Who doesn’t want to visit the Amazon Rainforest at some point in their lives? Ask your girlfriend & she will tell you that size does matter, and this is a place of extreme size.
The Amazon Rainforest is the largest rainforest on the planet and is known as the lungs of the world because it creates more than 20% of the world’s oxygen, so if you enjoy breathing, come here & pay your goddamn respects. Not only that but the Amazon River is far & away the biggest river in the world, in fact the volume of water in the Amazon equates to more than that of the next 7 biggest rivers combined. Yeah yeah the Nile might be longer, but the sheer width & scale of the Amazon makes the Nile look like a thin trickle of piss, like when you’re out in town at night & some drunk dickhead has urinated in an alleyway & the piss has trickled out across the footpath towards the gutter, and you don’t see it until too late & you step right in it – that’s the Nile compared to the Amazon. Finally, the Amazon Rainforest is the most biodiverse place on earth, meaning there is a higher concentration of crazy creatures here than anywhere else. Not only will a visit here bring you face to face with some cool wildlife, but if you start throwing words like biodiverse into everyday conversation, people are gonna think you are one intelligent motherfucker.
The Amazon Rainforest covers about half of the whole South American continent & is shared by 9 countries, with Brazil having the largest share. However visiting the Amazon in Bolivia has two clear advantages – firstly you can visit Madidi National Park which is thought to be the most biodiverse (there’s that word again) section of the Amazon, which we’ve already established is the most biodiverse (and again) place on earth. Whether this actually results in a better wildlife-spotting experience is debatable since obviously this all comes down to whether the animals want to come out & say hello or stay hidden in the jungle, but it’s still a pretty cool claim to fame. Secondly, like all things in Bolivia visiting the Amazon Rainforest here is pretty damn cheap, way cheaper than in Brazil or elsewhere, so you can save yourself some coin to use to do other cool stuff in Bolivia.
The jumping off point to the Bolivian section of the Amazon Rainforest is a little jungle town called Rurrenabaque (pronounced Ru-ren-a-back-ee). You can get here from La Paz either with a 1 hour flight or a seriously long bus trip. Usually I’m in favour of going overland (I’m all about the adventure bro) but this is one time you might want to seriously consider flying. The La Paz – Rurrenabaque trip is considered the worst bus trip in Bolivia, and that’s saying something since this is a country full of pretty shocking roads & therefore pretty shocking bus trips, but this one takes the cake. The duration can vary wildly depending on the weather & condition of the road, I met one bunch of people who had spent 40 hours on the bus, and frequently the road gets completely closed due to landslides. So a 1 hour / $60 flight would maybe be a smart move. Plus you get to fly over the spectacular Andes & land on the grass runway at Rurrenabaque’s tiny airport next to grazing cows & unload your own baggage from the plane – good times.
Rurrenabaque is a nice little town but it’s pretty damn hot, so get out your moisture-wicking undies unless you want to be swimming in ball soup. The heat is actually pretty welcome if you’ve come from La Paz & spent a bit of time on the chilly Altiplano though. There are loads of outfits in town offering trips into the jungle, so shop around & ask for recommendations from other travellers who have just arrived back. Most importantly, be sure to get on a trip that is run ethically – apparently some operators are not above using caged animals, where the guide will go back to the vehicle & say “hey guys look there’s an anaconda/monkey/whatever over here!”, and you’ll all take photos of the animal that your guide has just “found” before being hurried away while the animal is recaptured. Avoid any operators guaranteeing animal sightings & again get advice from your fellow travellers.
Most jungle visits last 3-4 days & generally start with a boat trip up the river deep into the jungle. Depending on the flow of the river when you’re there, the boat may or may not get stuck in a shallow section of the river (mine did) & you may or may not have to get out & push (I did). Eventually you’ll arrive at one of several jungle lodges along the river bank, which will serve as your humble abode for the next few days. These aren’t exactly the height of luxury, but if you wanted luxury you wouldn’t be in the Amazon in the first place would you.
As you would expect, the activities available centre around walks into the jungle or boat rides along the river spotting the animals. If you’ve chosen a good operator then you should have a knowledgeable guide with you who will be able to impart loads of info & basically turn you into a David Attenborough-esque nature buff in a matter of days. While the constant information about vegetation can get a bit old unless you’ve got a serious hard-on for trees, it’s still pretty sweet learning about how the indigenous people used them for medicine, making shelter & making weapons. But the highlight is obviously the animals.
On that note, you should have realistic expectations about seeing a jaguar. This is top of everyone’s list of animals they want to see, and with good reason – they are the motherfucking alpha predators of the jungle & pretty damn impressive looking cats to boot (and I’m a guy who appreciates a good-looking pussy). However they are notoriously reclusive, they don’t want a bunch of tourists coming in gawking at them & taking photos, they just want to be left to their lives of tree-climbing alpha awesomeness. Hardly anyone sees them, myself included, but we did find some paw prints less than a hundred metres from the lodge, so it was pretty cool just knowing they were near. If you do end up seeing one, consider yourself truly lucky & know that I hate you with the intensity of a thousand suns.