One of Quito’s great historic landmarks is the fact that from this city, in 1541, the expedition toward “the land of cinnamon” ended up in the wilds of the mighty Amazon River, a fabulous discovery for the Western World. it is, after all, the largest river on our planet.
If we stand at the viewpoint of Guápulo, below the Hotel Quito and Avenida González Suárez, in the northeastern section of the city, it is not difficult to imagine the ambitious Conquistadors looking out into the distance, conjuring up, in their minds, the way to El Dorado.
One can see that road today. The current highway, an amazing sight that takes us towards the eastern towns of Puembo, Pifo or Papallacta, would take centuries to open. Let us envision the dramatic valleys and hills of the eastern Andean cordillera, with their snow-capped peaks of Cayambe and Antisana, an awesome and foreboding wall that the Spaniards had to surmount in their minds and dreams to convince themselves that, heading in that direction, the feat of discovering new riches for their Empire was possible. We admire the resolve of these men today: they were not afraid of facing the great mountains and jungles of the unknown. They went anyway.
That expedition was a failure, if we consider the number of people that died on the adventure and the years during which they were lost. At the same time, no one ever found El Dorado or the Land of Cinnamon. But this is, after all, a story of success, of course, because Orellana was able to travel the Amazon River, meet hidden, unknown jungle tribes and experience the unforgettable journey through the entire northern South American continent and into the Atlantic Ocean. No one had ever done that before.
Five hundred years later, what took over a year to travel can be realized in only two to three hours by car to the foothills of the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin, a lush and megadiverse world that is an inseparable part of Quito’s legacy. Yes, we are well beyond the metropolitan limits of the city, but the Amazon is still a part of Quito—here, from our Andean mountains, the Amazon’s waters are born—and, in terms of tourism, this once remote region is pretty accessible from the city. Quito, a great urban hub with all the comforts and facilities, is Amazonia’s most obvious access point. In only five hours, you can even meet the tributaries of the Amazon River.
Community projects promoting fine Amazonian cocoa, the chance to meet different indigenous nationalities, the amazing diversity of animals and plants, the shamans and their legends and ancient knowledge… Quito is the best place to begin your Amazonian explorations. You can even stop at a Museo Mindalae, which will tell you all about the great Amazonian cultures that make Ecuadorian identity so much richer and awe-inspiring.
Quito is your portal to Amazonia.
Visits from Quito that take us along Orellana’s route into the Amazon:
- El Chaquiñán
- San Rafael Waterfall
- Tena, Misahuallí y Puyo
- The Loreto Road, Sumaco and eventually the frontier town of Coca