Why visit the Amazon in Bolivia?
Although it’s not the first image that springs to mind when we think of Bolivia, vast swathes of the country are tropical. In fact, the Bolivian Amazon is considered to be one of our planet’s most biodiverse regions.
Whether your interest is seeing wildlife in their natural habitat, visiting a traditional community or discovering ayahuasca, the Bolivian Amazon is the destination for you. Prices of tours and trips are also highly competitive in comparison with neighbouring countries. As the gateway to this region, the information here will mainly focus on Rurrenabaque and its surrounding areas.
Sights and activities
Rurrenabaque moves more to the hum of motorbike engines than the rhythms of the surrounding jungle. Known for its hammock scene, it does offer some appealing activities between tours.
Perched on a hill above the town, the mirador provides views of Rurrenabaque and the nearby jungle. Although it is a steep climb to the top, it is possible to walk this in about 30 minutes. However, in the heat of steamy Rurrenabaque, you may prefer to take a motorbike. I negotiated a 20 boliviano return trip with a driver who waited for me to look around and take photos in July 2015. Even if I speak Spanish, you may be better at haggling than I am!
Hotel El Ambaibo has a large swimming pool that provides a good escape from the heat of the day. Despite lacking pristine cleanliness on my visit, a refreshing swim and a spot of sunbathing made up for its shortcomings. At 30 bolivianos for the day, it was good value for money and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon after a few days trekking in the jungle.
A short trip across the river, this little village makes a pleasant day trip. Not exactly brimming with sights, its charm lies more in its authenticity. Whereas the streets of Rurre are busy with motorbikes, dogs lie sleeping in the mud roads of San Buenaventura. It has a pleasant central plaza with a church and there is apparently a museum of local culture that is quite interesting…when it is open. Take a look at this article to get a flavour of a day in this village.
Popular among those seeking spiritual revelations, ayahuasca is a traditional medicine (think mind altering substances) ceremony involving a shaman. As such, although deeply rooted in the culture of the Amazon, it attracts the interest of those travellers who are curious about the spiritual aspect of local traditions. It is also available in Peru, but it seems that these ceremonies are far cheaper when arranged in Rurrenabaque. Sacha Runa (see below for website) offers the ceremony in both La Paz and Rurrenabaque. Also, through internet research it seems that there is an agency called Scorpio Tours that can arrange contact with local shamans.
Jungle and Pampas Tours
Whether your interest is spotting wildlife in the lowland pampas or trekking through the jungle, this is the spot to arrange your trip. The streets of Rurrenabaque are filled with agencies that will try to meet your requirements in terms of budget and interest. To find out more about the tours available, read Getting Started in the Bolivian Amazon.
By bus from La Paz the trip takes 15-24 hours while Amaszonas and TAM have regular flights across the Andes. The Amaszonas office in the main street can also rebook a seat on a different flight for a nominal sum (something you might consider if you fall in love with the Amazon and decide to extend your stay). Also, there is a shuttle bus from outside this office for passengers travelling on its return flights to La Paz.
Arriving at Rurrenabaque airport there are motorbike drivers who will ferry you into town. On departure you will need to pay two local taxes and there are restrictions regarding the items that can be taken into the cabin. Lighters are forbidden. Smokers, be forewarned!
Rurrenabaque is small enough to walk around, so motorbike taxis should generally not be needed. A local boat service makes regular crossings to San Buenaventura if you decide that you need to chill out for the day.
Since Rurrenabaque has a thriving tourist trade you can expect a wide range of choice in terms of accommodation. Los Tucanes de Rurre is a budget choice offering basic rooms with an ensuite bathroom for about 100 bolivianos. The central area of the hotel houses a café/bar and the ubiquitous hammocks that feature so prominently in the Rurre hotel scene. According to Lonely Planet, the hotel offers ‘sweeping views of the river’. There is indeed a terrace section with chairs, but the river must have moved since their writers last visited. In its favour, the staff are pleasant and the hotel is well located even if the traffic noise can be bothersome at times. Hotel Amaibo is another option for those who want the luxury of a swimming pool and the cost is similar to that of Los Tucanes. Reviews on Tripadvisor are not exactly full of praise for the hotel and its lack of cleanliness is a common complaint. La Isla de los Tucanes might be an option for those who are prepared to pay for some extra luxury. A self-contained resort, consider it if relaxation is your top priority.
With its traveller scene there is no shortage of restaurants and cafes catering to the western tourist trade and the area around the Amaszonas office on Calle Comercio is probably a good place to start. For those who want to ‘go local’, there are plenty of places serving French fries and chicken for 10-15 bolivianos, while fresh fish is available at almost all of the riverfront restaurants. The latter will clearly be somewhat more expensive. Finally, there is a homemade ice cream parlour on Santa Cruz and its sundaes are truly delicious.
Sacha Runa (Ayahuasca): www.sacharuna.com
Scorpio Tours: http://www.escorpiontravels.com/ (in Spanish)
Los Tucanes de Rurre: http://www.hotel-tucanes.com/ (in Spanish)
Hotel Amaibo: Santa Cruz Tel: 591 3 8922017
La Isla de los Tucanes: www.laislatucanes.com