Teaming with life, Rurrenabaque offers terrific wildlife opportunities for any Bolivian adventure. Just a short flight from La Paz, Rurrenabaque is a convenient starting point to experience the Amazon. Take a tour of the jungle, the pampas or combine for the all-inclusive experience!
My experience in the Amazon started with a flight to Rurrenabaque. I stayed at the marvelous Hotel Santa Ana – a friendly hostel with a large courtyard and inviting hammocks. A relaxing way to spend the afternoon, shaded from the midday sun.
After relaxing at the hostel, it was time to check out the area. Rurrenabaque actually has a gorgeous swimming pool. Watch out for the parrots – before I knew it, the one bird had jumped over to my camera bag and was furiously pecking at it, looking for treats. The pool side proved to be a great place to meet other backpackers, to share stories and tips on where to go! I met a trio of Dutch girls – meeting them made me very happy to have splurged on a flight from La Paz. It took only 1 hour for me to be transported in a military aircraft to Rurrenabaque. The girls spend a few days covering the 16 hour bus trip from La Paz, suffering through rock slides blocking the road and terrible travel conditions. Their delays meant that they had to shorten their time in the area.
The tour begins
A rough and dusty 4×4 ride delivered us to our motorized canoes – the preferred mode of transport on the Beni River. Over the next few days, we swam with piranhas and played with the super friendly pink dolphins. Reluctantly, we (read: me) trudged through the swamps, nervous laughter escaping our (my) throats. Our purpose was to find snakes – great big anacondas and cobras! Secretly, a few people in the group (did I mention me?) hoped that we would find nothing. The mud squelched in our shoes as we poked around for snakes – our guide over joyed in his success – we found both an anaconda and a cobra! It took a little warming up, however the excitement of the group was infectious, and eventually the others cajoled me into holding both snakes. I took the anaconda gingerly, but would be seen only touching the tail end of the cobra!
We stayed in rustic riverside camps, fully equipped with simple amenities and mosquito nets. The resident alligator kept us out of the water and on our toes! As you could imagine, leftovers were never a problem at this campsite….
In the evening, we headed out from our campsite to watch the sun set over the pampas. It was surreal to watch the sun dip down, slowly engulfed by the wetlands. Once it was dark, we headed further along the river, searching for more animals in the night. It was eerie to see the glowing eyes of the alligators as our flashlights searched through the waters.
After the Pampas, we entered Madidi National Park. This park is considered one of the most important nature reserves offering an intact ecosystem. The Quechua, Araona and Tacana communities all live within the national park. Once again, we traveled by motorized canoe – arriving at a campsite high in the cliffs. We snacked on popcorn and fried plantains before our guides took us on jungle tours and told us about the various plants and their medicinal qualities. Not to be outdone by the pampas wildlife sightings, we headed out in the middle of the night to hunt for tarantulas!
While the view from the campsite was wonderful, and the hospitality of our guides great – nothing could save me from the onslaught by the mosquito population! Can you imagine, sitting in the Amazon, literally covered from head to toe, yet still being eaten alive? Well – that was me! If you ever need a strong mosquito repellant, just invite me along. I will attract them away from everyone else! I wore clothing covered in bug spray, mittens on my hands and socks up over my pants, but those nasty blood suckers kept at me. I tried every trick in the book. Vitamin B supplements, wearing all white clothes, mittens over my hands, socks over my pants and eating every orange I could get my hand on. Who knows where I got this advise from – but I was ready to try anything! Thank goodness for mosquito nets at night – could not have survived without one.
Like all good things, the trip to the Amazon quickly came to an end. Last night in town, for some crazy reason, I decided a burger was on the menu. Valuable lesson learned – if burgers are not traditional foods in a region – AVOID! Even the dog who came begging at my table didn’t want to eat what I dropped to the floor. Should have been my warning signal. In all my travels, I have never been so badly food poisoned. Trying to catch the military plane back to La Paz was nearly impossible – thanks to my travel partner who carried my bags for me, or I would never have made it! The ladies at the hotel when we arrived back in La Paz were marvelous. The remedy – hot cup of coca tea every hour. Even after returning to the soaring altitude of 3632 m above sea level, I was up and about in no time, ready to hit the next adventure: Downhill Madness.