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Rurrenabaque Bolivia & Choosing An Ethical Amazon Tour

We were so excited to go to Rurrenabaque Bolivia and it didn’t disappoint. Wild pink dolphin spotting, huge caimans chilling by the water edge, piranha fishing, searching for anacondas, our trip into the Bolivia Amazon was epic and then some.

Of course most people come to this part of the country purely because it’s the gateway to the Bolivian Amazon, but there are also quite a few other things to do in Rurrenabaque if you have time.

Boat trip in Bolivia Amazon

In this Rurrenabaque guide we’re going to run you through the different types of Rurrenabaque tours and perhaps most importantly how to choose an ethical tour company.

Plus how to get to Rurrenabaque from La Paz or elsewhere in the country, the best places to stay in Rurrenabaque and also give you some ideas for where to go next in Bolivia.

So Where Is Rurrenabaque?

Rurrenabaque is a small town, situated alongside the Beni River in the north of Bolivia. Nicknamed ‘Rurre’ for short, it’s right on the edge of the vast 18,958 square kilometres of Madidi National Park and the surrounding pampas region of Bolivia’s Amazon basin.

Rurrenabaque Bolivia from above

Despite its close proximity to the La Paz Department, Rurrenabaque Bolivia, is pretty remote and not the easiest place to get to. Saying that, due to the how underdeveloped the countries infrastructure is, not many places are.

Best Time To Go To Rurrenabaque

The best time to visit Rurrenabaque Bolivia is from June – September during the dry season when rainfall is at a minimum. Outside of that it rains a lot. Especially December – March which is the peak of the rainy season.

We visited during early February and although we did get super lucky with the Rurrenabaque weather for most of our trip, there were some days where it was just full on monsoon time.

Aside from getting soaked, the main thing to note when planning Rurrenabaque Amazon tours is that during the wet season the water levels are much higher than in the dry season.

This means that spotting animals is harder because there’s a much larger volume of water for them to be knocking about in. And unfortunately on our Rurrenabaque tour we didn’t get to see any Anacondas or catch any Piranhas.

Best time to go to Rurrenabaque is dry season

Our guide told us that during the dry season it’s pretty much guaranteed. And there’s way more caimans and monkeys hanging around too.

Having said that, if it is wet season when you happen to be in this part of Bolivia during your travels you should definitely still go because we still had an absolutely magical time.

And even in the bad weather we still saw toucans, macaws, herons, kingfishers, woodpeckers, owls, bufeos, cayman, turtles, capybaras, howler monkeys, yellow squirrel monkeys, anteaters, dragonflies, fireflies, bats, frogs, and sloths.

Caiman in Bolivia

How To Get To Rurrenabaque

There are basically two directions that you’ll be coming at Rurrenabaque from, La Paz in the west, or from the east of Bolivia. The majority of visitors to Rurrenabaque Bolivia arrive from La Paz, just because the east of the country is less visited.

I Love Rurre Sign

And the majority of those take flights from La Paz to Rurrenabaque. But that’s not the only way you can get there and also not the cheapest way either.

Flights From La Paz To Rurrenabaque

Now there are Rurrenabaque tour packages like this one that include flights and transfer from the airports. Or you can arrange everything separately yourself which is what we did.

The company running flights from La Paz to Rurrenabaques is Ecojet and you can generally get return flights for around $100-150 USD/£80-100GBP.

The flights are Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8:30am and journey time is 40 minutes.

Top tip, keep the language in Spanish if you can as sometimes changing booking sites to English in South America puts the price up.

La Paz To Rurrenabaque Bus

The alternative to taking a La Paz to Rurrenabaque flight is to catch the bus. There’s some bad reviews about the La Paz to Rurrenabaque bus online. About how dangerous the road is and how shoddy the buses are.

We did this journey in the opposite direction taking the Rurrenabaque to La Paz bus but it was fine. We had a bit of the bumpy start when the driver reversed into a massive pothole in the bus station in Rurrenabaque, but other than it wasn’t half as bad as what we’d read.

La Paz To Rurrenabaque Bus

Although, the bus did look like it wasn’t really roadworthy. But if you’ve already travelled in Bolivia a bit you’ll know that’s pretty common.

The road directly in and out of Rurrenabaque is a muddy, bumpy one, but it’s relatively flat with no imminent death drops over the side. That we saw anyway. It’s a 20 hour overnight journey so we were asleep for at least parts of it.

