When travelling to South America most people have a visit to the Amazon planned, be it for an adventurous few weeks or just a quick tour. The Amazon covers many countries, all of which vary in their flora and fauna, ease of access and established tourism opportunities. We decided to work with Madidi Travel based in Bolivia, an environmentally aware company with an important history, read on to find out more about their organisation.
Who is Madidi Travel?
Madidi Travel is one of the many tour operators in La Paz, but they stand out from the crowd in some important ways. The tour company evolved from the Eco Bolivia Foundation in 1992, which was integral in securing protection of several parks in the Madidi Mosaic, the most well known of which is the Madidi National Park. This 19,000 sqkm area stretches from the peaks of the Andes to the rainforests of Bolivia and thus covers a huge range of habitats and climates. This important factor makes Madidi National Park one of the most biologically and culturally diverse protected areas in the world.
Rosa Maria Ruiz, founder of the Eco Bolivia Foundation and Madidi Travel has consistently fought her entire life for the protection of these areas against their numerous threats. She has also worked alongside the indigenous communities of the Madidi Mosaic helping to bring awareness of their existence and importance to wider audiences. The reluctance from the government to assist during the completion work cannot be understated. It is clear from this that Madidi Travel is a company with years of passion, persistence and care for this incredible environment.
Madidi Travel specialises in the jungle tours, and actually do not operate within the Madidi National Park. There are two reasons for this:
- All the other tour companies operate in the same allocated area of Madidi NP, this has resulted in damage to that part of the environment with some irresponsible tours negatively affecting the pristine environment.
- Madidi Travel established the Serere Reserve (still part of the Madidi mosaic), and dramatically helped the biodiversity of this area. No other company has access here and this exclusivity provides a much less impactful and also memorable tourist experience.
It is in the Serere Reserve that Madidi offer their jungle tours, a three hour boat ride up the Beni river from Rurrenabaque. All other tours offered by Madidi are through carefully considered, responsible external operators.
Why choose Madidi Travel?
When searching for a visit to the Bolivian Amazon, you will become overwhelmed by the number of tour companies in La Paz. Everywhere you look there will be the words ‘Jungle’, ‘Eco-friendly’ and ‘Pampas’ – so which to pick?
Let’s first bust some common myths regarding these experiences. The Pampas and jungle experiences are very different, and before choosing it is wise to know what to expect from both.
You may see a higher number of animals on the Pampas than (most of) the jungle tours, but by no means the same biodiversity. One reason for this is that Pampas tours are by boat, so there is a clearer view, with quieter approach. The other reason is that the majority of the jungle tours dredge through the forest making a lot of noise clearing the way with machetes, consequently scaring a lot of the wildlife.
At the Serere Reserve this is not the case. Operating within their own reserve you can ensure that the jungle experience here is responsible, quiet, and you are likely to see many animals. At the same time, Serere has five lakes, which allow for a unique jungle boating experience where you will see the largest breadth of wildlife. So all in all, you are likely to see more animals and more biodiversity with Madidi Travel.
There are also some magical experiences at Serere you are sure to see. The local reintroduced spider monkey spends most of her time around the lodges, as do two playful tapirs and a pair of lively macaws. You’d also be extremely unlucky to miss the large groups of squirrel and capuchin monkeys that come crashing through the camp most days, and without doubt will notice the caiman bobbing up and down at the closest lake. So if it’s animal encounters you’re after, there’s no other choice. We saw all of this within the first hour!
Finally, you will be endorsing a company that is passionate about sustainable and responsible tourism, and cares deeply about conservation and having minimal effect on the environment. You will have little to no electricity, eat by candlelight, move quietly and carefully through the forest and leave the reserve having left no detriment to the protected surroundings.
From what is heard about many other tours, this cannot be ensured. With disruptive feeding, over-tourism, and even hunting sometimes offered, it is best to plan your trip carefully to avoid putting money into the wrong hands. Be weary of anything labelled ‘Eco’; there is nothing that a company has to prove to add this buzzword to their title.
