Wild[life]: 3 Days Inside the Bolivian Pampas

Country Bolivia | Dates June 16-18 | Tour Company Max Adventure [See My Review]

The pampas are wetlands on the edge of the Amazon in Bolivia, accessed most commonly via the town of Rurrenabaque. Not the same vegetation as the jungle, but better for wildlife viewing. We began our 3-day, 2-night tour at 8am, with breakfast and an introduction from our guide Choco, who I kept accidentally calling “Poco.”

The Beginning + End

Driving To/From Pampas | The road was highly bumpy and dusty, and we again drove in the wrong lane with zero visibility (common theme). We stopped at a weird homestead/hut halfway, with pigs puppies and laundry hanging. It’s not clear why we stopped (boring); a filthy puppy scratched my foot and I thought “rabies” again. We spotted cattle roadside in a stampeded (not really) and some initial wildlife.

Santa Rosa del Yacama | Town that’s the gateway to the Pampas, where we ate in a local restaurant alongside other tourists — but the food was surprisingly amazing and cooked in huge metal pots on a fire outback! From there we entered the park, saw our first giant black caiman and dolphins as the guides loaded all the wooden boats in the water waiting for us. Returning to Dock  | We drove at a considerably faster speed on our way back, the water spraying us in the (finally) hot sun. While going through shallow bit we almost got stuck, but it was a great end to our trip and we all agreed we could have stayed longer. 

Wildlife & Related Activities

Boating in the Pampas | Our first ride was 3+ hours, leisurely winding through the brown/red water and green trees. The sun was out and we began spotting wildlife. Throughout the tour we spotted the following: macaw (vibrant blue/yellow – amazing), huge white birds with a touch of pink and black beaks, looking mythical; caiman both black and speckled; anaconda; birds with spiky head feathers; monkeys; pink dolphins or bufeo; spider monkeys (they swarmed the boat and of course 3 of them jumped onto my head but not on anyone else…I yelled while Choco laughed his infamous evil laugh. “I heard screaming” said a girl from another boat as they approached).

Our second day we went deep into the pampas to see more varieties of monkeys and birds, and the landscape changed into a substantially more jungle-y atmosphere.

Spotting Caiman at Night | First night, we hunted caiman. “What are we doing?” asked my friend. Just casually in a boat in the amazon with flashlights shining them intentionally at the shoreline to look for terrifying caiman is what…

Hunting Anaconda | Again when we stopped to think about it, we wondered what we were doing. Purposefully looking for deadly snakes?! To do this we rode in the boat out to a marshy area, where we got out and climbed a wire metal fence into the water and grasses to begin our search. 

Two hours later in the blistering sun, legs splashed with mud (luckily boots dry – “sometimes water goes over the boots” our guide said, “We wear the boots to protect from poisonous pink snails”), we were about to give up. Of course, when I stopped looking I suddenly saw a black thing move away as I put my foot down and screamed; a split second view of the anaconda! It was gone by the time our guide arrived and I was the only one to see it. Suddenly Choco wanted to head back to the boat fast, saying “what is she doing back there?” when we got behind – somewhat confirming our theory this “snake hunt” is an idiot tourist activity where you look but aren’t actually supposed to find the dangerous snake. I mean how are you actually supposed to intentionally find it in 2+ feet of high grasses…

Piranha Fishing | When heading deep into the swamp to fish, suddenly Choco laughed evilly “I forgot the fishing line hahahaha.” We thought he was joking…but he was not! Luckily we passed another guide who offered spares.

We attempted to fish with primitive fishing lines (hooks on a piece of plastic string), to which we affixed raw beef to attract the piranhas. I caught my fish first, pulling a sparkling guy out of the water, with huge teeth of course, but much prettier than expected. Everyone else soon got luck, too, with the fish too small to eat thrown back and others hooked through the eye (Sick). I started feeling sad and stopped fishing. Later, we ate the piranha at dinner (yes I tried it).

Swimming with Dolphins | Our last activity was to swim with the pink, but not-actually-so-pink dolphins. Choco suddenly hurried us – “we must go not much time!” We headed into the boat to a deep water area, passing multitudes of caiman en route. We asked one more time (15th time) if it was safe and he said yes. It was absolutely freezing, but we figured we had to do it. I was last in, biding my time until I jumped into the brown/red water (is it clean? Is it safe? Eh no TripAdvisor reviews state tourists died). When in the Amazon…

The water was so cold we couldn’t breathe for a minute after jumping in.  We swam out with the dolphins, the girls touching some and coming quite close. I kept a bit of distance given my experience with wildlife…and good thing. Suddenly, one of the dolphins BIT MY FRIEND hard on the leg as well as a girl from another tour! Back in the boat, her wound bled into the wood and she acted unconcerned while I was horrified. Choco, you guessed it, laughed. 

Sun Rise & Set

Old radio hanging at sunset bar

Sunset | Both nights we went to a sunset at a bar off the water with hammocks and a wooden shack selling drinks. Other tourists were there, and an obnoxious lady from the hostel refused to drink her beer demanding, “I can’t drink this, it’s not cold” then failed to comprehend the price and then didn’t have money to pay. Thousands of mosquitos swarmed and bit us through our leggings. We went back night #2, although we had all admitted really, it wasn’t that cool a view (just a field).

Sunrise | Our final morning we awoke early (6, not that early) and took the boat for a sunrise view on the water (amazing) and then in another field (no so amazing). 1 million+ mosquitos swarmed (exact figure).

Tour Details

Eating | All the food was amazing, high quality and worth any extra money we paid for the tour. We overeat at every meal because it was so good, especially the breakfast morning #1, including irregularly-shaped pieces of fried dough that we first thought were chicken. Our final breakfast we were greedy and hoped we got a lot of food since more people were at the lodge and also we wanted the dough again. We got homemade donuts, fried cheese dough, fruit, pancakes and much more and overate again. The French family looked at it and said “we cannot eat so much” and then ate fruit while we stuffed our faces, and spooned every drop of the dulce (caramel) out of the bowl.

Lodging | We went to bed at 8-9pm each night as there was no electricity and it was freezing (abnormally cold for the season, of course). The room smelled weird, and one of the blankets had a photo of dogs that said “good colleagues.” We had some nice relaxation in the sun, though. And I took a freezing shower in “natural” water one day. When we arrived back in town at the end, they offered us Coke and free bracelets as a souvenir, which was a nice touch. I would highly recommend Max Adventure.

Budget & Practicalities

We negotiated our tour price for 1,100Bs, down from 1,350 which was initially offered. As stated in my past post, prices quoted vary from 600 (super budget but questionable) to 1,600Bs (fanciest), with the two better-quality companies we looked at coming in around the same (the other was at 1,050). All food and drinks were included, even 2 liters of water per person per day, so the only additional cost for the tour was tips for the cooks at the lodge and for our guide. We each gave 50Bs to the guide, and watching others seemed to be about standard.

Leave a Reply