I think it might feel different coming in the other direction from La Paz to Rurrenabaque, just because you’re going down rather than up on the steepest section of road near La Paz. This is the bit that freaks most people out and gets likened to the ‘real’ death road in La Paz.

But as we were going uphill into La Paz there was zero chance for the bus to be speeding. In fact we genuinely wondered if it was going to make it up some sections.

La Paz To Rurrenabaque Bus Safety

We met plenty of travellers who had come that route on a La Paz to Rurrenabaque bus though and had no problems or near death experiences. I think it’s recently been tarmaced too so some reviews online probably predate that.

And if you can look past the fact that if the bus did fall off the road you would be a goner, there are some absolutely cracking views as you wind your way through the clouds.

Rurrenabaque to La Paz bus

The bus company running this route that we used is called Trans Totai and we just purchased the tickets directly at the bus station in Rurrenabaque. But Turbus Total and Flota Yungueña also run a service.

We’d recommend a quick google prior to choosing which one – just to see if there have been any recent specific safety concerns or accidents with a particular company.

And do just be aware that the buses leave from their private offices and not the main bus terminal in La Paz. So make sure you turn up at the right one. Jumping in a cab is the easiest option.

Rurrenabaque Tour From La Paz

There is also the option to book a complete tour package with transport from La Paz and two nights accommodation in Madidi National Park all included. The prices are only slightly more expensive than organising it separately yourself so this might be good option for you.

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Bus From Santa Cruz To Rurrenabaque

If you’re travelling to Rurrenabaque from the east of Bolivia from Santa Cruz for example, it’s a good idea to break the mega journey up with a couple of nights in Trinidad. You will have to stop there anyway, as there are no direct buses from Santa Cruz through to Rurrenabaque.

From Trinidad to Rurrenabaque there’s only a bus that runs one day a week. However, there are collectivos running the route everyday. Which given the poor quality of the road, being smaller vehicles with better control is a better option anyway.

You’ll also need to cross a few different rivers on wooden ferries which again – we’re going to suggest are safer with as little weight as possible. Although having said that, we did see huge lorries coming across them so you’d probably be alright.

Trinidad to Rurrenabaque car ferry

There’s a few different bus terminals in Trinidad so make sure you go to the right one. The collectivos from Trinidad to Rurrenabaque run from Parada a San Borja on Calle Beni y Calle Romulo Mendoza.

Unless it’s raining cats and dogs, in which case they won’t be running. For the most part the road is basically just made of mud so they won’t go if the rain is lashing down.

The cost of a collectivo from Trinidad to Rurrenabaque is $50B’s each ($7.25USD/£6GBP).
It’s not the most comfortable of journeys and we had quite a long wait in a few towns along the route but there were no dramas.

In Rurrenabaque they just kind of dropped us near the central plaza and we jumped on a moto taxi to our hotel for 5B’s.

Flight From Santa Cruz To Rurrenabaque

There aren’t any direct flights between Santa Cruz and Rurrenabaque.

But you can book a flight with Ecojet that connects in La Paz. The flight from Santa Cruz to La Paz is 1 hour 5 minutes, there’s connection wait and then the 40 minute flight from La Paz to Rurrenabaque.

The total journey time is 2-3 hours depending on the connection wait time.

There are flights most days and you can expect to pay in the region of $800-1000 B’s ($115-145 USD / £90-115 GBP).

Choosing An Ethical Rurrenabaque Tour

There are a number of Amazon tour operators in Rurrenabaque and with that a range of quality. Both in terms of the standard of accomodation, but also more importantly the ethicalness of the tour.

We personally saw a guide with another tour operator handing out bananas which the tourists were then feeding to monkeys, encouraging them to come onto their boat.

Monkeys Rurrenabaque Bolivia

Our guide explained to us how it changes the behaviour of the monkeys and affects their ability to feed themselves. He told us that such close contact with humans also puts them more at risk of being caught by poachers who operate an illegal wildlife trade in this area.

We also read reviews of some tour companies who have their guides catch anacondas and keep them captive so as not to disappoint tourists. Really not cool.

The Rurrenabaque Pampas Tour that we did was with a company called Dolphins Travel Ecolodge and we wholly recommend them.

Dolphins Travel Ecolodge Office

However! Don’t just take our word for it, when it comes to choosing an ethical Amazon tour please make sure you do your own research and read the most recent reviews.

Also check with the tour company how many people will be in your group. There were 7 people in our group with one guide. Some have larger tourist to guide ratios and as such are not as safe.

