Thoughts on visiting the pampas and jungle in Rurrenabaque

Rurrenabaque sits on the edge of the Madidi National Park and Pampas del Yacuma protected area, on the edge of the Amazon Basin. It is one of the cheapest places in South America to visit both the rainforest and the wetlands (pampas) that eventually drain into the Amazon river. Needless to say, I was super excited to visit. I was also wary because I was curious as to how the tour would be carried out in terms of sustainability and ethics.

Pampas 3 days, 2 nights

Activities:
We spent a lot of time riding in a small boat down calm waterways, spotting lots of birds, alligators, caimanes, capybaras and pink dolphins. We tried to fish for piranhas but caught only two tiny catfish (later fried up as an addition to dinner). We also donned Wellington boots and waded through swampland looking for anacondas, as well as swimming with the pink dolphins.

Good points:
It was relaxing! I didn’t expect it to be, but there was very little physical exertion and not as many mosquitoes as I dreaded. We saw wildlife everywhere. I didn’t expect to see this much, nor this close. The food and accommodation were quite decent. I think because they’re used to cooking for foreigners, they served more vegetables than is usual in Bolivia.

Bad points:
While hunting for anacondas, the guides and some tourists were smoking and dropping ash, although they took the butts back with them. When we finally found an anaconda, it was passed around for people to take pictures with it. I’m no expert, but the snake seemed pretty pissed off by the end of this. At one point, we joined another group whose guide was feeding a black caiman – so regular an occurrence that it had almost become a pet around this particular location.

What I thought:
It’s clear that the guides judge their success (and thus their earnings from tips) on how many animal encounters they can give their tourists. But this is a self-perpetuating cycle.To expect no human contact with wildlife is somewhat naive. After all, people live and go about their daily lives on this land, as was evidenced by the fields and farmers we saw. At our lodge, the leftover food was thrown out and, quite naturally, animals came to eat it. Whilst I believe some behaviors (like those I mentioned above) certainly have a negative impact, I think the experience could have been more interesting if we had viewed ourselves as part of this whole ecosystem and been aware of our impact. But I guess that’s too much to ask for on a budget tour.

Jungle 2 days, 1 night

Activities:
Short hikes, including one at night, with a choice to go fishing which we declined. Learning the traditional uses of plants for medicine, dyeing etc.

Good points:
The ride up the river to the lodge was beautiful and once in the jungle it was surprisingly not as humid or hot as I expected. We didn’t see as many animals as in the pampas, but we did have a group of wild pigs come into our camp area and get very close. Learning about the different plants through demonstrations was interesting. It was much more informative than in the pampas.

Bad points:
Even wearing long sleeves and trousers, everything still managed to bite me (for some reason ants kept going for my knees). This was doubly unpleasant on the night hike. I also had a cockroach down my top and two days later found a tick on me. So yeah, lots of insects.

What I thought:
There are lots of different options for visiting the jungle and it seems to me that this might be a time to spend more money and go for one that gives you a higher level of comfort and/or a better context. None of our camp workers were actually from the jungle. Some ecolodges are located on the land of indigenous communities who act as guides and run the programs themselves. In two days, there’s very little you can do, so staying longer and getting to know the place more would be better if you are actually interested in the rainforest. If you aren’t, then you’ll probably agree with the girl in my group who said “I’m glad I came, but two days is long enough.”

I traveled with Fluvial Tours. Each tour cost 550Bs for one person and included all food, dorm beds with mosquito nets and transport. The guides spoke little English. Additional costs for entry to the protected areas were 125Bs for Madidi and 150Bs for Yacuma.

There is a Green Action programme promoting responsible travel in Rurrenabaque. They include a list of tour operators on their website who participate in the programme.

Have you been to Rurrenabaque or taken a tour in the Amazon? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Also check out our photos from the pampas and our journey to Rurrenabaque.

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8 thoughts on “Thoughts on visiting the pampas and jungle in Rurrenabaque

  1. We went into the Madidi for four days, and stayed at a more expensive place – the Madidi Jungle Ecolodge. It was quite a long motor up the river, but I really think it was worth the extra investment in time and money. We saw a lot of animals – including an ocelot, pigs, tapir and lots of monkeys and birds. The guides all came from the community and knew just about everything there is to know about the forest. The food was some of the best I had in Bolivia. Plus it was really relaxing and we got to go fishing and tubing – lots of fun, until they told us not to put our feet on the bottom because of the poisonous flat fish that live in the river!

  2. We actually skipped the whole Amazon during our South American travels, because we want to wait till we have enough funds to really do it properly…plus we had to choose it, or a safari in Africa. The safari won…but some of the experiences are definitely similar. Instead of alligators and dolphins, we saw zebra and lions, but in some places (like the Ngorogoro Crater), I felt like I was at a tourist site with animals roaming around. They were sure used to all the jeeps and people watching them. 😦

    The Serengeti however, was beyond amazing. I’m convinced that there is nowhere on earth like it – and I really felt like just another part of nature there.

      • Actually, I was never terribly drawn to one either, until my brother and his wife went a few years ago. Now that we’ve been, I would totally recommend it, but only in the Serengeti or Masai Mara, and def splash out and stay in a camp that’s in the Park itself. It is really, really magical, and sooo peaceful and there is nothing more amazing than going to sleep with the sound of zebras and wildebeest in your ear…

  3. Pingback: In the Jungle | The Amazing Americas

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