The Cofán, who call themselves the A’I, are an age old culture whose home is the forest of north-eastern Ecuador. Around 1,000 Cofanes live in the country, as well as in the south of Colombia; they are divided by the San Miguel River. In Ecuador their territory has been greatly reduced over time, particularly since oil was found in the area in 1967.
In spite of everything, the Cofán have been able to resist intense cultural pressure. They have managed to keep alive many of their traditional beliefs and rituals, such as Shamanism and the yagé, or ayahuasca ceremonies (see below), which allows them to contact their ancestors.
These unassuming people are also well known for their crafts and any visitor to a Cofán community will undoubtedly be impressed by the high level of skill found in their work. For the traveler, time spent in the Cofán Bermejo Reserve is a fascinating way to both get to know the local people and their customs, and at the same time to help sustain a unique, and threatened, Amazon forest culture.
The Cofán-Bermejo Reserve forms part of the traditional territory of the Cofán and is managed in cooperation with the local population; it is the only one of its kind in Ecuador. With an altitude ranging from 400 to 2,750m above sea level, the area is a fascinating mix of landscapes, from the cloud forests of the eastern Andes, to the 40 meter high canopies of lowland rainforest trees. Some lowland trees have even been recorded at 50 meters high and one meter in diameter, making them the biggest of their kind in the world.
The lower plains also contain flooded forests, which can remain under several meters of water for many days., while the Bermejo River area in the South of the park is a good place to gwet an idea of the area’s landscapes: Mt Sur Pax to the north, and the volcanoes Reventador and Sumaco to the south, as well as the ever present Amazon rainforest.
Three hundred and ninety nine species of bird have been registered in the Reserve, in above all in the proximity of the Bermejo River, making this one of the most important areas for birds in the Ecuadorian Amazon. There are also 42 mammals here, including mountain tapirs and giant armadillos, which grow to almost 90cm long on a diet consisting almost entirely of termites.
The community of Alto Bermejo, on the south bank of the Bermejo River, has a research station located in a small clearing surrounded by primary and secondary forest and a few community vegetable gardens. Around the community, dozens of trails criss-cross the forest, among them: the Ttonoe, which has large mature trees along the trail and leads to several waterfalls; and the Pozo Seco trail, whose demanding ascent will reward the visitor with impressive panoramas.
Taking a canoe ride through the flooded forests of the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin is a memorable experience – bringing you closer to the wildlife of this unique region. As well as the opportunities to observe birds and animals in their natural habitat, this region also hosts the fascinating Cofán culture, and a chance to visit a local community should not be missed.
The climate varies according to the altitude.
At lower altitudes, the climate in the forest is hot and humid year-round, with the wetter season from February to June.
What to bring:
Insect repellent (minimum 30% DEET).
Light, protective clothing (long sleeved shirt and long trousers).
Plastic bags to protect cameras and other equipment from the rain and high humidity.
Drinking water and/or water purification tablets.
Anti-malarial tablets may be necessary depending on the time of year – mosquitoes are only common in the wet season. Seek medical advice before travelling to this region.
A yellow fever vaccination may also be required.
How to get here:
The only access route is the stretch of the Interoceanica highway from Lago Agrio (Nueva Loja) to Tulcán. In Cantón Cascales, an hour from Lago Agrio, a dirt track leads to the Shuar community of Taruka. From here, a six to eight hour hike takes you to the entrance of the Reserve.
It is necessary to travel with local Park Rangers, as Colombian guerrillas have been reported near the San Miguel and Bermejo rivers.