When in Bolivia, a lot of people think more about driving across the vast Salt Flats of Uyuni or charging down Death Road in La Paz or boating on massive Lake Titicaca. Forgetting, or perhaps are unaware, that Bolivia has some of the most vibrant rainforest in the world. Visiting the Amazon Jungle in the north of this country is just as nice a place as Brazil or Peru, at a fraction of the price and with far less tourists.
For me visiting the Amazon while in South America was a huge highlight. Certainly on par with Iguazu, Machu Picchu and The Salt Flats. So if you intend to travel throughout the continent, you may want to hold out until you get to Bolivia to make your jungle escape.
Leaving from La Paz, there are a few airlines that fly to Rurrenabaque – the starting point for your Amazon excursions. The cheapest is going to be TAM the Bolivian military airline (not to be confused with TAM the Brazilian airline) that takes regular passengers but doesn’t fly as frequently as the other airlines. You will need to book through an agent as they don’t have a website. The other airlines run more frequently and are slightly pricier.
The other option is a bus. The journey is 22 hours but can be much longer if conditions are wet. I heard of a few horror stories of people taking 36 hours to get to Rurrenabaque. But it’s significantly cheaper, so if you are on a tight budget or feeling adventurous, it’s an option.
Booking a Tour
My advice would be there is no need to pre-book a tour while in La Paz. You’ll end up paying a middle man for no reason. Once you arrive, there’s plenty of guides asking you to join their trip and dozens of travel agents selling the same trips much cheaper than agents in La Paz. The town is tiny and accommodation is cheap so don’t panic if you don’t have something lined up right away.
There are two options for tours when you are in Rurrenabaque.
A- The Pampas, which is an area of wetlands and waterways on the edge of the Amazon where chances of spotting wildlife are very good. Don’t expect to do much trekking though as the area, though beautiful, is entirely marshlands. The cheaper tour.
B- The Jungle, which is the rugged, humid and exotic rainforest you imagine the Amazon to be. More tranquil and a better place to trek and learn about the fauna and forest. Costs double the price or more but accommodation and meals are said to be better. Much less likely to see animals.
If you want to do both give yourself at least 3 days to do each. Since I had already explored the deep jungle in Peru I chose to do just the Pampas tour.
Swimming with Pink Dolphins
Searching for Anacondas and Owls
You’ll quickly discover that all the tours to the Pampas are generally the same, offering 3 days 2 nights excursions with the same activities. If you are travelling by yourself, make sure to see you’ll be going with a decent group and that the guide can speak English well.
Any difference in the price is likely just on the accommodation and meals. All the lodging is pretty basic though.Even though the tours are very ‘cookie cutter’ like – as they are taking tour in and out day after day, it still is amazing. Most guides love their land and they love having tourist come.
I met the group at the office where I was able to leave my large bag and take only what I’d need for 3 days in the jungle. There was 10 in our group. Our ride from Rurrenabaque to edge of the Pampas was in the back of a relic 4×4 with two rows ofbench seating so that we were facing each other. The roads were rough and the seats even rougher. It was a cramped 3-4 hour journey but manageable.
From the landing, we piled into an 18ft motorized canoe. The boat journey from the landing to the lodges takes around 3 hours. Other than the heat it’s a great ride. We spotted snakes, birds, monkeys, loads of turtles and capybaras (worlds largest rodents).
We stayed on stilted lodges with camens wondering the shallow waters below us as we slept. The food was good but small portions. The last night the cooks prepared the pariahs we caught. Actually a really tasty fish! At night everyone piles in the boats from most of the lodges on the river and enjoys the sunset at a spot where you can grab a beer or snack and join in with a game of soccer against the locals.
Weather permitting, you’ll also have a chance to catch a sunrise up over the marshlands. The sunrise was impressive but even more entertaining was the ride through the extremely narrow waterways in our long boat to reach the perfect viewing location.
Mosquito spray and sunscreen is basically a must. All lodges will have bed nets.
When I was in Rurrenabaque there were no ATMs, bring cash or money to exchange.
You may think you need rain gear and hiking boots, but for this short trip its not essential at all.
The food portions weren’t huge so grab snacks. You can buy them at the landing before you go on the river or from the sunset spot in the evening, you’ll have to pay more from there though.
Power is limited, they turn a generator on for only certain hours of the day and outlets are usually snapped up quickly. Bring a flashlight as I saw one person using their phone as a torch drop it into the Camen infested waters.
Prep yourself for cold showers.
So if you wanna get close with wildlife and check off some of the things you wanted to see in the Amazon, the Pampas is a must do. Swimming in the murky amazon waters as pink dolphins breach beside you or searching the trees for anacondas are some things you won’t soon forget.