Backpacking Bolivia: Bolivian jungle tour with Madidi travel

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Crazy jungle experience: Amazon Bolivia

While backpacking in South America, visiting jungle was on the top of my bucket list. After my plans to book jungle trek in Peru failed, I was heading to Madidi National park in north Bolivia ready to put my poncho on and survive Bolivian jungle no matter what.

Extreme start of my Bolivian rain forest adventure

Ready to depart, Beni river looks fine, still hiding the surprise for us.

It was raining the whole day before my tour started, nothing unusual, we were in the rain forest. The electricity went on and off during the night and the WiFi and phone signal were low, to none. I was asked to arrive at the office at 10 a.m. so I spent the morning doing some last minute shopping for a torch, repellent, poncho and some snacks. Fully equipped, I arrived at the office, signed a document stating I understood the danger of the jungle, put on a pair of wellies and hopped on the boat ready to depart. At the last second, I was given the task of delivering some documents and a cell phone to the lodge, which I was happy to do as it gave to whole thing a more Indiana Jones feel 🙂

The weather hadn’t changed too much from the previous night, alternating between periods of heavy rain and drizzle. The guide, myself and 2 girls from Canada all sitting on simple, traditional boat headed up stream on the Beni River which after 2 days of constant rain wasn’t tame at all. After an hour, the engine started to smoke and shortly after, stopped working completely. We were in the middle of nowhere, with no one around to help. With no foothold in soggy soil, the strong current was ripping the trees from the shore and those fallen in the river were quickly getting dangerously close. We were all waiting, holding our breath, bracing for the approaching collision. Close my eyes, count to three and it will be all good… The moment we got hit by the tree, the boat almost flipped over and scooped up muddy river water which we now, completely soaked, tried to quickly get rid of before another tree hit us. I have never felt so scared as when I saw the desperate face of our guide asking me, in Spanish, if we could call the office. You realise how addicted we are to technology when you wish you could google the phone number of the agency from the middle of jungle. And then it hit me, I am carrying their phone! I found the number in the address book and tried to call… None of our 4 phones on the boat had a signal to call and I now understood why they gave me papers to sign 🙂 While we kept dialing the number over and over, our guide miraculously made the engine work; making funny noises and smoking all the way, but good enough to get us close to shore. He told us to wait and climbed the steep, muddy river bank to find help. He was gone for ages, and we, busy draining water from our boat and watching out for caimans, were losing faith that we would ever reach camp. Suddenly, we heard a boat coming our way and we were happier still to see our guide standing there. They sent us another boat and although we were delayed half a day, we arrived safely.

Arriving to Madidi Travel jungle camp

Meet tapir, pet of Madidi Travel camp.

To get to the camp we walked about half an hour through the jungle. It was quite late for any activity so they showed us our cabanas and asked us to join them for dinner later on. I had my private ensuite cabana; I couldn’t believe I was in the jungle when I entered. After so many terrible hostels in Bolivia this was pure luxury. The battery on my phone was low after many S.O.S calls and I was hoping to charge it in the main house approximately 500 meters away from the cabanas. I walked alone to the main house, meeting one of the jungle guides, exchanging some polite phrases and continuing on my way when I saw the weirdest meter tall, a meter and half long, creature that resembled something between a pig and an elephant. I was frozen to the ground, looking at it and it was looking back at me; no one moved at all. The guide wasn’t that far so I managed to get his attention. I bet he had a great time seeing my terrified face when meeting a tapir that they had saved from the jungle and it now lived with them in camp as one of their pets. I thought that my first day in jungle couldn’t be more stressful but I couldn’t believe what I saw next.

I can fit it in my pocket, the cutest thing in Bolivian jungle.

It turned out that this tapir wasn’t the only one in the camp. I saw another 2 together with a capybara (the largest rodent on earth), parrots and different kinds of monkeys living in harmony with humans. Other tourists who had arrived the previous days were waiting for dinner spending their time playing with them, while monkeys were giving out hugs in exchange for bananas… It all looked like a scene from some crazy Disney movie and made me wonder if all those animals would speak to me in fluent English at some point! 🙂

I handed over the delivery and asked if I could charge my phone, but dummy me, I was expecting too much from a jungle camp. Although beautiful, there was no electricity. And that is how it should be, not having electricity for few days was a great escape from the world I was living in and gave the whole experience much more authenticity. We had also been offered one extra day for free in the lodge as an apology for our river adventure and the delay in arriving. That was a nice, professional approach from Madidi Travel.


Amazon Bolivia: What to expect

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Our superb guide sharing with us knowledge of natural remedies.

All together we were 10 tourists, plus another, and around 10 amazing staff who took care of us. We all sat down at a massive wooden table, and chit chatted by candlelight while food was served. The atmosphere was unreal; it felt cozy and, although I didn’t know anyone, it felt like a big family reunion. Dinner was fantastic, as were all the meals served throughout my stay. In traditional Bolivian style we stayed up late exchanging travel stories and would have stayed until morning if the candles hadn’t burnt down. My cabana was built on wooden pillars to avoid animals reaching it. The walls were nothing but mosquito nets all around with staves here and there to support a roof made of banana leaves. Listening to the sound of the jungle and paranoid of pumas watching me, I fell asleep.

No fish caught but what a beautiful scenery!

Our jungle guide the next day was born a member of one of the indigenous families living in the rainforest. He never went to school but possessed phenomenal knowledge of the jungle inherited from his father; passed from person to person throughout generations. Making our way through the jungle using a machete he explained to us the medicinal effects of plants, taught us which plants to use as an antidote for killer snakes or poisonous ants, natural repellents and even demonstrated how to find drinking water inside the plants. Ready to survive in the Amazon, we later learnt how to track animals, what trees grow fruit that monkeys like to munch on and how to distinguish footprints and poops of different species. We hunted caiman twice, shuttling the lake in a little canoe once during the day, then again at night. For some our lack of success was disappointing; for me, it was a blessing we didn’t see any 🙂 I probably enjoyed piranha fishing the most. Hoping to catch our dinner, we spent several hours on the lake, surrounded by fishing bats, which I must admit, were more skilled than we were. It was an extraordinary 5 days full of adventure and it was hard to say goodbye when leaving.

Not interested in selfie…

Would I choose Madidi Travel again?

Definitely! The trip to camp on the first day might have been stressful but all the staff were really professional and knowledgeable. The places in camp are limited to keep the number of visitors low and the atmosphere throughout my stay was very family like. The lodges are built in Serere Park, on land bought by Rosa Maria Ruiz who is a huge activist for Amazon rainforest protection. The money for the tour goes not only to maintain the camp but also to pay vet care for animals found injured in the jungle and to pay the salary of guards in the jungle to prevent illegal poaching, wood exploitation and deforestation. The whole project is super eco-friendly and I am happy I was part of it. Moreover, I am sure I wouldn’t be able to get such close contact with animals if I have chosen a different, cheaper operator.

Thinking of visiting Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador? Check out what Mili Mundo experienced there! 

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