A Bolivian Safari On Yacuma River

Before coming to Bolivia we had no idea of the vast array of animals that live in this fascinating country. It turns out there are a lot more than just llamas. The wetlands region of Pampas Rio Yacuma is literally bursting with wildlife and is the perfect place for a wildlife safari.

To reach the pampas, we traveled to the northern Bolivian city of Rurrenabaque (called Rurre). From there we had a 3 hour ride on a bumpy, gravel road. The forested landscape often gave way to small open meadows. Farmers were walking their cows on the road, taking them from one grazing area to the next.

Even in this somewhat pastoral setting there is an abundance of wildlife. Our driver stopped often on the drive to let us to get a better look. We saw sloths, pink spoonbills, the massive Jabiru, capybaras, caimans, macaws, egrets, herons and more. It seemed as if this was the wildlife safari, but we hadn’t even reached the pampas yet!

The car brought us to the banks of Rio Yacuma near the small town of Santa Rosa. During the dry season there is a distinct river, but apparently during rainy season a lot of the ground is flooded. From Santa Rosa we took a boat up river for 15 minutes or so to reach Mashaquipe’s Tortuga Resort. A few small wooden cabanas surround the edges of the resort with a large dining room offering a view of the river. It’s basic, but very clean and comfortable.

During the next three days we went for several boat safaris, both day and night, an evening sunset cruise and a couple of small hikes on land. We saw more wildlife here in our first afternoon than on many other safaris we’ve been on around the world.

Here’s a selection of what you can see in the Bolivian Pampas.

Monkeys

You must know that at Monkey’s Tale we love monkeys. There are four types of monkeys in Yacuma Pampa and saw them all; Squirrel, Cappuccino, Howler and Night monkeys. The squirrel monkeys were the most friendly; a couple of them even jumped onto our boat. They were hoping for food of course, but weren’t aggressive like some monkeys such as macaques. When we had no food for them, they just hopped off the boat and went on to shore.

The loud calls of the howler monkeys woke us each morning. If felt as if they were on the tree above our hut, but they were actually quite far away. Cappuccino and night monkeys were more shy and difficult to get a picture.

Caiman

The largest predator we saw were caimans. There are two types in the pampas; the large Black Caiman and the smaller, more common Spectacled Caiman. One day our guide accidentally bumped a caiman that was swimming near Maggie’s seat on the boat. The caiman quickly and powerfully swung his body around with a big splash. Maggie and another lady actually screamed!

Birds

We saw more types of birds than we can remember, but the most striking were the Hoatzins. Upon seeing them we thought we had mistakenly entered Jurassic Park. With their spiky hair, small heads and oversized eyes, these large birds look like direct descendants of pterodactyls. In fact, they are the only birds remaining from a branch of the family tree that broke off 64 million years ago.

They have a large colourful wingspan, but tend to sit in tight foliage. Watching them try to get out of the trees was entertaining.

In addition to the Hoatzin birds we saw numerous other colourful birds including song birds and water birds.

Capybaras, Coati & More

And of course on land we saw a few mammals. It was always fun to see capybaras. The awkward looking, shy rodents usually travel in large families. We also saw Coatis, which are a type of racoon. The South American Coatis in Bolivia were hard to capture in pictures as they quickly scampered up nearby trees when they heard us coming. A couple of foxes walked right past us as we quietly hid in the bushes.

Anacondas

The pampas are known for their large anacondas. Richard went without Maggie on this adventure and saw 5 in a coupe of hours. They lay hidden in the mud of a dense marsh. Tourists and guides poke in the ground until they find them and then the guides lifted them out of the sludge. Sorry, but Maggie took the camera away from Richard for this trip.

Turtles

There are hundreds of turtles on Yacama River. Most often we saw groups of turtles sunning themselves on logs in the middle of the river. As the boat went by, one would hop off the log and splash into the water. Once one went it was like a turtle cascade as they all dove into the river. Apparently there are Galapagos turtles, but the most common are the Yellow Spotted River Turtles.

There were a few pink dolphins too, but they would only show their backs in a quick surface dive so we have no pictures.

Sunset & Sunrise

One evening we went to a lake for a cruise and then watched a gorgeous sunset from shore. The next morning we caught a colourful sky at sunrise.

In three days we saw many animals up close and heard even more in the distance. This boat safari was one of the best we have taken and we would highly recommend a trip to the Bolivian Pampas.

Rurrenabaque

The city of Rurrenabaque is the main city in the region. It’s a quiet town located on the Beni River. For a small town is has quite a few good hotels, restaurants and even a very good French bakery in the downtown area.

Getting to the Pampas – Most people will travel to Rurrenabaque from La Paz. It is a long (12 – 15 hour) bus ride on a bumpy, narrow mountain road to reach the flat lands far below. There are 3 bus companies that make the trip. We used Yungenia. It’s supposed to be the cleanest with the most comfortable buses. There is an airport in Rurrenabaque with flights from La Paz and Santa Cruz, but the cost of flights is usually quite high.

Selecting a Tour Company – There are a few tour agencies on the internet, but you can find a tour from an agency in Rurrenabaque for much cheaper. We used Mashaquipe Eco Tours and were very happy with their guides, food and rooms. All companies seem to charge the same rate. In Aug 2022 it was 1500 Bolivianos per person for 3 days/2 nights in a double room with a private bathroom.

When to go – There are two seasons in the Bolivian Pamaps; rainy and dry. Each lasts six months long. Rainy season lasts from November – April. Dry season lasts from May to October. We went during dry season in August and saw a lot of animals, birds and of course caiman. There aren’t as many mosquitoes as during rainy season, but we still saw a lot. There are supposed to be more ticks during dry season, but we didn’t have any. We were told that it is more difficult to see as many animals in rainy season because the water is so spread out but the flip side is you can see a lot more dolphins.

Coming Next – Llamas, Alpacas And More in Sajama, Bolivia

For pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca

To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.

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