We travel to experience life outside the norm. To savor different sights, smells, and tastes, gain fresh perspectives, and escape life as we know it.

Traveling to the Amazon rainforest is an experience that ignites all the senses, transporting us deep into another world. It takes us back to basics and aligns us with nature so that we can immerse ourselves in a jungle that feels alive. Producing a significant amount of the world’s oxygen, the Amazon has earned the nickname, “lungs of the Earth’. It’s impossible not to feel revived after a visit here.

The Amazon Rainforest is known as “the lungs of the Earth.” Image by Kellie Paxian.

I boarded the 25-minute flight from Quito to Coca, the gateway of the Amazon, before venturing into the jungle. On my flight, I met a woman named Ana from Guatemala, who looked to be around the same age as me and we instantly clicked. Ana is a diehard birder, her giant parabola for recording bird sounds in her carry-on. We were both headed for Sacha Lodge—a luxurious ecolodge nestled deep in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Sacha Lodge is surrounded by the sights and sounds of the Amazon Rainforest. Image by Kellie Paxian.

While Ana’s vibrancy and passion for birding took me by surprise, it wasn’t a shock to see a birder heading to my destination. Of the 1,600 birds registered in Ecuador, 37 percent have been spotted at Sacha Lodge, and it’s not uncommon to see over 250 species of birds on a four-day trip.

Upon landing in Coca, we boarded a motorized canoe, which took us on a two-hour journey down the Napo River, the largest river in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The ride was stunning from the get-go as we cruised past palm trees and mangroves, scanning for wildlife. Ana was already getting excited by the bird species, and I was keeping my eyes peeled for pink dolphins and anacondas and taking in the tangled green vegetation that framed the rushing water. We were awed by the captain’s skillful navigation of the river and its sandbanks, making our way further into the jungle.

Boat dock with small boat tied to it in the amazon rainforest
Sacha Lodge, deep in the heart of the rainforest. Image by Kellie Paxian

We arrived at a riverbank, disembarked, and swapped our life jackets for durable gumboots. It was time to get muddy. We ventured into the forest, following a planked boardwalk, and then were transported by canoe by our guide, Ana, and her trusty wooden paddle. Another hour later, we made it to our destination.

Listen to the sounds of the Amazon from your suite’s hammock at Sacha Lodge. Image by Kellie Paxian.

Arriving at Sacha Lodge feels like a wave of luxury in a lush, remote part of the jungle. Sacha, meaning “forest” in Quechua Indian, is located on a 5,000-acre private ecological reserve. Set on the blackwater Pilchecocha Lake, the lodge has incredible one-of-a-kind features like its lake pool (fenced in to keep piranhas and caimans out), a 94-foot suspension bridge, and a 135-foot high treetop observation tower. The lodge embraces ecotourism with initiatives like its partnership with Universidad San Francisco de Quito, supporting research on endangered pygmy marmosets. It also works with local community projects, such as the Shipmati Warm project, where guests can learn about the day-to-day lives of the women of the Providencia community of Yasuní, their food and drink, traditional hunting techniques, and turtle rescue program.

The Amazon is for the intrepid traveler, but Sacha Lodge makes adventures there feel effortless. The staff of local community members made our journey seamless. Of course, venturing into the jungle means dealing with insects, but the lodge’s sealed rooms and location on a tannin-rich lake means that mosquitoes are barely an issue. Luxurious rooms and fine dining ensure that there’s plenty of comfort to be found, too, while still providing a true jungle experience. Our bags were transported, raincoats and boots were provided, and even Wi-Fi was accessible. If you feel daunted by the prospect of traveling to the Amazon, Sacha Lodge offers a smooth stay.

Woman walking across suspension bridge in the amazon rainforest
Kellie crossing the 36-meter suspension bridge in the canopy of the Amazon Rainforest. Image by Kellie Paxian.

My time in the Amazon was full of highlights, from observing toucans from the observation tower to spotting monkeys breaking branches to try to sabotage our canoe path, to watching a sloth in the distance from the canopy bridge. 

A dip in the lake pool is an absolute must (I mean, how many people can say they went swimming in the Amazon?) and bonding with my fellow Amazonian adventurers, as well as our guide, Ana, were highlights. I was fascinated by (and by fascinated I mean terrified) the bullet ants, whose name is self-explanatory and still make me shudder. Just make sure you do a thorough scan before you go hugging any trees. 

Woman trying to hug a huge tree in the rainforest.
Check for bullet ants before you hug an Apok tree. Image by Kelly Paxian.

My favorite moments were the simple, quiet ones, where the sounds of nature took over, time stood still, and I was able to hear the jungle roar with frogs and crickets as dusk faded into dark. I remember the ground-shaking thunderstorm that kept me happily awake one night, the birds chirping and soaring across the canopy as we stood from the tower one afternoon, and the peaceful drops of rain falling from the trees as we glided silently through the canals by canoe. The jungle comes alive through all the senses, but the sounds were what really stood out to me.

When we travel, it’s important to challenge ourselves, try new things, and see unique parts of the world. But while we’re busy conquering bucket list experiences that widen our eyes, stimulate our taste buds, and expand our comfort zones, we shouldn’t forget to stop and listen to the sounds of nature along the way.

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