Into the Unknown: The Bolivian Amazon

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Besides Machu Picchu, the Amazon has held my heart and my imagination for I can’t even tell you how long. Since I was a kid I would dream about the mysteries and unknowns that can be found in this mystical, undiscovered place. You really don’t know what to expect. So little can be found in regards to information about the flora, fauna, etc. All I could do was salivate over the few documentaries I’ve seen in my life.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Here are a few thoughts about the 5 days I spent in pure bliss floating through the Amazon on the Pampas Tour.

Day 1:

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We decided to take a plane. For $160 and 35 minutes of my time we went from the cold, snow capped mountains of La Paz to the warm, humid weather of the Amazon in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia. You can take the bus but it is 18 hours during dry season and can take up to 3 days due to the dirt road during rainy season. Since we apparently love to travel during rainy season, I decided my time was worth the $160.

Just keep in mind that they will delay your flight at a moment’s notice. Not only did they push back our flight and tour a day, but then delayed it further when we arrived to the airport. After waiting an extra 5 hours, the plane pulled up to the runway…

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Propellers? This will be fun.

Wow. You can see the pilots. That is definitely different for sure.

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35 minutes and much turbulence later I kiss the ground we walked on and invited the warm blanket of humidity around me. My sweater comes hastily off.

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We walk around the town to find a hostel and successfully avoid the Carnaval activities going around us. One time involves us jumping into some bushes to hide from kids with blue paint.

Day 2:

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A 3 hour ride out to the beginning of the Pampas in an old early 90s Land Rover with no shocks and a very bumpy dirt road awaited us. Yes, we made every joke in the book at first finding humor in our situation. After hour 2 your ass is killing you. The humor subsides. Everyone cannot wait to get out of the car.

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Then you sit in a small canoe with lawn chair seats for another 2 hours in the strong sun. Make sure to wear long sleeves, a hat, and sunscreen. Lesson learned. Wildlife mainly consisted of birds, monkeys and turtles. Granted, I’ve never SEEN some of these birds before. CRAZY.

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We started to meet our tour group. In total (including us) there were 4 Aussies, 4 Americans, and 1 German guy. Eternally grateful the tour group did their homework. I was scared we were getting stuck with the geriatric German family.

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Arrived at the camp and I think Peter Pan would have been jealous. I feel like a lost boy. Giddy as all hell.

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Apparently that alligator head poking out from underneath the cabins wasn’t fake. Meet Antonia. She has lived here for years.

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She even allows you to pet her. I left that up to Shaun. No way in hell for me.

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Night trip out caiman “hunting”. Not only has our awesome guide Ki-ke been doing the tour for 18 years but can navigate around the mangroves with little to no light. That and his spotting capabilities put him on par with Superman and X-Ray vision. Impressive.

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Note: While this may not have been the greenest of the tours, Ki-ke handled the animals with the utmost respect and showed a fair bit of knowledge about all of the animals found in the Amazon. We got to see a baby caiman up close and personal. Let’s just say close enough to see the clear eyelid that goes over their eyes to protect them when swimming under water.

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The sound at night is dreamy. The sound of the owls and frogs while on the boat is life changing.

Just be prepared to be mauled by mosquitos. Grasshoppers do tend to land on you. Happened to me. Screams ensued.

Wear long sleeves. Did I mention we don’t own any clothing with long sleeves besides our jackets?

Slept in our own private room. Learned in the middle of the night that there was a leak in the roof – over our bed. Threw poncho over the mosquito net. Felt like MacGuyver.

Day 3:

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Tromping through swamps to find anacondas was not on my list of “things I wanted to accomplish before I die”. Boots were a waste of time since it is rainy season and there are spots it just goes over the top and into your shoe. Baby anaconda found along with a tarantula family and scorpions. We must have been quick because we were only out there for an hour or so.

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Later found out there are caiman out there. I figured. I just chose to put it at the back of my mind.

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Wear long sleeves. The mosquitos were the worst. They like me. Not a positive thing.

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Went to go find a pod of pink river dolphins to swim and hang out with. They are probably the ugliest f*cking dolphins I’ve seen in my life. I think they knew I wasn’t a fan of their looks because they nipped me on the foot.

