After our wonderful stay on Isla del Sol, we took a bus to La Paz. We almost immediately disliked the city. Maybe it was due to the difference between the peacefulness of the Titicaca lake and the busy streets of La Paz. Maybe because of the rudeness of a taxi driver who ripped us off. Or maybe just because everything was so expensive for our budget. In any case, we decided to leave La Paz as soon as possible and took the direction of Rurrenabaque, the entry door to the Pampa and the Jungle!
Rurrenabaque is a small city nested around the Rio Beni river. Here, there are no big buildings, the nature is everywhere and caipirinha seems to be the local drink! Indeed, we had several times long and interesting discussions with travel agencies in the city: every time, they gave us free coupons for two caipirinhas in a different restaurant! So our game consisted in using the coupon to get two free caipirinha and order one dish to eat along. Then we would switch to the next restaurant, get again two free caipirinhas and another dish. We established a caipirinhas quality ranking between the different restaurants and the winner was the Funky Monkey 😉 one tip regarding this restaurant: the fish dishes are delicious and not too expensive, but the pizzas are just ok and the prices quite high…
Jungle tour VS Pampa tour
The are mainly two different tours that you can book in Rurrenabaque, the Pampa and the Jungle:
- If you choose the Jungle Tour, you will camp and hike in the jungle for 1 to 30 nights. There it is not guarantedd to see many animals but your guide will explain a lot about the plants growing in the area, showing you which one you can eat or use for medical purposes. If you want to see rare animals such as jaguars, it is possible but you need to get relatively deep inside the Jungle and you need to get very lucky as well. That also means that you have to book a longer trip. Most of the people book 2 or 3 days tour, where the chances of seeing such rare animals are close to none.
- The Pampa Tour usually lasts 3 days/2 nights and will take you to the swamps and rivers of the Amazon. You will stay in a basic lodge and have the opportunity to see many animals. It is not as tiring as the Jungle Tour as you do not walk a lot and the accommodation is clearly more comfortable.
We would have liked to actually book both tours, but we were limited in time and budget. Because we wanted to see as many animals as possible, so we decided to go for the Pampa tour.
A small story about the prices of the Pampa tour
When we started to look for an agency to book our Pampa tour, we heard many different prices for exactly the same tour. We also saw in some agencies a sign indicating that we should paid at least the “legal price“, which was supposedly 1200B per person.
We asked in one agency what this sign meant and why the prices could be so different: we had a very interesting answer from one agency’s owner. She explained that, half a year ago, some agencies offered prices as low as 450B for the 3 days/2 nights Pampas tour. This meant that the service offered was really bad and many customers started to complain and write bad reviews on the Internet. As a result, the number of tourists coming to the city started to drop significantly. Another issue resulting from the very low prices was the decline of the guides’ wages and the fact that some agencies did not even have enough money to pay for the food they provided during the tour to the tourists.
Therefore, a few agencies went to the town’s Major and asked him for a solution. He organized a commission of experts that determined the “right price” of the Pampa tour: 1200B/person. This price allows the travel agencies to pay their guides correctly, organize proper food for tourists and save a little bit for future investments.
We had read many reviews on the Internet warning about agencies hiring guides that feed animals or even catch them so that tourists can touch them. Often, it will endanger the animals, as our sunscreens and insect repellents are toxic for them. Snakes are particularly sensible to this kind of products and might die if you touch them while having insect repellent on…
As we checked for good rated agencies on Tripadvisor, we read many good reviews about Dolphin Tours. According to what we read, they did their best to protect the fauna and flora of the area by respecting a few key rules, such as not touching animals, and were offering good services. When we went to the agency, they made a good impression and they were offering the Pampa Tour for the official price. Therefore, we decided to book the tour with them.
