Tena, Ecuador: Ultimate Travel Guide + Best Things To Do in Tena

The Amazon Rainforest is a location on many bucket lists, and for a good reason. Visiting the Amazon is an unforgettable experience and an encounter with nature that most of us have never experienced before.

However, visiting the Amazon can be notoriously an expensive adventure. Backpackers in Ecuador and beyond are in luck: Tena, Ecuador – the gateway city to the Amazon closest to Quito – is the best place for travelers on any budget to have an affordable yet unforgettable experience in the Amazon Rainforest.

Our ultimate guide to Tena Ecuador will help get you there. After living in Ecuador for years we can answer all your questions about how to best visit Tena, including things to do in Tena, the best Tena Amazon tours, and much more.

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Tena Ecuador

Just a few hours east of Quito, Tena Ecuador is one of Ecuador’s major gateways to the Amazon Rainforest. Easily accessible by private transportation or by bus, Tena is a great destination for travelers looking to explore this incredible region of Ecuador

For many travelers, Tena will serve as a base for exploring the Amazon, though jungle tours start deeper into the Amazon, where the roads stop. Check out our Tena Ecuador map below to get an idea of exactly where Tena sits within the Ecuadorian Amazon and the Napo Province.

Tena, Ecuador is one of the best options for budget travel in the entire Amazon Rainforest. Tena is easily accessible from the rest of the country, the perfect jumping-off point for the rainforest, and has plenty of budget accommodation options on the edge of the Amazon.

Prices for Amazon tours and excursions are generally higher the deeper into the rainforest you travel – it’s more expensive here to build lodges, transport goods and people, etc. – so budget travel in the Amazon becomes impossible deep in the rainforest.

While there are experiences you can’t have on the edge of the Amazon in Tena that you will find deeper in the interior of the Amazon (seeing specific wildlife, especially), unless you’re an avid birdwatcher or wildlife enthusiast you probably won’t even tell the difference.

When visiting Tena, you’ll still be completely immersed in the jungle, see incredible wildlife, and learn so much about the incredible Amazon ecosystem.

For budget stays, base yourself at an inexpensive hostel or hotel in downtown Tena – like Hostal Zumag Sisa in central Tena or Hostal Pakay on the edge of Tena. For lodge experiences and more immersive jungle stays, check out some of Tena’s most well-loved lodges, like Kuyana Amazon Lodge or El Jardin Lodge & Spa.

Best Hotels & Hostels in Tena

Tena Ecuador Elevation

The elevation of Tena is 1,962 feet (598 meters). Since most visitors arrive in Tena from Quito, high up in the Andes at 9,350 feet (2,850 meters), you’ll absolutely feel the change in elevation when you arrive!

The drive is along a twisty road down from the mountains into the rainforest. It feels a bit precarious but is quite safe.

Tena Ecuador Weather

The temperature in Tena is generally in the mid-70s (23°C – 25°C) throughout the entire year. Given its rainforest location, it sprinkles or drizzles for at least a short time almost every day in Tena.

Expect an afternoon shower and overcast skies, but don’t expect torrential rain all day every day. While you’re in the rainforest here, don’t expect constant rain!

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Tena Ecuador Map

Check out this clickable Tena Ecuador map we created to help you visualize your trip to Tena. We’ve dropped pins in all the restaurants and accommodations we mention throughout the article.

You’ll see that the lodges we recommend near Tena – Kuyana Amazon Lodge and El Jardin Lodge – are located outside of Tena, of course, though close enough to be quite convenient, even if you just have a short time to spend in Tena

Tours to Tena

Given the travel time to Tena from Quito (about 4.5 or 5 hours by bus), Tena isn’t really a viable day trip option. Most visitors will spend at least one night here, though you can best enjoy the area with at least two nights in Tena.

While Tena isn’t really a day trip destination, you’ll find many travelers that prefer to visit as part of a guided excursions. Tours from Quito to Tena are an exceedingly popular way to explore the Amazon rainforest on a tight itinerary, and with the ease of transportation and guides included.

