Last Updated on February 7, 2021 by Michelle Moyer
Our Amazon Rainforest Trekking Adventure Begins
We signed up for an Amazon Rainforest Trekking Adventure with Bala Tours and were very excited for our tour to begin. We thought about the different between a hike and a trek. A hike is on an energetic walk along an organized path and a trek is a vigorous hike through unknown, wild environment. What did we get ourselves into? Would this Amazon Trek be safe? Is it dangerous to visit the Amazon and go deep into the jungle for Amazon Rainforest hiking?
Day 1: Amazon Rainforest Trekking Adventures in the Jungle
Today was the beginning of our Amazon tour in Bolivia with Bala Tours. We stayed overnight in Rurrenabaque at El Lobo Hostal. It was a decent place to rest our heads in a town that didn’t have much in the way of accommodations. Breakfast was included with the room, but it wasn’t much. They served scrambled eggs, fruit, and toast. It was served at the bar next to the pool, so we got to eat right next to the river to enjoy the view. Checkout was a lot easier than check-in. We paid in cash and were on our way. I was afraid to try the credit card at that time because we had problems the previous night getting it accepted at dinner and I didn’t want any more bad news.
Our Bala Tour van picked us up on time at 9am in front of El Lobo and took us to the tour office where we met our fearless guide, Roberto. We will have nothing but nice things to say about Roberto through this whole entire trip report! He was awesome! We stored our big luggage in a side office that had no doors, hence no way of locking it and safely securing it. That’s ok, we didn’t have anything too valuable except our souvenirs up to that point. For Amazon trip pre-planning and packing tips, you can read the blog post Planning for the Amazon in 1 backpack.
We put on our backpacks with our 4-days of clothing and gear and hiked down the middle of the town road, through the Sunday Market and toward the Beni river.
Once we arrived at the river’s edge, we had to climb down a rather large hill in order to board the canoe. No dock here to walk on. I felt sorry for the tour company employees that had to slowly make their way down that hill carrying canoe fuel and food supplies for the campsite.
Pedro was our friendly and efficient boat driver. Our first stop was directly across the river to purchase our passes for Madidi National Park for 200 Bs in cash each. We disembarked and followed Roberto through a long pathway to the office where he helped us fill out the form and pay for our tickets.
We re-boarded the canoe and went back across the river to pick up more fuel that I guess they discovered they needed to bring or had just forgotten. The employees that stayed ashore were ready on the river’s edge to drop it down the hill to the canoe driver. Pedro took us down the river, but we stopped after a short trip in order to turn in our park tickets to the Ranger, which just meant pulling our canoe to the side of the river so that the Ranger could come aboard and collect our slips.
We were on our way for our 1 ½ hr ride to the campsite, surrounded by beautiful scenery and occasional animal spottings. It was a little chilly once we picked up speed, so I had to put on my long-sleeved shirt.
We were enjoying the view, but soon we arrived at the docking site, or rather, a worn-out dirt hill on the side of the Tuichi river that Bala calls their own canoe parking spot. We were greeted by the resident pet pig as soon as we set foot on land. He was very friendly and followed us all the way to camp, which was approximately a 10-minute walk. We were told that there used to be two pigs that hung about the camp, but perhaps a jaguar…
When we arrived at the campsite that Bala Tours owns: Tacurales Ecolodges, we received a welcome lemonade drink. It was Soooo refreshing! We were introduced to our cook Hilda and our housekeeper Lorena and were shown our lodge for the next 2 days. Lunch would be served in an hour so we made ourselves at home and relaxed until then.
We were the only ones at the campsite the entire time we were there. Our lodge was definitely better than I expected! Our room was cute, adorned with flowers and heart-shaped towels. Take a tour!
Note the towel art on the bed. Even in the jungle, we were greeted by fascinating towel displays in each of our little huts. The toilet paper had a purpose too and was used as a vase in this artwork. See a display of elaborate towel art from around the world in this collaborative post. Both of the Amazon jungle hut displays are posted in this article.
Lunch was ready in no time by cook Hilda. We were each served a soup starter. For drinks, we were always served fruit juice or room temperature filtered water. Nothing was ever cold or put on ice. Next, we were led to the buffet and introduced (in Spanish) to the full menu to satisfy our pallet. Everything was arranged as a beautiful plate of art: chicken, rice, tomato, eggs and cucumbers, yucca and beans. Surely anyone could enjoy a meal like this no matter how picky you are!
