Scientists believe that it is in the Amazon Rainforest regions of what today belong to Ecuador and Colombia where the cacao tree most likely originated. Today, many varieties of cacao trees grow here, their beans being used by chocolate processors to give chocolate its distinctive taste. In the Ecuador Amazon, cacao grows mostly in small groves, intermingled with other trees. Most valued here is the country’s famed Arriba tree, a species that fungal diseases devastated in western Ecuador during the early 1900s but spared in the Napo River region.
The country’s largest areas of tropical rainforest are found in the lowlands of central and eastern Ecuador, providing the conditions that cacao desires—hot and humid. Since most indigenous populations in the Ecuador Amazon live along rivers, many communities are involved in harvesting the cacao that grows here. Some of these tropical rainforest areas are protected, such as Ecuador’s largest mainland national park, Yasuni National Park, 507,000-acre Sumaco Napo-Galeras National Park in the northwestern Oriente and the vast Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, 1.5 million acres in the northeastern Oriente, spanning the border with Colombia and Peru.