Swimming with River Dolphins, Pirahnas, and Alligators

Madidi National Park Travel Blog

 › entry 21 of 26 › view all entries

"Am I the only one going in the water?"

"No, the alligators will be swimming with you."

I'm either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.  I prefer to think the former but assume the latter.  Our longboat reaches an opening in the river, an ugly laguna of some sort, where we first encounter pink river dolphins - I never knew they even existed. 

At first, they're a little bashful, surfacing briefly in the distance.  Not long after, we find them spouting water, surfacing more, following the boat, and doing tricks within meters of the boat.  It's quite a sight to see, as I really did not expect to see such wondrous creatures here in the muddy Yacuma River.  

I can't resist the temptation to go for a swim with them. There are a few alligators basking on the bank, but the numbers seemed to have dropped off near the laguna.  My guide tells me it's safe to swim as the alligators are afraid of the dolphins.  The alligators also seem to be afraid of people too - they run into the water every time we approach them.  I'll just take my guide's word for it.

No one else in my boat wants to jump in.  I can't wait, so I strip down, don my goggles (very important - bring a pair if you come to Madidi) and dive into the murky water.  It's cool at first, but feels warmer and refreshing fast like a nice swimming pool. 

At first, I'm a little hesistant to swim too far from the boat.  Then I spot the dolphins.  They come close to me, and I swim my fastest - doing dolphin kicks, of course - so I can grab one and get a free ride like in the movies, but they prefer only to taunt me with their vicinity, around a meter, as their version of  playing with humans.  I try my hardest to get a touch, but only contact I make is my foot kicking something.  It could have been an alligator for all I know.  I can't see further than an inch in the water.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what it is as there is zero visibility in the muddy water.

As for the pirahnas, they're everywhere, but they're not that type.  They're actually kind of small and at most, they'll take a nibble at you without breaking skin.

And the alligators?  Well, on the third day, after making another valiant attempt to ride a river dolphin, as we leave, just 10 seconds downstream, we spot the largest alligator of the trip, a jaw-dropping 5 meters, enter the water. 


Damn. 


Don't let it deter you.


It was definitely one of those once-in-a-liftetime thrills to be swimming with dolphins, and I would definitely do it again when I return to the Amazon.

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Madidi National Park
photo by: jendara