Our first walk in the jungle opened our eyes wide! We were not walking on a path. Roberto was using his machete to lead us through the jungle in search of animals.
On our search for those elusive monkeys, we found many unique jungle residents in the form of plants and fungi, many still used for medicinal purposes and….bugs.
The leaf cutter ants were amazing. The entire jungle floor is completely covered by leaves and branches. Then when you come upon a foot-wide bare path through the jungle, you take a closer look and it’s actually moving. The path is being made by the constant flow of leaf cutter ants carrying leaves through the jungle and back to their home. The path that they make through the jungle floor is bare because of the continuous traffic going back and forth.
Of course, we also had our fun imitating Tarzan swinging from jungle vines! There were soooo many vines!
Soon, our walk was over and we found ourselves back at the camp to be rewarded with another large glass of fruit juice. We had time to freshen up before dinner.
Following dinner and another siesta, we began our night hike. I wore my raincoat for warmth and carried my trusty flashlight so that I could see where I was going. I brought a headlamp on vacation with me but didn’t use it. The flashlight cut into the darkness only a little bit, so I was only able to see in front of me a foot or so. The blackness allowed me to fully appreciate the sounds of the jungle, amplified by just a touch of fear and nervousness.
We assumed our traditional hiking formation; I followed Roberto and my husband brought up the rear. Roberto’s lamp was really bright so my flashlight alternated between the ground immediately under my feet and to the side, to make sure there wasn’t anything creepy that was ready to jump on me. I am relieved to report that the only things we encountered were of the bug variety. I am not sure how I would have reacted if we would have actually found a snake!
There was one point during the hike where I heard Roberto utter a quiet “UH OH” and he quickly turned around to look at my feet. “Come here. Start stomping your feet!” he ordered. My heart raced and I quickly started dancing some sort of stomping dance. Roberto shined his light on me and revealed a trail of Amazonian Army biting ants quickly ascending my pants. He swiftly took his machete and started knocking them off of my boots, socks, and pants.
Crisis averted, he took them all off of me before they made it all the way up my legs. Wait! We both now turned around and shined our lights on my husband who was now standing directly on the path of the ants. “Stomp your feet!” yelled Roberto. Too late. Hubby didn’t have his pants tucked into his socks and the ants were already making a path up his bare legs and biting him. Roberto helped by knocking off all the newcomers from his shoes, and hubby squished all the others through his jungle pants. Poor Hubby!
We walked slowly and carefully back to the camp, watching out more carefully for the ant trails. Upon arrival at camp, we finally found a furry animal. A cute little opossum was staring at us from the roof of one of the pavilions.
Day 2: Amazon Rainforest Trekking in the Madidi National Park
Breakfast was served at 8am followed by our morning hike through the jungle. Today’s hike proved more fruitful since we found a couple of groups of different monkeys and were able to watch them play in the canopy for quite a while before they moved on.
There are many different species of monkeys living in the Amazon Rainforest canopy including howler monkeys, spider monkeys, tamarins, marmosets, capuchin monkeys, and squirrel monkeys. Most of the monkeys mainly eat the vegetation including nuts, fruits, and flowers. Our guide showed us a wide selection of the monkey diet, along with other amazing inhabitants and fauna.
I was happy to find a macaw feather as a souvenir and proudly displayed my find. I think Roberto was jealous. The macaw is a beautifully colored and noisy bird that is native to South and Central America.
After another delicious lunch served by Hilda, we headed out on canoe toward a different part of the jungle. We parked our canoe on a sandy beach and walked through tall grass, followed by a denser jungle forest with banana trees. After a long haul, we arrived at an official entrance to Madidi National Park and took our pictures by the sign.
To our surprise, there were toilets in a little hut at this entrance! We weren’t used to this relief but excitedly took advantage of it. We were now hiking along a boardwalk suspended a few feet above the jungle floor. Such a luxurious pathway compared to the trails we usually sliced our way through. There were educational signs posted every few hundred feet that explained the native animals living in this part of the jungle. Here was where we saw our jaguar!
Yes, not quite real, but a funny photo-op none-the-less. We continued along the boardwalk until we arrived at the viewing tower. We climbed to the top and were rewarded with a beautiful view of the macaw clay cliff with many different holes in the side of it. The macaws would fly around the canopy tree-tops with their mate and then return to their nest. These birds mate for life and we could see the macaw pairs peeking out of each of their residence holes.
