Bolivia’s Pampas: Pink Dolphins and Anacondas

August, 2011

Ever wanted to hunt for the elusive pink freshwater dolphin or the infamous beast-swallowing Anaconda snake, in Bolivia’s Pampas?

Well, perhaps ‘hunting’ is not quite the right word as we’re definitely not killing anything.

Instead, this tour allows us to seek and observe these wonderful creatures, and many other wildlife species on a wetland savannah nature trip.

The only hunting that is promised, is a spot of fishing for snapping piranhas – could be interesting…

About Pampas del Yacuma

Protected since only 2007, this vast area covering 616,453-hectares in the Amazon basin is bursting with forest islands, wetlands, gallery forests, and savannas.

Flooding occurs every year due to the river bursting its banks, which feeds the beautiful grassy flat wetlands, including its complex vegetation and wildlife biodiversity, providing a mosaic of colours.

Expect to see Caimans, Howler and Squirrel monkeys, pink dolphins (Bufeos), hopefully an Anaconda or two, a swag of exotic birds, and magical sunsets, whilst sweating profusely and insects biting repeatedly. Wear long sleeves, you’ll be right.

Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South AmericaGetting there

Many travellers arrive from La Paz to the sweltering town of Rurrenabaque by taking an easy 40-minute flight, or enduring an arduous 20-hour bus journey, or by travelling down river on a boat for three days.

Following a harrowing bus trip from Trinidad to Rurrenabaque specifically to organise a couple of treks, finally arrived in one piece to this chilled town.

Tip: Pampas tours are cheaper to book in Rurrenabaque than from La Paz or Brazil.

Booking the tour

More of a budget tour than Madidi National park’s jungle tours, many tour operators offer the same three-day/two-night gig at similar prices.

The difference in price accounts for the type of accommodation, transport, and food. I usually like to read reviews before booking.

This tour also promises more wildlife than the jungle trek.

Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
Exotic bird

What to expect

After a few incredible days trekking in Madidi National Park’s jungle region and a taste of Madidi’s diverse wildlife, it’s time to explore its swampy wetland savanna, which sits at the edge of the forest: Pampas.

I’m hoping to glimpse in the flesh, pink dolphins that play around in the river’s wide bends, and possibly an Anaconda in the grassy marshland…

Day 1 – Río Yacuma and the lodge

With an early morning start from Rurrenabaque, we meet our guide Sam, before eight of us pile onto the rustic 4WD’s tiny benches.

With our knees up around our ears – I’m the shortest (and oldest) – my theory for replacing the original seats with benches, is to cram more passengers in on one trip.

Travelling along the dusty and bumpy dirt road reminiscent of many Bolivian bus trips so far, I ponder what this dirt track would turn into during the wet season – thankfully, it’s the dry season.

Exchanging South American travel tales during the three-hour ride to remote Santa Rosa del Yacuma, helps to pass the hours of uncomfortable and bum-numbing conditions.

After a spot of lunch, we climb into our dugout motorised canoe leaving this sparse civilisation, and start the journey down the Río Yacuma spotting wildlife.

Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
Pampas transport

There isn’t really any spotting to do as this river is flourishing with wildlife, as we drift effortlessly by…

Exotic birds aggressively fight for a tiny morsel, fish.

birds, Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
Lunchtime fight

Loads of carnivorous Caiman’s (too many) wait eagerly in predatory poise along the riverbanks, for an unsuspecting meal.

Caiman, Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
Waiting patiently

Communities of peculiar but cute Capybara’s (world’s largest rodent) scuff around, whilst cooling their paws in the river’s muddy banks.

Capybara, Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America

Squirrel monkeys come down to greet us in hope of an easy meal. Some tour guides feed monkeys bananas, coaxing monkeys to come closer to tourists. Conservationists advise against this practise for obvious reasons.

Squirrel Monkey, Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
This one stole my heart!

The sound of the forest encompasses our small canoe, drawing us further along the Yacuma’s muddy waters, until we reach our lodge – camp.

Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
Lodge’s entrance

With a constant smoke haze from a small fire to ward off mosquitoes and insects, huts and walkways are on stilts. Our timber camp is very rustic but rooms come equipped with clean linen and mosquito nets – Malaria is real in this region.

Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
Luxury abode

Windows are non-existent, although huts are screened against ferocious man-eating mosquitoes.

Not long to settle in before we’re off in the canoe again for a spot of Piranha fishing. Quiet on the river and not a Piranha in sight. Bait from the crude fishing line is continually stolen. After what seems an age trying, a few of the other guys catch a few of these tiny fish with razor sharp teeth – I’ not so lucky.

