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While visiting Ecuador, if you lack the time and/or money for a multi-day tour into the Amazon with a stay at a jungle lodge, you can still get a taste of the rainforest just five hours from Quito, Ecuador.

An hour past Tena, at the junction of the Napo and Misahuallí Rivers, the little jungle town of Misahuallí is a gateway to miles of pristine rainforest. The capuchin monkeys that hang around the town square can be quite inquisitive and keep locals and travelers entertained with their antics.

Two of the most well-regarded English-speaking guides in Misahuallí are Pepe Tapia Gonzalez of Ecoselva and Luis Zapata of Selva Verde. It’s best to make reservations in advance and arrange for a party of at least four to guarantee a tour. But even if you’re unable to secure a guide, there’s another opportunity for a sojourn into the rainforest.

Just six miles outside of town is the site of the premier tropical field research station in Ecuador. Jatun Sacha (pronounced Ho-toon Sasha) aims to promote conservation of and education about the rainforest. There are 2,000 hectares of protected primary rainforest here and miles of hiking trails. Jatun Sacha itself means “big forest” in Quichua, the native language of most people in the area.

I took a taxi to Jatun Sacha from the Misahuallí square and arranged for a pickup. Bring rubber boots (you can rent them for $1 at Ecoselva in Misahuallí) and water. At the entrance, information and a map are provided. No guide is necessary. There’s an observation platform at the bird tower, and climbing gear is provided to help scale the 30-meter climb. It’s also recommended to bring insect repellant, although the insects at Jatun Sacha are not considered bothersome. If arranged in advance, you can also spend the night there.

The primary goal of Jatun Sacha is to conserve and protect the area’s ecological systems and promote biological research. The reserve was founded and developed out of donations from organizations and individuals concerned about the rapid deforestation of the Amazon.

Jatun Sacha aims to protect rainforests located in the Tropical West Forests, a thin band connecting the Andes Mountain Ranges and the Amazon River Basin – one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. There are 250 different species of trees in one hectare, and about 1,500 species of plants in the same area. The Amazonian Plant Conservation Centre at Jatun Sacha is a place for silvicultural, reforestation and agroforestry extension programs.

During my walk I did not encounter anyone else. There was truly a sense of being alone in the jungle. If returning to Quito, swing around through Baños – one of the most beautiful towns in Ecuador, known for its complex of thermal baths.

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