The Pampas

Visiting the Pampas in Bolivia

Cost:$44/day plus $18 National Park admission fee

Bus parked on the airport runway

The pampas are an area of wetlands leading into the in Amazon in Bolivia. You can get there by a bus that takes two, sometimes three days depending on the weather…. or a quick flight. I talked with a woman who had been on the road for 36 hours due to non-stop rain! That’s why I opted to fly.

When I went to the airport to go to Rurrenebaque, I boarded the smallest plane I had ever seen. It was a metal tube with one row on each side of the aisle and was so small you had to crouch in the cabin. It was a quick, bumpy, 45 minute flight to a Rurrenabaque where we landed at the local “airport” in the middle of the jungle.  This suited me just fine.

Even upon landing, I liked the jungle so much better than the city.

The air was incredibly hot and humid but it was clean. The town was smaller and the people were friendlier. The standard vehicle for a family of four appeared to be a motorbike. We drove in a van for three hours on a bumpy dirt road before coming to the boats in the river that we would be taking to the lodge. My group was 4 people. A man and woman from Denmark (who we couldn’t figure out if they were brother and sister or a couple? It seemed rude to ask.) and a German girl who was also traveling alone. We got int a boat and headed towards the lodge. On the way we saw parrots, alligators, turtles and a wild-looking birds including toucans and parrots.

It was the best I had felt since leaving home.

Imagine this as the world’s noisiest sunset

So, the standard Bolivian pampas tour is three days and two nights in the Pampas. They advertise a variety of activities including swimming with pink dolphins, anaconda hunting and piranha fishing but one thing that wasn’t mentioned was the incredible sunset and that turned out to be the best part.

We watched the sunset, ate dinner and then took the boat out on the water in the dark. The air smelled sweet with hundreds of different plants. The boat floated along silently in the dark but everywhere around us the trees seemed to be crawling with life. We could yelps and whoops, screeches, cackles, tweets, and some strange noise between a growl and a burp. It turns out that’s the noise alligators make. The sky was the most amazing part for me. I had never seen so many stars before or seen them shine so bright. Fireflies jumped along the surface of the water as we continued through the reeds. If was the most beautiful night I could have imagined.

Yes, alligators burp.

Little, tiny piranhas which we ate for dinner

Over the next two days we went through the swamp looking for Anacondas. This was a fruitless effort, thank god! I really doubt groups find them very often. I think our guide knew that going into it because they had a six foot anaconda staged in a field for us to look at. I’m terrified of snakes so I was fine looking at a distance, but my guide pushed me into going closer. I’m sure this wasn’t for the thrill of seeing me panic. He probably just wanted me to conquer my fears Oprah-style.

Then we went fishing for pirañhas. These little fish are so fast you can’t believe it. We used some sticks with fishing line on them and little pieces of steak on a hook.  Since the water was shallow, we watched as piranhas swam up, took small bites and were gone just as fast. The trick was pulling up on the line as soon as possible. It was tricky at first but didn’t take long to catch on. Soon we had yellow and orange fish lining the bottom of the canoe.  Their sharp little teeth shining int he sun.

It was weird to go from fishing for pirañas to swimming with dolphins. It just feels wrong to get in the water after fishing for pirañas! Still, it was a different area of the pampas. We all jumped into the water and swam next to giant, pink dolphins. Who knew that was a thing? It seems so weird to see dolphins in this marshland. Also, to be in murky water with alligators and snakes and god knows what else. And you know what? It was fine.

At the end of it all, we watched the day close around the sunset again as the jungle came to life around us.

This was by far the best place I had been in Bolivia. Even though I’m not much for group tours, this is one that I would go back and do again. There were cold showers, no internet, three hours of electricity and very primitive accommodations but none of that mattered. By the time it was over my German friend and I had decided to see if we could change our flights and stay go into the jungle.

I don’t think I’ll every forget the sounds of the jungle at night or how many stars the sky can hold.

Our guide being very compassionate about my fear of snakes