Amazon Jungle Pampas Adventure
What to expect on a Bolivian Pampas tour
Under a cloud of mosquitoes we boarded our pampas riverboat. Slapping, swatting swiping away in our seats as our guide Jose tied a tarpaulin over our bags. The boat was thin, 2 seats wide but very long, at least 6-7m. Powered by a small outboard motor at the rear. The big black Amazonian mosquitoes were unrelenting. Through my black jeans my knees were not safe, and Bianca’s thighs’, hidden under multiple layers were still a target for these little bloodthirsty demons. Relief hit when the outboard motor roared into life and took us away from the buzzing clouds on the riverbanks.
Tip 1 – Environment Preparation.
Mosquito’s – Bring repellent and lots of it! Make sure it is high in DEET not that organic citronella oil because your poor skin doesn’t like chemicals. If you want to enjoy your experience then get deet. Reapply every 3-4 hours. Bring that head net if you travel with one.
Cover as much skin as possible with light colours. Wear long sleeves, long pants and covered shoes. DO NOT WEAR BLACK!
Sun protection – On the boat there is no shade so bring your own. Wear a hat and load up on the sunscreen. You have no relief from the midday sun for three hours.
Our recommendation – ‘Replex’ – The bottles are small so you will need at least one bottle per person.
The tour begins with a three-hour boat trip. Lots of reviews claim this to be the tour highlight and that sentiment rings true for us. A live David Attenborough documentary unfolded before us. Almost every animal in the Pampas was on show, condensed in this three-hour journey. Alligators, smiling at you from the riverbanks, Tortoises climb each-others backs for a better view at the new gringos and a family of capybaras look up from their drinks break to watch us go by. Bird songs ring out constantly and you can spy on the egrets, herons, hoatzin, and kingfishers. The highlight of the three-hour journey is controversial. For Brett the squirrel monkeys that climbed all over the boat and us was the best. Bianca, being the pure dolphin enthusiast she is holds the multiple sightings of pink dolphins in the top spot.
Tip 2 – Get the camera prepared.
Long zoom lens attached, battery fully charged and focus set to continuous for maintaining focus while on the moving boat.
We had signed up for the three-day pampas tour through Escorpion Travel Agency. Our guide Jose spoke broken English, but was equipped with enough vocabulary for the tour. He explained all the animals along the way and listed our itinerary once we arrived at the bungalow accommodations. We finally got some reprieve from the mosquito’s here. The dining room, sleeping building and hammock chill areas were all safe zones, protected behind mosquito guards we could let our guards down temporarily. Our evening was spent further up river where groups congregate for sunset at a bar. Happy hour beers were 25b for a litre bottle. Not too bad considering the bars isolation. On the return to camp under cover of darkness we used our torches to spot caiman and alligators. The eyes light up red and orange when reflecting the lights of your touch. It was an airy experience.
Tip 3 – Bring some cash.
You will want a refreshing beer in the evenings after being in the humidity and sun all day. Trust me. They also have some sweet treats for sale.
It is courtesy to tip the kitchen after your final meal so keep something small for the local family.
In the morning it was time to hunt snakes, a totally normal ‘after-breakfast’ activity, right? We found ourselves in a grassy wetland. 10-15cm of water sat on top of the ground. Perfect snake terrain. What were we doing there again? We spent three hours spread out in search of giant anacondas or cobras. Our guide informed us to call him over and not to attempt to pick up the snakes ourselves. He needn’t have worried. Picking up the tail of an angry cobra was not something we intended on doing.
Tip 4 – Gumboot Checks.
They will provide you with gumboots for the wetlands. Get a pair that fit comfortably as it becomes quite tiring marching through the water for three hours. Also have a thorough check for holes or you will get very wet socks very quickly and extremely uncomfortable.
After an exciting although fruitless morning of snake hunting, our afternoon entailed with piranha fishing. Boat loaded, we headed up river to Jose’s secret fishing spot. Our beef bait seemed to attract even more mosquitoes to the party. We tossed our handlines in and almost instantly got bites. Jose – you beauty! The early signs of nibbles proved a false hope. The piranhas were exceptional at debating our hooks for a free feed. Our technique changed throughout the day from jigging at every bite to the patient wait and hope. We successfully snagged one piranha, four catfish and a hungry tortoise (we safely returned to the water) for our efforts. Our local mum cooked em’ up in a delicious tomato salsa sauce that evening for dinner. Delicious.
Tip 5 – Copy the locals
Watch the fishing technique of the locals. How they bait the hook, how they jig after a bite. Ask for pointers and watch carefully.
We woke early with the grunting noise of howler monkeys and watched the sun come up over the wetland fields. On the way back to camp our guide left the motor off and silently drifted down stream listening to all the animals come awake. The animals are there loudest at this hour. It was so nice to be out amongst nature at that time rather than battling traffic on the way to work. We had a toucan sighting and also saw a pair of yellow and blue macaws high in a tree.
After breakfast we returned to the boat and went in search of the pink dolphins. This time we had our swimming gear on and had no hesitation with jumping into the river when we found them. Our guide had previously explained that the dolphins are the queens of the river and keep away any danger. The dolphins would come close enough for a play and we were all able to stroke the rubbery skin along their grey/pink backs. It wasn’t until a black caiman swam dangerously close. Within 10meters of us it swam along the under tree line. I thought perhaps our guide wasn’t entirely to be trusted although quickly the caiman vanished and we resumed our dolphin fun.
Tip 6 – Dolphin Respect.
Stroke the dolphins only, do not grab them or try ride their dorsal fins. They are a wild animal and deserve respect.
Be aware they will sometimes nibble or bite you.
Pampas vs Jungle
The pampas tour is on the outskirts of the Amazon and was not the dense bush experience some people may associate with the Amazon. For this type of experience you can do the ‘Jungle Tour’ or ‘Survival Tour’ through the same company. In these tours you will be taken into the dense Amazon jungle and learn about life inside the jungle.
We chose the ‘Pampas Tour’ as the openness of the river provides an environment better suited to seeing ample wildlife. Bianca is the worlds #1 Dolphin enthusiast and the chance to get up close to some pink river dolphins was too good to pass up. It was a fully loaded three days that we thoroughly recommend. It is well worth the many mosquito bites.
The Bolivian government has introduced a minimum pampas tour price of 1,200 BOB. This is to combat the interagency price war that saw the quality of excursions drop along with the price. Now the price has been regulated, the agencies must offer high quality to entice tourists.
‘Escorpian Tours‘ provided exactly that. Every aspect of the tour was quality, from accommodation to food and the overall pampas experience.
We recommend using Escorpian Tours for your Pampas or Jungle tours.
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*All our articles are written based on our own experiences and opinions.