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Rurrenabaque, Bolivia - Pampas Wetlands Tour, A Bit Like School Camp

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Map location: Rurrenabaque, Bolivia
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Bolivia travel blog by Mark Berman - May 2009   » View Photoset (34 Photos)

Mark Berman, South America backpacker for over 12yrs!
Going to Rurrenabaque and going on the pampas or jungle tour sounded like an awesome experience from what I had heard and read about it. A friend and I decided we would go on the pampas tour of the wetlands. We booked the tour in the foyer of Loki Hostel at Kanoo Tours in La Paz, it cost $1200 Bolivianos and was for 3 days and 2 nights. We were excited and were looking forward to flying there and back with Amaszonas Airlines and seeing lots of wildlife. The cost included flights, the tour, accommodation, food and water but not the additional park entrance fee of $150 Bolivianos. We wanted to go on the tour the next day but had to wait for the following day (book 2 or 3 days in advance).

Flight with Amaszonas

The day of departure arrived and we took a taxi from La Paz to the airport at a cost of $50 Bolivianos at around 6am and checked in at the Amaszonas counter. The flight north into the Beni district from La Paz up to Rurrenabaque is great and takes less than an hour in the small 20 approx. seat plane. We came in for a smooth landing on the grass runway at Aeropuerto Rurrenabaque. Taxi-vans and motorbike-taxis were waiting from the tour company which is called Indigena Tours to take the people who are on the tours over to the office on the main street. By now it was after 8am and there was plenty of time to sit at the nearby cafes and have a good breakfast before the upcoming jeep ride to Santa Rosa on the Yacuma River to the pampas wetlands which takes 3hrs.

3hrs by Jeep to Santa Rosa

At about 9:30am after the roof of the jeep was loaded up with luggage and supplies, our group of 8 plus the driver and tour operator made the extremely rough and bouncy 3hr journey to Santa Rosa along a very dusty, unpaved and muddy road. Look out for the many vultures in trees along the way. We stopped at the park office where everyone paid their entrance fee of $150 Bolivianos which I thought was rather steep. We then had a nice big hot lunch of soup, a meal and a drink down the road in a tours restaurant in Santa Rosa which was free, that made up for it!

Arrive at the Boats

The temperature was really hot and it was definitely time to lose my t-shirt and put on the suncream as we arrived at the river boats. There were several groups starting tours at the same time and each group formed a human chain and passed their supplies of food, water and luggage down the bank and into the river boats. We met Luis, the man who was to be our guide, he is Bolivian and from this area.

3hrs by River to the Lodge

We left on the motor canoe for the 3hr journey to the Ecolodge where we were going to stay. Luis told us to keep our eyes open for birds and other wildlife. It's a beautiful and peaceful ride around the pampas, lots of greenery, trees and water with reflecting fauna. It wasn't too long before we began to see a few birds and stalks. Parts of the pampas has a ghostly feel to it with the skeleton trees that stand taller than the surrounds.

Wildlife Along the River

We came across a tree full of little monkeys that jumped down and around the boat and on to someones head, there were at least 10 of them. After that we came across an eagle, a vulture and a pink dolphin. Occasionally another river canoe and group would pass by on the way to their lodge.

The Ecolodge

We arrived at the Ecolodge which is built on stilts about 6 feet off the ground with platforms, walkways and bridges and were given some refreshments. They showed us the dorm that we would sleep in. 8 of us in a dorm with mosquito nets, a bit like school camp. We were served a lovely dinner from our own special cook, awesome food and plenty of it. For that evening later on we would do a night boat trip for spotting nocturnal animals such as caimans and alligators.

Nocturnal Excursion

We brought our torches to shine around the banks of the pampas to see the eyes of the alligators while we were on the river trip that night, it was quite surreal. There were many pairs of red eyes in the water beside the river bank but not easy to see the big ones before they had disappeared under water. We were lucky enough to see a lot of baby alligators on the surface beside lily leaves and pick them up briefly before the mother alligator who would be nearby, got mad. This was the end of day 1 of our activities on the pampas tour in Rurrenabaque.

Day 2 in the Pampas

Day 2 began after breakfast by dressing in long trousers, white long sleeve shirts and gumboots. We were going to be walking in mosquito infested wetlands looking for anacondas. We set off on the river canoe and came to the area of land to search for snakes. The walk was about as unpleasant as it gets, the mosquitos were truly vicious, even after all the repellent that we applied before arriving. It was so humid and hot and we were all dressed in thick clothing. It was very uncomfortable and in the end we didn't find any snakes. This expedition took at least an hour. As we travelled around in the river canoe we did discover an anaconda up in a tree and our guide Luis made an amazing climb up the tree to retrieve it and bring it down. This took about 15 minutes of delicate branch hopping. It wasn't a huge snake but a couple of other groups on canoes stopped by to see it. On the way back to the lodge for lunch we saw some more monkeys, birds, an alligator and a turtle. When we arrived at the lodge a man was sitting on a bridge fishing for piranha.

