NB: The local currency in Ecuador is $USD. Yes, Ecuador has been “dollarized”. You cannot really use a credit card in Tena, except for getting cash out of machine. It’s different in Quito! There are (at least?!) three cash points in Tena and the maximum amount you can withdraw per transaction is $300USD. For further details refer to your bank/card issuer – and be smart: Let them know you will be in Ecuador using the card for the period you will be here, since that will pre-empt them blocking the card, thinking there is foul play when you start using it here. Yes, speaking from experience 🙂
Practical info about Tena.
The gathering is in a small-ish, but fast growing frontier town in the Ecuadorian Amazon, called Tena. Perhaps a bit like Pucallpa (Peru) once was. It was established as a catholic mission in 1591 after the Spanish had finally defeated the indigenous people, whose fight against the invaders was famously led by a chief called Jumandy. He is still a legend in the region and life for the indigenous people is still a struggle – to protect their way of life, their culture and simply to survive as the commodity market expands into their territory and capital power continues to cut down trees where they used to gather, establish plantations where they used to hunt and build roads where they used to walk:
How to get to Tena, which is in the Napo region in the Amazon:
If you fly into Quito it could be worth a visit, but it takes close to an hour to get into town by taxi, depending on traffic and where you want to go, and you are going in the wrong direction, so to speak, away from Tena. However, the Old Town is architecturally pleasing. Mariscal Sucre, Gringolandia, in the New Town, has all the things you expect from a tourist destination – bars, cafes, shops, pickpockets and so on – great place to meet people.
From Quito you take the bus to Tena from Quitumbes bus station: Terminal Terrestre Quitumbe, which is located 10km southwest of the old town. It can be reached by Trole bus (C4) to the last stop. The Trole bus is very cheap. Takes approx. 45 mins. A taxi costs about $12 to $14.
Buses to Tena leave all day long, about once an hour until 10/11pm, and the route is operated by a number of companies.
The bus ride takes approx. 5 hours and cost $6. The last 2-3 hours are very beautiful, as you descend from just over 4000m (almost 13.500 feet) through the cloud forest, into the Amazon and down to Tena at 500m (1640 feet). Steep cliffs, waterfalls and amazing views. So it is a good idea to take the bus early in the day. It will be dark at 6.30pm
If you fly into Quito and want to avoid Quito (it’s a big city in 2850m with little oxygen and much pollution, but some lovely places and sights!) and instead go straight to Tena then you have several options:
- Prebook a taxi (search online) that will take you straight to Tena from the airport. That cost around $180.
- Take a taxi from the airport to Pifo (which is a small town on the main road to Tena via Baeza) and ask to be dropped just after the roundabout to get the next bus to Tena. The drivers will know. That’s a 10-15 minutes ride in taxi and costs $10. You can prebook and prepay the taxi inside the airport to avoid bargaining. By the roundabout in Pifo you simply wait until a bus comes past that goes to Tena, there will most likely be others waiting or people standing selling fruits and drinks. From Pifo the bus ride will be about 4 hours only. The buses leave pretty much every hour from Quito until 11pm. For the intrepid traveler this is an easy trip, if you speak Spanish also. If you do not speak Spanish and you are not used to independent travel, this is not a recommended option.
- Ask us to arrange for pick up. We can get a taxi from Tena to come and pick you up in the airport. That will be about $150 and can fit 3 people comfortably, 4 people with a squeeze.
Places to stay:
You will easily find places to stay via the usual channels (Airbnb, Booking.com, Tripadvisor, Lonely Planet and so on), here is a few places listed that are particularly useful or nice. See also Wikitravel’s Tena entry.
Hostal Tena Ñaui – “the eyes of Tena”, a very nice hostel, typical backpacker place with terraces, roof top, garden and a shared kitchen and with a variety of room options and a great view over Tena.
Hostal Limoncocha – another typical backpacker hostel with excellent, fast (fibre) internet connection.
Hostal Los Yutzos – an old classic in the middle of town, still going strong.
A whole house, very nice, sleeps 4 comfortably, but could possibly be shared by more. The owner is French and runs a reforestation foundation.
There are also a number of posh lodges further away from town – in the forest – which might be useful for either before or after the gathering, but not convenient during.
What to bring?
Bring light clothes that can cover your body, while staying cool in the sun. It’s in the Amazon, there are biting creatures such as sandflies and mosquitos, more of the former than the latter, and it’s nothing like down in the Amazon basin, such as around Iquitos and Pucallpa. Tena is in approx. 500 metres elevation, so you will find crystal clear rivers and fresh winds. One of the ceremonies will take place on a beach that is part of Shandia Lodge, where you are free to camp, not just for the evening of the ceremony (but it is outside of town, so you’d need to check bus times, have your own vehicle or make arrangements with a taxi driver to get into town in the mornings). Travel mats will be useful in any case for the ceremonies, but mosquito nets are not that common – i.e. not often needed – around Tena.
Staying longer – needing help with Visa?
Many if not most nationalities receive a 3 month tourist Visa upon entry, which can no longer be extended by leaving the country, for example by going to Peru or Colombia for a few days, and coming back; you are only allowed 180 days per year, counting from the day you first entered, unless you get an official extension. Although anyone can sort out their own Visa extensions, it can be useful to get help.
A 6 months tourist Visa at the time of writing cost $400 plus a $50 application fee, and can be applied for once you are in the country. Rather than staying in Quito (or other places where it can be done) and going back and forth to bureaucratic counters, gathering the right kind of documentation, getting them translated and notarised, you can get it done for you.
Many companies offer their services online. Prices vary. We recommend the services of Quito-based Joseph Guznay (firstname.lastname@example.org) who takes you smoothly through the process for immigrant and non-immigrant Visas. He speaks fluent English and knows the ins and outs of the process. Write him an email in advance and he will tell you what documents to bring (bank statements, children’s original, apostilled birth certificates, etc.), how much he charges, and will sort the rest out for you. Safely leave your passport with him, pay in advance or pay the fees, as they are due, into his bank account. He will give you his phone number and will also be available via Whatsapp. Once everything is done and dusted, the passport(s) will arrive to you where you are with Servientraga courier service, sent safely with a tracking number – or you can pick it up in the courier’s local office. Alternatively, go to Quito and collect it yourself on the day it is ready. Meanwhile you travel with colour copies of your passport, including photo page and entry stamp page. If asked by any authority or hotel/hostel, you just say that your passport is with the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Movilidad Humana and show them the copies. No worries and you can get on with your travels. All that said, inform yourself before heading to Ecuador, so you have an idea about what to expect. It’s your journey!