garcia Moreno. Nice thatched roofed open dining room and decent pizza and Italian food.
- Restaurante Super Pollo; on corner of Ave 15 de Noviembre and Augusto Rueda. Standard Ecuadorian fare at economical prices. Try the empanadas - they're delicious.
- Asadero de pollo Sin Rival; from the terminal terrestre go to Ave 15 de Nov. turn right and walk about 100m, on left side. Huge portions of chicken, rice, and avocado, with very quick service.
- Pizzeria Bella Selva; near the bridge to Parque Amazonico, and also near the car bridge. Both locations have excellent views of the river and terrific pizza.
What to Do
Tena is famous for the rainforest and rivers that surround it. The jungle, especially if you get outside the city 15 or 20 kilometers, is impressive. First-timers will be changed forever after they lay their eyes on a pristine stretch of Amazon. There is no shortage of jungle guides or tour operators, many have offices in the center of town on Avenida 15 de Noviembre.
Moreover, Tena has reached near legendary status with whitewater enthusiasts and boasts the best rafting and kayaking in Ecuador and, some say, the world. The jungle rivers on the Amazon side of the Andes are bigger and have more consistent flows than their west-Andean counterparts. They are also the cleanest and most scenic rivers in Ecuador. Ríos Ecuador is a rafting and kayaking tour operator. Also look for River People.
You may also want to check out:
- Sumaco Volcano - is located in the isolated Sumaco Napo-Galeras National Park and it is easily one of the most intense experiences to be had in Ecuador. The volcano soars 3732 meters above the jungle and is surrounded by precipitous ravines and dense jungle, which have largely kept humans out and preserved its flora and fauna. You need a guide to reach Sumaco. Guides can be found in the villages along the Loreto Road, which meets the Tena-Quito road approximately 30 kilometers north of Tena.
- Jatun Sacha Biological Station - is a great place to learn about the rainforest. The station is continually conducting rainforest research and, as the second largest conservation organization in Ecuador, is involved in an array of sustainable development and forest protection projects. Jatun Sacha is on a road that parallels the southern bank of the Napo River. This road branches off the main highway 7km south of the bridge at Puerto Napo. Jatun Sacha is involved in bioprospecting and has a history of not paying its local workers and also displaced a range of local communities when taking over the land that make up their commercial research stations.
- Misahuallí - is a bustling and somewhat remote port at the juncture of the rivers Napo and Misahuallí. The village was the original Ecuadorian jungle tourist outpost, and after dozens of years and despite the entrance of Tena and other jungle towns into the tourism market, is still a popular starting point for jungle tours and canoe trips. Misahuallí offers well developed, though rustic, tourism services, including good craft shops, cafes, and lodging. The dozen or so capuchin monkeys that inhabit the central park are hilarious (beware- they'll take things out of your hands and bags) and amiable. But please do not feed the monkeys junk food.
- Cuevas de Jumandy - four kilometers north of Archidona on the road to Quito is a labyrinth of natural caves and tunnels that extend several kilometers underground. Don't be put off by the main entrance, once you get past the gaudy pools and loud music (I turned around my first time, thinking "this can't possibly be the place!") you are in for a treat. You can hire a guide from the changing-area reception desk and, reportedly, there are guides in Tena who will take you into the caves through other, less obnoxious entrances - ask around.
- Archidona - a colonial town, founded in 1560, north of Tena, Archidona still serves as one of the region's main missionary outposts. It's also a business and social center for the small Quichua communities in its vicinity. Archidona's festivals attract people from all around and several times throughout the year there are Quichua beauty and culture pageants, in which contestants, drawn from the many Quichua communities in the area, compete for the title of "Queen of the Quichua". The pageants are a unique opportunity to hear Quichua spoken and sung and to see some very old dances and customs. There are several eliminatory rounds and the finale is usually held in April.
Protect the Amazon Rainforest near Tena! - For those of you interested in not only exploring the Amazon Rainforest but in conserving it, as well, you can do your part by adopting an acre of rainforest in the Ecuadorian Amazon or by adopting a chocolate tree, a vital resource in conserving this unique ecosystem for future generations.