AMAZON TOURS IN BOLIVIA
Your starting point for Amazon tours in Bolivia is the small frontier town of Rurrenabaque, north of La Paz.
There are two ways of getting there: flight or bus.
Flights are more expensive but only take 30 minutes. The bus is cheap, but it’s overnight, and it takes around 20 hours. We will cover both methods in more detail later in the post.
From Rurrenabaque, tour companies pick you up and take you into the Amazon. Tours last anywhere from 2-5 days depending on which companies you go with, but the standard tours are 3 days/2 nights.
AMAZON PAMPAS TOUR VS JUNGLE TOUR
There are two types of Amazon tour on offer: Pampas or Jungle
The Pampas is the wetland area on the fringes of the Amazon, here’s some essential information:
- Not in the actual Amazon jungle
- Along the rivers and tributaries of the Amazon
- Easier to see wildlife
- Larger wildlife such as caimans, anacondas, and pink river dolphins
- Cheaper than jungle tours
The jungle tour takes you into the actual Amazon rainforest.
- In the actual jungle
- Less wildlife (as its harder to spot)
- More insects/plant life focussed
- Opportunity to meet indigenous tribes
We’ve compared both type of tours along with the best tour companies in a more detailed post here.
Some companies offer extended tours which include both the jungle and the pampas as well if you want to do both.
AMAZON TOUR PRICES IN BOLIVIA
The price of these tours varies massively depending on how you book. If you visit in the low season with fewer tourists, then prices will be lower. Also, if you book in person or on a package tour, you can save a lot of money.
On average, Pampas tours range anywhere from $80-200 per person.
Jungle tours are more expensive and will range from $150-200+.
We cover how to save money when booking an Amazon tour in the next section.
HOW TO BOOK AN AMAZON TOUR (AND SAVE MONEY)
You have three options when booking an Amazon tour in Bolivia:
- Book Online – book your tour online and organise flights yourself separately.
- Book In Rurrenabaque – organise your transport to Rurrenabaque (flight or bus) and book the tour in person
- Package deal – book your flights and tour together as a package in La Paz.
Don’t book online whatever you do. Prices are always inflated, and we hugely overpaid for our tour.
Indigena Tours charge $190 for their 3 Day Pampas tour online which we stupidly paid for because we wanted to get organised ahead of time.
We recommend visiting tour companies in La Paz and booking directly with them.
Whilst we don’t have first-hand experience with this, we met other backpackers who did. They got their flights and tour together for around $100 cheaper than we paid for them online. We didn’t manage to get the name, but we imagine if you do some window shopping in the tourist areas you’ll be able to get some quotes.
Note we were in Bolivia in January which is low season so prices will be higher during peak season.
The second-best option is to organise your flights/bus and book a tour once you arrive in Rurrenabaque. Again, this will be much cheaper than it is online as they will want to sell their seats last minute. It’s also easier to haggle in person.
HOW TO GET TO RURRENABAQUE
Flights From La Paz To Rurrenabaque
Regular flights from La Paz cost anywhere between $100-200 return if booking yourself.
The flight takes around 30 minutes, and you will be treated to some fantastic views as you fly over the snow covered mountains of La Paz followed by the rivers of the Amazon.
All flights to the Amazon are via a small plane (60 seaters) so just a word of warning if you are a nervous flyer, you can feel the turbulence more on these things and bad weather can cause them to be delayed or cancelled – although both of our flights were fine.
Rurrenabaque Airport into town – Local taxis will wait outside the airport. The town is so small that at most it will be a 5-minute journey in a taxi costing around 20 BOB. You could walk if you wanted but its pretty hot once your in the jungle!
Bus From La Paz To Rurrenabaque
Overnight bus from La Paz will take 20+ hours.
This is the cheapest option, but obviously, you lose a day travelling, which may not be great if you are on a tight schedule.
Oh, and the bus has a section along Death Road, which isn’t great either.
We checked Tickets Bolivia for the best companies and times but couldn’t find any online, so your best option will be to book in person at the main bus station in La Paz (Terminal de Buses, Plaza Antafogasta).
