Exploring Cuyabeno

Most of DonQui’s time in the Cuyabeno reserve is spent exploring the magnificent primeval rainforest by canoe (sometimes motorised and sometimes paddling) and on foot.

The trails through the jungle often resemble rivers. There is a clue in the name ‘rainforest’ but although it is the rainy season, DonQui is very lucky that the weather is bright and clear during the days he is there. It is very hot and humid. After a couple of hours trotting and wading through the forest he is soaked with sweat.

DonQui’s wonderful guide, Victor Hugo, is very knowledgeable about the flora and fauna. Here is is demonstrating the uses of sap from the copal tree as an instant fire lighter, candle and also (thanks to its strong menthol aroma) insect repellent. 

His ability to find even the smallest animals and insects is uncanny.

This is a ‘walking tree’ so called because it has ‘legs’ rather than fixed roots. It is able to shift its position by growing new legs and discarding old ones in the never ending search for that little bit of sunlight coming down through the canopy. 

Looking a little like a rocket with its ‘tail fin’ roots this tall ceiba tree is probably around 600 years old.

Towards sunset DonQui takes advantage of the opportunity to swim in the river at Lago Grande — a wide lagoon at the confluence of two tributaries. 

DonQui learns that this lagoon, now swollen with rainwater, is little more than a mud-flat at the height of the dry season in September.

The sunset over Lago Grande is amazing. So too are the stars that come out shortly afterwards.

After sunset a night walk through the forest reveals a hidden world of caymans, snakes and spiders. DonQui would have liked to have seen an anaconda but although he encounters several boa constrictors, anacondas elude him. Apparently they are easier to spot in the dry season. He does however, have a close encounter with a tarantula. This DonQui finds a little challenging as he has a few spider issues. 

During the course of his explorations DonQui sees and hears a huge variety of birds including parrots, toucans and macaws. His favourite is the stinking turkey (hoatzin). DonQui thinks they look a little bit like comedy cartoon characters.

In between exploratory excursions there are a couple of free hours after lunch to rest and relax. Invariably DonQui drifts off to sleep exhausted from long walks and canoe trips in the humid heat.

The absolute highlight is several sightings of pink (actually pinkish-grey) Amazonian fresh water dolphins — one of which DonQui sees frolicking just a few feet from the dock of the lodge. They only surface for a fraction of a second before going back under the dark murky water with a quick flip of a tail fin. This is a stock image as they were are far too quick for DonQui to capture a photo. According to Victor Hugo they become more pink in the mating season (May) and at that time they also leap further out of the water.

Up in the cloud forest

Back on the Ecuadorian mainland, DonQui is spending a couple of days in the Mindo cloud forest.

As the name suggests there is… well… lots of lush forest high up in the Andes so as to be more or less permanently in the clouds. When it is not actually raining there is an almost constant light drizzle. It is quite a climatic change from the hot, dry Galapagos.

Feeling quite intrepid DonQui sets off along a narrow path to explore the forest.

He trots down to the Mindo river and then on to the small town of the same name. 

Mindo is a very pleasant place fully geared up for tourists but there are very few of them around. DonQui stops off for a coffee (which is grown in this area) and then heads off in search of wildlife.

This crested guan is not in the least camera shy — indeed he is a bit of a poser.

The cloud forest is famous for its many species of humming birds and they are everywhere. Many places have set out feeders to attract them.

While watching the humming birds DonQui also sees an agouti happily enjoying its midday meal.  

Tomorrow DonQui leaves the cloud forest and heads off into Amazonia.

Island hopping

The Galapagos is an archipelago of barren volcanic islands. The equatorial sun burns down on them and there is very little shade.

With no fresh water the islands are not well suited to habitation by either donkeys or humans.

Most of them are uninhabited refuges for a remarkable array of wildlife with unique species that helped to form Charles Darwin’s conclusions about evolution.

To explore a few of the islands and to meet some of the remarkable native inhabitants DonQui needs to get on a boat. There are a wide choice of day trips available from Puerto Ayora and all require an early morning start. This takes some effort on DonQui’s part as he is not naturally an early riser.

A dingy or water taxi takes DonQui to his waiting vessel on each of his three day-excursions to Pinzón, Isabella and North Seymour. The boats are quite comfortable — especially the catamaran which takes him to North Seymour. The groups on board are very small, usually about 10-12 passengers — the number of visitors being strictly limited to avoid overcrowding and too much disturbance to the wildlife.

A dingy is towed along behind to assist with beach landings and to get to good snorkelling spots.

On his way to Pinzón DonQui is lucky to encounter some Dolphins who decided to playfully swim around the boat for several minutes.

… and on the way back from North Seymour a huge Tiger Shark escorts DonQui out of the shark’s territorial waters. DonQui thinks it best not to argue.

