(Altitude: 300 m / 978 ft, Population: 40,730, Phone Code: 06)
Popularly known as Coca, this city鈥檚 official name is Puerto Francisco de Orellana, being named after the Spanish conquistador, Francisco de Orellana, who managed to explore the Amazon River from the Ecuadorian jungle all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. One of Eastern Ecuador鈥檚 largest cities and capital of Orellana Province, Coca perches right on the edge of where the Coca, Napo and Payamino Rivers converge. In the 1980s, with the discovery of petroleum in the surrounding jungle, Coca grew from a sleepy Amazon outpost into a sprawling oil boomtown. Tourists had no reason to visit Coca during the first two decades of this urban transformation, but in the late 1990s the municipality began a program to make itself more appealing to travelers.
Today, while it鈥檚 still not the most attractive city, Coca has become an essential hub for the serious eco-tourist, serving as the gateway to Ecuador's best ecological lodges along the Napo River. It's the jumping-off point into the Yasuni National Park and UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve that encompasses nearly one million hectares of pristine primary rainforest and also serves as the entrance into Huaorani territory - one of the world's most isolated indigenous tribes and an amazing cultural experiences for travelers. Other protected areas and places accessed from Coca are Reserva Biol贸gica Lim贸ncocha, Bosque Protector Napo, Payamino, Bosque Protector Subcuenca R铆o Pacayacu, and - for those wanting a serious expedition - Iquitos, Peru.