Bolivian Transport: Sucre, Santa Cruz, Trinidad, Rurrenabaque

July, 2011

Bolivian transport in any form is challenging. Taking the flight from Sucre to Santa Cruz de La Sierra, then another to Trinidad, for the crazy onward bus to Rurrenabaque, is an experience that you’ll never forget…

Dedicating this post to the travel between these four destinations with a little info on the towns, as the travelling really is quite memorable.

Sucre, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, South AmericaSucre to Santa Cruz de la Sierra

Decided to forgo the 15 to 20-hour bus trip from Sucre to Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Santa Cruz) – mainly, to give the old bones a rest from bumpy unpaved and rocky dirt tracks…whoops Bolivian roads.

This route is known to be notoriously bad and bone shattering, so understandably, bus companies also use older buses.

Instead, taking a flight of around thirty minutes is a much more enticing option.

Sucre’s Juana Azurduy de Padilla International Airport sits at around 2,900 metres above see level. It is not uncommon for the sole runway to suffer from heavy fog and bad weather, which sees flights cancelled regularly.

Today is a clear day and arrival to Santa Cruz is without any issues – I could get used to this…

Santa Cruz de la Sierra

As it poured heavily last night and today, but also leaving for Trinidad tomorrow, there isn’t much time for sight-seeing in this sprawling city, which is off the beaten track. Not surprising really as Santa Cruz sits in eastern Bolivia’s hot tropical lowlands at only 416 metres above sea level, and is more of a transport hub to other Bolivian destinations and Brazil.

‘Founded’ by the Spanish conquistadores in the mid-1500s with the intention of ‘settling the region’, local tribes already inhabited the area, with resulting numerous attacks on the Spanish.

Santa Cruz is becoming a tourism destination. Monseñor Rivero is a flashier street where you find upper-market restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and cafes, offering a wider variety of food.

Not wanting to face the rough and bone shattering Bolivian roads yet, instead, booked the flight to Trinidad with FAB – Fuerza Aérea Boliviana (Bolivian Air Force).

Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Trinidad, Bolivia, South America

Santa Cruz de la Sierra to Trinidad

Around a 30-minute drive from Santa Cruz city centre and you arrive at the airport.

Today, we are flying on a Convair CV-580 plane. I discovered Convair stopped manufacturing these planes in 1954.

The plane looks aged.

A clear day, although the flight is delayed by forty-minutes for our one-hour flight.

Quite strange and always a worry when your flight is not listed on the board. Finally, our names are called. Day packs are placed straight onto the scanner, our tickets checked, we walk across the tarmac, and board the plane.

Is there no one else?

Unexpected detour…

Strangely enough, we find ourselves as the only two passengers on board this flight.

To describe this as an eerily odd feeling, is an understatement. Can you ever remember flying on a 46-seater military plane, of which you are one of only two passengers?

The flight attendant is pleasant enough as he hands out our snacks – we take off.

After just under an hour’s flight we start to descend to our destination. Looking out the window expecting to see thick lush jungle as Trinidad is in the Amazon Basin, only dry dusty hills are visible. Confusion.

Starting to unbuckle, the flight attendant hurries down the isle and advises we haven’t arrived in Santa Cruz. This is Cochabamba. Although not a scheduled stop, we need to pick up more passengers’. What?

The plane’s door flies open but we must remain on the plane.

About ten minutes’ later, passengers start piling on with massive TV screens, huge shopping bags, and all sorts of weighty luggage.

I’m concerned.

We are in the wrong seats and told to move to the very front of the plane.

More and more passengers pile on.

The flight attendant checks his passenger sheet, recounting numbers out-aloud, several times.

There is a problem.

Only 46 seats but 49 passengers. What to do with the 3 extra passengers?

No problem. They’re waved down the isle into the open cargo hold covered with military netting. This is their spot for the onward journey – I don’t see seats.

I’m not an aviation engineer, but I start to wonder whether it is safe for the plane to be so overweight.

The door shuts once more. I look out of the window, concerned.

