Rurrenabaque, Bolivia is a popular destination for the opportunity to visit the wetlands (Las Pampas) and the Amazon jungle. The most popular way to visit is on the 3-day Pampas boat tour, but some opt to spend two extra days visiting the jungle. The highlight for many is swimming with the pink dolphins, which is a truly unforgettable experience. You will also have the opportunity to see monkeys, capybaras, sloths, snakes, caimans, and Amazonian birds.
For those traveling on a budget, one advantage of visiting Rurrenabaque is that you can arrive by bus most of the year. Whereas in other countries, you may have to spend a lot more on a flight to reach the Amazon. Another plus is that there is no malaria risk in Rurrenabaque, so you don’t need to take preventative medicine.
How to Get There
The bus from La Paz leaves from Villa Fátima and it takes 12-15 hours depending on road conditions. The road is known for being dangerous and during the rainy season, it’s better to go by plane. I’ve heard horror stories of the bus ride lasting more than 30 hours during these months. I went by bus during the dry season and before leaving Rurrenabaque, I heard that two days prior a bus tipped over. Thankfully, it caused no fatalities.
When to Visit
May to October is the best time to visit Rurrenabaque because the lower water levels in the dry season make it easier to spot wildlife.
How Much Does it Cost?
Overall, I paid 1,520 BOB ($220 US) for the 3-day tour. This includes the cost of the tour, the park entrance fee, a tip for the guide, and the bus to and from La Paz. You can book tours at one of the many agencies on Calle Sagarnaga in La Paz or contact the agencies in Rurrenabaque directly.
What to Pack
All you’ll bring on the boat with you is a small backpack and your larger luggage can be left at the tour agency in Rurrenabaque. Here’s what you need.
- Bug spray
- Long pants and a long shirt
- Shorts and t-shirt
- Flashlight (iPhone flashlights aren’t strong enough)
- 2L water for the first day
- Toilet paper
Pampas Tour Itinerary
The 3-day tour departs around 9 AM and on the final day, you return to Rurrenabaque around 4:30 PM. This leaves enough time to take the night bus both to and from Rurrenabaque. Here’s what the tour looks like in between.
Day 1: After a long bus ride, you’re in for a 3-hour drive from Rurrenabaque to the river where the tour starts. Along the way, you’ll stop for lunch in a small town and reach the river around 1:30 PM. This is where you pay the 150 BOB Madidi National Park entrance fee.
The tour finally starts with a 3-hour boat ride where you’ll see plenty of wildlife. The highlight was the monkeys that came onto the boat in search of food, and they may even walk on your shoulders and head. You’re likely to see caimans, pink dolphins, snakes, and a variety of birds native to the Amazon.
At night you hop back in the boat for a short ride to a lookout point for the sunset. After watching the sunset, you go on a boat ride in search of caimans in the river. This is where you’ll need the flashlight and iPhone flashlights are not strong enough to see the caimans.
Day 2: The morning starts with a 1-hour walk to look for anacondas. You’re unlikely to find any outside of the dry season and all we saw was a giant toxic frog. After the anaconda hunt, you’ll hop in the boat to see a group of monkeys feeding.
In the afternoon you’ll go piranha fishing and along the way you see capybaras and howler monkeys. However, it’s very difficult to catch piranhas outside of the dry season.
Day 3: The final day starts early with a boat ride to watch the sunrise. After breakfast, you’ll head down the river to swim with the pink dolphins, which is half incredible, half terrifying. The dolphins are not aggressive but are curious and will poke and bite your feet. Some people got a few cuts, but we all left with ten toes. The river water has no visibility, so every dolphin nibble is a surprise.
After lunch, you make your way by boat back to where you started the tour and have your last chance to spot wildlife. On the highway back to Rurrenabaque, we were fortunate enough to see a sloth and a capybara.
Accommodation on the Tour
All groups stay in jungle lodges along the river, which are basic but have everything you need. The bedrooms are private and equipped with mosquito nets. There is a few hours of electricity each night to charge your devices and cold showers are available.
Final Verdict on Rurrenabaque
I really enjoyed the Pampas tour, and I recommend it for all travelers. If you are visiting Bolivia as part of a longer trip around South America, I would only visit Rurrenabaque during the dry season. A couple of the activities felt a bit dull because the chance of seeing the animal we were looking for was low outside of the dry season. You may get a better experience during the peak season in another country.
The best part of the tour was listening to the guide’s stories. I was fortunate to have a legendary guide who grew up in an indigenous community inside the Madidi National Park and his stories were absolutely insane. Las Pampas is a very relaxing experience and being this far out in nature is always special.
Where to Next
La Paz (14 hours by bus) – This unique and chaotic city has lively markets, cable cars, and adventure activities.
Huayna Potosí (14 hours) – Climb a 6,000m mountain that requires no previous climbing experience.
Copacabana (18 hours) – A town on the shores of Lake Titicaca with hiking, fantastic landscapes, and the chance to spend a night on one of the lake’s islands.
Uyuni Salt Flats (23 hours) – These 12,000 square kilometer salt flats are undoubtedly one of the top attractions in South America.
Sucre (25 hours) – A UNESCO city with beautiful white architecture, great museums, and an unmissable folklore dance show.