It couldn’t have been more different to La Paz. In the space of an hour we went from 3,600m to 200m above sea level. From chilly wind to humid rainforest. From headaches to feeling…normal.
The flight itself provided some incredible views as we flew through snow capped mountains and eventually descended into the Amazon basin, landing at the loosest definition of an airport we’d seen the whole trip. The runway was mercifully concrete but it was surrounded by mud and the ‘terminal’ was little more than a wooden shack. It really felt like an adventure.
We were in the town of Rurrenabaque, the gateway to the Amazon Pampas.
The first part of any Pampas trip is the boring but necessary 3 hour drive to Santa Rosa where we would catch our boat. We seemed to have lunch at someone’s house, which was very tasty, and got the chance to meet our fellow travellers.
Our group was only 5 people – us, a South Korean girl, and 2 Bolivian ladies, which gave an interesting dynamic. The Bolivian ladies couldn’t speak much English, and after 5 months learning we could still only hold basic conversations in Spanish, but we got by, and it was certainly interesting.
After lunch we hopped back in the car and were taken to the boat dock, where the scale of the operation became clear. There were at least 10-15 other small groups leaving on this day alone. After a wait and a chance to buy overpriced supplies, we were off in our small boat for our 3 hour cruise to our accommodation.
It was a lovely and relaxing cruise, and as we got deeper into the Pampas our guide started to point out animals everywhere. We saw so many types of birds, monkeys and turtles.
We arrived at the lodge, which was basic but comfortable and most importantly of all, had a mosquito net.
After a quick lie down in the hammocks, we were taken down the river by our guide to a ‘bar’ to watch the sunset. It was little more than a wooden shack again, but the beer was cold so it was all good. Considering how remote we were, 25Bs for a beer wasn’t too bad. Some people played football, while the rest of us sat and watched the incredible sunset.
Suddenly the darkness brought the river alive – cries and squawks came from every direction. We headed back to the lodge for dinner and then went out Caimen spotting. And we saw plenty of sinister looking eyes glowing in the water – it made you glad that the lodge was high up!
Our second day started with anaconda spotting. This was one activity that I didn’t have high hopes for, since I’d read many accounts online of people not being able to find any. And it wasn’t much of a surprise they couldn’t, since there were multiple groups all in the same area of wetland (which was just behind the bar we’d been to the previous night) so any anacondas had probably slithered away as soon as they could.
As expected, the hour walking in the burning sun was for nothing, as neither we nor any other groups spotted one. We did finally see one however, when we got back to the lodge for lunch. A fairly lengthy, though not gigantic, anaconda was nestled by a tree near the lodge. It made me glad the whole thing was built on stilts!
After lunch it was time for piranha fishing, which I was quite excited about. We motored down the river for a short distance, cut the engine, and drifted into some mangroves near the bank. We were shown how to load the bait (pieces of beef) on the line and how to cast it.
I don’t have a good record at fishing, in the few times I’ve done it I’ve never caught a single thing, and sadly this was no different. I got a lot of nibbles, you could really feel the power of these small fish, but I didn’t have the skill to know exactly when to pull the line out. Neither of us caught any, but one of the girls in our group caught one at the first attempt!
One fish wasn’t going to feed us though so our guide saved the day by catching lots more.
That evening the staff at the lodge cooked the catch for us. It was an impressive sight on the plate but the taste left a bit to be desired. Certainly not the tastiest fish I’ve ever eaten.
We headed to the sunset bar again after dinner, which ended up with all the men, Bolivian and foreign, in the bar owner’s shack, watching the Champions League football on his 50″ plasma screen via satellite in the middle of the remote Amazon basin. It was an amusing reminder of how small and connected the world really is.
We were up at 4am to head out for an optional pre dawn cruise down the river. I am absolutely not a morning person but I dragged myself out of bed for it, and I was glad I did. As the sun began to rise the pampas woke up, with the sound of howler monkeys everywhere – by 10 or 11am it is too hot for them and they go to rest. It also afforded us a beautiful sunrise, one of only a handful we’d actually seen on the whole trip.
After going back to bed for a bit and having breakfast, we packed all our things and went out for our last activity – swimming with pink river dolphins. At several points we’d seen them swimming alongside the boat but we’d only ever had a glimpse.
Our boat stopped in a lagoon where seemingly every single other boat for all the tour companies had stopped too, which was a bit disappointing as there’s nothing quite like loud humans to scare away animals.
We got in the water and for quite a while it felt like they were avoiding us. We saw the occasional one leap out of the water but that was it. Eventually though I was rewarded. It started with the odd bump from the dolphins nose, until one obviously got quite comfortable with me and actually swam up underneath me until I was (essentially) riding it! It was an amazing moment, they were such lovely playful animals, and it was nice to see them in their natural habitat. They weren’t fed, and there was nothing stopping them completely leaving the packed lagoon but they wanted to stay and play.
After this we headed back to the lodge for lunch and were then back on the boat to leave, another 3 hours to Santa Rosa then back to Rurrenabaque. This took a little longer as we had not one but two flat tires on the way home, meaning we had to wait in the burning sun for another truck to lend us a tyre!
The Pampas is not the Amazon proper, there is no disputing that, and if you expect to see lush jungle you will be disappointed (actual Amazon trips can be done from Rurrenabaque I believe, but they are more expensive). But for the price, and the amount of wildlife you see, the Pampas trip is well worth it.
Our flights from La Paz cost us £136 each for a return. It’s a lot cheaper on the bus, and you might be tempted looking at how far La Paz and Rurre are on the map, but remember the altitude – that bus will be crawling downhill the entire way, often in heavy rain – it takes up to 12 hours. Various people had horror stories of the journey and were looking to book flights back to La Paz!
The tour we did was with Indigena. There are countless tour operators all offering virtually the same tour, and no doubt there are some cheaper but we were recommended Indigena by another traveller so we were happy to go with it. We paid 950Bs per person – this is more than I thought it was, but is about the going rate. The price included all transport, meals and accommodation. Only drinking water and beer was extra.
On our first night in Rurrenabaque we stayed in El Curichal hostel which was grotty and not recommended. The last night after the tour we stayed at Los Tucanes De Rurre which was cheaper (100Bs) and a lot better, though still very much a budget place.
We visited in May 2015.