The plane struggles to take off under the added load. The lady in the opposing seat nervously looks at us and makes the sign of the cross over her body several times. I nervously glance back.

You can actually feel the weight difference from take-off in Santa Cruz to now – this plane is too heavy.

Miraculously though, we arrive in Trinidad – late, but glad to be on terra firma once more.

Trinidad, Bolivia, South America
Safely landed

Later I read that this plane is built to carry only 40 passengers. Today the plane holds 46 seats, 49 passengers, and too much cargo.

Trinidad, Bolivia, South America
Retired relic


The oppressive wall of humidity hits you on leaving the airport and stepping on to the footpath – it’s very hot.

Probably, more noticeable as we’ve spent the last few months, criss-crossing the high altitudes of the Andes.

Love the feel of Trinidad’s central plaza with cars whizzing crazily by, although for a city of over 100,000, Trinidad feels more like a big town and quite laid back.

Even the Sloths in the city are pretty laid back – they move in dreamlike slow motion.

This one was on a kamikaze death mission trying to cross the main road. Locals kept pushing the Sloth back onto the footpath, but it insisted. Finally, a local managed to lift the Sloth back into a neighbouring tree.

Sloth, Trinidad, Bolivia, South America
On a mission

Hiring motorbikes to check out a little of the surrounding city but also to try and book a 4-day boat trip on the Amazon, proved to be a great time, whilst dodging traffic.

Trinidad, Bolivia, South America
Amazonian hues

Cars and scooters come at you from everywhere and swerve right in front of you.

Trinidad, Bolivia, South America
Cheerful locals

Then there are the dirt and sandy tracks, once leaving the city centre.

Trinidad, Bolivia, South America
River crossing

If you think navigating your way around on foot is challenging, try a motorbike – much more fun!

Trinidad, Bolivia, South America
Riverfront home

Scenery and local life can be both confronting and fascinating.

Trinidad, Bolivia, South America
Carting water

Now for the bus journey to Rurrenabaque…

Trinidad, Rurrenabaque, Bolivia, South America

Trinidad to Rurrenabaque

After reading much traveller woes about this bus trip, decided to bite the bullet anyway and take the chance…could it be that bad?

One word? Yes!

This 14-hour bus trip from Trinidad to Rurrenabaque (Rurre) is one of the worse bus journey’s I’ve ever experienced.

Positives? It’s a dry day, a bus arrived, and it’s not a flat-bed open lorry (camione) with bench seats.

Lorry, Trinidad, Bolivia, South America
What we could of had…

I hear that when it rains, this road turns to mud and almost impassable, easily becoming a 24-hour journey.

Bus from hell – enduring the inevitable

The bus is old. Suspension is non-existent. Seats are small. Air-conditioning is non-existent. There is no on-board toilet.

We move to the very back of the bus with a family squashed in on one side, but also to avoid chickens and luggage in the aisle of the over-crammed bus.

bus, Trinidad, Bolivia, South America
Our luxury transport

The bus swerves erratically whilst you hang on tightly, white-knuckled with clenching teeth. Occasionally, the bus flies over a ditch and your head hits the roof. Each hour is nothing short of spine crushing.

Of course being in the Amazon, there’s a stretch of river to cross.

Everyone gets off whilst the bus is driven on to a barely floating wooden barge. Don’t want to be stuck inside a bus, should the barge sink. Sitting on the rustic timbers, we’re pushed around with a small outboard that I would only use on my dingy (tender) back home.

Still, the barge makes it across and the bus is in one piece to continue the journey.

Endless kilometres of corrugated road vibrate through every inch of your body. Bones feel as if they’re dislocating from their sockets, until the bus travels back on smoother, but still a gravel and rough terrain.

The only respite is later in the journey as night falls, in a small village – a food stop.

Although you’ve stopped, your body still reverberates from the previous hours of torture. I liken this bus trip to enduring the roughest roller-coaster ride of your life. Exaggerating? Take the trip and let me know.

The nightmare continues under the cover of darkness until the bus cannot go any further – I don’t know why.

