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Pampas tours from Rurrenabaque, Bolivia

BOLIVIA | Tuesday, 20 June 2006 | Views [12288] | Comments [4]

Piranha for lunch.

Piranha for lunch.

Rurrenabaque in the North East of Bolivia has become a major backpacker’s center for organized trips into the jungle and pampas that surround the town. For many travelers a Pampas trip, along with biking the Death Road and taking a tour on the Salar de Uyuni, has become one of the ‘must does’ while they are in Bolivia. Just like in Uyuni, there are lots of agencies competing for the business, some of which are good and some that are not. Rurrenabaque used to have a Rankings Office (like in Uyuni) which tired to grade agencies but it no longer exists so travelers are reliant on recommendations from other travelers or trusting to luck. Having just returned from a Pampas tour I have a few comments which may be of use to other travelers.

Most tours are three days, the first and third days invoke getting out to the River Yacoma region while the second day is taken up with activities. You stay out in camps along the river bank some of which are owned exclusively by agencies. Booking with one agency does not mean that you will be on that agencies Land Cruiser or staying at their camp, just like Uyuni the agencies pool their clients to make up numbers. Prices are often very low, $20 a day for all transport, accommodation and food. With some of the more expensive agencies they were not running tours when I wanted to go as they had no other clients. In my opinion three days is too long as most of the activities that fill the time are boring and pointless and is some cases dangerous to the wildlife. This is what you get up to.

Day One. Starting at 1030 there is a three hour Land Cruiser up a dirt road to the village of Santa Rose where you have lunch at a restaurant with lots of captive animals. The food is quite good though and this was generally the case throughout my tour, a real highlight.  You then go to the riverside to get on your long boat down the river. The trip down the river to the camp is the best part of the tour, going up and down the river is where you will see most of the wildlife, there is little around the camps.

If you have ever wanted to experience what living in third world slum is like, then this is your chance. The camp I stayed at had no power or running water and the dorm beds were practically bare wood. It was gloomy, very hot and alive with Mosquitoes, take lots of repellant. Some of the other camps do have generators and running water, I was taken to one of these for a shower on the second day and some have gas powered fridges for cold beer. Hopefully you will end up at one of the better ones.

After dinner you are taken out on a night boat trip. The stated aim of this is to see Alligators eyes in the darkness (which you do) but the real aim is for the guide to capture a caiman for the ‘look at me holding this croc thing photo op’. My group declined this but it’s apparent that some backpacker groups insist on guides finding animals for them to pose with. Some agencies say that they don’t do this and make a lot of their environmental awareness. Sitting in the boat gets boring but the stars are pretty.

Day Two. This morning you are taken out into the Pampas itself. You are given gym shoes (tough if you have small feet) or Wellington boots. You then spend two to three hours walking through a stinking swamp to little purpose. The aim of this activity is for the guide to capture a snake, preferably an Anaconda for the ‘look at me with the snake photo op’. There is a lot of birdlife on the Pampas but the guides don’t know anything about it. You have to wear trousers for this trip as you will be walking through long, sharp grass so if you only bought one pair with you, you will have to wear then wet and stinking when the mosquitoes come out.

After a rest and lunch the afternoon activity is ‘swimming with dolphins’. The guide goes up and down the river hoping to be the first to find some dolphins for his clients. You then moor and have a swim or stand around in the river, which is quite good fun for a while.  The dolphins wisely stay well away. My guide found some dolphins but there were lots of boats trying to get near to where we were, so those guides’ clients could ‘swim with dolphins’ as well. As ever this activity went on far too long.

After this I was taken for my shower. At sunset the guides tend to take their groups to one of the few camps that have beer ($1 a can) to watch the sun go down, so there is quite a party atmosphere. Then it’s back to your camp for dinner and an early night.

Day Three. The morning is spent Piranha fishing! You are taken out in the boat to a likely spot, given some line, hook and bait and away you go. Some of my group did catch some, as did the guides. The fish are then fried and served up as a supplement to lunch so that everyone can say they’d eaten Piranha. How much fun this is depends on how much you like fishing, as ever it goes on far too long. Local people have always caught piranha, but how sustainable this is I don’t know, nor did the guide.

The trip back to the road by boat was again a real trill because you see lots of quite stunning wildlife on the backside, including in my case, a lizard a meter long and a large swimming snake! If the drive to Santa Rose wasn’t so long, the river trip who be an excellent day trip.

I can’t say that the Pampas tour was particularly enjoyable. I guess it’s what people want or what the agencies think they want. I wanted to see wildlife and I did, even when I was sitting around waiting for an activity to happen/finish. The FAQ from other travelers when I got back was, ‘Is there beer there.’ I can only guess that people go to party or because they are ticking the ‘things to do in Bolivia’ box. In the past there used to be a fixed $35 a day minimum charge for these trips, which was charged by all the agencies. This has now gone and agencies are now undercutting each other, forced to some extent by groups of backpackers insisting on lower prices for large numbers. At $20 a day for everything, there is not enough money to invest in improving the camps or in providing better training for guides. This constant pressure on prices just means that there will continue to be backpacker slums on the riverbank. So shop around, listen to recommendations and pay extra if you can and hope you see the value.

