Travel Guide to Visiting the Amazon in Bolivia

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The Amazon is the largest tropical forest in the world and is a must for anyone visiting South America. While two thirds of the Amazon can be found in Brazil, it actually covers eight different countries across the continent, and that includes Bolivia. Although less well known than the Amazon tours that begin in Brazil or Peru, Bolivia offers a cheaper and more accessible opportunity to visit this natural wonder.

Planning a trip? Here is our best guide for visiting the Amazon of Bolivia.

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Where is the Amazon Forest in Bolivia

The starting point for trips to the Bolivian Amazon is Rurrenabaque, a small town located 400 km north of La Paz. This is the gateway to the pristine forests of Madidi National Park and Las Pampas, rich in wildlife, from Yacuma River. For this reason, you can explore both sides of the Amazon, walking or by boat.

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How to get from La Paz to Rurrenabaque

There are two ways to get from La Paz to Rurrenabaque – by plane or by bus.

Flights:

Flights take place every day and take only 40 minutes. If you are short of time, this is the best option. However, if you prefer a more economical mode of transport, you can take the bus to Rurrenabaque. Although you can find warnings online saying not to take the “deadly” bus down the roads “on the edge of the cliff”, as long as you are not traveling in the rainy season and you are not particularly nervous, there is really no reason not to catch the bus *. Although the bus climbs the mountains and Bolivia's direction and safety do not meet European standards, you will be rewarded with stunning views. And around Bs 70 is a much cheaper option than flying. * Disclaimer: this is obviously your decision.

If you want to search flight options click here.

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Bus:

Yungueña Bus is considered one of the safest bus companies. You can take this bus at the “Flota Yungueña” office (not at the main bus terminal – Terminal Provisional Minasa). The easiest and cheapest way to get to Yungueña's office is to take a collective (bus) on the main road outside San Francisco Church (Avenida Mariscal Santa Cruz). Flag any collective with Villa Fátima at the front, inform the Yungueña office to the driver and pay Bs 2 to the driver when they leave you outside.

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There are buses leaving La Paz to Rurrenabaque at 2pm and 5pm and there does not seem to be a need to book in advance. The trip takes about 14 hours with a half hour stop in Caranavi, where you can buy dinner and use the bathroom before finally reaching Rurrenabaque early in the morning.

The bus station in Rurrenabaque is about a 25-minute walk outside the city. So you can walk to the center or there are taxis and tuk-tuks outside the station, if you prefer. But be sure to negotiate the price.

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Where to stay in Rurrenabaque

There are many inns and hotels in Rurrenabaque and, again, there does not seem to be a need to book in advance.

If you are looking for a budget option, Hostel Lobo has a nice little pool, a basic breakfast and friendly staff, all for Bs 50 per night, for the largest dorm.

If you want to book in advance, you'll find options on booking.com.

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Which tour to do

One of the benefits of visiting Bolivia's Amazon is that it offers options for you to take a trip through the jungle or see it by boat on a tour of the pampas. Pampas tours take you through the wetlands of the Yacuma River and offer the chance to see the greatest wildlife. These, therefore, seem to be the most popular option; however, they don't really take you into the jungle. To do this, you will need to take a walk through the jungle where it is in Madidi National Park. The National Park and the marshes are completely separate areas, with the first to the west of Rurrenabaque and the second to the east.

Below are some of the characteristics of the tours through the jungle and pampas.

Jungle tour features:

  • You arrive in the jungle on a panoramic two-hour boat ride.
  • It allows you to dive deeply into the Amazon and thus feels more like a true jungle experience.
  • The walk through the jungle is much more active than the walk through the pampas. Usually, your days will be spent walking through the jungle looking for animals like monkeys and, if you're really lucky, leopards.
  • You will see more insects and fauna. For example, you can see the walking palm tree which can go up to 20m each year.
  • You have a chance to see toucans. Most agencies stop at the viewpoint where the toucans (seen below) nest so that you can see the colorful birds flying above you.
  • But you have to be lucky to find mammals, so you can't see as much wildlife as in the pampas.

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Characteristics of the tour through the pampas:

  • You will see much more wildlife. Within 10 minutes of boarding your boat on the Yacuma River, you’ve probably seen tons of birds, turtles, capybarasalligators and alligators.
  • You also have a chance to swim with pink dolphins. Remember that you will be in the same water that you just saw hundreds of alligators and alligators swimming in, and it is also home to piranhas! Although apparently they do not enter the water near the dolphins.
  • You have a chance to see anacondas. Most tour companies offer an anaconda hunt, where you walk through the grasslands trying to locate an anaconda.
  • You can also fish for piranhas and then eat what has been caught. Again, this is offered by most tour companies.
  • BUT you mainly sit on the boat and go up and down the river, so it can get a little repetitive.
  • In addition, reaching the pampas involves a three-hour drive from Rurrenabaque.