From bus to taxi

Passengers have to find their own way to Rurre for the last few hours of the journey.

We share a cab with another two travellers.

The driver is on a death mission. Can this day get any worse? He loves to play chicken with oncoming traffic, especially lorry drivers.

We scream at the driver to stop, but he delights in the thrill. Not sure if he’s trying to scare us or just loves playing with death. I’m not religious in any way, but seriously start to think about praying to something or someone!

Will we get out of here alive?

Someone must be looking over me as the answer is, yes.

Dropped off with much relief at the bus station on the outskirts of Rurre, we gladly walk the last kilometre to the hotel with all our gear, and collapse.


You quickly learn that sweating profusely is a ‘favourite’ pass time in the Amazon, as is being a sacrificial lamb for biting insects.

San Buenaventura, Rurrenabaque, Bolivia, South America
San Buenaventura – west bank

Rurre experiences many foreign tourists as this is the best starting point for organising treks to the gorgeous Madidi National Park and the surrounding Pampas.

Rurrenabaque, Bolivia, South America
Daily river transport across to San Buenaventura
San Buenaventura, Rurrenabaque, Bolivia, South America
Continuing on to Ruta Nacional 16


As we’re staying in Rurre to specifically organise a couple of treks, both of these amazing trips warrant separate posts. You must experience the trek to the Madidi National Park jungle and the other to the Pampas – find yourself inside each wildlife documentary.


The Hotel Oriental offers good-sized rooms with private bathrooms, breakfast is included, and welcoming friendly staff – home away from home.

San Buenaventura, Rurrenabaque, Bolivia, South America
San Buenaventura local

Just for fun

A quick video from 2016 by Escapadons Nous on a good stretch of road – buses and roads haven’t improved since 2011.

Also from Escapadons Nous from 2016 in Rurre – lucky this didn’t happen to our bus. Nothing has changed.

So long Rurrenabaque, it’s been swell…

After a wonderful respite from back-breaking buses and not ready for another arduous 20-hour (or longer) bus journey, decided instead on a flight to La Paz – Bolivia’s city of dizzying heights.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more images. More posts on Bolivia at Image Earth Travel.

Related posts




, ,


39 responses to “Bolivian Transport: Sucre, Santa Cruz, Trinidad, Rurrenabaque”

  1. scorpio1987Sajal Avatar

    Hi..Do take part in this challenge, you have a lovely post!!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you and I’ve just shared my link for transport on your blog. 😉

      1. scorpio1987Sajal Avatar

        Thanks a lot!!!

  2. Nomad Dummy Avatar

    Nice article! In Santa Cruz there is also the Equipetrol area and the food court at Ventura mall, where you can find nice restaurants and caffés

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for your feedback and I’ll try your suggestions if/when I return to Santa Cruz.

  3. Chemical-Free Savvy Avatar

    Interesting story, also scary knowing the plane can fly off carrying more than it should. I’m glad everyone’s safe, nice photos, till your next trip! 🙂

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi, yes, it certainly was an interesting trip. I guess in these countries, transport is a premium so they cram as many people onto whatever transport is available, regardless of safety. Always dodgy! 😉

  4. gillmorris Avatar

    Another great journey! Although that transport looks dodgy. I had to laugh at your photo of the plane, FAB on the side, not so FAB travelling in it. When I read that you were the only 2 on there I thought how FAB (LOL) but then when all those people got on and it was overweight – I changed my mind. I wonder if they got that truck back onto dry land – it looked like they were losing the battle! I felt my bones cracking on the bus too 😉

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Ha, ha, it was a pretty crazy time but it’s always funny looking back on it, especially if you survived! 😉
      Not sure about the truck. I would imagine they’d have to winch it back to shore.

  5. Memories & Martinis Avatar

    Loved this blog post 😍 looking forward to the next one 😘 check out my latest blog post if you’d like, how to visit Krakow for less than £200pp, 💕 xx

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi, thank you for letting me know and great post on Krakow! 🙂

  6. Vinay reddy Avatar

    Ya it was more expensive country but there was friendly people, my cousin’s and friends are studying in Australia and finally I think I got a good friend! Thanks for blog!!

