Rurrenabaque Bolivia & Choosing An Ethical Amazon Tour

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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 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 country’s, shall we say… below par, transport infrastructure, 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.

We still saw all of these; toucans, macaws, herons, kingfishers, woodpeckers, owls, bufeos, cayman, turtles, capybaras, howler monkeys, yellow squirrel monkeys, anteaters, dragonflies, fireflies, bats, frogs, and sloths.


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How To Get To Rurrenabaque

There are basically two directions that you’ll be coming at Rurrenabaque from, La Paz in the west, or 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.

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 Rurrenabaque is Amaszonas Línea Aérea and you can generally get return flights for around $150-170USD/£120-130GBP.

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 really wasn’t 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.

We met plenty of travellers who had come that route on a La Paz to Rurrenabaque bus though too 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.

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 also runs a service.

Rurrenabaque to La Paz bus

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.

Trinidad 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, we did see huge lorries coming across them so we’re sure you’ll be right.

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.

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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.

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

considerations for which Rurrenabaque tour to choose

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 tour group on 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 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

This is the option that we chose with Dolphins Travel Ecolodge. We went with the most popular option of a three day, 2 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 $1350B’s ($195 USD/£156GBP) 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).

By the way, by law, tour companies in Rurrenabaque should charge a min of $1200B’s per person. That the minimum you should expect to pay.

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

Pampas Rurrenabaque Itinerary

Pampas Tour Day One:

  • Leave Rurrenabaque at 9am.
  • Arrive in a town called Santa Rosa, near the boats to have lunch.
  • Boat trip along the Yacuma river for wildlife watching.
  • Arrive at the lodges late afternoon.
  • Sunset boat trip and night time caiman spotting.
Caiman at night on Yacuma River

Seeing their eyes glowing orange and purple in the pitch black was epic. Don’t forget a torch.

Pampas Tour Day Two:

  • After breakfast, head out into the savannah to search for anacondas and cobras.
  • Lunch and rest at the lodges.
  • Boat trip to see pink dolphins (or bufeos as they are locally known in Spanish).
Pink dolphins in Rurrenabaque Bolivia
swimming with pink dolphins

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.

Pampas Tour Day Three:

  • Sunrise boat trip
  • Back to the lodge for breakfast
  • Head out on the boat again for piranha fishing.
  • Lunch at the lodge then back to Rurrenabaque.
Piranha fishing in the Bolivian Amazon

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.

We always travel with a filter water bottle. Not only does it stop us getting ill, but it means we’re not killing the planet or wasting money on plastic bottles. The GRAYL Geopress is hands down the best on the market & makes water from virtually any source safe to drink.

Where To Stay in Rurrenabaque

Cheap & Cheerful: 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

Mid-range: Hotel Tacuaral

This Rurrenabaque hotel doesn’t have much of an atmosphere. However, the ensuite rooms are huge. So if you’re after a quiet and seriously comfortable place to get some rest before or after your Amazon tour, this will be right up your street. The staff are great and it’s spotless.

Affordable Luxury: Hotel Maya de la Amazonia

Looking for somewhere more upmarket? Have a gander at this 5 star beauty. Rooms are large yet homely. There’s a huge outdoor pool set in a lovely garden and the breakfast consistently gets rave reviews. There’s a bar, secure baggage storage and onsite parking.

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.

Rurrenabaque Bolivia 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 don’t miss putting it 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 can also help ward them off a little too.

  • 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 and 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.

Where To Next In Bolivia?

Good Reads About Bolivia

Bolivia Travel Insurance

Taking an adventure in the Bolivian Amazon doesn’t come without risk, so make sure that you have good quality travel insurance that covers you for all the activities you will be doing.

Rurrenabaque Pampas tour

Our go to travel insurance provider is World Nomads. We’re big fans of their no nonsense approach and bullshit free policies. They cover loads activities as standard and you can even purchase policies after you’ve set off on your travels, just in case you forgot.

Don’t take the risk and get yourself a no obligation quote here:

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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