Bolivian jungle itinerary
The green Bolivia, that of the jungle rhythms, is not as visited and known as its Andean cousin. And very badly done, because it is the other side of the coin that one should not miss while traveling in this country of two different worlds. Not only the landscapes are different, the people and their culture perfectly match the jungle: the way they speak and interact, their customs, clothing, food and drinks... Everything changes in this Amazonian part. The mere fact of coming, even a couple of days, will have been worthwhile to discover this other reality of the country. Although the Bolivian jungle territory is huge and has dozens of amazing places, in this space we are going to stick to this specific route, which include:
Los Hervores, Aguas Calientes (Roboré)
Santa Cruz de la Sierra
Trinidad, San Ignacio de Moxos & San Borja
Rurrenabaque & Madidi National Park
Santa Rosa de Yacuma Reserve (Pampas)
Note. Transportation infrastructure is not very good in much of the route, but that is precisely one of the elements that make this adventure so great.
LOS HERVORES, AGUAS CALIENTES (ROBORÉ)
This small oasis, remote and little known (for now), is a luxury. A river of volcanic thermal waters and, according to many, with healing properties, runs with hot water along five kilometers in the middle of the jungle. It is neither more nor less than the most extensive hot spring river in Latin America. No need to say more, come and discover... And swim in Paradise.
SANTA CRUZ DE LA SIERRA
The capital of the jungle, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, located right at the end of the Eastern Cordillera, does not stand out for its beauty, but for its chaos and for how big it is (largest city in Bolivia). However, there are some nice spots, such as the colonial center (Plaza 24 de Septiembre and the surrounding area), and it is a good base for excursions to places like Samaipata, the Amboró National Park (jungle northern section, from Bonavista), the Che’s Route, the Jesuit Missions, go deep into the jungle... Or even set course to Brazil, towards the Pantanal. This is what I did (you can go by road or train). Read more here.
Meeting place for travelers, also known as Samaitrapa (it is a pun that means getting stuck in that town), offers fun, nature and relaxation (perfect climate). In my particular case, it has an even more special value: it was the birthplace of my pup Cocaí. Over there it all began! The village, floating on a Yungas type ecosystem, is small, with dirt roads, with a few markets and a nice central square. Among the treasures of its surroundings we have the Amboró National Park (yungas southern section), the Cuevas Ecological Center with beautiful waterfalls and exuberant flora (photo above), and the pre-inca site El Fuerte.
For those seeking to settle for a while in a place this is a good spot, since you can easily find small jobs or volunteering in exchange for room and board. The place really encourages you (again, good weather, fellow travelers, nature...).
TRINIDAD, SAN IGNACIO DE MOXOS AND SAN BORJA
It does not really matter what populations you visit because beauty is not what most characterizes the jungle towns and cities... But its authenticity. It is exciting to see the way of life of its people. These three are the ones I spent a few days in, and all three are highly recommended.
Trinidad (or Santísima Trinidad; foto above). Bathed by the mighty Mamoré river, this city founded at the end of the 17th century by the Jesuit missions is inhabited today by more than 100,000 inhabitants, being the most populated city and the capital of the department of Beni. It has a nice center (with a tropical main square) that makes it a good stop on the way to Rurrenabaque. If your destination is Brazil, you can embark on a week-long trip along the Mamoré River to Guayaramerín. I did not do it, but it must be a spectacular journey through the deep jungle.
San Ignacio de Moxos. A large town of Beni also founded by the Jesuit missions at the end of the 17th century. A good excursion is to the Isireri Lagoon where, according to the legend, a fearsome monster (a big snake) hides in its waters. You can camp on the shore if you are not afraid of the legend and enjoy, instead, a formidable landscape and sunset.
San Borja. Another town in Beni where you can stop to take a look and enjoy its people and cuisine. The Biospheric Station of Beni is a few kilometers away.
RURRENABAQUE AND MADIDI NATIONAL PARK
The crown jewel of the Bolivian jungle for the traveler is called Rurrenabaque (and around), on the Beni River. Among the places in the Bolivian jungle, this is undoubtedly the best prepared for tourism, with agencies offering tours to both the Madidi National Park and the Santa Rosa de Yacuma Reserve (see below), which allows us to explore more in depth the jungle and its life. "Rurre" is also more accessible, since it is connected by road from La Paz (only 420 km, but, given the road conditions, it takes more than 8 hours). In addition to touring the streets, there are other interesting activities to do, like strolling along the banks of the Beni River (coastal avenue), crossing to San Buenaventura (a community just across the river), or walking around. There is a path that leads to a viewpoint and a river with waterfalls in the middle of the jungle.
Madidi National Park is the star attraction. This park in the Amazon ranks first in diversity and number of species on the planet, largely due to the number of ecological floors that houses: from snowline to the Amazon plain. That is why so many travelers want to get close to Rurrenabaque, a few kilometers from the protected area. However, wildlife sighting is not usually so easy, since the access from Rurre takes us to leafy, dense jungle. Tours vary from a few days to a week, depending on your interest (and your budget). Three or four days should be enough.
SANTA ROSA DE YACUMA RESERVE (PAMPAS)
100 km north of Rurre is one of the greatest wildlife shows my eyes have ever seen. It is a marsh forest type Reserve that is close to the small community of Santa Rosa de Yacuma. Unlike the closed jungle, animals here are more exposed... So much that it seems like a zoo without bars. The territory is vast, and you are required to have a guide to take you through the fluvial "highways". You can hire a tour through an agency in Rurrenabaque or speak directly with a local guide in Santa Rosa. Either way, it is not expensive even for the backpacker pocket and it is something you must do. You will see animals everywhere, free and wild. In the water: alligators, pink freshwater dolphins, piranhas, capybaras and amazing birds such as the jabiru stork (the tallest flying bird in South America), the spoonbill and herons; in the canopy there will be monkeys like the saimiri (squirrel monkey) or the capuchin, birds like the hoatzin and perhaps a sloth; over the sky, more birds. If you have any luck, you may even see an anaconda. Wildlife aside, the scenery is stunning... Not to mention the sunsets.
Interesting population on the border with Brazil, located on the banks of the Mamoré river. You can travel to Trinidad by boat (one week), to Rurrenabaque by road (via Riberalta), or cross to Brazil. The latter is what we did. Back to Brazil! Keep reading here.