Tena, Ecuador, is an up and coming destination in, that’s currently a side-step from the famous Gringo Trail.
Tena is the commercial centre and capital city of the Napo province and acts as a springboard for many from which to explore the lush Amazonian rainforest, which is mere footsteps away. The city is also located at the edge of the Andes mountains and surrounded by verdant cloud forest so the landscape is really something special.
As you pass through down the main street and towards the centre of town where Río Tena and Río Napo join, you could be forgiven for thinking you saw Lara Croft heading into the trees in front of you!
Whilst being a hugely important economic destination for locals, Tena is also cementing its reputation as a relaxed backpacker city. Plus, the location and the respective rivers that run through Tena offer some of the best kayaking and rafting in all of Ecuador.
To cope with the increasing demand of such tourist activities, businesses aimed at budget travellers have sprung up all over the city in recent years, offering adrenaline activities and jungle tours.
Weather in Tena
Sitting at an elevation of 518 m, the climate is slightly cooler than what you would expect from a city in the Amazon rainforest. Whilst it gets hottest in the months of September and October, there is regular rain all year-round in Tena which helps to regulate the temperature. When it comes to planning your trip, you can visit Tena at any time of year and enjoy the adventure activities on offer. While you can expect rain during any month, June is generally the wettest month and February is the driest month.
Things to do in Tena
Whilst there are some decent attractions in the centre that are worth checking out, this isn’t a city where every day will be packed full of new things to see and do. Aside from the activities listed below, Tena’s main draw is that it is a beautifully lazy place to relax for a few days until you want to jump back into the backpacker circuit. And, of course, the incredible white-water opportunities…
Kayaking and Rafting in Tena
Topping the list of things to do in Tena and the reason that most thrill-seeking backpackers make the trip here is for the amazing kayaking and rafting opportunities. There are rivers in abundance all around Tena, all of them varying in difficulty for rafters and kayakers. This means that there really is something to suit everyone, regardless of your ability – even if you’re a complete beginner like I was!
You won’t struggle to find either a kayaking or rafting tour in Tena but the cheapest option is rarely the best. Look for certified professional guides who are members of the IRF (International Rafting Federation) and ACA (American Canoe Association). Our top pick for adrenaline water trips is the company, Kayak Ecuador. You can read our review of their Class III-IV rafting trip on the awesome Jondachi-Hollín River here.
This tower sits along the bridge opposite The Boardwalk, the main expat street along the river. Ascend the stairs to get a fantastic panoramic view of the city and observe the joining of the Napo and Tena rivers. The tower is free to enter and on a clear day, you can see the peaks of the rainforest mountains in the distance.
Some three years ago, an airport stood in the place of what is now Lineal Park. However, due to lost demand for the amenity, it closed down and was repurposed into this recreational space. The park has been built along the former runway and is significantly longer than it is wide. It is divided into four zones which all feature areas dedicated to different exercise and sporting activities.
The park, which is free to use, includes a mountain biking trail, open-air gym, numerous football pitches and even a volleyball court. There are toilets in every zone which are maintained to an immaculate standard and even provide toilet paper and soap – a rarity for public facilities in Ecuador! Security guards regularly patrol ensuring the safety of the visitors who frequent the area. This is a great place to chill for the afternoon or even start to work off all those salchipapas!
Jungle Tours from Tena
Finding a tour into the jungle is an easy undertaking in Tena. Many of these will transport you to nearby Misahuallí, a town around an hour out of the city. From here you will be taken to a giant Ceibo tree and to the river beach to watch the famous Capuchin monkeys. There is also the option to combine these kinds of jungle trips to incorporate rafting, tubing, kayaking or even a canoe safari.
El Sendero de la Misión Trail
This jungle park is located opposite The Boardwalk, on the other side of the river. Simply turn left as you exit the bridge and continue through the gates to the entrance point. There is a beautiful walking trail here which follows the river.
Along the route, there are a couple of pleasant beaches which make for secluded swimming spots. The area is generally quiet and it is likely that if you have to share it at all, it will be with awkward teenagers on dates away from prying eyes.
Amazónico ‘La Isla’ Park
Amazónico Park is located below the Tena viewpoint. The 27-hectare island features exotic foliage and animal enclosures, including that of tapirs and monkeys. Whilst this is regularly featured as a must-do attraction in Tena, recent reviews have been split on the quality of this experience.
There have been reports that the park is badly maintained and also claims regarding safety when visiting the area. Locals claim that robberies are a possibility and even likely after dark.
Unfortunately, during our visit to Tena the park was undergoing maintenance so we were unable to enter. However, locals seem to think it won’t remain gated off for much longer. If you do choose to visit, take only what you need and keep any valuables out of sight, just in case.
Where to stay in Tena, Ecuador
When it comes to accommodation, Tena has some great budget options for backpackers. Picture wooden eco-lodges and fabric hammocks and you are getting the measure of what this sleepy jungle city has to offer. Most hostels are situated in the centre although there is some good accommodation located further out.