At one point, a tremendous fight broke out in one of the holes. Apparently, the current owner pair were not happy they were being evicted and there were several sets of new owners that were eager to fight for the accommodation! I had brought my own binoculars with me, so I was able to watch the macaws close and personal. It was hard to believe that this was out in the wild and not the zoo.
Once we had fulfilled our quota of macaw viewing, we decided to take a shortcut across a stream on the way back to the beach the canoe was parked at. Roberto found a tree trunk that was small enough to carry, yet large enough to support us as we crossed the water. The men smiled proudly and picked it up to haul it to the stream so that we could cross without getting our feet wet.
Slight problem. That tree was the home to a nest of more Amazonian biting ants! Flashbacks from the previous night!! This time Roberto was the target because they were all scurrying out his end of the tree trunk where he was carrying it on his shoulder –right next to his face! The men dropped the tree and it broke in half. Roberto did some wild dancing and swearing followed by a lot of swatting. Poor Roberto. Yet for some reason, he still wanted that darn trunk and continued to carry it to the stream, every-once-in-a-while letting each piece fall to the ground to knock off the current batch of biting ants.
Talk about persistence, of the men for keeping that trunk in their hands and the ants, for continuing their attack! Finally, we arrived at the crossing point and discovered that there was already a tree trunk dropped across the stream. Roberto was not happy that his efforts (and pain from his many ant bites) were pointless.
Crossing that stream was still exciting. Well, I’ll just let you watch the video.
Arrival back at the camp, followed by a tall glass of welcomed fruit juice, I took off the wet sock and boot. The boot was taken to the cooking stove and parked over the fire to dry. I was glad I had a lot of extra socks. I usually changed into fresh socks after a hike, but this time, it was even more necessary and I threw the muddy one into the trash! Our last dinner at this jungle campsite was followed by the distribution of evaluations. We gave everyone excellent reviews and then headed back to the lodge to turn in early. Tomorrow was an early day so that we could head out for part 2 of our adventure.
Onward to the Pampas del Yacuma
Day 3: Amazon Rainforest Trekking in the Pampas del Yacuma
We had a long day of traveling ahead of us so we got up really early, quickly ate breakfast, and hiked with the resident pig toward our canoe for the 1 ½ hour trip back to Rurrenabaque.
Oh, those views were so gorgeous and we soaked them up and took more photos
Once we arrived back in town we went back to the tour office, spied our luggage which was still safely stored in the office space and were told that we had 45 minutes until we would depart for the pampas, so we walked around the shops in this part of town. The shops resembled the Goodwill stores from back home. The stuff was all cheap and it looked like it was second-hand.
I ended up buying a Jungle Tweety beach towel. It was a great find and appropriate for our Amazon vacation! I ended up losing the beach towel that I brought with me on the trip because I used it as a fluff inside that sad-excuse-for-a-pillow at the El Lobo Hostel in Rurrenabaque…and then I forgot to pack it when we were stuffing our large suitcases to leave at the tour office. We were stopping at Fort Lauderdale on the way home, so I was going to need a replacement towel anyway. The Jungle Tweety towel ended up being approximately $4 USD when converted and we used some more of that coveted Bs cash, but I was happy and smiling with my cute souvenir purchase.
Time to load up and move out. We packed our backpack luggage and food supplies into our 4×4 vehicle. Our new cook, Palmira took the back seat stuffed in between suitcases. Roberta our ever-diligent guide took the front seat with our careful driver, Fedil. My husband and I were in the middle row and tried to get comfortable.
This was a very long 3-hour trip along a dusty road. There was construction the entire way into the Pampas and every time a vehicle would pass going the other way, the dust would kick up and visibility would be ZERO. My nerves were on edge and I don’t know how Fedil got us safely down that road without driving off of it and into the creature-infested river that lined the side of the road!
We made a few stops on the way, first stop was to see the sloths in the trees. Hubby was able to see them through Roberto’s binoculars, but I never did. The second stop was for the men to take care of business. Perhaps they were also observing nature while they were out there? The third stop was the best. We spotted an ant-eater and followed it along the side of the road until it crossed the dusty road and headed into the bushes. I never knew that they were so cute!
