Tena is a quite small town on the edge of tropical jungle forrest in the East of Ecuador. The town itself is not very special - main street with millions of shops, central market, couple of good cafes and of course pollo asado (grilled chicken) everywhere. Chicken grilled right on the street is probably the main most memorable feature of Tena town. In the evenings the entire town gets smoked from hundreds of grilled chicken stands.
Most hostels are located by the old bridge. Here you'll also find the most popular tour agencies and Cafe Tortuga - one of the most favorite hangout places for travelers. You'll find tons of posters and flyers around the old bridge for things to do around Tena (from visiting a chocolate plantation to bird watching to visiting a shaman to tubing in the river)
We stayed at Limon Cocha hostel, thats closer to the central market and bus terminals and a bit farther from the old bridge area. Any taxi ride within the town costs $1, so the distance is not a problem at all. Limon Cocha is a very comfy and spacious hostel, with good wifi and nice rooftop kitchen, but the best part about it is that the entire time we stayed there (more than 2 weeks) the hostel seemed to attract the most interesting people - hardcore adventurers, bird researchers, people who started their own eco farm around Tena, etc. Most of the days the kitchen turned into this place of sharing really cool stories. Great times!
First thing we did around Tena was whitewater rafting on Rio Napo - jungle river that flows from Cotopaxi volcano. This was class 3-3+ (the number represents the difficulty of rafting in the rapids) and we're sure we'll go for class 4-5 next time. It's just insanely fun thing to do! Depending on the level of water the rafting trip takes about 3-5hrs. On the day of our trip the water levels were high and thus the river was faster. The rafting trip usually includes a quick lunch by the river and all the equipment and transport - all for about $50-60 pp. If you haven't tried rafting before the first exercise and the first set of rapids could be a bit scary and you could fall overboard, however overboard is actually as fun as onboard as your life jacket will keep your head above the water at all times and you'll just float along the raft really fast. If you can't get back to the raft - there's always a kayaker around who "catches" the "lost sheep" and brings them back to the raft - so no worries at all. Overall, jumping and swirling in the rapids is incredibly fun and Rio Napo is a real beauty.
We spent the night at a small Quechua village where we tried Ayahuasca made by local shaman lady. There was a cleaning ritual as well, but the Ayahuasca potion already was too much for some of us (we were 4) Being an indigenous medicine, it's used by shamans to communicate to your spirit and clean you. I guess it's worth a try as in "I've done that!" sense, but wouldn't do it again. First, it's an absolutely disgusting potion (even though we've discovered a more disgusting one later :) second - 90% of gringos will puke within one hour of taking it, third - the altered state is not a particularly pleasant one - your head is buzzing and you have some annoying visual effects as if you're watching a 3D movie without the 3D glasses. Even though since it's an indigenous ritual the dose is same for everyone - around 1-2 gulps - I think you'd benefit from trying a much smaller dose if you really want to know the sacred medicine that has helped the native Americans to talk to the spirits for ages :)
Next morning we were feeling really tired - maybe from rafting, maybe Ayahuasca hangover - but we went for a jungle hike and got to swim in the local river which was really fun since the river is quite fast (you can do tubing on almost any river around Tena)
Another adventure that we highly recommend around Tena is volunteering at the Wisdom Forest eco yoga farm. This jungle farm is located about 20km from Tena and is run entirely by volunteers - some long term, some short term. The long term volunteers are all Krishna devotees - locals, expats, from Colombia and Argentina. The farm itself is owned by a British guy Bhaga who besides the eco farming also runs vegetarian restaurant in Tena and English language school in the afternoons.
Volunteers are always welcome, the farm community has incredible people - sincere, simple, humble, friendly, always welcoming and supporting each other. There's no place for mental or social dirt, no place for judgement, no place for violence or arrogance. Mother Nature is highly respected, spiritual and emotional intelligence is the priority. It's also an alcohol free place and the food is vegetarian. This might be a turnoff for some, but the food made with such love and care never tasted better. And you'll learn tons of new healthy recipes for sure!
The farm house is a beautiful open wooden structure with the terrace for yoga and two dorm rooms - one for males, one for females. Your day starts at sunrise - at around 5:45am you'll wake up to the pleasant, subtle sound of harmonium and chanting. You get up and get ready for 6:30am yoga and meditation, at 7:30-8am - breakfast, and volunteering works till 1:30pm. The work that will need to be done varies every day - planting, composting, fixing, building, clearing, cooking, etc. It's always a pretty hard work. Clearing a space for planting will get you exhausted, planting pineapples will get you almost miserable (you have to dig a meter deep hole for each pineapple), cooking will get you really busy (you'll usually cook lunch in pairs for 10-15 people) I enjoyed my last job the most - I had to fix the palm tree roof with new palm tree leaves: one by one you take the leaves and tie each of them to the roof structure. Time consuming and tiring job because to do that you'll need to maneuver like a rope dancer on the roof structure. I thoroughly enjoyed it nevertheless as you kind of get into very deep meditative state when all you do is take a leaf, bend it and tie it to the roof, for 4 hours.
The afternoons and evenings at the farm were really relaxing - go swimming, reading in hammocks, playing board games, watching movies, sitting by the fire, listening to the lectures and playing music. Some days there are workshops - making bread, cheese and your own chocolate. Making chocolate manually is actually a damn hard work - my fingers were all blistered after peeling the roasted cacao beans manually.
On Fridays in the morning everyone participates in cooking massive amounts of food - we did a container of around 270 plates of food. When the food is ready Bhaga drives everyone to Tena town center and the food is given away to the locals with the goal of promoting healthy living and vegetarian cooking.
It was an amazing experience - so refreshing, mind clearing and back to the nature and basics. Simply amazing!
We did only small part of what you can do around Tena, if we had the time we'd stay longer - things to do are never ending!