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True story.

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However now I have a rad scar that I can say I got from a dolphin.

They did play a bit with some people in our group. They do let you touch them. When they get tired of being harassed, they let you know.

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The evening was spent hanging out at someone’s farm? The guides and some of the guys on the tour played muddy, barefoot soccer. German guy in our group broke his toe. Ki-ke was brutal pushing people. Hilarity ensued.

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GREAT SUNSET. Sublime.

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Day 4:
Shaun and I decided to skip waking up at 5:30am to watch the sunrise.

We’re not morning people. We will never be. I’m okay with that.

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Morning spent piranha fishing. Apparently there were piranhas in the water we were swimming in but the dolphins keep gators and piranhas at bay.

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Ki-ke was the only one who caught anything.

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They were yummy.

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We headed back to town after. The 2 hour boat ride out was 1 hour coming back. Although, I think Ki-ke was feeling a little over confident and ran into a few trees causing squees of delight and horror.

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I am going to miss our little Amazon family. We had so much fun together.

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The ride back takes another 3 hours (on a road you didn’t take before so everyone starts freaking out that we’re heading the wrong direction). Dusty, long, and hot, we were ready to call it a day.

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We filled our tummies with fried fresh fish, headed to our out of the way hostel again and dreaded heading back to the cold of La Paz.

Day 5:
Our flight home was on the same propeller plane that took us out. Delayed again (of course, this is Latin America), we sat there in horror when we realized the plane was coming in on a grassy runway…

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You can’t be serious.

Just be prepared for surprises.

And when we arrived in La Paz we had to go through the whole 9 yards again: It was cold, the snowcapped mountains taunted us and we immediately felt sick from the altitude.

But we were willing to be miserable. We had just spent 4 days in a dreamy haze. While I’m not normally a huge fan of tours, this one will not disappoint. There is just too much to see and learn that cannot be done independently.

The Amazon will call to you. Heed to it.

60 Responses to “Into the Unknown: The Bolivian Amazon”

  1. Candy March 26, 2012 at 2:53 am #

    Your photos are beautiful! After my Peruivan Amazon trip….I am so wishing that I had taken the Pampas tour in Bolivia!

    • Erica April 8, 2012 at 11:25 pm #

      @Candy: I wish we would have had more money for the Peruvian trip. My eyes nearly fell out of my head at some of those prices. But still – the REAL Amazon lol!

  2. Bob R March 26, 2012 at 6:12 pm #

    Thanks for this, very useful for a trip in the works.

    • Erica April 8, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

      Any time Bob! Let me know if you have any questions!

  3. Emily in Chile March 26, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

    What an adventure! I can’t believe Shaun pet an alligator or that you went searching for anacondas…glad you guys came back mostly intact, dolphin bit notwithstanding.

    • Erica April 8, 2012 at 11:38 pm #

      @Emily: I figure that if it is part of the tour it is somewhat-ish safe. The gator has been living there for like 10 years so they know what they can get away with. 😛

  4. Heather March 27, 2012 at 9:17 am #

    Sean’s cracking me up with the arms in the shirt :-)

    I love that first photo of the canoes!

    I don’t think you would have gotten me in the water, even with the boots. I actually get a shiver thinking about it!

    • Erica April 8, 2012 at 11:39 pm #

      @Heather: If you saw how burnt we were getting, it is totally understandable when one is that pasty! 😛 What was wrong with the water? 😉

  5. Jodi March 27, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    Seems like you had a great Amazon trip! Can’t believe Shaun petted a gator! :O

    • Erica April 8, 2012 at 11:39 pm #

      @Jodi: There is a reason I didn’t pet it. I like my arms!

  6. maria March 27, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    Love the fishing gear – proves you can do more with so much less… once you’ve got the skill down *grin*

    • Erica April 8, 2012 at 11:39 pm #

      @Maria: I’ve seen kids catch more fish like that than with our fishing pole!

  7. The Travel Fool March 27, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    Great post and I love the photos, not sure I would pet the alligator/crocodile either.

    • Erica April 8, 2012 at 11:40 pm #

      @The Travel Fool: Thank you! I think I was one of the only people who chickened out. Somehow my survival instincts say NO at some point.