Giving up on the Piranha fishing, we search for the promised pink dolphins.

From the depths of Yacuma’s opaque waters, a dolphin gracefully slithers by whilst coming up briefly for air, before diving below once more.

Dolphin, Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
Initial shyness

Another dolphin surfaces.

Travellers jump in the Caiman-infested waters, to swim with these beautiful creatures. Humans don’t seem to bother the dolphins as they flick and play close by. The dolphins want to play.

Dolphin, Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
Enjoying each other’s company

I choose to stay in the canoe and take photos instead – Piranhas do also live in this river. These tiny fish are said to be able to tear apart cattle or a human body in seconds.

A game of volleyball back at camp finishes the day’s activities, followed by a perfect sunset.

Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America

Day 2 – In search of the Anaconda

If you think you’re going to sleep in whilst here, think again.

Startled from your slumber by what can only be described as air raid horns – considered as one of the loudest animals on earth – the cute but noisy Howler monkey certainly likes to make itself heard, whilst swinging through the canopy.

Today, we search for the Anaconda.

Sized up for Wellington boots, there is a shortage – too many left feet boots, so some people have to wear two left feet. Boots also come with holes. Not ideal in a swamp probably invested with leeches. We did go for the budget tour!

In the canoe once more, it’s not long until we pass turtles balancing on tree trunks, whilst sleepily basking in the sun.

Caiman, Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America

Passing more Caimans, we stop as Sam wants to demonstrate his croc-whisperer skills.

Black Caiman croc-whisper

Asking whether anyone would like a stroke, all politely decline this fabulous opportunity.

Caiman, Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
Handsome chap – product of 37 million years

Many patient eyes forever watch everything, along the river and its banks.

Caiman, Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
Sauron’s eye

Time to stretch our legs on land whilst Sam mentions that up to 7-metre-long Anacondas have been recorded in this very area. With this in mind, we gingerly start our search with trepidation, whilst careful not to disturb any wildlife.

Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
Hunters and gatherers

After a very long, sweltering search of four hours, traipsing through muddy slushy swamp under a blazingly hot sun – with muddy water sloshing in our boots – the Anaconda proves elusive today. We return to base camp.

Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
Fruitless effort

Sadly, although protected, this area is still used to graze livestock. The Pampas is different to the jungle, trees are quite sparse here, and replaced with a patchwork of open swamps – there isn’t much shade.

Horses, Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America

Never too far away and ever-present in the area that we’ve just been walking through…

Caiman, Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America

Happy to return to the canoe’s shelter, we pass more serene wildlife – each frame sets a differing vista.

Heron, Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
Pampas Heron

Back at camp, hunters are free to enjoy a brief respite from heat and humidity, before our afternoon escapade…

Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
Lazy respite

…to meet up with other travellers for a beer and to play a spot of football, whilst watching the gorgeous Amazonian sunset.

Tales of Anaconda sightings today from other groups, make you understand that nature reveals itself when it wants to and not on demand.

Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
Party camp

The tour accommodates many activities day and night. You can choose whether to participate or not. Although you may as well try everything going, as when will you be back in a Bolivian Pampas?

Sitting on a fence, witnessing another stunning sunset.

Sunset, Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
Bolivian sunset

Returning to camp for a great candlelit, evening drinking game with friends, completes a remarkable day.

Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
Competitive opponents

Retiring to the sounds of the river’s wildlife and smoke-filled scented air, our nets prove invaluable and effective as a barrier against buzzing mosquitoes.

Day 3 – Rurrenabaque return

An unforgettable few days with wonderful company and it is time to say adiós to the Pampas.

Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
Groupie photo (Photo credit: Wim Bakker)

Fun times down Rio Yacuma, seals a memorable trip.

Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
More canoe fun (Photo credit: Wim Bakker)

Whilst exploring downstream on our return, Río Yacuma delivers more incredible wildlife, before the long cramped drive back to Rurrenabaque.

Bird, Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America
Not afraid

A short taste of the prolific sounds and wildlife you experience on this tour, by Survive the Jive.

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

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42 responses to “Bolivia’s Pampas: Pink Dolphins and Anacondas”

  1. jellis888 Avatar

    I absolutely love exotic animals…. and these pictures… just wow! I am very jealous. Very, very jealous. Great post!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for your great feedback!
      I’m not great at taking wildlife photos and don’t have the right lens to get up close, but think my photos still tell a story nonetheless.

  2. chuapanda Avatar

    One of my reasons for traveling is to see animals that I don’t see that often in the Philippines. Would really want to go here someday! 😀

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi, thank you for your feedback and hope that you visit Bolivia some day as it’s a wonderful country and relatively inexpensive.