BEST TIME TO VISIT THE AMAZON IN BOLIVIA
The best time to visit is during the dry season between May and October.
- There’s hardly any rain
- More wildlife
- Apparently there are no mosquitoes.
Wet season (summer) is from November to April. Temperatures will be much hotter, and it will rain more. There’s also an abundance of mosquitoes.
The other thing to consider is that the Pampas changes depending on the season.
During the dry season, you will likely see more caimans as the water is lower and they will be out on the banks of the river. It’s also better for catching piranhas and finding anacondas. You wouldn’t be able to search through the fields for anacondas during rainy season as it would be quite dangerous.
Don’t worry too much about visiting outside of dry season though. There is still an abundance of wildlife regardless. We visited in January and saw lots of animals.
We also didn’t have a single day of rain on the tour but it did rain heavily on our last day in Rurrenabaque.We were eaten alive by mosquitos even when wearing long sleeves and bug spray. The jungle bugs are something else.
HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED IN RURRENABAQUE AND FOR AN AMAZON TOUR
5 Day Itinerary
You can do an Amazon tour in 3 days but rushed or you can take 5 days if you want to stay in Rurrenabaque longer and take it east.
We took 5 days in total for our journey and tour.
Here’s a breakdown of how we planned our journey to Rurrenabaque:
- Day 1 – Midday flight to Rurrenabaque, check into hotel, meal and night in town
- Day 2 – Start the 3 day Amazon tour
- Day 3 – Amazon tour
- Day 4 – Return from Amazon to Rurrenabaque, stay one night in the town
- Day 5 –Midday flight to La Paz
We took our big bags on the plane and stayed an extra night on either side of the tour. We did this because we had the time and didn’t want to rush.
3 Day Itinerary
However, if you are looking to save time/days, you can get an early flight from La Paz and jump straight on a tour as you get off the plane.
You could even leave your big bags in La Paz at a hostel and only take a small backpack as you don’t need much in the Amazon. This means will also save money on baggage.
Here’s the itinerary for 3 days:
- Day 1 – earliest flight to Rurrenabaque, pickup from the airport and straight on to the Amazon tour
- Day 2 – Amazon tour
- Day 3 – return to Rurrenabaque, late afternoon flight to La Paz
You will have to book a late flight back to La Paz if you do this as you don’t return to Rurrenabaque until 4-5 PM on the last day.
PAMPAS TOUR: WHAT TO EXPECT
We decided to go with the Pampas tour as we wanted to see as much wildlife as possible. Here’s everything you will want to know if you choose this option.
Pampas Tour Itinerary
All tour companies advertise the same itinerary, and there will be little difference between them apart from food, sleeping arrangements and the tour guide.
Here’s the basic itinerary:
- Day 1 – pick up in town, 2-hour drive to Santa Rosa/breakfast
- boat tour begins, arrival and lunch, a second boat tour of the Pampas, dinner, caiman spotting at night
- Day 2 – breakfast, anaconda search, lunch, pink dolphin swimming, sunset
- Day 3 – sunrise trip, breakfast, one final tour of the pampas
- return to Santa Rosa, 2-hour drive back to Rurrenabaque
Pampas Tour Day 1
We went with Indigena for our Pampas Tour. You are picked up at 9 AM from Rurrenabaque.
We ended up waiting 45 minutes at the airport for some random person who wasn’t even on our tour (we go into tour choices in greater detail in this post, but this is one of the reasons we won’t suggest our company) and then a 2-hour bumpy ride to our breakfast stop.
After breakfast, we had another 10 minutes in the car before reaching the boatyard.
Once everyone’s settled in the speedboat, the tour begins, and you have around 2 hours driving along the rivers searching for animals. Once you reach your accommodation, you have a short break followed by lunch.
You then have a second tour along the rivers, stopping to fish for piranhas, before returning for dinner. After dinner, you get back in the boat and head out at dark with a powerful torch and search for caimans.
Our minds were blown within the first couple of hours of this tour.
As soon as you are travelling along the river you can see river turtles, birds of paradise and we also caught a few caimans.
Heading out at night to spot caimans is also a surreal experience and you can see loads as the torch light reflects off their eyes.
