Booking: I recommend booking "Quito and the Amazon" through Latin Destinations (www.latin destinations.com; 1-866-645-2846), which can arrange your flights, hotels, transfers and tours. You also can book directly with the eco-lodges, which will arrange all travel from Quito to the lodge. People traveling to the Galapagos Islands can ask their tour company about an add-on to the Amazon.
Cost: Two people traveling together should plan to pay about $2,800-$3,000 per person for a week's trip, which includes airfare, lodging in Quito and at the lodge, meals, transfers and tours.
Lodges: La Selva Amazon Ecolodge is newly renovated (www.laselvajunglelodge.com; 1-866-687-3109). Or try the well-regarded Sacha Lodge nearby (www.sachalodge.com; 1-800-706-2215) or Napo Wildlife Center (www.napowildlifecenter.com; 1-866-750-0830). Lodges include meals and tours.
Itinerary: I flew via United into Quito and stayed two nights for sightseeing, flew via AeroGal to La Selva for three nights, then returned to Quito for one night.
Packing: Lodges will give you packing lists. They provide rubber boots. Bring a raincoat and a good rain poncho in case of downpours. Bring plenty of socks to wear under your boots. Pack all clothes in Ziploc bags to keep them dry. Pack bug spray, sunscreen, hat, small flashlight, clock, lightweight long pants and shirts, binoculars.
Health: No mandatory immunizations needed here, but be up-to-date on your booster shots. The yellow fever vaccine is recommended. Some travelers may wish to take anti-malaria pills.
You know the expression "Save the rain forest"? The Yasuni National Park, directly across from the eco-lodges on the Napo River, is what they're talking about.
The Yasuni is perhaps the most ecologically diverse place on the planet. It has an estimated 100,000 species of insects, 141 species of frogs and toads, 382 species of fish, 121 species of reptiles, 139 species of amphibians, 596 species of birds, 169 species of mammals and 2,700 species of plants, according to a 2010 Public Library of Science report about the global significance of the park.
It also is home to one of the last native groups to shun contact with the modern world, the Waorani people.
Giant oil reserves were discovered along the Napo River in the 1970s, and portions of the Ecuadorian rain forest were clear-cut for pipelines, drilling and roads. The biggest oil reserve, ironically, is directly under the national park, with an estimated $7 billion worth of oil there.
In 2007, the president of Ecuador came up with a bargain: If international organizations paid his government $3.6 billion, it would ensure there would be no drilling in the park. That is working.
The Yasuni-ITT Trust Fund is run by the United Nations and the government of Ecuador. Celebrities, governments from around the world and regular people have contributed funds. More than $100 million was pledged by the end of 2011 (the official donation site is mptf.undp.org/yasuni).
The idea has been compared to extortion -- but a poor country like Ecuador needs money, and it has an asset that the rest of the world values.