  7. Vinay reddy Avatar

    Just now I saw your photos about India tour pics was awesome and also I saw your photos on magazine,u got so many awards for your photography congratulations and one more thing u r living in Australia am I right?? I love your country because my x girlfriend is pursuing betech Melbourne that’s y like your country as soon as possible definitely I will visit Australia

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Vinay.
      I’m from Australia but left in 2014 to travel and have been in Italy for a while. Australia is a beautiful country but expensive.

  8. Vinay reddy Avatar

    India is also one of the great tourism place in world

  9. Vinay reddy Avatar

    It’s my pleasure but I am travelled in my home country great india, and your travelling across the world u r a great traveller.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      I haven’t been to India since I solo-backpacked for 12 months around the world back in 1985 – I should return!

      1. Vinay reddy Avatar

        Ho India is also great tourist place in world we can see historical temples,forts,beaches,caves etc there are so many, especially kearala state is top tourism place In whole India

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Yes, I would love to return as only spent one month there and mostly in Rajasthan – definitely a lot to see In India.

      3. Vinay reddy Avatar

        Really friends are planning to go Rajasthan in November defntly I will post pics of rajasthan

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Loved Rajasthan. Here are some of my photos on India including Rajasthan taken on 35mm slide film.

  10. Vinay reddy Avatar

    Thanx for sharing your experience,
    I like traveling with my friends, when we visits new places we can learn something in that travel world is too big and life is so small, keep traveling more places but be safe keep smiling😀😀😀
    Visit my new blog

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks for sharing your travel experiences and stopping by my site Vinay. 🙂

  11. the eternal traveller Avatar

    Oh my, I was nervous for you just reading about that flight. Thank goodness it turned out okay.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes and I’m here to tell the tale.

    2. Callie Susanna Avatar

      Same here! I got super nervous reading it even though obviously you lived to tell about it! 😉

      1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        It’s always a bonus when you come out of something like that and live to tell about the experience, but also unscathed. 😉

  12. Valerie Cullers Avatar

    I love the post…especially the thought of “getting out of there alive” with the taxi driver! So true! 🙂 🙂 🙂 Beautiful pictures also!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Ha, ha, often whilst travelling we put ourselves into situations that we’d never dream of at home, or maybe legally possible. This was one of those days! 😳

      1. Valerie Cullers Avatar

        Yes, those situations are always great for my prayer life! 🙂

  13. The Agape Co. Avatar

    Wow I think safety standards for airlines may be a little different down there lol! Great post❤️

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Think you’re right, but not surprising really. 😱

  14. Puzzles of the Soul Avatar

    Oh this made me laugh I could see your experiences and have endured similar in my travels. Brilliant photos and story. How the rest of the world lives!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Glad it made you laugh and thank you for your feedback!

      Unless you travel, you can’t comprehend how some people live – we get too comfortable. Then again, some people don’t want to know either.

      1. Puzzles of the Soul Avatar

        Very true.

  15. fakeflamenco Avatar

    Wow, the chicken bus and the cargo plane equivalent! Good stories.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Travel is all about good stories and experiences!🙂

  16. idjourneys Avatar

    You have a fascinating experience in spite of the problems! Good luck in your future travels!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Absolutely and makes a great story! ☺️

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Own one of my Limited Edition photographs or prints. Click this #saatchiart icon for my page.

Saatchi Art


Follow my blog by email!
Never miss out on a fabulous photo deal or travel update.

Join 7,894 other subscribers

I'm currently in Ukraine

Global visitors since February 2017 - thank you!


Visitors since May 2016 - thank you!

Flag Counter

©2015-2023 Image Earth Travel

This website's content cannot be copied and/or published in any way without written permission from Image Earth Travel.

Feel free to use excerpts and links, provided that you give full and clear credit to Image Earth Travel, with appropriate and specific direction/links to the original content.

Follow me on...

pinterest logo circle P in Red png