May 2017

Bolivia Offers an Amazing Amazon Basin Experience at a Budget Price

By: Jeffrey Coleman
Projects Abroad Volunteer

Photos by: Jeffrey Coleman

If you played a word association game with the average person and said the word "Amazon Rainforest," chances are you would hear the word "Brazil" long before hearing the word "Bolivia." Bolivia, however, has its own little piece of Amazon basin beauty and it can be experienced for a much lower price than a rainforest tour in its Brazilian counterpart.

While Brazil generally gets the headlines, the Amazon Basin actually spans nine different South American countries. With a footprint this large, it is hardly a surprise that many lesser known countries also offer the Amazon experience and, generally, for less money. Bolivia is particularly blessed in that its basin area has both traditional rainforest as well as wetland savannah which affords spectacular wildlife viewing during most times of the year.

The jumping off point for many tours of the Amazon is the small town of Rurrenabaque. Service to Rurrenabaque is provided by both Eco-Jet and Amazonas airlines for about 1,400 bolivianos, though TAM offers flights on Wednesdays and Fridays for about 900 bolivianos round-trip. Unfortunately for Cochabambinos, there is no direct service to Rurrenenabaque and it is generally only accessible by way of a connecting flight through La Paz. Despite the inconvenience, the overall price is fairly reasonable and a room can generally be found in town for 35 - 70 bolivianos.

Rurrenenabaque it is generally only accessible by way of a connecting flight through La Paz
Photos by: Jeffrey Coleman

After doing a little research online for my tour of the Amazon, I chose to visit the "pampas" or wetland savannah area of the Amazon Basin. Most tour companies operating out of Rurrernabaque offer a three-day, twotwo-night, all-inclusive package which offers accommodations in either a jungle or riverside lodge setting. These packages range from 1,200-2,000 bolivianos, which is usually indicative of the number of amenities and activities offered by the agency.

Upon my arrival at the Rurrenabaque airport, I was greeted by a taxi driver who immediately asked if I was interested in a tour (many of the agencies work with the taxi drivers to insure a steady stream of clients). I informed him of what I was looking for and my general price range, and within 10 minutes I was brought to an agency, Mashaquipe Cultural Eco-tours, offering tours of both Las Pampas and the rainforest for 1,800 bolivianos. Be prepared to pay a national park entrance fee of 150 bolivianos, making the overall price tag 1,950 bolivianos.

The camp was very well maintained and the sleeping quarters featured a toilet, sink and shower and were very clean.
Photos by: Jeffrey Coleman

My guide, David, helped me load my understuffed backpack into the trunk of his car. "You are the only visitor that we have today. There are not as many animals to see during this time of year because it is very wet," he said. "You are lucky. You get a private tour."

The lodge was a 2 ½ hour car ride over unimproved roadways which made the distance seem longer than it probably was. While cars are useful in this area of Bolivia, the narrow roads make motorcycles the preferred means of transportation here. I mentioned to David that I could see living in Bolivia and mentioned the prospect of buying a car. "No, you want a motorcycle," he responded. After arriving at our destination, it was a 10-minute motorized canoe ride to the camp.

The camp was a small complex of two-bed sleeping quarters, a bathroom area, a dining hall, and a kitchen area. The camp was very well maintained and the sleeping quarters featured a toilet, sink and shower and were very clean. As we had arrived late in the afternoon, "la cena" (dinner) was served upon my arrival and consisted of chicken, rice, fruits, and a salad. Meals were excellent and prompt in the morning at around 7:30, lunch soon after returning from morning activities, and dinner around 7 to 7:30PM.

Photos by: Jeffrey Coleman

One of my main rationales for choosing the Las Pampas tour over the Rainforest tour was the prospect of seeing additional wildlife. After dark, David and I cruised the river in search of caimanes, a relative of the crocodile. "You can tell where they are by the yellow reflection off of their eyes," he said. After about30 minutes of flashlight scanning of the river in our canoe, we found our target – a black caiman. He was nestled under a patch of tree-cover extending over the river. To my astonishment, we were able to draw the canoe incredibly close, practically on top of the reptile without it moving. "He is resting right now," David said.

Upon returning from our late night expedition, I settled in for bed. Sleeping quarters are provided with mosquito netting, though my room seemed relatively free of them despite the precaution. Though mosquitoes are prevalent during the wet season, Las Pampas is relatively free of mosquito-borne illnesses such as Malaria and Dengue. While not dangerous, the mosquitos are extremely annoying and a strong insect repellent is suggested to keep them at bay.

As with most quality tour companies, Mashaquipe offered plenty of activities during the three-day, two-night tour. During my stay, I was treated to river tours, a swim with fresh-water dolphins, piranha fishing, and horseback riding. I found the staff to be helpful and friendly, the accommodations to be clean and well-maintained, and the food to be excellent.

Photos by: Jeffrey Coleman

With my Amazonas flight leaving at 6:20PM, we departed for Rurrenabaque at 1:30PM after a final, big lunch where I met a pair of fellow travelers from England. They had just returned from the jungle tour and, though they said they had not seen much wildlife, they were expressly delighted with their experience. It was a three-hour trip back to town (stopping for refreshments along the way) with an agencysponsored taxi giving a ride back to the airport.

All told, my experience in Las Pampas was an exceptional journey to see an area of the planet that everyone should see given the opportunity. As I discovered, Bolivia offers an excellent chance to see these natural wonders without going broke in the process and I would recommend the experience to anyone with the time and a few extra bolivianos in their wallet.

Agenda Cultural

9,16,23, 30 de Mayo
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Mayo. 10
Presentación de la película con subtítulos en español.
Lugar: ICBA - Hrs: 19:00
Ingreso libre con aporte voluntario

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