Why are small-group excursions from Quito to Tena so popular? Because Tena is a destination that most travelers visit with the intention of exploring the Amazon Rainforest, which necessitates a local guide. Rather than booking something in Tena, it’s often easier and cheaper to book something in Quito that includes round-trip transportation to Tena as well.

This tour includes everything you could want to do in Tena – learn to make chocolate, embark on a jungle trek, and visit an indigenous village, plus birdwatching and wildlife spotting – and includes options for rafting. Accommodations are at the fantastic Suchipakari Amazon Lodge & Spa.

What To Pack for Ecuador

Check out our Ultimate Ecuador Packing List to help you pack for your trip – we’re sharing exactly what to bring to Ecuador and what we never travel without.

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Things To Do in Tena

While there isn’t much to do in Tena proper, there’s plenty to see and do around Tena, meaning that one of the best things to do in Tena is leaving the city!

Just beyond the city is the lush jungle, making jungle tours, kayaking excursions on the river, and white water rafting some of the best things to do in Tena and among the best things to do in Ecuador.

Tena Tours

Of course, jungle tour excursions in Tena are the most popular and most requested activities in Tena Ecuador. There are plenty of options for day tours and overnight tours with a variety of companies.

While there are hikes that you can go on independently around Tena, you’ll truly need an organized excursion to have a meaningful jungle experience while in Tena. Tena tour guides who are knowledgeable about the area will take you to points of interest that you wouldn’t be able to access on your own.

I recommend spending at least a full day on a jungle tour excursion if you can fit it into your Ecuador itinerary. This is the highlight of coming to Tena, after all. You’ll see more flora and fauna, learn more about the ingenious communities around Tena, and have a more immersive experience than you would in anything less than a day.

Check out this full-day jungle tour from Tena and book in advance to secure your spot – it’s one of the best! This tour is a very complete tour of the most impressive places in the jungle around Tena, including awesome experiences like a visit to a local village, wildlife spotting, and much more that you won’t want to miss.

Alternatively, I recommend looking into the jungle tours offered by Hostal Pakay. On one trip to Tena Ecuador, we had a fabulous experience with Hostal Pakay, doing a full-day jungle trek that we organized for about 15 short-term volunteers visiting Ecuador from the United States. They did a great job accommodating such a large group.

1. Rafting in Tena Ecuador

Tena Ecuador is known for its whitewater rafting adventures and has some of the best rafting excursions in Ecuador. Adventurous travelers come from all over for rafting in Tena, so you know it’s good!

Local Tena tour companies offer a variety of whitewater rafting “routes” with different intensities and difficulty levels, so there is something for you no matter your comfort level or experience.

These are some of the most popular whitewater rafting experiences in Tena – definitely among the best things to do in Tena! – so check them out if you’re interested in jungle rafting!

These tours are offered by these two companies, which are the companies we recommend for rafting in Tena, from our experience and from glowing reviews from travelers we know:

Aqua Xtreme

Aqua Xtreme is one of the most well-loved tour companies in Tena, and they have excellent whitewater rafting tours at all levels of intensity. They also offer well-rated jungle tours, so if you’re interested in experiencing both, look into booking with them.

Raft Amazonia

Raft Amazonia is another well-respected tour company with a focus on whitewater rafting. Run by a Kichwa indigenous family that really knows their stuff and has been in business for years, you’ll get a very local and immersive experience.

They also have combination rafting and jungle tours, as well as overnight options in the jungle.

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2. Markets in Tena Ecuador

A visit to the markets – Mercado Artesanal, Mercado Central or Mercado Sur – is a fun excursion in town, and you’ll find a lot here to interest you. Visiting a market is a great way to learn more about foods typical of the Amazon region of the country and give them a try.

Famously, the large and squishy chonta worms that are considered a delicacy in this part of the Amazon will catch your eye. They’re generally served barbecued on a stick.

There are also food stalls with delicious and inexpensive options – market food stalls are some of my favorite spots for inexpensive yet delicious food in Ecuador, so I highly recommend giving them a try.

Where To Stay in Tena

Tena has countless places to stay at all price points, from super cheap backpacker hostels to luxury lodges. You’ll find plenty of hostels and hotels located within the city of Tena, but many others take advantage of the jungle surrounding the city and offer a peaceful jungle setting that is a fantastic feature for visitors.