Tags: Observations

Comments

1

Rurre and pampas trip was highlight for me. Loved every minute of it - perhaps because of a great guide and group. I went with Anaconda Tours - very cheap and cheerful, but terrific food and guide very responsible and experienced. We had fun fun fun and terrific information too. $40 for the whole trip with a issue of a long sleeved shirt for trip duration (VIP for sun / mozzies, dust and not messing up your own gear) and a free T shirt at the end of the trip - great to have something clean once back in Rurre. Anaconda tours accommodation is basic but fine (I'm a 50yr old NOT-RUGGARD woman) and the Sunset Bar a great look out place - where cold beer available ...which not of interest to me.
Rurre has got to be one of the most memorable, charming little towns with lots of lovely eating places, DVD's at Pachamammas, the Mosquito Bar, the French chef / bread place, the American street chelsea bun vendor. Just beware the rains if you are booked on a flight because the landing strip turns to mud and YIPEEEEEEEE you are stuck in this delighful little town.... where a pretty OK single room cost me /$3-4.
All the birds, beasties, anacondas, pink dolphins etc on the trip were great too.
Dee from Cape Town

  Dee Apr 18, 2007 10:10 AM

2

I spent several weeks in Rurre back in Nov. '94 and got to know the town and many of it's people. I am sure the village has grown substantually since then but I stayed at was once one of the few backpacker places available at the time owned and run by Tico Tudela and his lovely family. I also took both the day long Pampas tour and the 3 day up the jungle tour whilst there. Both were quite pleasurable with the accomodations being as were described above, though I have to say being VERY familiar with 3rd world living I don't feel the comparison is being fair. Basically it is a jungle camp, the 'beds' are just woven wooden platforms to lay your sleeping bag on which are covered by roofing and are open air. Personally I prefer a Bolivian hammock (well made but not cheap, and I STILL have it!) and mosiquito netting as my blanket. This was cool, comfortable and I had no problems with bites as the milk white Euros seemed to ;) I found I liked sleeping in a hammock so much that when I returned to the hotel I just strung it in the backyard and slept in it till I left....but more on that later. The toilet was just a pit with a toilet stool above it, worked fine though a meter long tegu lizard came to visit as I was up to my business one morn and scared the crap out of me! Bathing was in the river and that was fine also. Cooking was over a camp fire, light was from kerosine lamps (none of this was not much different from what I experienced on the Mex-Guatemale border on a similar excursion). I mean it IS jungle CAMPING, but I am sure there are better facilities if you wish to have a shower instead of river bathing (where do you thing that shower water came from?) and electric lights are better because they burn more fuel and the geny makes more noise? I don't know....but I think we had ice for the trip so the beer was cold enuff. The last day it was apparently always par for the course to cut down a bunch of small tress and build a raft to float down river on. I, in my foolish inexperence with a large machette quickly hacked myself in the foot and cut a 3 inch gash into myself. Luckily there was an Aussie couple that were doctors on board so they did a dandy job of field suturing me and they all decide it was best to just head back as it was the last day anyway. The guides were super all through the trip and when this happened they went out and cut one of the poles they use for the cannoes for me to use as a cane. Needless to say I spent the next 10 days or so laying in my hammock (with my foot propped up to stop the pain) covering that cane in jungle animal carvings....and reading Yoshi's book. I've been to many places around the world and I have to say that Rurre is one of those lovely and amazing places that still stands out in my memory. Tico if you read this Emilio E. says HI!

  Carl Mott Mar 14, 2008 1:36 PM

3

I am planning to go to Rurre + Pampas, and your comments have made me aware of what I need to look out for, so thanks a lot! Could you pls. tell me Will,what was the name of your agency?
By the way even I don't understand why "cold beer" is such a big thing for everybody! As if humans "need" beer , not water! lol!
Thanks once again!

  Sagar May 26, 2009 7:00 AM

4

Just got back from a tour with Mogli Tours and wanted to share my story. We arranged for a 5 day trip into the Jungle and heard great things about the company. Our guide must have been tired or out of it because we spent the first day practically running to our first camp. The second day he napped for the entire morning, and then we proceded to run back to the main camp.

The owner of the company, Feiser, heard about what happened and started yelling at me infront of the entire camp. I asked if we could talk in private and he just stormed off. Ten minutes later I talked to him and explained what happened and he said he was very sorry and would guide our group personally for the next three days. We thought all was settled and didn´t mind cutting our loses. The next morning Feiser didn´t even make eye contact with us for 4 hours and finally I went over to him and asked when we were leaving for our trip into the Jungle. He responded by saying we were not going and that we would be taking the boat back to Rurre. Feisers wife then told us that we would have to wait for 6 hours for a boat! luckily we cought a ride on another boat before that. When we got back we only got a refund for the last two days and got scolded again by Feisers wife, the office manager, and she basically said that I was an evil person!!! So basically we paid for a trip to run through the Jungle, nap and get yelled at by the owners. We love nature and picked Mogli because they let us sleep out in the wild! But we didn´t sign up to be yelled at by the owners. I think many people enjoyed their trip but after that experience I would not go with them or recommend them to anyone. I hope this is helpful if you are trying to choose your trip and hopefully you will have a better experiece then we did and hopefully with another company.

Cheers,

  No Mogli!!! May 21, 2010 9:30 AM

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