Tena Ecuador is a quintessential jungle town that is slowly growing into a bustling center of activity. It used to be a place you’d expect to see Indiana Jones stocking up on supplies before setting out in search of a lost city. Now, you still might see him in among the passing taxi cabs.
Tena may have grown (a lot!), but it’s still the place for adventure. Five hours southeast of Quito, Tena is the perfect launching point for a jungle trek, a spelunking expedition, rafting or kayaking down one of the countless rivers that pass through or by the city.
Once an important colonial trading post in the Amazon, Tena is now the commercial center and capital of the Napo Province. And though Tena is the commercial center of the Province, with a population of just over 17,000, it still operates like a small town and has retained much of its culture and traditional lifestyle.
The area surrounding Tena supports a large population of lowland Quichua Indians. Significant numbers of Quijos and Chibcha Indians, among others, live further out in the forests outside the city. It’s possible to visit many of these communities and to observe, and sometimes, participate in traditional dancing, the preparation of chicha (an alcoholic drink made by chewing maize, rice or yuca and fermenting the juice), shamanic rituals, and blowgun competitions. Tena’s history is a living history, a window into an ancient era and unique way of life.
For a rainforest city, Tena’s climate is surprisingly comfortable. Due to its elevation, it’s cooler and drier than most people expect. There is rainfall year-round and the heaviest rains come in June, July, and August.
Even during this very wet time it doesn’t necessarily rain every day, or all day when it does rain. The rain is pleasant and warm, like the rain that those of us from the northern hemisphere only get in the sweltering heat of summer. If you plan to be outside for long periods, even warm rain can bring down your body temperature so it’s wise to have a raincoat.
Nights can be cool. Some people may want a light jacket when strolling in the evening.
The sun is very strong, even when it is cloudy. Don’t forget your sunscreen!
The city is small enough so that you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting around. It’s divided into two halves by the rivers Tena and Pano and connected by three bridges, two for pedestrians and one for automobiles.
There are several sand and pebble beaches on both sides of the river, as well as a number of plazas and parks, the most conspicuous of which is the Parque Amazonica, a botanical garden and zoo located on a small peninsula between the rivers Tena and Pano. The Parque Amazonica is accessible from the new pedestrian bridge, which has become a tourist attraction in of itself.
There is also a nice riverside walkway on the western bank of the river Tena.
The bus terminal is located on Avenida 15 de Noviembre between Calle Montero and Avenida del Chofer. The terminal is unattractive, but don’t be too quick to judge the rest of the city based its appearance, the northern part of town is much nicer.
There is regular bus service to Tena via Baeza. It’s a good idea to book in advance on Fridays, Sundays and holidays as the buses fill up fast.
There is a new airport 30 minutes outside of Tena with commercial flights run by TAME three days a week.
Taxis are abundant in the city. Taxis within Tena cost $1, or $1.50 if you are going from one extreme to the other. Stop into our office when planning to use a taxi outside of town. We can let you know the going rate.
Where to eat? and Where to stay?
There are a lot of options nowadays in Tena. For a complete list of place to stay and some restaurant options click here.
What to do in Tena
Tena’s claims to fame are the rainforest and rivers that surround it. The jungle, especially if you get outside the city 15 or 20 kilometers, is impressive. First-timers will be changed forever after they lay their eyes on a pristine stretch of Amazon. There is no shortage of jungle guides or tour operators, many have offices at the northern end of town on Avenida 15 de Noviembre.
Moreover, Tena has reached near legendary status with whitewater enthusiasts and boasts the best rafting and kayaking in Ecuador and, some say, the world. The jungle rivers on the Amazon side of the Andes are bigger and have more consistent flows than their west-Andean counterparts. They are also the cleanest and most scenic rivers in Ecuador. River People is by far the best rafting and kayaking tour operator in the country and their headquarters are in Tena, that ought to tell you something about the quality of the rivers!
You may also want to check out:
Sumaco Volcano: Located in the isolated Sumaco Napo-Galeras National Park, reaching Sumaco is easily one of the most intense experiences to be had in Ecuador. The volcano soars 3732 meters above the jungle and is surrounded by precipitous ravines and dense jungle, which have largely kept humans out and preserved its flora and fauna. You need a guide to reach Sumaco. Guides can be found in the villages along the Loreto Road, which meets the Tena-Quito road approximately 30 kilometers north of Tena.
Jatun Sacha Biological Station: A great place to learn about the rainforest. The station is continually conducting rainforest research and, as one of the largest conservation organizations in Ecuador, is involved in an array of sustainable development and forest protection projects. Jatun Sacha is on the road that parallels the southern bank of the Napo River. This road branches off the main highway 7 km south at the Puerto Napo bridge.
Misahuallí: Is a somewhat remote port at the juncture of the Napo and Misahuallí rivers. The village was the original Ecuadorian jungle tourist outpost and, after dozens of years and despite the entrance of Tena and other jungle towns into the tourism market, is still a popular starting point for jungle tours and canoe trips. It is quite busy on weekends, but relatively quiet during the week. Misahuallí offers well developed, though rustic, tourism services, including good craft shops, cafes, and lodging. Plus monkeys!
Cavernas de Jumandy: Four kilometers north of Archidona on the road to Quito is a labyrinth of natural caves and tunnels that extend several kilometers underground. Don’t be put off by the main entrance, once you get past the gaudy pools and loud music (I turned around my first time, thinking “this can’t possibly be the place!”) you are in for a treat. You can hire a guide from the changing-area reception desk. Reportedly, there are guides in Tena who will take you into the caves through other, less obnoxious entrances – ask around.
Archidona: A colonial town, founded in 1560, north of Tena, Archidona still serves as one of the regions main missionary outposts. It’s also a business and social center for the small Kichwa communities in its vicinity. Archidona’s festivals attract people from all around. Several times throughout the year there are Kichwa beauty and culture pageants, in which contestants, drawn from the many Kichwa communities in the area, compete for the title of “Queen of the Kichwa”. The pageants are a unique opportunity to hear Kichwa spoken and sung and to see some very old dances and customs. There are several elimination rounds and the finale is usually held in April.