I met two Aussie boys back in Santiago, Chile, who are also working their way up South America. For over 2 months now, we have been traveling together on and off. When we reunited in La Paz over New Years, the guys encouraged me to join them on a 3-day Pampas tour in the Bolivian Amazon. I had no imminent plans to visit the Amazon, but without much thought or many details, I bought my spot on the tour along with a flight to Rurrenabaque for the following day. That’s one of the things I have come to love about solo travel – the freedom to do whatever you and want, whenever you want.
We boarded this little 20-seater plane on Amazonas Airlines two hours after our scheduled departure time due to rain storms in Rurrenabaque. I was feeling a bit uneasy about navigating through stormy wet weather in a teeny tiny commuter plane, but all was well in the end.
I was sweating bullets from the moment I stepped off the plane and didn’t stop until four days later when boarding the return flight back to La Paz. As expected, the Amazon is hot and uncomfortably humid. Everyone and everything is sticky.
The launching point for the Pampas Tour was from Yacuma River Port in Santa Rosa, a muggy, bumpy three-hour drive from Rurrenabaque. Within minutes of floating down the Yacuma, jungle lodge-bound, we spotted a bunch of exciting wildlife: caimans, capybaras, turtles, loads of different bird varieties…
We made it to the lodge in time for a surprisingly tasty dinner. We watched the sunset and chatted over a couple of tepid beers before retiring to our mosquito net-covered cots for the evening.
We were a tour group of 8 or 10 people and were all sleeping in the same room so I assumed there was no need to set an alarm for the following morning. Naturally I would be awoken by my roommates, I thought. Breakfast was to be served at 7am and we would promptly be leaving for our anaconda-searching adventure in the swamps after our morning meal. Contrary to what I thought, I didn’t wake up to the buzzing of my roommates’ alarms or the shuffling or clattering of people getting ready for the day. I woke up to the cacophony of thuds reverberating from the metal roof sheltering us.
I scanned the ceiling and predicted the thuds were coming from monkeys jumping and stomping on the roof. As I lowered my gaze, I was shocked to discover a few monkeys had somehow made it INSIDE of our room!
I am a clothes-sprawler by nature. After arriving somewhere, I tend to take everything out of my backpack and set off a mini-bomb of clothing and personal belongings in my designated section of the room. My shared room at the lodge was no different; my backpack had exploded at the foot of the bed, my clothes, toiletries and electronics scattered about. After spotting our primate visitors, I instinctively jumped out of bed in a desperate effort gather all of my stuff as soon as humanly possible. Monkeys are smart little suckers and I wasn’t about to have one of these little guys rob me. It was Mother Nature’s very effective alarm clock.
After breakfast, we put on Wellie boots and headed to the swamps to spot some anacondas.
Upon arrival, our guide told us to disperse, distance ourselves at least 10 meters from one another and start looking for the snakes.
We were told we had to separate to increase our chances of spotting the scaly creatures.
I had NO idea what to expect.
Would I look down when walking and just happen to stumble across a huge anaconda in the grass?
What if I accidentally stepped on one slithering by?
How big do these guys get?
I started having flashbacks to the movie Anaconda staring J-Lo.
Turns out I’ll never know. Unfortunately (for fortunately) nobody spotted an anaconda that day. We scaled the swamp for about 3 hours and there was nada. We met another tour group that morning who had spotted an anaconda and some sort of cobra. Our guide told us that on a past tour, they spotted 25 anacondas. You can never predict what nature chooses to reveal to you.
That afternoon, we set out to tread in muddy, shallow water in search of pink river dolphins. We jumped out of the boat into the water – keep in mind that this is the same water where we had spotted at least a hundred caimans leading up to that moment. To make it even better, there were caimans chilling on the bank twenty feet away from us as we were anxiously waiting for the pink dolphins to approach us while half submerged in the water.
Swimming with pink river dolphins is one of the coolest things I have ever done. Our guide threw out a few empty water bottles from the boat and the dolphins would literally circle and zoom past us, playfully nudging and biting the bottles bobbing in the water. I wasn’t able to get any photos of the dolphins, but it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
This alone made the pampas trip worth it for me.
We spent our third and last day fishing for piranhas. This was my least favorite part of the tour because 1.) it was really boring sitting in the boat and waiting for the piranhas to bite our lines 2.) the sun was beaming down on us for the 2 hours we were fishing and 3.) I personally didn’t catch anything. Luckily the tour guide and a couple other folks on the tour were able to catch enough piranhas to feed our whole group. The cook fried them up for lunch. There wasn’t much meat on them, but it was actually pretty good!
The pampas tour was definitely enjoyable but I was really glad to return to the town of Rurrenabaque that evening and stay in a hostel with working plumbing, walls (vs mosquito nets) and a POOL!. I jumped into that pool and stayed in the cool water until my fingers and toes became white and shriveled. It was a nice way to wrap up our previous 3 days in the pampas of the Bolivian Amazon.
Getting There | Amazonas is the only airline that flies from La Paz to Rurrenabaque. You can also go by bus, but the journey is long, tedious and supposedly uncomfortably bumpy. It’s an 18-hour journey vs a 45 minute flight.
Tour Company | I went through Fluvial and did the Dolphin Pampas Tour. 3 Days, 2 Nights. The food was surprisingly good, but the accommodations and services were not too impressive. But what do you expect? You’re in the jungle. For the value I got, I thought the company was recommendable.
What to Bring | Insect Repellent, Water, Rain Jacket, Flip Flops, Shorts, Tank Tops, Toilet Paper, Portable Charger for iPhones, Long Pants for anaconda-spotting in the marsh, Tip $$$ for the Guide and Cook, Sunscreen, a hat, toiletries, towel