The Amazon can be visited from many countries in South America, but we decided to wait until Bolivia before making our trip there. "The Jungle" is divided into two national parks: Parque Nacional Madidi (the traditional dense jungle), and Pampas del Yacuma (flat lands along a river with easier wildlife viewing). There are literally dozens of tour companies to choose from, ranging in price from $79 to over $300/pp for a 3 day, 2 night tour (excluding transportation and park entrance fees). We felt very compelled to choose a company that is eco friendly, pays fair wages, has small group sizes, and works to preserve the jungle, because often tourism can have a negative impact or destroy natural places. We decided on Mashaquipe, a mid-range company that employs indigenous locals who live in the jungle. It was a little outside of our budget, but absolutely worth it. We also splurged and took a 45 minute flight into Rurrenabaque (a first for us), rather than brave the 20 hour bus journey down a dirt road.
Day 1: A nice SUV picked us up in the morning, and drove the three hours to the lodge. It was a bumpy dirt road, so of course I spent the majority of the time trying not to puke. Along the way, we saw a sloth (in spanish: Perezoso. Translation: "the lazy") in a tree and tons of bird species. We arrived in time for lunch, which was pretty mediocre, and had an hour siesta before heading out on the Yacuma river. We traveled two hours up the river, and spotted several types of animals. We saw alligators, birds, and capybara, the largest rodent species. The capybara were my favorite... there were tons of babies, and they were adorable. We left the boat, and hiked for a few hours in search of an anaconda. We were unsuccessful, but managed to see a lot of neat birds. By the time we took the boat back to the lodge, it was dark. Our guide was kind enough to shine his flashlight along the riverbanks, lighting up the alligators' eyes. Can I say creepy?!
Day 2: After breakfast, we rode for a few hours in the boat to a spot where there were pink river dolphins. On the way, we saw literally hundreds of alligators, capybara, turtles and birds.The water was very brown, so the dolphins were a little difficult to see. We learned that the pink Amazonian river dolphin is one of the most endangered types of dolphin, mostly because of irresponsible tourism. Many companies encourage tourists to swim with or touch the dolphins, but insect repellent and sunblock can kill them. We enjoyed watching them from our boat, then went back to the lodge for lunch. Afterward, we went back out in the boat to fish for piranhas. The fishing was interesting... we put a little chunk of raw red meat on a hook, and threw it into the water. Within about five seconds, you could feel the piranha nibbling. They were ridiculously good at getting the meat off the hook, making them a bit difficult to catch. Daniel managed to catch two, and I caught one. Toward the end, we took to the strategy of yanking the line out of the water as hard as possible at the first nibble. The piranha would come flying out of the water, unattached to the hook, sometimes gripping onto the meat with its teeth. Most of the fish ended up flopping themselves back into water, but we kept a few, which were cooked whole for dinner. There was not much meat on them, and it was a little creepy seeing their toothy mouths sitting on a plate. At the end of the day, we went back to the boat and watched the gorgeous sunset over the river.
Day 3: Our final day in the pampas, we went out on foot in search of an anaconda. On our way, we saw a family of monkeys run past. We donned our rubber boots and set out to the swamps. Unfortunately, Daniel was unable to join in on this part, because his feet are massively enormous and they didn't have boots to fit him. Or, the reason as Daniel says: "Apparantly they don't have shoes for adults in this country." In fact, the largest boots they had were five sizes too small. In the end, it didn't end up mattering... the anaconda eluded us once again. After traipsing around in the mosquito-ridden swamp for around an hour, we called it quits. After lunch, we were transported the three hours back to Rurrenabaque. This time, I wisened up and drugged myself to sleep for the ride.
- Flight from La Paz to Rurrenabaque: $83 per person, one way
- Mashaquipe tour: $185 per person, for 3 days/2 nights
- Pampas del Yacuma entrance fee: $21.50 per person
- Lodging in Rurrenabaque, El Curichal Hostal: $12.90/night, private room and bathroom