As a gateway to the Amazon, you won’t find the most luxurious of the luxury lodges here – if you’re looking for that, try Sacha Lodge or the Napo Wildlife Center in the deep Amazon.

However, the jungle area surrounding Tena has some of the best Amazon lodges at all different price points, definitely worth considering if you’re looking for an Amazon lodge experience.

Tena Ecuador Hotels

Hostal Zumag Sisa ($)

A popular hostel in the heart of the town of Tena, Hostal Zumag Sisa, makes it easy to walk to restaurants, grocery stores, tour agencies, and everything you could want as a traveler. The hostel offers dorm room rates of under $10 a night, and private rooms as well.

The incredible rooftop terrace will make you feel close to the jungle despite staying in town, and with its hammocks will quickly become your favorite spot.

Hostal Pakay ($ – $$)

My personal favorite place to stay in Tena – and one of my favorite places in Ecuador – Hostal Pakay is just on the edge of the town and the forest.

Hostal Pakay will make you feel like you’re staying in a remote lodge with all the conveniences of Tena minutes away.

You’ll never want to leave the front terrace where breakfast is served in the morning. Rooms are slightly more expensive than a standard hostel, but the difference is well worth it. Their jungle tours are fantastic, too – our full-day trek was incredible.

Kuyana Amazon Lodge ($$ – $$$)

Kuyana Amazon Lodge is a fantastic option for a relatively low-budget lodge just outside of Tena, it is a great value for what feels like a luxury stay.

The setting of this lodge is ideal – it is quite “deep” in the jungle and feels very remote, but it still accessible by car.

Tour options through the lodge are plentiful and include everything from making chocolate and midnight wildlife tours to more jungle treks.

El Jardin Lodge & Spa ($$ – $$$)

Located outside of Tena, nearby the jungle gateway town of Mishualli, El Jardin Lodge & Spa is a fantastic option, one of the nicest spots near Tena.

Rooms are fantastic and luxe – check out the rooms with private pools, and walls of glass facing the jungle and the river. You’ll love their gourmet meals, included with your stay, and the options for tours and activities.

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Where To Eat in Tena

Cafe Tortuga

Cafe Tortuga is a favorite in Tena. They have a great mix of international food and Ecuadorian dishes, plus great desserts, coffee, and more. It’s a welcoming and social environment with a book exchange and strong wifi connection. Head here for breakfast, and make sure to get the banana pancakes!

La Fogata

La Fogata is a local spot with huge portions of delicious, fresh food. Nothing fancy here, just great, local food and great flavor.

Bella Pizza

Ecuador isn’t known for its pizza by any means, but Bella Pizza is a pretty good pizza place overall! If you’re tired out from a long jungle walk or excursion, order in.

Parilladas de Nancy

Parrilladas de Nancy has good food and big portions in a casual, local spot. Nothing fancy!

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Getting to Tena

Tena is well served by buses from the Andes mountain region of the country, though if you’re traveling from further on you’ll likely need to transfer buses in Quito or another Andean city like Latacunga or Ambato. Of course, you can always arrange private transport to Tena as well for an even more comfortable experience.

Quito to Tena

Most travelers to Tena visit from Quito, about 4.5 or 5 hours away from Tena by bus, or slightly less by car. Tickets from Quito’s Quitumbe Bus Terminal in the south of the city, and buses leave frequently.

Several bus companies serve this route, and the most current schedules show departures to Tena at 5:30 AM, 10:30 AM, 12:00 PM, 6:00 PM, and 10:00 PM.

Buses depart from Tena’s central bus station frequently to cities including Quito, Guayaquil, Baños, and other Amazonian towns and cities.

Read More: Where to Stay in Quito, Ecuador

Baños to Tena

The adventure sports haven of Baños, Ecuador is about 3 hours away from Tena by bus or slightly less by car. While it’s a bit too far for a day trip (though possible!), many travelers visit one city right after the other.

Several bus companies serve this route, and the most current schedules show departures to Tena at 5:30 AM, 6:30 AM, 9:30 AM, 1:30 PM, and 5:45 PM.

carley rojas avila

Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.