  8. Ali March 27, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    THIS IS AWESOME!!

    So should I wear long sleeves here? 😉

    • Erica April 8, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

      @Ali: Awesome honestly doesn’t even cover it. By far one of my FAVORITE experiences on the trip. YES wear long sleeves oh GOD I got so bitten and burnt!

  9. Leigh March 27, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    This trip is very reminiscent of our trip on the Napo River in Ecuador – except the plane left on time and we actually felt safe on board. We had a 2 1/2 hour boat ride on the Napo River and then another two hours of paddling on a small tributary to get to the lodge we stayed at. That was very interesting just getting there. At the end of three days I thanked my lucky stars I didn’t have to live in the Amazon jungle full time – a great experience and wouldn’t have missed it but all those bugs……..

    • Erica April 8, 2012 at 11:43 pm #

      @Leigh: Even though we were in rainy season, I saw many more mosquitoes when we were in Central America. It wasn’t too bad for us (or we got lucky!). You guys actually had to PADDLE? Talk about exercise!

  10. Audrey | That Backpacker March 27, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    This is amazing!!! Going to the Amazon is my dream and you just made me want to go even more. I love the sound of all the critters at night – I could fall asleep to that! But I agree with you, those pink dolphins are kind of scary looking…haha 😀

    • Erica April 8, 2012 at 11:44 pm #

      @Audrey: It was one of mine as well – and fulfilled like none other.

  11. Amanda March 27, 2012 at 11:10 pm #

    Amazing photos!!

    I love how you talk so nonchalantly about all the things on this trip that could have killed you. 😉

    • Erica April 8, 2012 at 11:55 pm #

      @Amanda: Somehow I knew my fate was not to die in the Amazon. I trusted our tour guide so wasn’t too worried. 😛

  12. Tom March 27, 2012 at 11:30 pm #

    Amazing post! So many great photos, can’t wait until I (finally) get to South America.

    I’m not mad keen for lot of snakes, spiders and crocodiles though – but what a great experience 😀

    • Erica April 8, 2012 at 11:44 pm #

      @Tom: South America has been so phenomenal – just.. WOW.

  13. Andrea March 28, 2012 at 7:39 am #

    Awesome post – we were going to do a similar excursion in Peru but we didn’t end up going out there; so it’s great to see what we missed. I would have skipped the sunrise too – John and I hate early mornings!

    • Erica April 8, 2012 at 11:49 pm #

      @Andrea: I wish we all had the time to do everything. I wish we would have had the cash to do it in Peru but it was a bit out of our budget. Good ol’ cheap Bolivia!

  14. Phil March 29, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    Damn. Looks like a great tour for so many reasons. Incredible photos as always.

    • Erica April 8, 2012 at 11:56 pm #

      @Phil: Thanks! I can’t believe we were thinking of cutting it out of our plans!

  15. Candice March 29, 2012 at 10:04 pm #

    Um, so this whole trip is unreal, but that plane…it is tiny. So, so tiny.

    • Erica April 8, 2012 at 11:57 pm #

      @Candice: I honestly don’t have words for how awesome it was. Just being in the Amazon made me happy. Everything else was a plus. Yeah, this was my first time on a plane that small. HELL NO.

  16. Dani | Globetrottergirls March 30, 2012 at 12:15 am #

    Great post & photos! The Amazon tour in Bolivia is one of the things that I’m looking forward to most in South America! I can’t wait to go.

    • Erica April 8, 2012 at 11:59 pm #

      @Dani: I can’t believe you guys didn’t just make your way down here when you were in Central! Hop to it – you will LOVE IT. (Also, can we say gay rights in Colombia, Argentina)

  17. Cam April 1, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

    WOW – what an adventure! Love the collection of photos, especially the dolphins (how bizarre!).

    • Erica April 9, 2012 at 12:02 am #

      @Cam: Hey guys! I couldn’t help myself and added an extra helping of photos. It just wouldn’t be the same without it!

  18. Brooke vs. the World April 1, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

    Ok, there are so many things about this post that make me wonder:

    1) Pet an alligator?! Was it lame?
    2) You swam in that water? OMG
    3) You ate that creepy looking piranha?!

