THE GREAT AMERICAN VACATION
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Ecuador's slice of the Amazon basin accounts for roughly one-third of the country's landmass but just 4% of its population. One of the world's biodiversity hot spots, El Oriente is home to hundreds of colorful bird species, including macaws, toucans, and prehistoric-looking hoatzins. Jaguars, pumas, and peccaries are elusive, but you're sure to see howler monkeys, spider monkeys, or tamarins. Pink
river dolphins are also easy to spot. An abundance of insects thrive under the jungle canopy, including workaholic leaf-cutting ants, society spiders, and enormous blue morpho butterflies. Myriad plant species coexist, and in some cases even cooperate, with the jungle animals. The giant kapok tree, El Oriente's tallest species, soars nearly 200 feet above the jungle floor. Creeping vines cascade from strangler figs, which in turn envelop other species.
In this exuberant world, eight indigenous peoples continue, to varying degrees, to live their traditional lifestyles. One group still lives a nomadic life and repels any attempts at rapprochement by outsiders. Others allow tourist groups to visit and share their tremendous knowledge of plants and animals.