A true playground for nature-lovers! Bolivia has only recently started to emerge from under the adventure and nature travelers’ radar. Offering an amazing tapestry of still fairly untapped natural areas, with a great diversity ranging from high-altitude plateaus, to dense foggy jungle, salt flats and snow-capped mountains, this country is a hidden paradise for those seeking an up-close encounter with Mother Nature.
Amongst the many breathtaking natural gems, the Maididi National Park stands out as one of the most bio diverse areas on Earth. A favorite for bird-watchers and wildlife enthusiast, this park is fairly tucked away, up on the northern corner of the La Paz department, granting a true adventure for all of you, outdoorsy! Are you up for it?
The Madidi National Park is one of the largest parks in Bolivia, with an extension of 1,895,750 Ha (4,684,500 Acres), stretching from the Andes to the Amazon basin. This endows it with an extraordinary biodiversity, being home to over 11% of the world’s known bird species, as well as numerous mammals, insects, reptiles and others. So, if you want your own little NatGeo-like expedition, this place is spot on!
Since it’s enormous and a bit tucked away, getting to the park and moving through it can be a whole adventure on its own right. A long bus ride or a short flight from La Paz gets you to Rurrenabaque. From there you’ll begin deepening into the jungle by 4WD, boat rides and hiking. Allow at least 4-5 days.
Chalalán – Community Eco Lodge
A 6-hour ride on a motorized canoe takes you from Rurrenabaque into the heart of the park, entering through gorges as the jungle thickens and the sounds intensify. The journey is well accompanied by birds, caimans and, if you get lucky, you might spot a jaguar.
A short hike then gets you to the Chalalán Eco Lodge, run by the local indigenous community from the close-by village of San José. This is most definitely an outstanding example of community-based sustainable tourism, where local guides grant a superb experience to its visitors, while safeguarding the future of their forests. The lodge lies by the beautiful Chalalán Lagoon, surrounded by pristine rainforest. The cabins follow the traditional local style, incorporating ecological criteria, and offer comfort, while maintaining a simplicity that makes the experience that much more genuine.
Wildlife, wildlife… and more wildlife!
Regardless of if you have been to a virgin rainforest before or not, walking in one simply never gets old! It is hard to explain the intense feeling that this creates. Deepening into the forests, under the canopies of gigantic trees, surrounded by endless types of plants, flowers, mushrooms, moss, insects and wild animals simply confronts you with something that is so much bigger and powerful than yourself. It is important to explore the area with a local guide that not only keeps you safe from possible hazards, but also makes the experience unforgettable, being able to recognize species by looking at them or even through the way they sound. A plus: local indigenous tribes not only know a species from the other, but also carry legendary wisdom about the medicinal properties of many plants.
Some of the wildlife you might be able to spot includes howler monkeys, poison dart frogs, leaf cutter ants, capybaras, toucans, macaws and many other species. There are also night walks or canoe rides on the lagoon to spot caimans and other animals that generally come out to play at night.
The rainforest gets its name for a good reason, so, be sure to be prepared for some pouring rain and knee-deep streams and puddles during your jungle excursions. You don’t want to mess up your favorite hiking boots. A rain jacket or poncho is also a good idea. Other than that, just immerse yourself in the experience and enjoy the sound of the rain hitting the canopy, the croaking frogs and the intense wilderness!
The best time to visit is during dry season, from April to October. Although the lower tropical area of the park is generally warm and humid (25º-30º C), temperatures can sometimes drop drastically due to Artic winds.
You must bear in mind that weather is unpredictable and activities may vary accordingly. Best advice is to keep an open and flexible mindset and seize the opportunity for an ultimate jungle adventure!
Check out this Madidi National Park itinerary to get an idea and let us know if we can help!