Tena, Ecuador – Gateway to Adventure
Dark, mysterious jungle paths, breathtaking volcanic vistas, heart-pounding, high-adrenaline whitewater challenges; Tena, Ecuador is truly a gateway to Amazonian adventures. This colonial jungle village, southeast of Quito, can be a doorway to the kind of journey one might only expect to see on the big screen in a big budget movie.
Ecuador is a country rich in history and filled with potential for expats and visitors alike. As a starting point for exploration of the Amazon basin and the Galapagos archipelago, Ecuador offers a rich and diverse selection of things to see, do, and become immersed in.
Tena, Ecuador – A Place of Amazon History
In 1541, Gonzalo Pizzaro, half-brother of the conquistador, Francisco Pizzaro, left Quito and headed east through the Quijos Valley in search of the fabled city of El Dorado. Although the search for the golden city failed, one of Pizzaro’s second-in-command, Francisco de Orellana, continued the journey downstream and, ultimately, discovered the mighty Amazon River.
Their route would have taken the explorers through what would later be the town of Tena. Founded in November 15, 1560, Tena quickly became an important colonial trading post and a gateway to the upper Amazon and the Amazon River proper.
Jumandy and the Quijos Uprising
As Spain continued its colonial expansion, the indigenous Quijo people began a revolt. Though successful in putting down the first insurrection in July, 1560, the colonial authorities were concerned about continued unrest.
In order to try and head off future attacks, two conquistadors, Andres Contero, the lieutenant governor of the region and Captain Bartholomew Marin sought out and met the leader of the Quijos, Jumandy.
After refusing Jumandy’s request to leave the area, the Quijos attacked and destroyed the Spanish towns of Avila and Archidona during 1578-1579. While trying to get assistance in his revolt from the Sierra tribes, Jumandy was betrayed, captured, and ultimately executed in Quito. The entry to Tena is marked by a statue of Jumandy, erected in his honor.
Tena has evolved from its colonial past as a key jungle trading post and point of departure for the Upper Amazon basin to the major commercial center and capital of the province of Napo. Tena’s atmosphere is still that of a small jungle community, retaining much of the rich cultural heritage and lifestyle of yesteryear.
Adventures In and Around Tena – From Mild to Wild
Surrounded by rivers with challenging rapids, dense rainforest jungles and towering volcanic peaks, it is not surprising that this former jungle outpost has become a hub for all kinds of visitors. Whether your interests run to the culture and history of the region, exploring the unique geological features and the rich biodiversity they contain, or raising your adrenaline levels with some extreme sports, Tena has it all.
Tena’s reputation as a great starting point for jungle kayaking and whitewater rafting has grown since hosting the 2005 World Rafting Championships. The surrounding rivers, Jatunyacu, Jondachi, Hollin, and Anzu provide what many consider the best rafting, not only in Ecuador, but the world.
The range of difficulty can run from very gentle rapids, ideal for families, to the daunting Class III+ and Class IV levels for experienced adrenaline junkies. The large number of tour operators can help visitors find the tour and difficulty level that they desire.
Volcano Hikes, Biodiversity and Caving Exploration
Soaring 12,244 feet above the Amazonian jungle, Sumaco Volcano has been called one of the most intense hiking experiences in Ecuador. The villages along Loreto Road, 30 kilometers north of Tena, are home to many guides who can help intrepid adventures navigate the challenging 5-6 day hike through jungle path and mountain trails to the summit.
The Jumandy Caves (Cuevas de Jumandy), a labyrinth of natural caves and tunnels a short bus ride from Tena, give visitors the opportunity for cave swimming and viewing the stunning underground collection of stalagmites and stalactites. Cave diving is offered to experienced and certified divers.
The cave system is also important from a historical perspective. It was in these caves that the Quito chieftain, Jumandy, lead the women and children of his tribe in an attempt to hide from the Spanish forces during his unsuccessful rebellion.
Jatun Sacha Biological Station is the second largest conservation organization in Ecuador. Located on a dirt road just outside Tena, the station offers a number of programs and exhibits that provide an educational perspective on the unique biodiversity that exists in the upper Amazon basin.
Immerse Yourself in Amazon Culture
There are many small villages and towns in and around Tena where large numbers of the indigenous Quichua, Quijos, and Chibcha groups still live. Visiting these jungle locations may provide the opportunity to experience and participate in the preparation of chicha (a beverage made from maize that can be either fermented or non-fermented) and, possibly local shamanic rituals or ceremonies.
The area in and around Tena has a number of festivals during the year. The week of November 15th – the day Tena was founded – is marked by live music and community events throughout the city.
Archidona, a colonial town just north of Tena, has a number of festivals during the year. April is the busiest month for these celebrations: on April 21st, the Chonta Folk Festival is held and on the 27th the Fiestas de Cantonización is observed.
Perhaps the most popular celebrations in Archicona are the beauty and cultural pageants honoring the Quichua people, their culture, language, and heritage. These events culminate in April when the “Queen of the Quichua” is chosen.
Tena Is Also Becoming an Expat Destination
Tena combines the atmosphere of a jungle outpost with the energy and development of the commercial center and capital of Napo province. This unique combination makes Tena a desirable investment location for expats seeking something different.
With a population just over 20,000, Tena is continuing to improve its infrastructure to accommodate new arrivals and investors. The city is home to a major regional hospital, a small airport, bus terminal, and many tourist related businesses.
As one of the top industrialized communities in Ecuador, Tena’s commercial potential is vast. Continued improvements to the highway between Quito and Tena will also foster increased accessibility for expats seeking to build a new life in the jungle.
Living in Tena – What to Expect
In spite of the commercial activity in the area, Tena is still, basically, a rustic community. Expats seeking to become part of Ecuadorian and Amazonian culture will find the area in and around Tena a perfect fit with an abundance of festivals, markets and celebrations.
The cost of living is less than Guayaquil or Quito. While budget-friendly (an important consideration for many expats), the trade off is that there are fewer amenities like those found in large cities.
Similarly, real estate prices (rental and purchase) are also lower than other more-developed parts of Ecuador. Importantly, non-residents have the same property rights as native Ecuadorians and are not restricted in buying property. Looking at property listings can provide a good picture of the potential that exists-both for developed and undeveloped parcels.
Getting There and Getting Around
Much like the explorers of the past, the journey to Tena can often be an adventure in and of itself. The main road between Quito and Tena is subject to landslides and other issues although improvements continue to be made. Regular bus service via Baeza does exist but must be reserved in advance as the buses fill quickly.
There is no commercial airport in Tena; only small private flights (usually just for a single passenger) are available. Once in town, there are local taxis that can get you from point A to point B.
There are a number of hotels in the city that are generally inexpensive. As elsewhere in Central America, the more amenities offered, the higher the nightly rate.
Tena holds the keys for those seeking to explore the mysteries and wonders of the Amazonian basin. Visiting this unique and exciting place can reawaken the explorer in everyone.
Map of Tena, Ecaudor
Tena, Ecuador Fast Facts
- Population: About 20,000
- Typical temperature: Mid 80’s
- Nearest airport with U.S. flights: Quito, Ecuador
- Nearest U.S. consulate: Quito, Ecuador