  3. Shreyosi Kanta Avatar
    Shreyosi Kanta

    South America is amazing and this travelogue makes it so interesting. Wild life galore though pirahanas, anaconda and mosquitoes maybe a little difficult to put up with. Still i have put pampas on my wish list.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Shreyosi
      I’m happy that my post inspired you to put the pampas on your wish list and thank you for your feedback. 🙂
      Bolivia is my favourite country in South America, but I haven’t been to all yet in this incredible continent and would love to return.

  4. PuppyLove Avatar

    Great post! I would love to see these animals in person!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      They’re amazing and makes you appreciate our world. It’s a shame that we humans don’t respect animals.

  5. Aixa Avatar

    So much in common with my native Venezuela. Capybaras, we call them rabi pelao and people eat them!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      There are definite similarities. I have a couple more posts to write on Venezuela but need to finish a few other countries first.
      I didn’t know Venezuelans eat Capybaras but I do know that the Cuy (Guinea Pig) is a delicacy in some Andean regions – I couldn’t bring myself to try this dish…

      1. Aixa Avatar

        I won’t eat cui either. You can buy it in NYC because there are so many Ecuadorians living here

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Really, I’ve never seen it for sale in NYC but then again, maybe it’s sold in certain areas only.
        I saw Cuy a lot on the streets of Peru, which is my next country that I’m writing about…

  6. stellanjayshow Avatar

    Beautiful photos. I don’t know if I could ever do something like this. It’s amazing how you can bring this area to light!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for your kind feedback and sure you can. It was so much fun with incredible wildlife.

  7. gillmorris Avatar

    This is amazing! All that wildlife is out of this world, I would love to go there one day! Your post made me chuckle a couple of times, I have an image of those mosquitoes being the size of small birds. I don’t think I would have gone in that water – they must know it’s safe enough? Really fabulous sharing all these memories and travels with you Nilla 🙂 xx

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      The wildlife is incredible!

      It was a fun trip especially, with the group we had, which one got back to me after reading the blog. He has a different view of events, so I may need to edit this a little.
      Apparently, when dolphins are around the caimans don’t enter the water and with the Piranha’s being sparse, the guys were brave enough to jump in for a swim. 😉 x

  8. itslifelyn Avatar

    Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for your feedback and glad you enjoyed this post.

  9. Puzzles of the Soul Avatar

    Fabulous photos, you were brave to go into those parts. I love the birds and dolphins but I would not wish to go near the other creatures.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you…ahh well, you have to try everything once. 😉

  10. Hariom PrabhakarSingh Avatar

    Breathtaking pictures! 😊

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Hariom!

  11. da-AL Avatar

    looks like you had a terrific time — many thanks for sharing with us 🙂

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks! It was an amazing experience…

  12. fakeflamenco Avatar

    Wonderful wildlife photos. Thanks!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi, thank you but think I need more practice with wildlife photos. 😉

      1. fakeflamenco Avatar

        Very humble of you to say. I liked the photos I saw. : )

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Thank you – that’s inspiring.

  13. Emma & Nathan’s Travels Avatar

    Wow. Just wow. Insane photos and incredible story!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you!
      Love traveling to unusual destinations and this is certainly one – try to see this region as it’s incredible!

      1. Emma & Nathan’s Travels Avatar

        I absolutely loved South America although we only did Ecuador, Peru, Santiago in Chile and Argentina. So much more to see when we eventually go back haha!!

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Hard to say but think Bolivia is my favourite although I haven’t seen the whole of the continent…yet.
        After about 10 months in SA, I kind of needed a break from looking over my shoulder and getting robbed/pick-pocekted – although think I’m ready to return. 🙂

      3. Emma & Nathan’s Travels Avatar

        Crikey yes I can imagine!! Still amazing places to have seen 😊😊

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Yes, gotta take the bad with the good when you travel.

  14. jhilli1965 Avatar

    Piranhas….. Crocodiles…… Annacondas……. WOW!!!! It must have been an wonderful adventure for you guys.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      …and pink dolphins – it certainly was an adventure and such a cool experience.

  15. the eternal traveller Avatar

    What an adventure!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Another amazing adventure! 🙂

  16. Valerie Cullers Avatar

    Beautiful photos and post! So glad you decided to stay in the canoe vs. swim with the dolphins!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Valerie. I had a little sore on my knee so wasn’t going in with Piranhas around, as this attracts them even more – a bit like sharks.

  17. jhilli1965 Avatar

    Hi! I have another blog….. can you check it out please?   Jhilli’s Potpourri….

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