    Seriously awesome yet crazy adventure! Jealous!

    • Erica April 9, 2012 at 12:05 am #

      @Brooke: #1: Oh, it was very much alive. You should have seen how fast it snapped when they brought out some chicken.
      #2: YES. It was awesome. Piranhas only attack when you are profusely bleeding and there are no dolphins around.
      #3: YES! It was delicious.

  19. Ayngelina April 2, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    Wow guys that looks incredible. I’m not a big nature person but I definitely want to do this when I head back to Bolivia.

    • Erica April 9, 2012 at 12:07 am #

      @Ayngelina: I have mixed feelings on nature. I really want to like it but it bitch slaps me a lot. But to be honest, this was something out of this world.

  20. dtravelsround April 2, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    This is just absolutely amazing!! Photos are so cool. Stories are crazy! That fish looks super mean. I hate pirhanas!! And that runway? Yikes!!

    • Erica April 9, 2012 at 12:08 am #

      @D: Yes! OMG! Crazy right!? I nearly shat a brick when Shaun was touching the damn gator.

  21. Camels & Chocolate April 3, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    So much to say about this post…MONKEY! ALLIGATOR! Beautiful! I want to go here.

    • Erica April 9, 2012 at 12:11 am #

      @C&C: Your comment seems so similar to Dianas… lol! I would LOVE to see your photos of the region.

  22. Federico April 3, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    What a great tour! I love nature and exploring…is the tour expensive IYO?

    • Erica April 9, 2012 at 12:12 am #

      @Federico: The tour was a whopping $80 for 3 days. Cheap as hell. AMAZING.

  23. Stephanie - The Travel Chica April 6, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

    What the eff? Shaun is touching an alligator!! I don’t think I’m cut out for the Amazon.

    • Erica April 9, 2012 at 12:22 am #

      @Stephanie: It was the camp “pet”. I still didn’t want to get anywhere NEAR that thing.

  24. Tom April 10, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    Did you need to get immunization shots before going there? With all the mosquitos, were there any problems with malaria or dengue?

    • Erica April 22, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

      @Tom: Sorry about the delay in my response Tom! I know that you need Yellow Fever before heading into Bolivia (or want to get out). As for malaria, there isn’t much of a risk in THAT area, however, dengue is always an issue no matter where you go.

  25. Ashley April 13, 2012 at 2:21 am #

    I loved this! Found it on stumble upon and im leaving for a study abroad trip to the amazon in a month! Some of the activities we get to do are piranha fishing and swimming with pink dolphins! when I googled the pink dolphins I had the same reaction as you.. they are so ugly and im a little scared to swim with them after one bit you haha but your pictures made me even more excited to go!

    • Erica April 22, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

      @Ashley: Awesome! Have a blast on your study abroad trip. South America has a special place in my heart right now. You’re going to LOVE IT.

  26. Emily April 15, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

    OMG…petting alligators, touching snakes, and eating piranhas??? You guys are brave. And I am grossed out. But I have always been fascinated by the Amazon, and this looks like a really neat experience! The photos of the sunset/sunrise are gorgeous. Glad you got to tick this off your bucket list!

    • Erica April 22, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

      @Emily: Oh hell yeah! I know this tour is not for everyone but I LOVED IT.

  27. Jojie Alcantara April 25, 2012 at 12:35 am #

    Love your post and this dangerous, sweet travel into wildlife and other hilarity. And I love that sweet old alligator underneath your camp. Tweeted about this.

    • Erica May 1, 2012 at 2:21 am #

      @Jojie: Thank you so much! The gator really was quite nice. I just didn’t have the balls to touch it. I like my hands. Even gators have bad days.

  28. Niecia November 8, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    Hey, I’m travelling Bolivia at the moment, heading out this way in about a week. Care to give a shout out to the tour company you went with? Looks brilliant :)

    • Erica November 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

      Hey Niecia, I had to look long and hard because I had completely forgotten who we went with! The tour company is called Fluvial Tours. If you get them, asked to be paired with Qui-Que the guide (Ki-ke?) as he was FABULOUS. It was the Pampas tour.

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