The Bolivian Amazon is becoming steadily more popular, especially among budget travelers, as it offers the diversity of the Brazilian Amazon at a fraction of the price. Simply put, it’s a more affordable and less crowded way to see the Amazon.
To get to the Bolivian Amazon, one must get to Rurrenaque, which is accessible from La Paz by a bumpy but cheap 20 hour bus ride or a more expensive but scenic 35 minute flight over the high plains and snowy Andean peaks and into the tropics. (Flights cost approximately US$75 and are generally on 18-seater planes). As the gateway town into the tropics, Rurrenabaque is relaxed and touristy (despite its lack of an ATM). Happily, there is no risk of malaria in the jungle around Rurrenabaque (another advantage over the standard Brazilian trips. Once a traveler arrives in Rurrenabaque, he or she has two choices: into the Pampas, or into the Jungle.
Pampas vs Jungle
Why choose the Pampas?…
To get to the Pampas, the tropical wetland savanna on the edge of the Bolivian Amazon, one takes a bumpy three-hour jeep ride to Santa Rosa, then very popular three hour motorized canoe ride along the river to your riverside lodge. This first canoe trip is often cited as the trip highlight thanks to a wide cast of birds such as egrets, herons, hoatzin, and kingfishers, and wildlife such as alligators, capybara, tortoises, pink dolphins and squirrel monkeys. The advantages to a Pampas tour are that it’s cheaper than a jungle tour (three times cheaper on average), and that one sees more abundant wildlife, as they gather by the riverside and as there are less trees and vegetation to block views.
Why choose the Jungle?…
To get to the jungle, one takes a three hour motorized canoe ride DIRECTIONS and then a 40 minute walk through the jungle. Jungle tours are considered the “classic” Amazon experience, so they remain popular despite being about three times more expensive than Pampas tours. There are numerous advantages to the jungle tours: First, they penetrate to a more densely vegetated area. Because the Jungle Eco-lodges are located more in the jungle interior, they more privacy and less people, for a more tranquil, “into the Amazon” feel. The specialists involved in these sorts of tours are more conservation-minded as well as more knowledgeable about vegetation, animals, and medicinal plants. There is also a bit more variety in activities, which depending on the tour you choose tend to include canoe trips, treks and hikes, piranha fishing, traditional handicrafts, swimming with the famous pink dolphins of the Amazonas, and visits to indigenous communities.
For the cash- or time-strapped, the Pampas tours deliver, but for the immersion- or conservation-minded, the jungle tours win out.
Bolivian Amazon Travel Tips
- Check & Re-Check Conditions & Flight Schedules, as both bus and air trips can be easily derailed and delayed during flood-prone rainy season.
- Encourage Best Practices by choosing one with well-paid staff year round, conservation efforts. Keep your expectations/demands reasonable… it is not proper to touch animals no matter how much you want that anaconda around neck photo, and asking for guarantees of spotting extremely rare animals such as jaguars only encourages the trapping and abuse of such animals- that is the price of a guarantee.
- Bring Your Own Snacks: Keep in mind that treks can be tiring and appetite-inducing, and that across the board, even with the best and most expensive operators, travelers frequently mention that they wish more food was served. Beers and drinks are generally available for purchase (and bottles of water are always provided free on the first day and then refilled) in the eco-lodges, as well as perhaps snacks, but its better and cheaper to be prepared.
- Aim For the Dry Season: Increase comfort, Avoid canoing and hiking trip cancellations, and see more animals by visiting during the May to October dry season if at all possible. Wildlife gathers by the rivers during the dry season, but remains dispersed by the puddles and little lakes during the wet season, which only attracts more mosquitoes.
- Bring Cash for drinks, snacks, souvenirs, and emergencies- remember, Rurrenabaque does not have an ATM.
- Bring a Flashlight, as generators provide electricity only until a certain time of night, generally around 10pm.
- Don’t Skimp on Repellent: While the lodges themselves are often generously equipped with mosquito netting, insect repellent will make a big difference to your comfort level, especially during jungle tours.
As always, the experienced specialists at Pirwa Travel Service can help you with any aspect of your trip. From helping you decide what type of jungle trip is right for you, from Madidi National Park in Bolivia to Puerto Maldonado in Peru, to helping you arrange tours, entrances, and guided visits. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and they’ll be happy to help!