The Bolivian Amazon - Ultimate Budget Adventure!
When we hear ‘Amazon’ we tend to think of Brasil - but I’m here to tell you that an equally amazing, more off the beaten path adventure is out there! Bolivia, my new favorite country in South America has much to offer in terms of exploring this wild and vital part of our planet.
The adventure starts with a 3 hour boat ride into the wilderness, surrounded by nothing but unruly vegetation on the river banks and the unpredictable and chaotic current of the brown waters ahead of you.
At the end of this post you will find details on what to pack, when to go, and how to get there. But first, the fun part - WHY?! Why would you trek into the Amazon in Bolivia, where tourism is in its infant stage? I have several reasons but these were the 3 main ones for me over the course of our 3 day/ 2 night excursion: Wildlife, Hospitality, and Adventure!
We went with Madidi Jungle Tours, and from the start - it was fantastic! We landed in Rurrenabaque in the rain and were picked up with a name board and everything. A massive convenience when you have tons of bags, arrived somewhere new and are trying not to get completely soaked. Our driver dropped us off at the hotel we had booked for a night and let us now what time to be at the office in the morning for the start of our Tareche Program.
3 Days in the Jungle - Day 1
We left Rurrenabaque by boat, and started heading up the river for 3 hours. It felt like the start of an amazing journey - the crazy jungle vegetation on the banks, macaws flying overhead, and no signs of civilisation. We arrived at the lodge just in time for lunch and to our surprise were served a 3 course meal! We found out that that all lunches and dinners were 3 courses. For someone who loves to eat, this was a very pleasant surprise.
We dropped our stuff into the room at the eco-lodge and went off on our first hike. One thing to know is while it's hot and humid it is much better to dress in long sleeves and pants for these hikes on account of the mosquitos. Our guide, Alejandro, was incredibly knowledgeable and told us a lot about the history of his people and the native villages they live in, within the Madidi jungle.
I honestly have no idea what sounds he could hear that I think the rest of us were oblivious to, but about 1/2 way through our first hike, he stopped abruptly, motioned for us to be quiet, and started taking off through the brush and off the trail. Dodging branches and spiderwebs, we followed him. He motioned for us to be quicker and once we were stood next to him, we looked up and saw them...a small group of howler monkeys, including a mother and her baby, climbing around a big tree, looking right back down at us. An incredibly surreal moment! You think of seeing monkeys in the Zoo, you know what they look like from nature documentaries - but nothing, nothing, compares to seeing them in the wild, just hanging out doing their monkey thing; and looking at you with just as much curiosity! Yep, that was the start of our experience in the Bolivian Amazon.
3 DAYS in the Jungle - DAY 2
It's important to note that these are Eco-lodges and that means the rooms have no power, only the dining room and bathrooms have electricity from a generator which runs between about 6:30pm and 10pm. Plenty of time to charge your phone if you need it for photos or reading material. There is obviously no WiFi :) which is not a bad thing because the sights and sounds of the jungle are surely enough. This is a properly off the grid adventure.
We awoke the next morning to the sounds of rain. Definitely bring a raincoat because, well, this is the rain forest after all. After breakfast we set off for our next hike, which we would reach via boat. We learned all about the various trees, which ones are used for medicinal purposes by the villages, and even got to taste some of the jungle fruits.
As part of our hike we came to a clearing and there in the water, an adolescent caiman slowly made his way over to the rivers edge, never taking his eyes off us. I'm guessing he was trying to size us up, but unfortunately he wasn't quite fully grown yet, so we were a bit too big of a meal. Instead we got to take some nice photos of our new friend. We kept going on the trail, a bit further down the river, and what do you know, our friendly caiman swam over and hung out with us some more. I definitely would have been worried if he had been a bit bigger :).
The day ended with just a bit of fun as we went tubing back down the river towards the lodge. The currents are quite strong, so it was hilarious trying to steer and exit the river at just the right time. A lot of laughs were had from us struggling with our balance and navigating skills.
At night we even went on a short night hike where we saw lots of giant sized bugs, more monkeys, and massive spiderwebs - although none of this was as impressive as the huge tarantula that visited us in the dining room for dinner that evening. We were truly one with nature.
3 DAYS in the JUNGLE - Day 3
We awoke on our last day off the grid to nicer weather and headed out to our longest hike. Our guide found more amazing wildlife for us to enjoy - macaws sitting in the canopies and even the elusive spider monkeys! I didn't manage to get a photo of them because they are very fast and weren't quite as curious about us. But we also saw the remnants of a jaguar's lunch, and got to take in the impressive expanse of the jungle from several amazing viewpoints.
This was one of the most budget friendly wildlife and off the grid adventures I have done to date! We were well taken care of, had plenty to eat, learned so much, and couldn't believe that this isn’t something that is more well known! If you ever find yourself in Bolivia or in need of an amazing adventure, I can only highly recommend this one!
Ok, now for the nitty gritty must knows!
When to go:
The best time of the year to go is May to October which is the dry season and winter, but also the high tourist season. We went end of April/beginning May which had a few rain days but otherwise was pretty perfect.
How to get here:
You can get here by either bus or flight from La Paz, Bolivia - now, from what I have read, the bus trip, while only $12 is not for the faint of heart. It is a dangerous road and quite the uncomfortable ride. There are plenty of horror stories to be found online if you want to check that out. We opted for the quicker and seemingly safer option - a 30 minute flight with Amaszonas for $90 per person one way. This appears to be the most popular route with travellers anyways, even if it requires to loosen the purse strings a bit.
What to pack:
a small backpack, flashlight/headlamp, long sleeve shirt, long pants, hiking boots (rain boots are provided in case it is very muddy), bug spray (!), sunscreen, swim clothes, dry bag for camera gear, reading material for evenings, shirts/undergarments/clothes for 3 days, 2 nights.
Days needed - 4 incl. arriving by flight day before
Flights - $90 per person one way
Park Fee - $30
Tour Cost - $270 (shared bathroom)/ $300 (private bathroom)
Meals: all inclusive (the traditional catfish wrapped in leaves was incredible!)
Company: Madidi Jungle Tours (loved it, they only take small groups!)
Nearest town/airport: Rurrenabaque Bolivia
Where to stay in Rurrenabaque: Pampa y Selva Hotel ($30/night) and our favourite hotel in the town