Here at the Road Warrior, the world’s best travel adapter, we LOVE the off-beaten path. So, when we had the chance to venture into the wild and see the Bolivian rainforest, Las Pampas, we jumped at the opportunity. The “pampas”, meaning the “plains” or lowlands in Quechua, can be accessed in Bolivia from the town of Rurrenabaque in Bolivia (also known as “Rurre”). The pampas refers to the savannah that runs from eastern Bolivia and across to Brazil, all the way down to Argentina. These plains are home to some amazing wildlife and many of the areas have been protected by local governments to preserve the ecosystems and many animals that live here.
To get to Rurre, it’s a pretty long bus ride north from the capital city of La Paz — think 18 hours on a bus down the “Death Road”, one of the most dangerous and narrow roads that zig zags through the mountains with little visibility. So, instead of taking the bus, we opted to take the most direct route and we flew on a less than two-hour flight to Rurre from La Paz on TAM — the old military airlines. Although our flight to and from Rurre is one we’ll never forget…think a very, very noisy old military plane with hardly any visibility out the windows and some of the most turbulent feelings we’ve felt in a long time up in the air…we still recommend it as a way to get from La Paz to Rurre.
The town of Rurrenabaque is small, with about 14,000 inhabitants, and is located on the east side of the Beni River. The rainforest and jungle tours all leave from the city, and most take you on a boat ride that lasts less than an hour to the south-west area. Here, there are a variety of eco-lodges that run out of the communities that live on the banks of the Beni River. Many of the tours go to a river called the Yacuma, which is located in the depths of some lush, tropical forests. This is known as the Amazon of the east! There are a ton of different operators to choose from when you arrive in Rurrenabaque, so we definitely recommend doing some research when you arrive by asking other tourists which company they recommend and why.
We chose a 3-day tour of the pampas and we weren’t disappointed! The pampas tour took us down the winding Yacuma River that was just filled with animal life due to the slow-moving river water. Along the riverbanks, we were lucky enough to see many caimans, crocodiles, capybaras and many birds as the slow-moving boats chugged their way through the murky waters. On the first day, our guide stopped alongside the river underneath a very large tree that had lots of rustling leaves. He held out a few bananas and around twenty small monkeys came for a visit.
On our second day, we swam in the murky river. We were swimming alongside crocodiles (which, according to our guide only feed around the sunrise and sunset periods, and sometimes nocturnally…so apparently it was safe!??!) and pink dolphins. We also had the opportunity to fish in the river and our guide showed us how really ruthless the piranhas are in South America! He put a carcass of a dead chicken in the water and we watched as these small fish came to devour the meat from the bones.
On our third day, we went for a jungle hike with our guide and he showed us how the locals use the land. We learned about some of the medicinal properties of the trees and plants, which was fascinating. We also hiked to the treeless plains and our guide found an anaconda…just by simply listening to the ground!…and we were able to learn a bit more about this amazing creature!
Word of warning for anyone traveling to the pampas, you will be living outdoors in tent-like conditions so this is not for those who prefer luxury travel! Oh, and make sure you shake out your boots and jackets before you put them on in the morning, if you are leaving them to air out outside of your tent or cabin…we had some critter-creature surprises waiting for us in our boots in the morning!
If you’re planning a trip to Bolivia, and you want to see some amazing wildlife that’s off-the-beaten-path, this is definitely a “must-see” in your travels!
From the depths of the pampas, where the anacondas and caymans are lurking…we wish you safe and Happy Travels!