The river dock is controlled by the Bolivian Navy who ensure boats aren’t overloaded with weight and have a maximum of 10 people in each.

Rurrenabaque Pampas Tour

Not all Rurrenabaque tour companies have 4×4’s too, some just use normal taxis.

So that’s also something to bear in mind when choosing which Rurrenabaque tour company – especially if visiting in the rainy season. We saw lots of vehicles seriously stuck in the mud.

Which Rurrenabaque Tour To Choose?

The consideration you will have when booking Rurrenabaque Amazon Tours is that there are two types; Rurrenabaque Pampas Tours and Rurrenabaque Jungle Tours. They both have programs that vary in length. And if you can’t choose, you can do a combination of both.

Rurrenabaque river boat

On the whole, you should generally see more animals on the ‘Pampas tours’, but that’s just because you are in a much denser landscape on the jungle tours. But you have time to go slower and take things in because you are hiking and not on a boat.

People that did both told us that they didn’t prefer one over the other, that they were just different experiences.

Rurrenabaque Pampas Tour

We chose to do the Rurrenabaque Pampas tour with Dolphins Travel Ecolodge. We went with the most popular option of a three day, two night Pampas tour and loved every second of it. Even during the torrential downpour we had on our last day.

Rurrenabaque pampas tour accomodation

The cost of our Rurrenabaque Amazon tour was $1500B’s ($215 USD/£170GBP) each for a private lodge with double bed & bathroom. Plus the cost of the entrance to Madidi National Park which was 150B’s ($22USD/£17GBP).

The cost of the Rurrenabaque Jungle tour with Dolphins Travel Ecolodge is 2000B’s ($288USB/£226GBP). And the cost of the Pampas and Jungle Combo tour is 3000B’s ($432USD/£340GBP).

You can watch our experience of our Rurrenabaque Pampas Tour here:

Pampas Rurrenabaque Itinerary

Pampas Tour Day One:

  • 9am – 11:30am: Travel from Rurrenabaque to Santa Rosa
  • 11:30am – 1pm: Lunch in Santa Rosa
  • 1pm – 1:30pm: Travel to River Yakima
  • 1:30 – 4:30pm: Boat tour
  • 4:30 – 5:30pm: Accommodation check in
  • 5:30pm – 7:30pm: Walk to spot
  • 7:30 – 8:30pm: Buffet dinner
  • 8:30 – 9:30pm: Night time boat trip to see nocturnal animals.

Seeing the eyes of the caiman glowing orange and purple in the pitch black was epic. Don’t forget to bring a torch.

Caiman at night on Yacuma River

Pampas Tour Day Two:

  • 7:30am – 8:30am: Breakfast buffet
  • 8:30am – 12pm: Hiking through Pampas to search for anacondas
  • 12:30 – 3pm: Lunch and rest at the lodges
  • 3pm – 6pm: Boat trip for Piranha fishing
  • 7:30pm – 8:30pm: Buffet dinner with wine

Unfortunately we didn’t have any luck seeing any anacondas or at catching any piranhas during our tour. But the weather was terrible so maybe they were hiding!

Piranha fishing in the Bolivian Amazon

Pampas Tour Day Three:

  • 5:45am – 7am: Sunrise boat trip
  • 7:30am – 8:30am: Breakfast buffet
  • 9:00am – 11:30am: Boat tour to see Pink Dolphins
  • 12pm: Lunch and return to Rurrenabaque
Pink dolphins in Rurrenabaque Bolivia

You are allowed to get in the water to swim with them and some of our group did. We chose not to, not only because the water was black and contains things other than dolphins, but because we just didn’t feel like we needed to touch them in order to appreciate them.

swimming with pink dolphins

Rurrenabaque Packing List

When it rains it rains & you gotta be prepared to do the activities anyway. Only take what you need, you can leave your big backpacks at either the tour office or hotel/hostel back in Rurrenabaque.

Where To Stay in Rurrenabaque

El Curichal Hostel

The best hostel in town. If you’re after making some pals while staying in Rurrenabaque this social place with an outdoor pool is the place to book. Breakfast is included, there’s BBQ’s in evenings, hammocks to chill in during the day and even a small bar if you fancy a cold beer.

