July 2014

Adventures in Chapare

Craving adventures and a different scenery than the more hectic and trafficfilled one in Cochabamba, I decided to take a weekend trip to the village Villa Tunari and its surrounding jungles in the province of Chapare, which is just four hours away from the city. It was truly a trip I will never forget!

By: EliseSmines Eriksen
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Stavanger - Norway


Photo: EliseSmines Eriksen

Villa Tunari is the gateway to the tropics of Cochabamba and located on the Cochabamba-Santa Cruz road. Due to its proximity to the jungle and national parks plus its tropical weather (comfortable 18-25 degrees Celcius throughout the year), Villa Tunari is a very popular spot to both relax and experience adventure. The alternatives are many, including rafting on one of the rivers nearby; bathing in “Las Pozas” (swimming holes) along the San Mateo River; trekking through the nearby jungle with a professional guide; and visiting the animals in “Parque Machía.” We were able to experience two of those activities: rafting on the Espíritu Santo River and trekking in the Santa Helena jungle.

We arrived Friday night, found our hotel and went straight to bed after an exhausting trufi ride (the road is filled with humps and bumps). After a good night´s sleep, we left the hotel in the morning to go to the village. Looking at all the restaurants and hotels/hostels we now could see in the daylight, we could tell this village´s main purpose is to welcome the tourists who wanted to spend some nights here. With walking distance to every shop, market, and restaurant; minimal traffic (though you do not escape it completely), and very nice and relaxed people, we felt welcome.


Photo: EliseSmines Eriksen

To book the rafting, we had to find the “office,” which is a small cabin that also sells homemade accessories. We had two choices: we could either do the short one, which is a three-hour long tour (one hour in the river), or the long one in the Espíritu Santo River, which lasts for about five hours (with two to two and a half hours on the river). We chose the last alternative and were not disappointed! After a quick but informative instruction session by our two guides, we were ready to experience some forces of nature. The river was both calm and aggressive, depending on what part we were in, but always fast going. Although you never feel completely safe sitting on the edge of an inflatable boat with only straps over your feet to keep you from falling in the water – and with big, forceful waves surrounding you on every side – the rush and wonder of the experience erases your fears and allows you to enjoy every single second of it. The instructors – who were sitting in the back giving commands and taking pictures – were very skilled and relaxed. We didn´t feel worried as their good mood and years of experience was very reassuring.

Yet, even though it was a lot of fun, two hours of rafting was enough. It turns out you get very tired from all the rowing and maintaining your balance, not to mention being very hungry. After the amazing ride in the river was over, we headed back to the village, had a shower (prepare for a drizzle, not a waterfall), changed our clothes, and sat down to eat at one of the restaurants. The meal alternatives are few in Tunari: you can either choose meat, chicken, or fish; with rice, bananas, and yucca as sides – but in return the food tastes very good. There is also a place that serves fried chicken with french fries, if you want a change from the traditional Bolivian meal.

We could tell this village’s main purpose is to welcome the tourists who wanted to spend some nights here.


Photo: EliseSmines Eriksen

If you are in the mood for a night out when the evening comes, don´t have high expectations for the nightlife, as Villa Tunari has only nightclub/bar. Instead of partying, eat at one of the restaurants and have a few Huaris or Taquiñas. You´ll be able to enjoy the activities more if you are well rested and ready for action the next day.


Photo: EliseSmines Eriksen

We spent our last day trekking in the Santa Helena jungle with a very skilled and cool guide. The trip took about five, six hours. You will experience a very close feel of the jungle, as the tour takes you from open dirt roads to nearly overgrown paths surrounded by trees, branches, and plants all around you. In addition, you will be able to enjoy a nice bath in a lagoon – but not before jumping down alongside the waterfall splashing down into the water. It is quite a rush jumping – fully clothed – down a 10 meter high waterfall in the middle of a jungle. Not many can brag about doing that, and the experience will probably be remembered by you your whole life. Another experience you most definitely will remember is rappelling down sidelong an even taller waterfall (about 20 meters). That was exactly what we did next in our trekking tour. The guide stopped for half an hour to make the preparations, and then we all got a quick instruction of what to do. It was pretty easy, and it´s not a problem if you are a beginner. Even though your nerves might tell you not to do it when standing on the edge looking down, you just have to. The experience of rappelling down a mountainside next to a surging waterfall in the amazons, is something you shouldn´t miss. The feeling was amazing – a perfect ending to a fantastic, eventful, and very wet day.


Photo: EliseSmines Eriksen

Back at the hostel we had a shower, put on some dry clothes (though they were few, and my shoes were still wet), and headed out for some dinner. The time was around eight or nine o’clock in the evening, so all the trufis going back to Cochabamba were basically gone. If you want to take a trufi, you have to be around much earlier, preferably before six o’clock in the evening. Fortunately, we caught a bus with available seats going from Santa Cruz to Cochabamba. Either way, it´s important to remember to be early with the booking of a trufi or bus or else you will risk having to spend another night in Villa Tunari. Though it is a lovely place, an extra day might be too much, considering all the wet clothes and lack of water in the showers.


Photo: EliseSmines Eriksen

Another thing that is important to remember is an extra pair of shoes. We learned that the hard way. Three of us only had one pair, and of course that pair got wet the first day of rafting. In addition, the climate in Chapare makes it difficult to get your belongings dry fast enough as the air is very humid and it rains quite frequently. I recommend bringing an extra item of everything: socks (two pairs for each day), shoes (three pairs if you have the room in your luggage), underwear, pants, shorts, and so on... It is better to pack too much than too little!


Photo: EliseSmines Eriksen

Also, remember to bring some food with you, either in a small bag or in a (preferably waterproof) backpack. While waiting to rappel down the waterfall, you might want to have something to eat since the trip takes a lot of energy out of you and lasts about six hours. You also have to bring sunscreen and mosquito repellent, the last one being the most important item of all. The mosquitoes in the jungle are ruthless and will bite you the first chance they get. Spray your whole body – don´t miss a single spot!


Photo: EliseSmines Eriksen

Other than that, you are good to go. It´s a safe and wonderful experience if you are prepared enough and don´t have high expectations for the hotel or restaurants in the area. The main thing is of course the activities you will get to experience while visiting Chapare.
So, if this sounds tempting, and your next trip will be an adventurous one to the jungles of Chapare – just catch a trufi, check in at a hostel in Villa Tunari, book a tour of your choice, and take lots and lots of pictures. Enjoy!

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