Der The Amazon is the largest tropical rainforest in the world and a must for every visitor to South America. While two thirds of the Amazon is found in Brazil, it spans eight different countries across the continent, including Bolivia, although Bolivia is less well known than the Amazon Tours that start in Brazil or Peru offer a cheaper and more accessible way to visit this natural wonder.
Are you planning a trip? Here is our ultimate guide to visiting the Amazon from Bolivia.
Where is the Amazon rainforest in Bolivia?
The starting point for tours to the Bolivian Amazon is Rurrenabaque, a small town 400 km north of La Paz. This is the gateway to the pristine forests of Madidi National Park and the wild Las Pampa of the Yacuma River. Because of this, you can explore two sides of the Amazon, either by trekking or by boat.
How do I get from La Paz to Rurrenabaque?
There are two ways to get from La Paz to Rurrenabaque – by plane or by bus.
Flights run every day and take only 40 minutes. If you have little time, this is the best option. However, if you prefer a more economical means of transportation, you can take the bus to Rurrenabaque. Although you may find warnings online asking you not to take the “deadly” bus along the “cliffs”, there is no reason to do so provided you are not traveling in the rainy season and are not particularly nervous not to take the bus *. Although the bus drives in the mountains and driving and safety in Bolivia may not quite meet European standards, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views. And around the Bs 70, it’s a much cheaper option than flying. * Disclaimer: This is of course your decision.
To search for flight options, click here.
Yungueña Bus is considered one of the safer bus companies. You can take this bus from the Flota Yungueña office (not from the main bus station – Terminal Provisional Minasa). The easiest and cheapest way to get to the Yungueña office is by colectivo (bus) from the main street in front of the Church of San Francisco (Avenida Mariscal Santa Cruz). Mark a Colectivo with Villa Fatima on the front, notify driver Yungueña’s office that driver will pay Bs 2 if he drops you outside.
There are buses leaving La Paz for Rurrenabaque at 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. and there does not seem to be a need to book in advance. The journey takes approximately 14 hours with a half-hour break in Caranavi, where you can buy dinner and use the toilet before arriving in Rurrenabaque in the early morning.
The bus stop in Rurrenabaque is about a 25-minute walk outside the city. So you can walk to the center or there are motorcycle taxis and tuk-tuks outside the train station if you prefer. But be sure to negotiate the price.
Accommodation options in Rurrenabaque
There are many guest houses and hotels in Rurrenabaque, and it doesn’t seem to be necessary to book in advance either.
If you’re looking for a budget option, Hostel Lobo offers a nice little pool, simple breakfast, and friendly staff, all for 50 Bs a night for the largest dormitory.
If you want to book in advance, you can find some options on booking.com.
Which tour to take
One of the advantages of visiting the Amazon from Bolivia is that you have the option of hiking on a jungle tour or visiting it by boat on a pampa tour. The pampa tours take you through the wetlands of the Yacuma River and offer the opportunity to observe most of the wildlife. Therefore, these seem to be the most popular option, but don’t get you into the jungle. To do this, you have to go on a jungle tour where you spend the night in Madidi National Park. The national park and wetlands are completely separate areas, the former being west of Rurrenabaque and the latter east.
Below are some features of the jungle and pampa tours.
Features of the jungle tour:
- You can reach the jungle on a scenic two-hour boat trip.
- It allows you to dive deep into the Amazon and feels more like a real jungle experience.
- The jungle tour is much more active than the pampa tour. In general, your days are spent wandering through the jungle looking for animals like monkeys and, if you’re really lucky, leopards.
- You will see more insects and fauna. For example, you can see the walking palm tree, which can move up to 20 m each year.
- You have the opportunity to see toucans. Most agencies stop at a lookout point where toucans (see below) nest so you can see the colorful birds flying above you.
- BUT you must be lucky enough to spot mammals and therefore not see as many wild animals as in the pampas.
Features of the Pampa Tour:
- You will see a lot more wildlife. Within 10 minutes of climbing your boat on the Yacuma River, you will likely have seen tons of birds, turtles, capybaras, caimans and alligators.
- You can also swim with pink river dolphins. Remember that this will be in the same water where you just saw hundreds of alligators and caimans swim and in which piranhas live! Although they don’t seem to get into the water near the dolphins.
