If you are primed for a vacation off the beaten path, venture down to South America for an unforgettable trip deep into the Amazon jungle. Children love animals; that is why we visit the zoo and take them on African Safaris. However, for a fraction of the time and cost of Africa, families can travel to the intense bio-diverse South American jungles where the mysteries and wonders of jungle life inspire visitors of all ages.
This summer, my husband and I took our youngest boy, 13, to the Ecuadorian rainforest along the Napo River, a tributary of the Amazon. A half-hour flight connects you to the jungle from Quito, followed by a boat ride along the Napo to the hidden entrance of the lodge. Nestled in the thickness of the jungle are comfortable deluxe cabins with inviting hammocks at Sacha Lodge. First-class guides and naturalists await your arrival with contagious enthusiasm, ready to share their knowledge of and concern for the magical yet dissipating jungle.
A rainforest safari is an active experience where wildlife is viewed while canoeing, jungle trekking, boating or climbing (up towers for bird’s eye views!). Our guides delighted us in spotting exotic birds, four species of monkeys, sloths, unusual insects, caiman alligators and more. We were mesmerized, while perched on top of a viewing tower, by an unforgettable haunting screech of the howler monkey, who makes the second loudest animal noise in the world. We made a list of more than 30 different animals viewed during our four days there.
The Amazon is a great place to expose children to biodiversity and the global climate, as it is the planet’s largest remaining rainforest, teeming with more wildlife than anywhere else on Earth. It is also the ancestral home to one million Indians, so a visit to a local community provides some indelible first hand experiences. We were guided through a local settled village, including their school, by an indigenous woman with machete in hand. The villagers presented us with a spread of their local delicacies on banana leaves which we all enjoyed sampling (warning: not for the squeamish!).
This trip was an experience of a lifetime and my son will never forget the leaf-cutting ants, parrot clay-licks, howler monkeys and sloths, fishing for piranha and star gazing at the southern constellation during our quiet evening canoe rides while searching for caimans. In September, while back at school, he will have a lot to share when his middle school teacher asks him “What Did You Do This Summer?!”