Everything you need to know before your visit to the Bolivian Amazon
Bolivia is by far the cheapest country to visit the Amazon compared to its neighbouring countries that offer crazy expensive excursions (I am looking at you, Brazil). Your visit to the Bolivian Amazon starts in Rurrenabaque, a hub for eco-tourism. Find all the information you need to plan your visit to the Bolivian Amazon: the best time of the year to visit, how to get there, what tour to book, information about lodges, a packing list and notes on wildlife encounters.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best time to visit the Amazon is in the dry season from October to May. It is not recommended to visit the Bolivian Amazon in the wet season. September and April is an okay time to travel to the Bolivian Amazon too, just make sure you bring your poncho and a liter bottle of insect repellent. The climate in the Amazon is as hot and humid as you expect it to be all year around.
TRAVEL TO RURRENABAQUE BY AIR
Your trip to Rurrenabaque starts in La Paz. You reach Rurrenabaque by air or by land. If you choose to travel by air, book your flight via Skyscanner or directly with Amaszonas airlines departing from El Alto airport. Be aware that your flight is subject to change or cancellation due to weather circumstances, especially in the rainy season. You can expect a flight on a shaky propeller plane that can carry a maximum of 20 passengers. Airline fairs usually vary between 150-200 USD for a round trip.
TRAVEL TO RURRENABAQUE BY LAND
By land there are two ways to travel to Rurrenabaque from La Paz, either by bus or by ‘taxi’. The bus departs from Villa Fátima station and takes about 20 to 35 hours at the cost of USD 10 one-way. At the same bus station you find ‘taxi’s’, which I would rather describe as shared rides that depart on a daily basis without a fixed schedule. The shared ride leaves when all the seats are sold and the ride takes 15 to 25 hours depending on weather circumstances and costs about 15 USD one-way.
Travelling by land to Rurrennabaque is quite the adventure. The road from La Paz to Rurrenabaque passes a cliff almost constantly and the roads are slim and unpaved. It is good to know people drive on the right side in Bolivia, except for in the Amazon where people drive on the left side. The map below presents the route. According to Google Maps it takes about ten hours but I can guarantee you it will take you circumstances on the way will extend the duration of your journey.
As it is unlikely there will be a change of driver in a bus or shared ride I recommend you to break your trip and stay a night in Caranavi which is about halfway on the route. Continue your trip the next day, shared rides or bus tickets are offered in Caranavi. Take a shared ride that departs from Caranavi to increase your chances of a well rested driver. Some passengers on shared rides might carry unconventional luggage (our fellow passengers carried a microwave, a puppy and parts of a fridge). Travelling by land is significantly cheaper, but as you might have figured by now it is not as safe as travelling by plane.
As remote as Rurrenabaque is, it is not as primitive as you’d expect. There are heaps of basic accommodations offering private and shared rooms for 5 to 10 USD per night, some even located right next to the Amazon river. The village has a good vibe and there are loads of great restaurants. There are little ATM’s in Rurrenabaque of which most are not functional so make sure to bring enough cash.
Once you get to Rurrenabaque all agencies offer two excursions for two nights and three days at the same rate. The first excursion is a jungle trek through national park Madidi which involves a lot of hiking and rappelling. Without a doubt this excursion is very adventurous, however it is not very likely you will spot a lot of animals. Due to heavy rainfall and an abundance of mosquitos it is not recommended to do the Jungle Trek in April or September.
The second excursion is a boat trip to Las Pampas [the wetlands] with a lot of opportunities for wildlife watching. During this excursion you stay in a lodge on the water and you spend most of your time sailing along the Amazon river looking for wildlife. Most lodges offer excursions to swim with pink dolphins, night alligator spotting and piranha fishing.
It will be more expensive to book your excursion from La Paz, unless you decide to travel by air and find a great package deal. To save money it might be worthwhile to take the risk of booking your excursion upon arrival in Rurrenabaque. Both excursions described above are offered at the rate of approximately 100 USD including transport, accommodation, food and excursions. Prices are negotiable, but stay realistic. Don’t forget to tip your guide and the cooks by the end of your excursion.
During your Amazon stay you spend the night in a lodge on the water. I booked my Las Pampas tour with Fluvial lodge that facilitates all primary needs to survive in the Amazon. The cabins are set up for two or four people with a shower, sink and toilet. Mosquito nets and a fan are provided. The lodge offers space for relaxation in hammocks. Meals are prepared in the kitchen next to the dining area and are served three times a day. The food served by Fluvial lodge was by far the best food I had during my entire trip in Bolivia and most importantly, they prepared vegetarian meals upon request. Be aware that there is limited electricity due to the lodges’ remote location.
The Bolivian Amazon has a humid and hot climate all year around. Don’t take this as an invitation to wear shorts and crop tops. Mosquitos will feast on every bit of exposed skin. Don’t try to outsmart mosquitos by wearing tight clothes that cover your body instead because Amazonian mosquitos have the superpower to pinch through cloth. There are a lot of species of mosquitos in the Amazon, but you don’t need to worry about malaria in this area. There is no need to bring your own food to the Amazon as monkeys might break into your cabin and take it from you. The lodge will provide sufficient food for your needs. It is recommended to pack the following items:
Yellow fever vaccination + proof of vaccination (obligatory)
Sun protection (factor 30 or higher)
Wide pants that cover your legs, preferebly white or another bright colour
Wide shirt/blouse that covers your arms, preferably white or another bright colour
Waterproof camera (+extra batteries)
On a final note, I would like to prepare you for wildlife encounters in the Bolivian Amazon. In my experience there is a fine line between animal observation and animal abuse. Some more traditional Bolivian tour guides do not accept the boundaries that are set for interactions with wildlife. Consequently, a guide might offer you to pose for a picture with a sloth or anaconda, or invite you to participate in an even more harmful activity.
Please do not feel forced to do something you know that’s not right. Its called animal observation for a reason, since this implicates one should merely observe an animal in an encounter rather than interact with it. Posing as your photoprop is a traumatising experience for all wildlife species. Inform your guide you do not wish to participate in activities of this nature prior to your departure. Do you want to know more about animal cruelty free tourism? Check out these 5 guidelines.