Hostal Tena Ñaui
Hostal Tena Ñaui is located just high enough out of town to provide spectacular views of the surrounding rainforest whilst still in walking distance of the city. The rooms are clean and functional and the owner Jens is knowledgeable about the local area.
The communal spaces in Hostal Tena Ñaui are what sets this place apart and effortlessly brings travellers together. From the sleepy hammocks strung up in the garden area to the giant chess set in the grounds, it is the social vibe that this hostel exudes that makes it really special. Private rooms with shared bathrooms start at $7 US pp. You can read our full review of Hostal Tena Ñaui here.
Jungle Roots Camping
Situated a fifteen-minute drive outside of the city, the main selling point of Jungle Roots Camping is its stunning location and spectacular viewpoints (even from the toilet)! The lodge is compromised of eco-lodges for glamping and platforms on which to pitch tents.
The primary aim of Jungle Roots is to re-use and sustain the environment in the surrounding location. There are no mod cons here so don’t come expecting WiFi access or co-working spaces. However, if you are looking for a back to basics experience which an ethical focus at its core, this is the place for you.
Tents from $13 US pp and huts from $18 US pp. We spent an enjoyable three nights here during our stay in Tena and you can read our full review of Jungle Roots Camping here.
Hostal Austria is situated in the city and close to the river, this hostel is within walking distance of all of Tena’s main attractions and a number of good food spots. The rooms are basic but very clean and usually, come with a fan or AC. Rooms from $15pp.
Centrally located, Zumag Sisa is a great budget option from which to explore the city. The staff are rated particularly well and the rooms are spacious and clean. It is possible to arrange tours to local attractions directly through the hostel. There is a shared kitchen from which to cook and good WiFi at the property. Dorm beds from $9pp and privates from $12.
A Welcome Break Hostel
A Welcome Break Hostel is a three-minute walk from the city centre along a quiet street. The hammocks are particularly popular with guests and the communal areas are a great place to meet other backpackers. Dorm beds from $7.15pp and privates from $10.
What to eat in Tena
Tena has a surprisingly large expat scene which means that western comfort food isn’t far away. There is a selection of good restaurants located on The Boardwalk next to the river which allows you to watch the sunset over dinner.
This is a great spot to go for breakfast in the morning or grab an iced coffee for the road. The café sits on the riverfront and showcases stunning views of the jungle behind. They serve sandwiches, crepes, burgers and freshly squeezed juices.
During weekdays, handcrafted jewellery is sold outside of the cafe by a cheerful local, which is a great opportunity to grab yourself some authentic Amazonian fashion. Always remember that you will need to haggle to get a good deal.
Located only a couple of doors down from Cafe Tortuga, this is a favourite for both vegetarians and vegans. Serving a limited but delicious menu, all items are reasonably priced and offer that little bit of western comfort in a place where it is easy to feast on fried plantains and coriander beans for every meal. The WiFi here is particularly good for those travellers wanting to connect with home.
This Ecuadorian favourite is situated the other side of the river to The Boardwalk. They are open for breakfast and dinner and serve reasonably priced mains including seafood. The Tilapia dish is highly recommended.
There are a few surprisingly lively spots in town if you’re looking for a place to have fun after dark. Some of our favourites were…
This cocktail bar is popular with both locals and Gringos. The menu here is extensive and the riverside terrace makes for a scenic spot in which to share drinks with friends. If you are asked whether you would like your drink ‘fuerte’, this means strong and I mean STRONG! The ‘Coco Ron’ is extra tasty and comes served with a plump strawberry.
This petite hipster outpost is a hub of creativity and artisanal beer. Check out the bar on Wednesday evening for film nights or Thursday evenings for open mic nights. South America is, without doubt, a continent that thrives on music and dance so don’t miss out on the chance to get involved!
Getting to Tena from Quito
Tena is easy to get to and is located five hours south-east of Quito. Buses depart from the Quitumbe bus station regularly and cost around $6. There are two bus terminals in Tena, terminal Jumandy which serves local departures to nearby towns including Misahuallí and terminal Terrestre for longer journeys around the country.
Where to next?
Quito, Ecuador’s Capital – Five Hours By Bus from Tena
Head to Ecuador’s capital for colonial architecture, ethereal churches and some stunning viewpoints of the surrounding Andes Mountain range. The city of Quito is a great place to enrol in Spanish classes if you are looking to brush up on your language skills or chill in the popular Gringo district, La Mariscal.
Don’t miss out on some of Ecuador’s finest cuisine during your visit, notably the cheesy empanadas served on La Ronda. Hiking enthusiasts can head up to Pichincha volcano or take a day trip out to Cotopaxi volcano.
Baños – Two Hours By Bus from Tena
A favourite with travellers of all descriptions, Baños is the Ecuadorian Mecca for adrenaline junkies. With everything from paragliding to zip-lining, this town offers something for even the most die-hard adventurer.
Set amongst luscious green hills and embellished by cascading waterfalls, the area is a great place for hiking and even the occasional bit of wildlife spotting. If your body needs a break from all of the mountain biking or climbing, head down the thermal baths for some needed respite from the real world!