Madidi in a Nutshell
Rurrenabaque Travel Blog› entry 20 of 26 › view all entries
Madidi National Park was, thus far, the best experience of my trip - and that's saying a LOT. It contains one of the most diverse biosystems in the world and is teeming with life of all sorts.
To get there, I took a ride on a small plane on the newly opened airline Amaszonas - it was either that or the less comfortable military TAM airlines. A 45-minute plane ride lands onto a grass runway in the small town of Rurrenabaque, the starting point for all Madidi expeditions. Just getting out of the plane felt great - it was hot, a bit humid, and a nice change from the high-altitude, cold, thin air.
I didn't book my tour yet, so upon arrival, I easily got the best price - $50 for an all inclusive 3-day, 2-night tour of the Pampas (plains) and part of the jungle.
From Rurrenabaque, I hopped onto a rough, 4-hour jeep ride to the Yacuma River, where our group hopped onto a long boat, and commenced a 2-hour boat ride to our lodge. Immediately, we were exposed to the teeming life in Madidi. Here are the highlights. I'll go into depth of some of the more exciting activities in future posts:
- Alligators everywhere. During the day, we couldn't ride 5 seconds on the boat without seeing one sunning out on the river banks. Most were medium sized, though some were very large - reaching 5 meters in length. I was also surprised by them splashing away sometimes when I prepared to jump off the boat!
- I took a swim with pink river dolphins, pirahnas, and alligators.
- Birds. They were everywhere too. I didn't think I would be impressed, but I easily spotted over 100 species of birds - many colourful ones including Toucans, tiny ones with large feet for walking on the floating plants and marshes, huge me-sized storks, woodpeckers, and more. Some bird songs were really beautiful to listen to and they always filled the air that I've been dealing with for pretty much the entire trip.
- Capybara clans - really large rodents. They must be pretty tough to be swimming amongst the alligators.
- Antonio the alligator. A 40-year-old alligator who befriended the cook at our lodge and frequents the banks of our lodge. Yes, I petted him.
- Cute spider monkeys jumping all over our boat (this is very questionable behaviour - a sign of eco-tourism gone wrong)
- Monkeys running all over the lodge and LOUD howler monkeys crying in chorus and waking us up in the morning.
- Anaconda and cobra hunting. I held a venomous cobra by myself.
- A wasp attack with some dung paste to soothe the stings!
- Beautiful sunrises and sunsets over the pampas
- A full moon night ride to catch alligators - a bit questionable, but the guide caught the smaller ones to discuss their features. I caught some tiny ones. We also took a silent, dark ride to see the fireflies, heighten our senses, and listen to the sounds of the jungles. It was thrilling.
- Schools of jumping fish at night - jumping into our boat
- A pleasant lodge with unbelievable feasts of meals (including presentation) and lazy hammock lounging. It was also finally hot enough for me to do my own laundry.
- An excellent and knowledgeable guide.
- Mosquitoes. I left my malaria pills at home, but the mozzies held up - they were only numerous at sunset, but otherwise, there weren't so many.
- Other life: turtles, crabs, tadpooles, fish of all sorts, large spiders
- Catching pirahnas for lunch - also a bit questionable. I won't do it next time, and most operators don't keep them because tourists don't want to eat them.
- A walk through the jungle to learn about natural medicines and to see the extremely poisonous Solomon tree.
- Making necklaces and cool junk jewelry from jungle seeds and nuts.
Simply put, Madidi was amazing. It has only be really developed for tourism in the past 10 years. I went with one of the common operators. For twice the price though, I heard that the popular Chalalan Ecolodge is even more remote and an very satisfying experience. They employ a local tribe, are very eco-sensitive, and a large percentage of the profits go towards the benefit of the tribe.