Soon, but not soon enough for our liking, we arrived at the Pampas del Yacuma and paid our 150 Bs cash for admission.
We pulled into a gravel lot, unloaded the car and got into the waiting canoe. After we pushed off from shore, we quickly spotted our first views of the caimans, which are mostly small-sized crocodilians. Our guide excitedly pointed out the Black Caimen, highly regarded as the biggest and baddest of the bunch, who was perched ashore near us. He was huge and we pulled the canoe just a little too close for me! I didn’t require a nice close-up photo of this guy. The far-shot was just fine, but Roberto insisted that we have a nice view of his giant teeth! I kept my eyes closed.
Our lodge, the Caracoles Ecolodges, was just a few minutes further down the river. Again, we were the only visitors at the campsite. Hubby and I felt special on our private jungle expeditions! We were led to our little bungalow. It was just as cute as the last one.
We were starving for lunch by now but had to wait while the food supplies were unloaded and lunch was prepared by Palmira. We took a tour of the campsite and then sat by the river’s edge and counted all the caimans that were on the banks staring up at us.
After lunch and a short siesta, we set sail back on our canoe with Roberto at the rudder. Birds were everywhere constantly making a ton of noise. Roberto led us down some winding river bends and each time the jungle had a clearing in it, we slowed down, and sure enough, there was a collection of animals, sometimes, caimans, sometimes capybaras. We felt like we were on a simulated Disney-ride, with pre-planned scenes, but we had to keep telling ourselves that these were real with real-life animals. It was incredible.
After a quick stop for dinner, we also cruised our canoe to a pasture to watch the sunset. In the distance, we saw several capybaras and behind us on the river bank, lay several caimans. Right as the sun sank below the horizon, we were passed by a small herd of cows. No one was with them to herd them, they were just passing through.
This day was incredible and was over much too soon!
Day 4: Amazon Rainforest Trekking in the Pampas del Yacuma
Our last day in the Amazon before we returned to civilization
We had another early morning start so that we could get a lot done before we had to leave the pampas. After filling our bellies with a delicious breakfast, we boarded our canoe for more cruising around the river.
We went this way and that way and I have no idea how Roberto navigated through the intricate river. Finally, he guided the canoe into an embankment and it seemed to ram into the jungle which now extended into our canoe.
From out of nowhere, bands of monkeys came off of the branches over our canoe and into the boat! They ran up and down the boat and all around us. We did not have any food, but that didn’t stop them from searching everywhere. They stuck around a long time and we did not have any shortage of cute monkey videos. It will be difficult to figure out just which ones to post and share with you. They were all so adorable, even a little baby monkey came to see what the racket was all about!
Following our monkey encounter, we looked for pink dolphins. The Amazon dolphin lives in the freshwater Amazonian river basins. They are usually spotted swimming solo with males being commonly more pink than the females. We were told that there would be no swimming with them since the water level in the river was so low in this dry season and there was a surplus of caimans. No argument from me there! We spotted and followed two different pink dolphins as they went slowly about their business near our canoe.
Last on our list of activities was fishing for piranha. OK, HUBBY fished and I took pictures. Those little things sure do have sharp teeth and are voracious eaters when the bait is in the water. Hubby and Roberto were able to catch enough piranha for lunch. Roberto cleaned them right there in the canoe and we headed back to the camp. After all, we still had a 3-hour long car ride back to Rurrenabaque and a flight to catch at 5pm.
Lunchtime. Palmira tried to quickly cook those piranhas so that we could eat and be on our way. They looked less than appetizing to me since I don’t really eat anything that has an eye to stare at me. Hubby tried it and said it was a little over-cooked.
Now it was time to say goodbye. We packed up our belongings and crammed back into the car for another harrowing ride through that terrorizing dusty road. It was impossible to sleep because it was so bumpy and jerky, so the only thing to do was stare ahead and pray.
Three hours later we arrived at the dinky little Rurrenabaque airport. To our surprise, there is an airport fee that needs to be paid in Bs cash to anyone leaving this airport. Maybe they are collecting money to fix it up? Why did I read NOTHING online about this anywhere? Luckily, we had JUST enough Boliviano coins to pay that fee, or we’d still be there and I wouldn’t be able to write this stellar review.
Good Bye to the Amazon! It was a life-changing thrilling vacation for us and we will never forget it! Thank you, Roberto and Bala Tours for the awesome tour full of many memorable experiences.