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VISITING THE BOLIVIAN AMAZON: PAMPAS OR JUNGLE TOUR?

Experiencing the Amazon in Bolivia is one of the easiest and cheapest ways compared to other countries in South America. You have two tour options: a boat tour through the wetlands and small rivers known as the Pampas or venture deep into the jungle. Here’s an overview of each option so you can pick the best tour for you.

HOW TO VISIT THE AMAZON IN BOLIVIA

All Amazon tours in Bolivia start from the town of Rurrenabaque. So first of all you need to get yourself there and then book onto a tour.

 

We’ve covered everything you need to know about getting to Rurrenabaque and finding the cheapest tour in our guide so best to start there first. 

PAMPAS OR JUNGLE? WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?

The Pampas is the name for the vast wetlands on the edge of the Amazon.

 

The landscape is a network of winding rivers and flooded fields with knee-high water. Tours are typically on a powered canoe that can move effortlessly between the connected rivers and pull in near to the banks to observe wildlife.

 

A jungle tour will take you into the actual Amazon rainforest.

 

You will spend your time in Madidi National Park and stay at a jungle lodge. From your accommodation, you will trek into the jungle in search of animals.

 

We’ve broken down the critical differences in the table below and will discussed them in-depth in the rest of the post:

PAMPASJUNGLE
Cost$80-200 + $18 park entrance fee

Generally cheaper than jungle tours
$200-300

+ $18 for Madidi Park Entrance Fee
Days3 days, 2 nightsMostly 3 days, 2 nights
Shorter or longer ones are on offer
AccommodationWooden lodges by the river;
Mosquito nets protect dining and sleeping areas;
Generator and one or two weak plug sockets for electricity;
Cold showers
Wooden lodge in the jungle;
Dining and sleeping areas are protected by mosquito nets;
Some cheaper tours are camping with tents;
No electricity;
Cold showers
Activities• Daily wildlife tours along the rivers
• Swimming with pink dolphins
• Piranha fishing
• Night tour looking for caimans and alligators
• Wetland field tour in search of anacondas
• Daily tours into the jungle in search of wildlife
• Lake boat tour (day/night) looking for caimans and alligators
• Night time jungle tour
WildlifeMuch more wildlife seen than jungle
Capybaras, monkeys, sloths, river turtles and many species of exotic birds
Less wildlife in the jungle due to the thick vegetation
Greater focus on the biodiversity of the plants and insects

PAMPAS VS JUNGLE? WHICH IS BETTER FOR WILDLIFE

The Pampas tour is the best option if you want to see the most wildlife.

 

Depending on which time of year you go (the wet season or the dry season) there will be some variation in what you see, but you will still see much more than in the jungle.

 

The wetlands and rivers draw in wildlife to feed and drink, and the area is much less dense compared to the jungle.

 

Pink dolphins seem to be guaranteed all year round. They are curious animals and are happy to come and inspect people swimming in their habitat.

 

Anacondas and piranhas are easier to find in the dry season when the rivers are shallow. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any of these when we visited in January, which is the middle of the wet season. However, we had friends who did shortly after us. As is always the case; it’s often down to luck.

 

Caimans and alligators are easy to see, and they tend to hang around the river cabins where it’s easier to catch the small rodents that live under the planks. We had a resident caiman at our lodge!

In the jungle, it is harder to spot bigger wildlife as the vegetation is so dense.

 

The jungle tours will tend to focus on plants and trees, and the smaller animals which are easier to find, such as insects.

 

The guides are much more knowledgeable about the jungle compared to the Pampas guides. They will provide lots of interesting information on medicinal plants and other species used for food etc.

 

Another thing to consider is that mosquitos will be worse in the jungle.

 

We were eaten alive on our Pampas tour, and it doesn’t bear thinking about how nasty the jungle would be! If you visit the Pampas in the dry season, you can avoid mosquitos altogether.

PAMPAS VS JUNGLE? WHICH IS BETTER FOR ACTIVITIES?

Again, the Pampas wins this one.

 

Your days on the rivers are varied, and you’re always doing something different.

 

In the morning you will be wildlife spotting, then swimming with pink river dolphins and then stopping to watch the epic sunset over the Pampas. You spend most of the time sitting in the boat, but this doesn’t get boring as you are always finding new animals to observe.