The various snorkelling stops are the best part of all the trips. The water is crystal clear so DonQui is able to observe a huge array of tropical fish. Off Pinzón a family of sea lions swim alongside. One comes right up to DonQui and nosily presses its snout at DonQui’s mask. Off North Seymour DonQui suddenly finds himself in the middle of a huge school of whitetip sharks — hundreds of them swimming all around him. It was quite breathtaking.

Whilst snorkelling he aslo encounters marine iguanas, sea turtles, barracuda and several species of rays. 

DonQui also meets many fascinating species of birds such as these iconic blue footed boobies. Nearby DonQui sees a Galapagos penguin swimming and diving for fish.

One of these male frigate birds is puffing up his red throat sack in the hope of attracting a mate. The other looks as if he couldn’t be bothered.

DonQui sees land iguanas everywhere.

And he also comes across a pair of giant tortoises doing their best to ensure the continuation of their species.

Six days on the Galapagos with three spent on the inhabited Santa Cruz and three day-excursions to other islands is just about enough. DonQui thinks it might have been an idea to have spent a bit longer so he could have gone to San Cristobal to spent a night there. However, he has seen more wildlife close up than he could possibly have hoped for. So he is just about ready for his next adventure

Nature, water and no cars

Tortuguero (Land of the Turtles) National Park is a remote nature reserve on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. There are no roads here, access is by boat or plane only.

The airstrip is across the river from where DonQui is staying

DonQui arrives by plane, a small Cessna that lands on a jungle airstrip opposite the Tortuga Lodge and Gardens where he will be staying for a few days.

The verandah is a perfect place to relax

DonQui’s intention is to relax and enjoy the nature surrounding him. The verandah of his ‘cabin’ is the perfect place to do this. There is no glass on the windows — only mosquito netting. This way the sounds of the rainforest are always present.

DonQui enjoys he hammock

The hammock is a particularly good way to relax and to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the surrounding forest.

Water and rainforest are the heart of Tortuguero

The Tortuguero river flowing by the lodge invites further investigation.

Tortuguero Village

A short boat ride along the river brings DonQui to Tortuguero Village. Founded in the 1930s to mill the timber from the surrounding forest the village now makes its income from tourism. Back-packers, ecologists and adventures come here to experience the vast natural beauty of the region.

DonQui enjoyed a beer at this bar overlooking the river

The village has a Caribbean vibe as many of the modern inhabitants have come from Jamaica and other Caribbean islands.

Sunrise over the Tortuguero river

The true beauty of the area can only be explored by boat. So it is that DonQui sets off at crack of dawn to experience the sights and sounds of the rainforest.

A boat trip into the rainforest

It is hard for DonQui to express in a few words the great beauty, rich vegetation and abundant wildlife he experienced in the couple of hours he spent exploring the area under the guidance of a highly knowledgeable local guide.

Into the rainforest

The vegetation alone was worth it but the sights and sounds of the birds, reptiles and animals made it even more special.

The birds are abundant and varied
A cayman pokes his eye above the water

DonQui sees a huge variety of wildlife including howler and spider monkeys, turtles, a three toed sloth, caymans, herons snd many other birds

One of the many intriguing waterways to explore

Water is the best way to explore but behind the Tortuga Lodge there are a number of trails that invite exploration.

A trail through the forest

A walk along the forest trail is muddy. There is a clue in the name of ‘rainforest’. It rains a lot and the ground is always soggy even after several days without rain. DonQui does not see as much wildlife on his walk as he does on his boat tour but the atmosphere is hard to beat. He can hear howler monkeys in the distance and sees a number of colourful frogs.

The trees are filled with birdlife

The grounds around the lodge are incredibly beautiful. Toucans, parrots and monkeys are often seen.

An Iguana sunning himself by the river.

The grounds are beutiful

The grounds of the Tortuga Lodge and Gardens

DonQui always feels that he is part of the forest even when he is enjoying the civilised surroundings of the Lodge.

The dining area

Meals are served on an atmospheric dining area overlooking the river. Menu choices are relatively limited as food has to be flown in.

Seafood rice

After a few days the simple menu begins to grow a bit thin but the seafood rice is DonQui’s favourite staple.

Tortuguero river

So is Tortuguero worth a visit?

Absolutely yes, according to DonQui.

If you like nature, enjoy tranquility then there are probably few places than can beat it. In late summer/early autumn one can also witness the turtle nesting which gives the place its name.

Water, Reeds and Alligators


Ever since having seen James Bond zip around the everglades, DonQui Oaty has rather fancied giving it a go for himself.


Finding himself in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, DonQui gets his chance. At the Sawgrass Recreation Park — only 30 minutes from Fort Lauderdale — he hops on board an airboat and is whisked out over the sea of sawgrass and bullrushes (or cattails as they are called here).


It is not long before he spies an alligator approaching.


The curious reptile comes right up to the boat…


…along with a snapping turtle.


The able and informative ‘Captain Bob’ steers the airboat through the reeds. At times the boat zips over top of them, Bond-like, on a cushion of air. At other times the boat slows so that DonQui can take in the flora and fauna.


In all it is a most enjoyable hour out.