Picture of coca_river The administrative center of the Napo region of Ecuador is officially named Francisco de Orellana after the Spanish explorer. We didn't see any evidence of that name in town or around it though. Coca is the name that appears on the airport boards in Quito and the name that everyone refers to it by. The Coca and Napo rivers merge just downstream from the town. This aerial view is of the Coca river just a bit north of the town. Apart from the two rivers, the town is also along the relatively new (and indirect) road that connects to Tena, Lago Agrio and a few hundred isolated oil wells.
Picture of airstrip For the most part Coca looks like it was recently hit by a major hurricane. This is the view across the airstrip. There is regular air service to Quito (30 minutes by air) and slightly less regular bus service (8-9 hours). A lot of money is made in the vicinity of Coca, most of which involves the removal of natural resources. Notably this includes oil and lumber to varying degrees of legality. Not much of the money appears to remain in Coca with the exception of mobile phone towers (which are about the only real points of reference).
Picture of corner Our time in Coca was mostly limited to transit between the port and the airport along with some obligatory time spent waiting about the port authority for clearance to leave town. While a bit ramshackle, it doesn't appear to be a dull town.
Picture of coca_stores There are a few hotels along the riverfront in Coca. Along the main road to Lago Agrio are an assortment of small restaurants and stores. Jungle produce (fruit) and river seafood seem to be most common. There's also a suspiciously high percentage of stores selling backpacks. We're not certain if this happens to be random or if it is catering to the tourists who do come to town, most of whom are en route to the national parks deeper in the Amazon.
Picture of quechua_sign This sign outside the town hall in Coca is notably mostly because it is the only written sign we saw anywhere in the country that was actually in Quechua. Quechua is the primary indigenous language of Ecuador and while a reasonably large number of people speak it (to varying degrees) it is rarely seen in written form.
Picture of coca_port Our boat to Yasuni National Park was named the Giant Otter which is why it's printed across Melanie here. (Not that she needs a special reason to have Otter written across her.) In the background is the not terribly modern port of Coca. It is functional though. These boats are referred to as motorized canoes which is an accurate definition of them. Some of them can be quite large but they tend to be long and narrow which is important for the tributaries if not the Napo itself. One thing we can say from personal experience is that these boats are not a fun place to spend several hours on the river if it happens to be during a torrential downpour.
Picture of napo_river The Napo River is already enormous by the time it reaches Coca. There are no more towns of note downstream from Coca until you reach Iquitos in Peru at which point the Napo has become the Amazon. While wide, it is very shallow in sections and motorized navigation is tricky requiring a lookout for sand bars and exposed logs.
Picture of locals There are also no bridges downstream (east) of Coca. (A few public and private ferries exist). A handful of dirt roads reach the river, most of them built by oil companies to aid in exploration. Small clusters of thatch-roofed huts are seen sporadically on both sides of the river. Other than small patches of manioc there doesn't appear to be any real organized agriculture.
Picture of napo_shore Our trip involved two hours downstream by motorized canoe (three hours on the return due to the current). Other than a few distant birds, there's not much wildlife to see from the Napo itself. Most of the boat traffic is either military, oil-company related or transport to and from the handful of eco-lodges which operate on both sides of the Napo near the boundaries of Yasuni National Park. Our transportation was provided by the lodge of our choice - the Napo Wildlife Center. We've covered that in detail on another page.

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