Dolphins, Swimming, Birds, Soccer

After a great lunch, our activity for the afternoon was to go swimming with the pink river dolphins who are very social creatures. The swim was great and there were a few dolphins in the area but they didn't seem to want to socialize too much on this occasion. There are a few nice skeleton trees in the water here that you can climb for a good view and jump back into the water again. After this we went by river canoe while seeing more birdlife along the way, to play soccer with all the different groups who were on tours in the area and watch the sunset. After the sun had gone down it was time to head back to the river lodge for dinner and an evening of chilling out in hammocks, then sleep.

Sunrise and Piranha Fishing

The next and last day would begin early in the morning to go out on the river canoe to see the sunrise. This is optional, you can sleep in if you want instead, but not for too long because after breakfast at 7:30am - 8am, its back onto the canoe and out into the pampas for some piranha fishing using chunks of meat as bait. In the area that we came to fish, another group was having some luck so we tried ours too, whatever we could catch we could have for lunch in addition to our normal meal. Several people in the group had luck catching and holding on to a piranha or 2, we changed fishing spots once or twice. After Luis gutted the catch and placed all the piranha on a stick, it was time to head back to the lodge for an early lunch of 6 piranha that we caught plus meat, rice, mashed potatoe and salad.

Back to Santa Rosa

By midday we were on the river canoe and heading back to Santa Rosa which took 90 minutes, we saw a few birds along the way. We unpacked the boat, again with the human chain method, loaded up the jeep and made the 3hr journey along the 'worlds most bumpiest road' back to Rurrenabaque.

Night in Rurrenabaque Town

The night was spent wandering around this jungle town and planning further travels. The flight back to La Paz was due to leave at about 9am in the morning, we stayed in a nice hostel with friendly owners and a great outside shelter room with 8 hammocks in a star shape. While walking in town I noticed a sign for a zip line canopy experience - 1500 meters of flying through the top of the forest on a cable!

Flight Back Rained Out

Next morning my friend and I headed on motorbike-taxis to the airport, there is a little place where you can get hot food beside the building. They have some yummy stuff, even fried eggs. Unfortunately the weather had turned bad on this morning after our tour had been nothing but sunshine for 3 days. 10 minutes before the plane was due to land from La Paz with more people going on tours, it had to turn back. It couldn't land on the grass runway in the wet weather. Amaszonas said there would be an announcement later in the day, there was a possibility the plane could come in the afternoon, but the weather remained bad and it was looking like it was not going to change for several days. There were quite a few people waiting for word about the plane and thinking about what they were going to do. We decided that we couldn't afford to lose any days waiting to see if it was going to become fine (it stayed wet for 3 more days).

Last 2 Seats on the Bus

Within 15 minutes of deciding to do an 18hr bus journey back to La Paz we managed to get the last 2 seats on a bus leaving at 1pm and were on the bus. After 3hrs of dirt mud road we got a flat tyre and stopped for possibly nearly an hour while they fixed it. I can't remember that much about the journey apart from that it was a crazy experience on some of the worlds most dangerous roads but it was night during that part (omg). My seat got uncomfortable so I slept on the floor using a sack of some womans produce as my pillow. There was dust and dirt down there and people were having to step over me but I didn't mind. We arrived in La Paz the next morning. We were refunded our return flight by Amaszonas. We had to cancel our flight at their office before we left Rurrenabaque first though.

See What Nature Allows

The Rurrenabaque pampas tour is a great experience. I admit that I didn't see as much wildlife as I had thought I would. We didn't see any capybara but some people I have met who have been there said they did. That's the nature of the jungle and pampas, you see whatever nature allows you to see in its own time, be patient!


View all photos in the Rurrenabaque Photoset

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My Hostel & Hotel Reviews for Rurrenabaque, Bolivia:

El Curichal Hostal, Rurrenabaque, Bolivia - Large Photo
El Curichal Hostal, Rurrenabaque, Bolivia (May 2009 - 1 night) - Simple but good rooms, great outside hammock room with about 8 hammocks in a star shape and very nice owners, 2 minutes walk from the very center of town.
Indigena Ecolodge, Rurrenabaque, Bolivia - Large Photo
Indigena Ecolodge, Rurrenabaque, Bolivia (May 2009 - 2 nights) - This Ecolodge definitely has that jungle feel with its rooms, platforms and walkway bridges above water. There are dorms with about 8 - 10 beds with mosquito nets, infact every room at the place has mosquito protection, our cook made my group wonderful meals and our guide did a great job and was very enthusiastic when showing us around the pampas. This ain't the Hilton, this is the jungle!

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Rurrenabaque, Bolivia - Pampas Wetlands Tour, A Bit Like School Camp. This is the Bolivian Amazon, the pampas wetlands. You can see wildlife and fish for piranha to eat for lunch. You can do a 2 day / 2 night tour and stay in a jungle lodge.