Therefore, there are different benefits for both tours, and the best thing to do is a combined tour, where you spend a few days (or as long as you choose) in the jungle, followed by a few days in the pampas, or vice versa. . Most tour companies offer this, with the exception of Madidi Travel, which only takes tours in the jungle, so you should book your pampas tour separately with another company and spend a night in Rurrenabaque in the middle.

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Choosing a tour company

There are many travel agencies in Rurrenabaque and it is worth spending time researching online and reading updated reviews from different companies before booking anything. One important thing to be researched is how much emphasis companies place on promoting ecotourism and protecting habitat and wildlife. Most importantly, don't choose a company that allows you to feed or touch wild animals! Some cheaper agencies, such as Fluvial Tours, are known for this, but no matter the budget, and the quality of a monkey photo on your shoulder, do not support a travel agency that allows this. .

It is recommended to choose a more expensive but reputable company to ensure that you are getting the best experience possible and in an ethical manner. Look for agencies that use local guides from indigenous communities, care about wildlife, do not allow the animals to feed or touch them, provide clean water so you don't have to bring plastic bottles, and usually try your best to be environmentally friendly . friendly as possible. In addition to ethical considerations, what you experience on the tour will depend on how many nights you choose and with which agency you book, so be sure to find out all the details before booking.

The main questions to be asked of tour companies include:

  • What is the maximum number of people per guide?
  • Who are the other people on your tour? If you are booking in person at the last minute, ask with whom you will be on the tour. For example, if you are traveling alone, you may not want to take a tour just with couples.
  • Where are you going to sleep? Mashaquipe is one of the few agencies to offer camping in the jungle on a night of your jungle tour, but otherwise, you will probably be staying in inns. Ask if these are dorms or private and if the bathrooms are shared or private.
  • If the guide speaks English. This is not always a given, especially with really cheap agencies.
  • Which foods and drinks are included. Generally, all agencies include all meals and soft drinks, with alcoholic drinks available for purchase at an extra cost.
  • Ask if it is possible to swim with the river dolphins on the pampas tour (this will depend on the season, the water level etc.).
  • If there are other activities included. For example, Mashaquipe includes building a raft and sailing it downstream as part of your jungle tour.
  • What are the extra costs? Entrance fees to Madidi National Park (Bs 200) and Pampas (Bs 150) are generally not included in the quoted price.

Recommended Agencies

Some recommended agencies include Mashaquipe Eco Tours, Bala Tours, Madidi Travel and Dolphin Travel.

All of these more reputable companies inevitably have a higher price, but are worth the extra cost. If you are flexible with your travel plans and want to save money, the best thing to do is to show up in Rurrenabaque, visit the different tour companies and book your tour directly the day before, so you can negotiate the price.


What to take

The main things you need to bring are mosquito repellents and long pants. Mosquitoes are a nightmare in the jungle, especially in the rainy season, so be prepared! You should also wear long-sleeved blouses for the nights and t-shirts / vests for the day, as it can get very hot. If you plan to swim with dolphins on the pampas tour, you will also need swimsuits. Finally, bring a flashlight, sunscreen and some money to buy beers.

You can usually leave your bags, valuables, or anything else you don't need at the travel agency the morning you leave. It is also important to note that if you are taking a combined tour, between the jungle and the pampas, you will need to return via Rurrenabaque. Check with your agency, but they are likely to make a short stop at their office, so you can leave things and bring clean clothes before the second part of the tour.

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summary

Visiting the Amazon Rainforest is an activity on the bucket list and Bolivia offers the perfect opportunity to mark this option off your list. There is really nothing better than waking up to the sounds of the jungle, spending a day observing the wildlife and then ending your day watching a beautiful sunset over the Amazon while enjoying a beer.

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Sophie Small

Writer and Traveler

Sophie has been traveling through South America since September 2019. Originally from London, she lived and worked in Vietnam for 4 years before deciding to pursue her passion for travel full time. She loves to explore new destinations, adventure activities and sample local cuisine. She shares her photos on her Instagram and your portfolio sophiesmall.contently.com. [Read full bio]

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