Tucked away in the far-flung reaches of the Ecuadorian Amazon, there sits a boutique lodge perched on the edge of a tranquil lagoon. Located in one of the most biodiverse spots on Earth, this community-run luxury stay allows you to get away from it all.
Sani Lodge is a place to relax amid unparalleled beauty, to gorge on exquisite three-course meals – and of course – to explore the virgin rainforest in the hunt for exotic wildlife and the adventure of a lifetime. This place is Sani Lodge, and we were lucky enough to spend four nights here, reconnecting with nature and forgetting the stress of travel. Choosing an Amazon Lodge is difficult. There are many regions to explore and accommodation options to chose from – all of which present various options in terms of quality and wildlife viewing.
What you need is first-hand information to choose the right option for you – so I have prepared this review of Sani Lodge to explain its features and offerings. To also help you decide, please look out for my future posts on why Yasuni National Park is the best place to explore the Amazon and why you should support sustainability in the Amazon.
Sani Lodge is best accessed from Coca, a boom/bust oil town in the far-flung reaches of Ecuador. It’s a 45-minute flight or a 12-hour bus trip to get here from Quito. From here, it’s a 2-3 hour boat trip down the River Coca heading into pure wilderness, which is included in the Sani Lodge prices.
Then a 15-minute boardwalk followed by a 10-minute canoe trip to reach the surreal Amazon rainforest lodge and its tranquil lagoon. Surrounded by 100,000 acres of untouched primary rainforest, Sani is easily among the top of Ecuador’s Amazon lodges for seeing wildlife – if not the entire Amazon region!
Located on community land between the Yasuni National Park and Cuyabeno Reserve, the biodiversity here will amaze you (as long as you don’t confuse diversity with abundance). The jungle is thick and dense however, so you will still need to keep an eye out. This isn’t the Singapore Gardens By The Bay where everything is neatly placed and waiting for you…
The community land surrounding the Amazon Lodge is managed collectively and is now entirely protected. There is a no-take policy to protect the fragile eco-system and strictly no interference with the ways of nature – if only all of Ecuador’s Amazon lodges were so strict!
As a result, this pristine environment hosts over 1,450 species of trees, 550 species of birds, 13 species of monkeys, and over 1,000 species of stunning butterflies. You’re almost guaranteed to never see the same animal twice! On top of this, the other Yasuni National Park lodges are either owned by a foreigner, built near oil drilling sights, or near palm plantations. In many cases, it is a mixture of al three. While this is a rather sad state of affairs, Sani Lodge has none of these options.
So if you want to see the biodiversity the Amazon is famous for, Sani Lodge is the place to be!
Each room is detached and plotted close to the virgin rainforest and all connected by a wooden boardwalk. The rooms all feature wooden fixtures and comfortable, big beds with mosquito nets; however, the room has mesh on all windows, so we never heard a big or small mosquito inside the room. The mattresses are cleaned and changes daily, which is fantastic if it’s a hot and humid night.
There really is nothing like falling to sleep listening to the sounds of the jungle in fresh, crisp sheets. The porch has two chairs with views over the forest – perfect for relaxing in the evening while you slowly get the energy to take off your gumboots!
Each room also features a hot running shower, which is impressive to get all the forest grime off after a long day – occasionally, the hot water took a while to come, but trust me, a cold shower can often be just the trick!
Overall, easily the nicest room I have stayed – in a jungle setting! This isn’t a luxury hotel in Manhattan or one of the world’s most famous hotels. But it was perfect for relaxing and having a great night’s sleep!
One of the absolute highlights of our stay was the food served here. Lunch and dinner both feature three-course meals produced by a rather talented in-house chef (part of the local Sani community and trained in another lodge). The best food we had in Ecuador was here, and it was nice to get away from the standard rice, bananas, and salad found everywhere else.
Breakfast is a choice of eggs (however you prefer) or granola and yogurt, and both are accompanied by a side of fresh, tropical fruit, toast, and a changing fresh fruit juice. Just like we have in Cuba every morning! Most are locally produced in the community, and it’s great to try new things (and be able to ask what on Earth it is!).
Coffee, tea, and filtered water are available 24 hours and alcoholic drinks from the bar. On arrival at the lodge, we had beautiful mocktails and nibbles waiting as well as on return from some excursions—just one of the perks of having the adventure planning taken care of for you.
