The minute I boarded a tiny jumper plane that would take me from the snowy peaks of La Paz, Bolivia to the tropical lowlands of Rurrenabaque, I thought to myself: what the heck am I getting myself into? The twenty-five minute flight alternative to an otherwise eighteen-hour bus ride whipped me through pockets of turbulence and I bartered with god as our plane seemingly brushed against the gorgeous, yet daunting mountain range of the Andes. Just when I though my heart would explode out of my chest, the entire plane dropped along with my stomach, beneath a thick fog and there I was in the thick of the jungle in small river village in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia.
The extreme contrast of climate and topography prompted everyone on the plane to strip out of their alpaca sweaters and legwarmers and change into summer dresses and breezy straw hats. From there, we all piled onto a bus and took a short ten minute ride to a thatched-covered “airport” with no walls and one metal detector. The minute I walked out the airport I was bombarded by the locals on motos, (motor-bikes) asking for 10 bolivianos for a ride into town. Easily swayed, I jumped on the back and enjoyed a short and exhilarating ride through cobbled streets and arrived in a modest jungle town surrounded by picturesque mountains and giant mossy hills.
The town of Rurrenabaque is small and life moves akin to what one may expect in a beach town with a slightly more rustic feel to it. From there, picking a guide to tour the pampas was easy as most of companies operate out of shacks that sit side-by-side each other all on one road. My group and I picked a pampas tour for 600 bolivianos, (just shy of $100 U.S dollars) that included two nights and three days on the Yacuma River serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The tour began with a three-hour bumpy jeep ride up to the riverbank of Yacuma. The ride was hot, sticky and slightly claustrophobic so anyone who is prone to carsickness should sit by the window. When we arrived to the riverbank I was greeted by a humble canoe that sported a Bolivian flag on its bow and several beach chairs mounted to the bottom of the boat. From there my group and I took an enchanting one hour upstream journey to our camp and spotted crocodiles, pink dolphins and a pack of yellow squirrel monkeys that came right onto our canoe to socialize with us.
When our group arrived to camp we were greeted to a plentiful lunch filled with delicious jungle fruits, freshly cooked breads, and a proper pasta meal that nourished our bellies and prepared us for an afternoon swim with the infamous pink-dolphins, (yes they really are pink).
Our accommodations were modest and rustic, but the perfect setting to revel in the authentic feeling of living in the pampas of the jungle. We slept in two main cabins that were screened in were provided with mosquito nets and a small sheet.
The next few days include a wild tour downstream river tour of the pampas, hunting through muddy marshlands for anacondas, fishing for piranhas, and brushing up against the silky pink skin of the dolphins.
Upon returning to the town of Rurrenabaque after a three-day trek through the pampas, our group picked an affordable hostel where I was excited to take a shower, sway in a hammock and enjoy the laid-back lifestyle of this brilliant little river town.
Have you visited Rurrenabaque?
I did that tour a few years back; it was a wonderful few days! Like you, I was absolutely terrified on that flight – there is something very wrong about seeing mountain peaks above the plane when you hit major turbulence (especially if you have ever watched the movie ‘Alive’). It didn’t help that a woman on the plane screamed with every movement.
It was worth it just for spending a few days in the Amazon, though.