An overnight bus from Sucre on Halloween took us to La Paz where we headed straight to the airport for an afternoon flight to Rurrenabaque, the gateway to Bolivia’s slice of the Amazon. Heavy rain in Rurrenabaque, however, delayed our flight for a day, so we ended up spending a night in La Paz. Feeling a little tired after a bumpy bus ride and a little dizzy as a result of the increase in altitude, we took it pretty easy during our one evening in La Paz – the three block walk up a hill from our hotel to a restaurant had as gasping for air!
The following day, after a lengthy delay at the airport, we were enroute to Rurrenabaque. Going from La Paz at 4000m to Rurrenabaque at 100m, we were breathing easier as soon as we stepped out of the plane onto the tarmac. And then there was the humidity… that incredible feeling of arriving in a tropical destination. The change in geography after a 30 minute flight was stunning to say the least.
After one night in Rurrenabaque, we set out on our 5 day / 4 night all-inclusive, guided tour of the Amazon. We started with two nights in the jungle – in the Parque Nacional Madidi to be precise. This national park actually has the greatest biodiversity of any protected area on the planet. It took a three hour boat ride up the Beni River to reach the lodge which actually had running water and electricity! This came to a bit of a surprise to us given the remoteness of its location. From the lodge we went on several walks where our very knowledgable guide (Alexander) pointed out the various plants and animals that we saw along the way. During one of our walks, Alexander heard wild pigs eating close by, so we crept up very quietly and before we knew it we had hundreds of wild pigs running around us. Our downtime was spent swinging in the hammocks (reading or napping) and cooling off in the river (Alexander assured us that there were no piranhas or caimans). We were very fortunate to have Alexander all to ourselves in the jungle given that we had paid for a shared tour.
On the morning of our third day, we headed back through Rurrenabaque to the pampas (a flatter, swampier landscape than the jungle). In the pampas, it is easier to spot animals because it less densely vegetated and the animals tend congregated around the river banks. Unlike in the jungle, we toured the pampas primarily in a boat. We were fortunate to see all kinds of animals in the pampas including caiman, monkeys, capybara and pink dolphins. Patrick tried to swim with the dolphins but they seemed to be a bit shy. Ashley watched patiently from shore, not keen on swimming in a river full of caimans even though Alexander assured us that the caimans were no threat (apparently the pink dolphins, the kings of the river, will keep them away). We also tried to fish for piranhas but were unsuccessful, catching only a couple small sardines and cat-fish. We definitely used far more weight in meat as bait than weight in fish caught. On our final morning, we partook in a rather unpleasant activity – anaconda hunting in the swamp. It was scorching hot and incredibly buggy and resulted in no anaconda (not much of a prize anyhow we’d say). This we probably would have skipped had we known how nasty it would be!
Although we saw a lot more animals in the pampas, we enjoyed hiking in the jungle more than sitting on the boat in the pampas. Unlike the tree canopy in the jungle, the boat offered no shade and the mosquitos were much worse in the pampas. Overall though, it was a great five days. Our guide Alexander taught us a lot about the Amazon and his indigenous culture. The food was probably the best we had had thus far in Bolivia. This was a great stop, particularly since it was something we hadn’t planned on doing at the start of our trip.
After one more night in Rurrenabaque, we took an afternoon flight the following day back to La Paz. Unlike our inbound flight, however, our return flight was on a much smaller airplane – a propeller powered, 20 seater that you couldn’t even standup in! As we got closer to La Paz, it was clear that the airplane could not even fly high enough to clear the peaks of the mountains surrounding the city. There was something very unsettling (particularly for Ashley) about flying right next to the side of a mountain! As the plane descended into La Paz it was rocking back and forth and everyone (particularly Ashley) let out a sigh of relief once the plane touched down.
Tour company used for jungle/pampas tour: Bala Tours – top-notch all around.