My stomach is happily full after a delicious rice dish stuffed full of clams and chopped vegetables. As I sit sipping the last of my fresh lemonade under the umbrella-shaded outdoor table, a cool breeze whispers past. Families amble by, politely wishing me “buen provecho” (“enjoy your meal”) while kayakers across the street load their gear into a shiny new pickup. All the while wild birds mingle their notes with the Latin rhythms spilling from the restaurant.
Where am I? I’m in the Ecuadorian jungle town of Tena…and to be honest this is not at all how I had imagined the Amazon to be.
What I imagined, and what is often portrayed in pop culture, were man-hunting snakes, snarling jungle cats, and swarms of malaria-infested mosquitos. Oh, and maybe a few primitive tribes of natives scattered about. It’s true that you might find some of those things in the deep recesses of the world’s largest rainforest, maybe. But Tena has blown my preconception out of the water and I couldn’t be more pleased.
The first thing I discovered was that the climate is right. Because it’s a little higher in elevation than much of the Amazon basin, it’s comfortable—not too hot or humid. Though it can rain at any time of year—it’s what keeps the jungle green—the average daily temperature hovers at highs of 79 F year-round.
It’s not the only way that Tena offers a good balance. This small city has found a way to coexist with nature while blending the past with the rapidly arriving future.
Age-old traditions, foods, and customs still hold fast. But the Internet and western fashions have also been embraced. Throughout the town frontier-age buildings stand proudly alongside sleek glass-fronted offices. In the midst of it all stand towering hardwoods, fruit trees, and cheerful flowers.
You’ll find a low cost of living, too. You can rent an apartment or small house here from $150 to $400 per month. One newly built apartment complex offers a 600-square-foot, two-bedroom space for just $180 per month.
For less than $50,000 you can have your own jungle hideaway. Just a few miles out of town, a nearly finished, 900-square-foot, two-bedroom house in a forested neighborhood is selling for $48,000.
Tena’s crown jewel is Parque Amazonico, a 66-acre animal refuge situated on the point of land where two rivers converge and split the town in half. A newly completed footbridge links both sides of Tena with the park and boasts a four-story observation tower from which you can survey the town and the surrounding wilderness.
During the day life moves in time with the slow-flowing waters of the Tena River. Children play impromptu games of soccer, vendors offer juices and sweets from their canopy-covered carts, and shopkeepers hold lively conversations with their customers. But as night falls, the town becomes livelier with an abundance of dance clubs and karaoke bars.
You’ll find a lot of nature-based entertainment in Tena, too. Several rivers tumbling out of the Andes make for great whitewater rafting and kayaking. Cave systems provide the perfect playground for spelunkers, and animal lovers need only take to the jungle trails for a glimpse of playful monkeys, raucous birds, and colorful butterflies.
For me, every one of those activities holds appeal, but for now I’m craving something cool and sweet to round out my afternoon and I know just the place. Ricos Helados Loren’s is a downtown ice cream shop where the menu contains dozens and dozens of pages of heavenly options. For $2.50 I can get a tall soda fountain glass full of chocolate ice cream topped with Oreos, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream. The jungle is a lot more civilized—and occasionally indulgent—than I ever thought…
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