Ever wanted to hunt for the illusive 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.
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.
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.
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.
Loads of carnivorous Caiman’s (too many) wait eagerly in predatory poise along the riverbanks, for an unsuspecting meal.
Communities of peculiar but cute Capybara’s (world’s largest rodent) scuff around, whilst cooling their paws in the river’s muddy banks.
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.
The sound of the forest encompasses our small canoe, drawing us further along the Yacuma’s muddy waters, until we reach our lodge – camp.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Passing more Caimans, we stop as Sam wants to demonstrate his croc-whisperer skills.
Asking whether anyone would like a stroke, all politely decline this fabulous opportunity.
Many patient eyes forever watch everything, along the river and its banks.
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.
After a very long, sweltering search of four hours, traipsing through muddy slushy swamp under a blazingly hot sun, with muddy water sloshing into our boots, the Anaconda proves illusive today. We return to base camp.
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.
Never too far away and ever-present in the area that we’ve just been walking through…
Happy to return to the canoe’s shelter, we pass more serene wildlife – each frame sets a differing vista.
Back at camp, hunters are free to enjoy a brief respite from heat and humidity, before our afternoon escapade…
…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.
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.
Returning to camp for a great candlelit, evening drinking game with friends, completes a remarkable day.
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.
Fun times down Rio Yacuma, seals a memorable trip.
Whilst exploring downstream on our return, Río Yacuma delivers more incredible wildlife, before the long cramped drive back to Rurrenabaque.
A short taste of the prolific sounds and wildlife you experience on this tour, by Survive the Jive.