Bolivian Amazon: Pampas vs Jungle Tours
When visiting Bolivia there are a few things you simply cannot skip. With the Bolivian jungle covering around half of the country, it is safe to say that a visit to the rainforest is a must. The most popular gateway to the Bolivian Amazon is Rurrenabaque. This small town about 400 kilometers northwest of La Paz gives entrance to Madidi National Park and the pampas that surround it. Most tour operators in Rurrenabaque will offer tourists either a pampas or jungle tour. Although both tours are spectacular in their own way, they offer an entirely different experience.
The name Pampas might confuse some as it also refers to the fertile plains in Argentina, while in Bolivia they are actually talking bout the pre-Amazonian wetlands in the Beni region. A classic Pampas tour doesn’t take you inside the jungle itself but visits the wetlands instead. Tours usually last 3 days but other variations are also possible. Most tours will include the following activities:
- Pampas boat tour: Usually they take you into the Pampas by boat. While on the boat you may spot monkeys, countless species of birds but also caiman, capybaras, turtles, pink river dolphins and even anacondas! The trees and waters are full of wildlife, and your guide should be able to help you to recognise the different animals. Although there is an abundance of wildlife all year round, some animals might be more difficult to spot in the rainy season.
- Piranha fishing: On a Pampas Tour you can get the chance to catch the most notorious fish in the world. Your guides will show you the traditional ways to catch these ferocious predators.
- Pink River Dolphin Swimming: On your tour you will get the chance to meet the pink river dolphin. This species is only found in the Amazon rainforest. If the murky water isn’t a bother, you can enjoy a refreshing swim with these beautiful animals. They might brush up against you but they aren’t bothered by tourists.
- Alligator Spotting: One of the most exciting things to do is explore the jungle by night. Most tours include a nightly excursion into the forest in search of alligators. In the daytime they might be masters at camouflage, but the moonlight – or your flashlight – will reveal their presence easily.
Why choose the Pampas?
The Pampas tour is the best option if you want to see as much wildlife as possible. Because the vegetation is less thick than in the jungle, there is more space to spot animals and temperatures also tend to be lower. Be prepared to go camping in basic conditions and be sure to bring mosquito repellent!
How much does it cost?
Prices vary between $200 and $300 for a three day tour. These should not include the park entrance, which is an additional 150Bs or around $20USD. These prices usually do not include Airport Transfers or transportation from and to La Paz.
A jungle tour will take you to a rainforest lodge where you will spend 2-5 days depending on your tour. Most tours offer:
- Diurnal walk: From your lodge, your guide will take you into the forest for some wildlife spotting. You will get a chance to see deer, peccaries, monkeys, capybaras and of course a variety of exotic birds.
- Nocturnal walk: You will take an evening walk to spot the nocturnal animals in the jungle. Most likely, you will meet some armadillos, serpents, insects, tapirs, night monkeys and night birds – but if you’re really lucky, you might also hear a jaguar roar!
- Macaw observing: Most tours will take you to see the macaws (parrot) and their nests where you can watch them interact with each other against the green canopy.
Why choose the jungle?
Because these tours take you further into the jungle where vegetation is thicker, you may see less animals. With the jungle tours, the focus lies more on learning about the biodiversity in whichever way you find it in the rainforest. Some tours might teach you about medicinal plants, while others will take you fishing or teach you how to build a raft. So although a jungle tour shows you less wildlife, it is probably the most genuine way of exploring the Bolivian jungle.
How much does it cost?
As with the Pampas tour, prices vary between $220 and $300 for a three day tour, but in general the jungle tours are slightly pricier. For the jungle tours you will also need to pay the entrance to the park separately, which is around 125Bs or $18 USD. Like the Pampas tours, accommodation is basic.
In the end, both tour options offer tourists the chance to see exotic wildlife only found in the Bolivian jungle and both will immerse you in its green universe. Probably more important than picking between the Pampas or the jungle, is choosing the right operator, the time of year you wish to go and how to get to Rurrenabaque.