- You have the opportunity to see anacondas. Most tour operators offer an anaconda hunt, where you walk through the grasslands and try to spot an anaconda.
- You can also fish piranhas and then eat what you caught. This is also offered by most tour operators.
- BUT you mainly sit on the boat and go up and down the river so this can be repeated a little.
- A three-hour bumpy drive from Rurrenabaque is required to reach the Pampa.
Both tours therefore offer different advantages. So the best thing is a combination tour where you spend a few days (or how long you want) in the jungle, followed by a few days in the pampas. or the other way around. Most tour operators offer this, with the exception of Madidi Travel, which only do jungle tours. Therefore, you would have to book your pampa tour separately with another company and spend a night in Rurrenabaque in between.
Selection of a travel company
There are many travel agencies in Rurrenabaque, and it is worth researching online and reading current reviews from various companies before booking anything. An important question for research is how much value companies place on promoting ecotourism and protecting habitat and wildlife. Above all, do not choose a company where you can feed or touch wild animals! Some of the cheaper agencies like Fluvial Tours are known for this, but no matter how much budget you have and how good the photo of a monkey looks on your shoulder, you won’t support a travel agency that allows it
It is recommended to choose a more expensive but reputable company to ensure that you get the best possible experience in an ethical manner. Look for agencies that use local guides from indigenous communities, take care of wildlife, do not allow feeding or touching animals, provide drinking water so you don’t have to bring plastic bottles, and generally do their best to be so environmentally friendly -friendly as possible. Aside from ethical considerations, what you experience on the tour depends on how many nights you choose and which agency you book with. Therefore, inform yourself about all details before booking.
Important questions to the tour operators are:
- What is the maximum number of people per guide?
- Who are the other people on your tour? If you are booking at the last minute in person, ask who you are on the tour with. For example, if you’re traveling alone, you may not want to go on a tour with just couples.
- Where will you sleep? Mashaquipe is one of the few agencies that offer camping in the jungle on one evening of their jungle tour. Otherwise you will probably stay in lodges. Ask if these are dorms or private and if the bathrooms are shared or private.
- Whether the leader speaks English. This is not always a given, especially with the really cheap agencies.
- What foods and drinks are included. In general, all agencies include all meals and non-alcoholic beverages, with alcoholic beverages available at an additional cost.
- Ask if it is possible to swim with the river dolphins on the Pampa tour (this depends on the time of year, water level, etc.).
- Whether other activities are included. For example, Mashaquipe involves building a raft and sailing downstream as part of their jungle tour.
- What are the additional costs? Entrance fees to Madidi National Park (Bs 200) and Pampa (Bs 150) are usually not included in the price.
Some recommended agencies are Mashaquipe Eco Tours, Bala Tours, Madidi Travel and Dolphin Travel.
All of these more reputable companies inevitably have a higher price, but are worth the additional costs. If you are flexible with your travel plans and want to try to save some money, it’s best to show up in Rurrenabaque, visit the various tour operators, and book your tour directly about a day in advance so that you can negotiate the price.
What to pack
The most important things you need to pack are mosquito repellents and long pants. Mosquitoes are a nightmare in the jungle, especially in the rainy season. So be prepared! You should also take long sleeved tops for the evenings and t-shirts / vests for the day as it can get very hot. If you want to swim with dolphins on the Pampa tour, you also need swimwear. Finally, bring a headlamp, sunscreen, and cash if you want to buy beer.
You can usually hand in your bags, valuables or anything else that you do not need to the travel agency on the morning of your departure. It is also worth noting that if you go on a combination tour, you will have to return between the jungle and the pampas through Rurrenabaque. Check with your agency, but they are likely to make a quick stop at their offices so you can drop off and pack fresh clothes before the second part of the tour.
Visiting the Amazon rainforest is a bucket list activity, and Bolivia offers the perfect opportunity to cross that off your list. There is really nothing better than waking up to the sounds of the jungle, watching wildlife for a day and then rounding off the day and watching a beautiful sunset over the Amazon while sipping a cerveza (beer).
Writer and Traveler
Sophie has been traveling in South America since September 2019. Born in London, she lived and worked in Vietnam for 4 years before deciding to pursue her passion for full-time travel. She loves exploring new destinations, experiencing adventures and trying local cuisine. She shares her pictures on her Instagram and her portfolio sophiesmall.contently.com. [Read full bio]
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