 

The jungle tour is more active, and you will be doing 3-4 hours treks through the jungle. You will need to bring good shoes or trekking boots, and it will be more physically demanding.

PAMPAS VS JUNGLE? WHICH IS THE BEST VALUE FOR MONEY

The Pampas tours are cheaper than jungle tours, and when you consider what you are getting for the price, they are also the best value for money. 

 

This doesn’t mean the tours are going to be up to everyone’s standards though.

 

From our own experience, and speaking to friends on other tours, all the Pampas tours are essentially the same – you can’t pay extra for any luxury here. They are slightly less professional, and the arrangements were unorganised, but this is hardly worth stressing over.

 

Our tour guide’s English was good, but from reading reviews, we know this isn’t always the case. We were more than happy with our food, but again, it’s very tour dependent.

 

You have more choice of jungle tours.

 

You can go for a cheaper one and camp if you want to save money. However, paying more for a jungle tour can secure you a lodge with a room and bathroom.

 

The tours are more professional and well organised, with guides speaking good English and demonstrating expert knowledge of the jungle, the animals and the plants. 

PAMPAS VS JUNGLE? WHICH HAS BETTER ACCOMODATION

Remember, you will be in the jungle, so electricity and hot water are non-existent on both tours.

 

If you are heading into the Amazon, then hopefully you are aware you’ll be roughing it for a few days. However, there are a few things tours can offer to make the trip more enjoyable.

 

While you will be staying in a wooden cabin, amenities like a large, unbroken mosquito net are critical to your comfort. Insects will make their way into the cabin regardless, so this is your last line of defence at night.  

 

Our mosquito nets had large tears in them and were too small for the bed, so we ended up kicking them out of place during the night, which was frustrating and made sleeping harder.

 

Whilst on the Pampas tour you will be in a shared cabin with an outside shared bathroom, you can get your own cabins with private bathrooms if you pay a bit extra on the Jungle tour. 

BEST PAMPAS TOUR COMPANY

More important than picking the right tour is choosing the right company.

 

We have only done the Pampas tour, but we’ve given you a quick comparison and breakdown of the tour companies below along with our thoughts.

 

They are:

 

DolphinBalaIndigenaFluvial
Trip Advisor
Reviews
5 stars / 55 reviews4.5 stars / 115 reviews4 stars / 44 reviews3.5 stars / 164 reviews

You get what you pay for on the Pampas tour.

 

The accommodation is rustic, but you are there to enjoy nature and wildlife. Therefore we recommend saving money, bearing the basic conditions and enjoy yourself.

 

Having read a few of the Trip Advisor reviews for the companies listed above, most of the bad reviews are because of the accommodation. One person gave Fluvial a one-star review because they didn’t see an anaconda.

 

All the reviews from Fluvial in 2019 are mostly positive, and it seems like a lousy tour guide (who has probably been fired) got them a lot of bad reviews. We had friends who went with Fluvial, and they had a great time as well as paying less than us.

 

We would suggest reading some of the reviews yourself and seeing which one offers you the best price.

 

There will be little difference between all the companies; however, Dolphin does seem the best, with reviews positively mentioning accommodation, food, and organisation.

BEST JUNGLE TOUR COMPANY

We haven’t done a jungle tour ourselves, so the information below is what we’ve across in our research. Hopefully, it saves you a bit of time when planning.

 

If you want the full experience, then several companies offer a combined jungle and pampas tour, usually 5 days / 4 nights.

 

Bala Tours offer this for $440.

 

BEST TIPS AND ADVICE FOR BOOKING AMAZON TOURS

We’ve covered all these tips, including how to organise an Amazon tour in our complete guide to Rurrenabaque so head there before you decide to book anything.

 

  • Book your flights and tour together in a package from La Paz for the best deal
  • Don’t book your tour online as prices are higher. Book in person the day before to save money if you don’t find a package in advance as spaces are always available.
  • Take a small backpack on the flight instead of your big luggage and leave your big bag in La Paz
  • Try to visit during the dry season to see the most animals and fewer mosquitos
  • Wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved, white clothes. These keep you cool, protect your skin and don’t attract mosquitos as much as black clothing
  • Still bring mosquito repellent with a high DEET percentage
  • Take cash. There are a couple of ATM’s in Rurrenbaque, one of which we did use, but always better to be safe than sorry.
  • Bring snacks such as energy bars if you are worried about food portions

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