My only suggestion would be to bring a few of your favorite snacks as sometimes you are a bit hungry when returning from a jungle hike, and it’s perhaps an hour or so till the next meal. Plus, it’s always nice to have some creature comforts. The packed lunches and snacks for day trips were great, and the lunch provided if you visit the Sani community is … different.
Go with an open mind and be relaxed, knowing they have an alternative lunch from the lodge if needed!
The lodge is centered around a quiet lagoon that only the lodge has access to, and the facilities are designed to take advantage of this position. Hammocks and comfortable seating are available on the dock to relax and watch the birds, bats, and sunsets from this prime position. The bar area even has the perfect seating to view inquisitive birds in the surrounding bush.
For those who can’t escape the modern world, WiFi is available but is rather slow (for obvious reasons), I preferred to disconnect but hey – if you need it, it’s there! The staff is always around to help with any bird identification needs. I would however, like to see a few books with the amphibians, mammals, and insects species in the surrounding area for identification in your downtime. Our guide explained we could find them in a bookshop on Quito – but that’s wasn’t much help!
The lodge is also lucky enough to have a 37 meter (100ft!) tall birdwatching tower nestled amongst an equally tall Kapok tree just a canoe ride from the lodge. An exquisite spot in the early morning or evening to watch the birdlife from a unique view above the jungle canopy.
The main reason to go on an Amazon Jungle Stay in Ecuador. Before departing from Coca, you will meet your guide who will accompany you for the entire trip. We had three people in our group, and I believe the maximum is 4 or 5 depending on the combination of groups joining.
We were also joined on every excision by a Shaman from the Sani community who didn’t speak English. Still, We were extremely adept at spotting wildlife and telling us about different plant uses. Very cool!
There are three activities available each day – one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one after dark. Do some or all, make it as intensive as you like, your itinerary is up to you. Before you even depart, Sani Lodge asks what your specific interests are and lets the guide know, but on the first day, it is good to have a frank chat about what your goals are on what you’d like to see and do.
If you prefer full-on activity for as much time as possible, or if you would like a slower pace with more relaxing at the lodge and perhaps skipping a few night walks. It’s completely up to you and doesn’t be afraid to make your desires clear to the guide!
In general, activities involve hiking, canoeing, or bird watching from the tower. Each offers a different opportunity to spot a different kind of wildlife, and the guides know which is best for the conditions. I loved them all!
The relaxing vibes of canoeing in the small Amazonian rivers while monkeys swung from the trees above our head. The perspective offered in the tower over the jungle canopy, looking across the Amazon from above. Each activity, there was something more to see. Just be sure to bring a decent pair of binoculars and/or a good zoom lens to make the most of it!
And of course, just simply walking in the jungle, never being sure what you will come across. Leaf-cutter ants are building their huge nests, hummingbirds darting around looking for their next meal, poison dart frogs camouflaged in the leaf litter or snakes slithering on the trees above. Anything is possible, and the best thing may be the interest it fosters in the little life forms.
I can honestly say that our guides interesting explanations and local knowledge has fostered a previously unknown love of the creepy crawlies. And don’t miss the opportunity to go out and see it all at night – the jungle sound completely changes, and different, interesting species come out.
Sani Lodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon provides exactly as advertised – luxury and adventure in one of the Earth’s most biodiverse environments. The rooms were beautifully prepared, and the food always exceeded our expectations.
Assuming you don’t mind the odd hiccup (like the river flooding when we were there!) or a cold shower when things don’t work (hey it’s the Amazon!), you will surely fall in love with this place and never want to leave.
While there are other Amazon Rainforest lodges near Yasuni National Park or Cuyabeno Reserve, they are not community-run, so by staying here, you are ensuring the conservation of this land while helping to channel profits into the local community which benefits through improved healthcare and education.
Besides, this is one of the only Ecuador amazon lodges to be set amongst truly virgin rainforest. Therefore, your chances of encountering more mammals, birds, and reptiles are much higher. Overall a beautifully executed, sustainable concept which offers you a memorable experience both in the jungle and relaxing around the lodge!
To find out more about a trip to this amazing Amazon rainforest lodge or for more information on Sani Lodge, including prices and availability, take a look at their website or contact them directly via email.
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Many budget travelers (including me) indulge in worldwide airport lounge access, so we can experience luxury while still slumming it in economy. Naturally, we would never leave home without a more general travel guide since we couldn’t possibly cover everything here!
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