The pampas are an ecosystem which is unique to South America. The word pampas is the Quechua word for “plains” and describes the vast savannah that extends across Eastern Bolivia into Brazil and South into Argentina. The plains are home to an enormous variety of wildlife who live throughout the ecosystems in the pampas. During the wet season, the many rivers that flow throughout the region flood the pampas and transform these vast plains into lush, green landscapes. This regular flooding also prevents the growth of large trees and leaves only low, bushy vegetation and plants which results in the ideal environment for spotting wildlife! Our three day, two night Pampas tour saw us travel along the meandering Yacuma River where we witnessed an incredible diverse range of wildlife ranging from caimans and crocodiles, capybaras, howler monkeys, pink dolphins, anaconda, piranhas and countless species of beautiful birds which live in the pampas. I was stoked that we came back alive to tell the story!
We flew into Rurrenabaque the day before from La Paz and had already lined up a tour in La Paz through our hostel booking agency. We’d done a great deal of research before booking our tour and wanted to ensure we were travelling with a company who was not just reasonably priced as we were backpackers, but was also professional, safe and both socially and environmentally responsible. We booked our tour through Indigena Tours who are a locally owned tour operator in Rurrenabaque and have been taking travellers into the Pampas for over a decade. They are also Green Action Alliance certified, meaning that they use best practices for sustainability on their trips. There are many ways to visit the Amazon, including on a multi-country luxury cruise on an Azamara Cruises ship.
We arrived at Indigena Tours office on the main street of Rurrenabaque where we met the rest of our group which included two Irish girls, two British guys, one British girl, a Belgian girl and three Australians (inclusive of us)! We set off in two cars for our three hour drive along dusty roads and through sleepy Amazon villages until we arrived at Santa Rosa, a small town on the banks of the Yacuma River. We had a traditional Bolivian lunch in Santa Rosa before boarding our traditional boats and setting sail down the Yacuma River.
For the most part of the next three hours we drifted slowly downstream so that we didn’t disturb any of the wildlife. From the moment we set off down the river we spotted an abundance of animals including birds, monkeys, caimans and capybaras!
It was a wonderfully calm experience until the last hour where we got absolutely drenched in monsoonal rain and had to bucket water out of our boat! It was however, part of the experience and now we laugh at it!
We arrived at the Indigena ecolodge around 4pm and had a few hours to relax in the hammocks by the river and have a snack before we headed back to the boat to cruise a few minutes down the river to the “Amazon Bar” which is a small shack run by a local family that sells wine, beer and snacks! We met people from other lodges and tours and had a few drinks whilst we witnessed an incredible sunset over the vast, open expanse of the pampas which was a very surreal and wonderful experience!
It was dark by the time we headed back to the boat for our night tour on our way back to the lodge! The pampas really come to life once the sun sets and we could hear the sounds of all types of animals in the distance. With our flashlights in hand we set out in search of the biggest predator of all, the caiman! Caimans are members of the gator family and can grow up to 12 feet long! In the pitch black they hunt along the river at night and were easy to spot as their eyes reflected the moonlight and eerily glowed red in the darkness. Once we arrived back at the lodge we tucked into a delicious dinner before heading to bed in the lodge under our mosquito nets once the generator was turned off for the evening. The lodge was quite rustic with shared bathroom facilities but we still got twin-share rooms so Nina and I bunked in together as usual. Whilst rustic, I wouldn’t have changed the experience for the world!
The next morning we woke up to a delicious, hearty breakfast before we changed into our swimmers and set off upriver to a small lake-like area where the pink dolphins of the Amazon often congregate! Our guide “called” the dolphins by tapping on the back of our wooden boat and within minutes we had a number of them surrounding us! Everyone except us Aussies jumped straight off the boat, we on the other hand were a big apprehensive as we’d always grown up being taught not to swim in crocodile infested waters! Our guide assured us that we were quite safe, especially whilst the dolphins were around!
In the end, we also jumped off the boat and while it was quite a surreal and scary experience to be swimming in the same river as caimans and piranhas, it was an unforgettable experience to swim with these extremely rare animals. After our swim we headed back to the lodge for showers and had plenty of time for lunch and a siesta in the hammocks before our afternoon activities. The lodge was right on the water and whilst basic, had the best views, and the cutest resident monkeys!
After lunch we all donned gum boots (or wellies) and set off into the high grass of the pampas behind the lodge. Our journey was in search of anacondas and we spent a few hours trudging through the grassland and savannah of the pampas in the high humidity of the day which was tough work! After about two hours our guide spotted a baby anaconda about two metres in the length and the bravest of those in the group had the opportunity to hold it for a moment (I’m so not brave, but managed to pull myself together for a photo). Anacondas are non-venomous but are among the largest snakes in the world and can grow up to 5 metres in length, although there have been many claims to have seen anacondas much longer than that!
By the time we arrived back at the lodge we were all extremely sweaty and hot so all headed down to the river, some choosing to enter in style using the rope swing! That evening we headed back to the Amazon bar for a couple of drinks and again, an incredible sunset! That night we had our final dinner at the lodge and afterwards all sat outside relaxing and watching the incredible skies above us. The pampas are beautiful and the stars are incredibly vibrant as we were hours from the light pollution of any towns and cities!
After breakfast on our final day we headed out for our much anticipated fishing trip! The goal for the trip was to catch piranhas, a predatory fish which is abundant in the region and is a dietary staple for the indigenous communities. I couldn’t get over the fact that we’d swum in the same water as we were pirahna fishing in! We used traditional methods in the attempt to catch a piranha and a few people were successful!
We then headed back to the lodge for our final lunch and to pack our belongings before starting the boat ride back to Santa Rosa where our car was waiting to take us back to Rurrenabaque (along with the world’s happiest dog). I honestly could start an album of dogs I have made friends with all over the world!
We all had such an incredible experience on our pampas tour and felt so lucky to have been able to experience this incredible region of the Amazon.
Our tour was US$160 and we paid US$20 for entrance into the park.