Day 1: from Rurrenabaque to our lodge in the Jungle
As we arrived at the agency in the morning, we discovered that Charlotte had lost her credit card since the last time we withdrew money. With the help of Nivardo, our local contact in the Dolphin Tour agency, we checked at the bank if the card was still inside of the ATM. Sadly, it was not found and so we now have only one credit card we can use to withdraw money…
On the good side, we were informed that our tour would be a private one, as there was a short term flight cancelation for the other participants expected from La Paz. We met with our Guide, Marcial, and left in direction of Santa Rosa around 09:00 am. Marcial and our driver were directly on the lookout for animals. After about one hour, we were able to see a sloth and and a rhea, an animal looking a lot like an ostrich! Charlotte was really happy as she dreamt about seeing a sloth during this tour 😀
Once arrived in Santa Rosa, we had a tasty and overwhelming lunch – I believe it was still planned for 4 persons. From there, it was just a short ride to the entry to National Park where the Pampa Tour takes place. Once we arrived at the river, we took place in a thin boat with our guide and started our way toward the lodge. After a fast 45 minute drive, Marcial slowed down and started to show us the local fauna. There were so many animals around the boat that we didn’t even know where to look at! We saw Capybara families – a kind of big rodent – laying in the sun along the river bank, just next to caimans! We looked at different monkeys playing around in the trees surrounding the river and many kings of birds flying away as our boat was passing by.
Some 20 minutes later, we experienced a special moment as a 5 meters caiman did NOT submerge in the water as we were nearing him like all other caimans. Instead, he headed directly towards our boat! After a short burst of speed and some maniac laughter from our guide, we passed this “obstacle” and continued our cruise up the river.
On the way, our guide explained to us that the dry season is the best to see most of the animals in the Pampa. Indeed, they tend to get close to the river as it is one of the only water source in the area. During the rainy season, it is for example a lot harder to see caimans as the whole area around the river is completely flooded and they go everywhere. However, it is harder to see pink dolphin during the dry season as the water level is lower and the dolphins stay more downstream. Therefore, we felt very lucky when our guide pointed at the river as two dolphins swam a few meters away from our boat 😀
Marcial asked us if we wanted to swim with them and we looked at him a little bit skeptically. Indeed, he had explained to us a few minutes earlier that the water was full with sardines and PIRANHAS. We had also passed by at least 80 caimans lying around, so we did wonder if he was joking. But he very calmly assured us that, when dolphins are around, caimans never attack and piranhas stay away. While remembering our encounter with the huge caiman charging our boat, we “trustingly” jumped into the water to swim a bit with the dolphins. This was a scary experience as the water was completely opaque and Charlotte kept complaining about some animals biting her left shoulder!! It turned out, it were only some sardines eating the dead skin from her back 😛
Around 16:30, we arrived at our lodge and checked in our matrimonial room. Our lodge was swarmed by Caracaras, some sort of funny ground hopping Falcon. After a 45 minute break, we headed out to watch the sunset over the pampa at an amazing location, where we could even buy cool beers for 25 BOB. Not cheap but definitely worth it 😉
On our return trip from the sunset, we pulled out our flashlights and searched for caimans, which turned out to be extremely easy as their eyes are a natural light reflector. We were stunned by the number of caimans and also by the number of INSECTS attracted by our lights. One advice: use insect repellent and wear covering clothes for this excursion during dawn as that is the time of mosquito activity!! We finished the day with a nice dinner, a very refreshing shower and headed to bed with beautiful images in our mind…
Day 2: the Anaconda search!
For the second day, Marcial hat scheduled the Anaconda search. He recommended to start as early as possible – not only to avoid other groups but also to make sure that we would return before 11 am, as the sun shines hard in the Pampa! After a short boat ride, our guide lead us into the swam area around the river. At this period of the year, it was more a huge meadow than a swamp, with small lakes everywhere. Marcial showed us water marks on trees showing how high the water rises during the rainy season.
We learned that anacondas are the only natural enemy of adults caimans around here, which funnily are in turn the enemies of anacondas. Shortly said, they eat each other! However, anacondas procreate a lot slower than caimans and thus, it is a lot more difficult to find one. After 2 hours and 30 minutes of tiring walk through the pampas, we finally found an anaconda and Marcial slowly approached it from the back to place a stick next to its head. The snake started to wrap itself around the stick and we could admire it as Marcial lifted the stick. After taking some pictures, we watched it escaping into the river.