El Curichal Hostel

Casa de Campo Bed & Breakfast

Set in beautiful tropical gardens, if you’re looking for somewhere peaceful to stay in Rurrenabaque, this will be right up your street. The rooms are spacious and comfortable. And reviews consistently mention how welcoming the hosts are, how delicious the breakfast is and how spotlessly clean the place is.

Hotel Ambaibo

With a huge year round outdoor pool, this hotel in Rurrenabaque is an awesome place to chill out before or after your amazon tour. All rooms are air-conditioned, have a private bathroom, and a patio with a garden view. Breakfast isn’t provided but there’s a bakery just a few minutes away.

Where To Eat in Rurrenabaque

Luz de Mar

This small cafe does an excellent and reasonably priced menu del dia with vegan options. The frozen fruit smoothies are also awesome if you need to cool down. The service is great and the wifi was decent too.

Luz de Mar Rurrenabaque Cafe

Pizzeria La Bella Italia

The best pizzas in town. After being seated you’ll be presented with an ingredient card from which you build your own pizza by ticking off the toppings you want. The staff are so friendly the grub is inexpensive.

Pizzeria La Bella Italia

The French Bakery

We didn’t actually try anything from here because we had breakfast provided at our hotel. But each time we walked past the treats on offer looked incredible and it was plenty busy enough. There’s both savory and sweet pastries. We heard the chocolate croissants are the best.

Luna Lounge

A restaurant-bar with music and pool tables. If you’re after somewhere to have a few drinks and grab something to eat, this place seemed to have the best atmosphere. The service could have been better, it was pretty slow but the food was nice enough.

Pampas Tour FAQ’s

  • How bad are the mosquitos?

In a word, bad.

The lodges do have mosquito nets and screens, but make sure you take plenty of mosquito repellant with you. And apply it! Even on your bum and the backs of your legs. The seats on the boats are just elastic foldaway ones so you’re not sat on anything solid. We learnt this the hard way!

It’s recommended you take a long sleeved white shirt as the mosquitos are more attracted to darker colours. We were skeptical about this at first, but it is true. Picking up some Vitamin B Complex from a local pharmacy can also help ward them off a little too.

And whilst the risk of Malaria is very low, the risk of Dengue and other mosquito borne diseases isn’t so you should really try to not get bitten at all.

  • Do the lodges have electricity?

Yes but only from solar power so it is limited. We could only charge phones & cameras. And electricity is limited to 6:30pm – 9:30pm. Our lodge did have electric fans but you couldn’t use them overnight, so it was very hot.

Dolphins travel ecolodge
  • Is there hot water?

No but you don’t need it. Our lodge did provide towels.

  • What was the food like?

The food is really good and all diets are catered for. Our cook was knocking out some wicked vegan snap and the lodge also sold beer and wine.

  • Are you expected to tip?

I think it was more appreciated than expected. At our last meal the cook put a tips plate on the table and we left 50B’s. We also gave the guide 100B’s, although he didn’t ask for anything.

Rurrenabaque Pampas tour

Rurrenabaque FAQ’s

Is Rurrenabaque worth it?

A trip to Rurrenabaque is 100% worth it. It’s so different to any other part of Bolivia and is a really economical way to explore the Amazon. The wildlife is so unique and you are truly immersed in nature at the lodges on the tours. Seeing pink dolphins should be on anyones bucket list!

Is Rurrenabaque the Amazon?

Not technically no. Rurrenabaque is located right on the edge of Madidi National Park which is part of the Amazon Rainforest that spans 8 countries and covers 6.7 million km². Hence why it is known as the gateway to the Bolivian Amazon.

How long is the bus from La Paz to Rurrenabaque?

On average, the bus from La Paz to Rurrenabaque takes 20 hours. It an overnight bus.

Is there malaria in Rurrenabaque?

There have been no reported cases of Malaria in Rurrenabaque or Madidi National park in over 10 years. The risk of Malaria in Rurrenabaque is low but it isn’t zero. Taking anti-malarial tablets is personal choice.

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Front of boat on river with overlay Complete Travel Guide To Rurrenabaque Bolivia
Boat on river with text overlay Visiting The Bolivian Amazon in Rurrenabaque Bolivia

Tracey Capes

Sunday 30th of October 2022

I cannot find any flights from La Paz to Rurrenabaque? Have they stopped flying?

Sarah McAlister

Friday 4th of November 2022

Hi Tracey, no neither can I right now - that's so weird! The airport was closed early this year because they just did a big improvement project which allowed for bigger aircraft but it was opened again as far as I'm aware. Hopefully it's just temporary!