Pampas Tour Day 2
After breakfast, you suit up in wellies and head to a large flooded field – time to search for anacondas.
Unfortunately, we didn’t find any during our tour (just some shed skin), but we bumped into other tours that said they found one.
The guides are notorious for grabbing the anacondas and pulling them back so tours can see them. It sounds like most of the tours do this (which they shouldn’t), so if you are looking to avoid this, it’s best to check the reviews on Trip Advisor.
Wading through the field was still fun and one of the girls on our tour managed to spot a tarantula hiding in a plant.
After lunch, you head back out to find and swim with pink river dolphins.
Whilst the Amazon river water is mucky, swimming with the dolphins is fun. They are curious and will swim close to check you out. You are pretty much guaranteed to see these unique creatures. Our guide assured us that swimming in the river is safe despite the previous mention of piranhas.
After swimming, you head to a spot on the pampas to chill and watch the sunset.
You can buy a few bits here like beer or pringles. It’s a relaxed part of the day, and the sunset over the Amazon was spectacular.
Pampas Tour Day 3
You have the choice to wake up early and watch the sunrise on the third day.
The sunrise was amazing, and we spotted a bunch of capybaras chilling in the trees right next to us to add to the experience.
After breakfast, you do one final tour around the Pampas trying to find dolphins once again before returning to the boatyard where you were dropped off on the first day. Then once you are back at the boatyard you have a 2-hour drive back to Santa Rosa where you will be picked up and taken back to Rurrenabaque.
You should arrive back in town around 4-5 PM.
Pampas Tour: Accommodation
Pampas tours are basic so don’t expect any luxuries while on tour.
You will be staying in a wooden cabin built on the edge of the river.
Beds are simple with mosquito nets. The door to your room will have a mosquito net as well and areas where you eat. The mosquitos are serious business as you can imagine.
The shower will be cold, but this isn’t too bad as the days are hot and muggy.
Pampas Tour: Food
We enjoyed the food on our tour.
We had a variety of different meals with lots of vegetable dishes and some meat. We have read some other bad reviews of the food on these tours, but we aren’t too fussy.
You won’t have a choice of what you eat on these tours so be warned. They will cater to vegetarians and vegans, but because you are so remote, options are limited.
Pampas Tour: What To Bring
You will be able to survive with a small backpack for the 3 days. Here’s a short packing list of essentials:
- Sun cream/hat – riding in the boat all day, you will have no protection from the sun.
- Mosquito repellent – regardless of the season you visit in, bring it anyway
- Loose-fitting, light coloured clothes – this will help with the heat and with mosquitos (they are attracted to dark colours). The perfect outfit if you visit in the wet season is long white trousers and a long white sleeved shirt. This will cover most of your skin, and you can use repellent for the exposed areas.
- Swimwear – to swim with the dolphins
- Flip flops – to wear around your accommodation
- High ankle shoes – we wore our hiking boots. They gave us a bit of extra protection from mosquitos. Useful for getting on and off the boats if the ground is wet as they are waterproof
- Travel towel
- Shower gel – our accommodation didn’t have any
- Portable charger – electricity is scare in the Amazon. Whilst we had one plug socket in our dining area, its best to just come prepared with a fully charged portable charger for your phone and an extra battery for a camera.
PAMPAS TOURS: ARE THEY WORTH IT?
Whilst the accommodation is basic; you aren’t travelling to the Amazon to experience luxury. Roughing it is also part of the adventure.
You are going to see an incredible environment and rare animals.
We saw pink river dolphins, tonnes of caimans, river tortoises, monkeys, capybaras, and all sorts of exotic birds. Riding in the speedboat along the winding rivers all day searching for animals never got boring and the days are broken up nicely. Sitting down with a beer watching the sunset over the Pampas was incredible.
It’s also going to be one of the cheapest ways to visit the Amazon in South America. In countries like Brazil it is incredibly touristy and expensive, and whilst in places like Peru it will be cheaper, you will never get the bargain you get here.
We think it’s 100% worth it.
Just avoid it if you aren’t a fan of roughing it and can’t stand mosquitos. That was the only challenging part to deal with.