We then returned quickly to the boat as we had overextended our search quite a bit and were approaching 11 am. The air was practically turning solid as it grew hotter and hotter. We were very relieved when we finally arrived at the boat and were able to feel some driving wind again. If you ever go to the pampas, take a hat with you!
After lunch and a siesta, we went Piranha fishing: Charlotte and me managed to catch a baby Piranha each, which Marcial threw back into the water as they were not large enough to be cooked for dinner. Sadly, Charlotte stepped on mine so I believe its chances were not that good to survive our amateur fishing encounter 🙁
Meanwhile, Marcial fished 2 adults Piranhas – the teeth are really impressive! Afterwards, we made sure to stop by the sunset location for another beer and a short football game with some locals and other tourists from different lodges before heading back to our lodge for dinner. While they tasted quite good, the Piranhas were not that big. Thus we were happy to see that there was more food prepared than just the Piranhas 😉
After breakfast, we had a small walk with our guide around our lodge to discover a little bit the local flora. On our way, we were able to see howler and capuccino monkeys, as well as parrots and other colorful birds. We even got to see two toucans! Apparently, it is not that common to see them and our guide was very happy about it! Marcial also used the juice of wild apples as ink in order to draw non-permanent tattoo on our arms: while Charlotte chose an easy drawing – an anaconda, I really challenged Marcial with a Caracara. Let’s say it would be better for you to choose an easy drawing if you want your tattoo to look like an animal 😜
Shortly after lunch, we headed back by boat to the entrance of the reserve, where we said goodbye to our guide and the Pampa. We took the same road as before and some 3 hours later, we were back in Rurrenabaque. The pampa tour is well organized, the activities cleverly planned and the food was delicious. We really enjoy this excursion and would definitely recommend the Dolphin Tour agency!
How to get there
In order to get to Rurrenabaque from La Paz, you have two solutions:
- either you take a 14-17hours bus ride for about 20 USD
- or you take the Death road biking experience and then continue from your arrival point another ~11 hours by bus to Rurrenabaque
- or you flight for about 180 USD and arrive in less than an hour
We read and heard some really scary stories about the road going from La Paz to Rurrenabaque, including this one, and therefore decided to fly. But when we spoke with other tourists in Rurrenabaque, they actually told us that the road is in an ok condition and was improved a lot lately and the trip manageable as long as it doesn’t rain too much in the couple of days before the trip.
If you want to do the Death Road from La Paz, note that you can bike down the mountain and then take a bus to Rurrenabaque from the place where you stopped biking.
In Rurrenabaque, you won’t have thousand options, the city is small. We went to the hostal El Lobo and paid 160 BOB for a double room with private bathroom and breakfast. The hostel is located at the end of the city, just next to the river and there is a small swimming pool to chill. We enjoyed our two short stays in the hostel, but the shower in both rooms were kind of broken and spilled water into the room. Except that, the rooms were quite nice 🙂
Price of the Pampa Tour
We booked the Pampa Tour with the agency Dolphin Tour and paid 1200 BOB per person. Additionally, we had to pay 150 BOB as we entered the national park where the Pampa Tour takes place.
What you should bring
Here is a short list of items we found very useful for the Pampa Tour:
- There will likely be many mosquitos at dawn and dusk, so be prepared and bring a good insect repellent.
- Sunscreen is a must, you will seat for three hours in a boat with no shade – we would recommend to have one with a SPF of at least 50, otherwise you will burn.
- For the evening, bring a light trouser and a long sleeves t-shirt. Both should ideally be white or light colored as insects are attracted to dark colors
- Bring a hat! I don’t like hats, I never wear one, but during our anaconda search, I dreamed about having one on my head…
- Just take sandales, you won’t need hiking shoes as you will get boots for the anaconda search – and believe me, you will need them, it gets muddy sometimes!