Conservation and Threats
Madidi Travel is all based around conservation. The Serere Reserve is a living example of this, where previously the wildlife had been seriously threatened in the area. Now it is rich with biodiversity, and Rosa Maria believes it can be used worldwide as a practical example of how to restore a medium sized area to good health.
One of the most effective methods of conservation is through eco-tourism alongside local education. By encouraging local communities to welcome tourism with a healthy outlook, money can be carefully distributed to the right places whilst the local people learn more about the importance of their environment. Once the local population understands that tourism brings them subsistence, there is an increase in willingness to embrace tourists, then to learn about and restore nature. Similarly by bringing tourists to the Amazon, they can become personally affected by their experience and want to get further involved. Often people stay longer than intended at Serere, and come away with a much more interest in these environments.
The threats to the rainforest around the Madidi Mosaic are endless, and the Eco Bolivia Foundation has fought against those throughout the decades. Just to name a few:
- Animal agriculture
- Sugar cane
- Land hoarders
All of which are often heavily favoured by the government. More examples like Serere reserve would help sway the beliefs of people and show what benefits a healthy environment can bring.
What will I do at the Serere Reserve?
One of the great things about Madidi Travel is that they are sure to help personalise your jungle experience. There are several activities that they can offer, from jungle treks to relaxing boat cruises – and you can decided when and how you want to do these. What’s more, there is no real limit on how long you can stay, with three days being the minimum, but Madidi are very open to discussion.
A three day itinerary will go something like this:
Day 1 – Leave from Rurrenabaque on a boat ride three hours up the Beni river. Here you may see Capybara, birds of prey, wading birds and sometimes more. A one hour walk through the jungle takes you to the secluded lodges where you drop bags and have a brief orientation, before deciding on the evening’s activities which are up to you! If you’re up for it, you could even squeeze in a night walk after dinner.
Day 2 – An early start is optional to see the sunrise on the lake. After breakfast another adventure option is available before lunch, maybe a jungle walk? After lunch is rest time, it’s up to you whether you catch up some sleep or explore the nature around camp. One more activity comes before dinner, a great time to relax on one of the lakes. Again, night walk maybe?
Day 3 – Sadly it could be your last day, but you can still squeeze in two activities before lunch if you wish. Then it’s back to the boat and Rurrenabaque for a debrief and potential meal with your new friends to chat about your experiences.
If you want to stay longer than the standard three day experience, that’s of course okay, and extensions can normally be arranged.
What are the facilities like?
Let’s start with the obvious, you’re in the Amazon jungle and that makes things a little different to normal. Madidi Travel encourages as little impact on the surrounding environment as possible, so accommodation comes secluded within the thick forest.
The wooden cabins are covered in a thin mesh to keep out animals and bugs, however it does allow the sounds of the forest to come through so you sleep to the jungle’s natural orchestra. There are clean toilets and shower facilities in each cabin. You also have an extra mosquito net to keep away anything that manages to follow you inside. As there is no electricity, nighttime is done by candlelight, or head-torch.
The beautiful wooden main lodge is a 3 minute walk from the cabins, this is where you eat, brief and relax. The food is absolutely delicious with all dietary options taken care of. The service is also fantastic and dinner by candlelight is magical. At the lodge you can also grab a beer or a coke with your meal.
Other than this it’s pretty much you and the jungle, which makes Madidi Travel an extremely immersive experience. If you have spare time, you can head upstairs and chill in the hammocks or walk three minutes down the path to the information lodge to find out a bit more.
Top Tips before you go
- Bring mosquito repellent – if it has rained then the mosquitoes come out in serious numbers, this is more so in the rainy season (November – March). You can buy a spray for clothes, a cream and also a skin spray, all are recommended!
- Bring long, light coloured clothes and a decent hat – mosquitoes are attracted to dark colours, and will bite through anything thin, so bear this in mind.
- Bring spare batteries and external or solar chargers – there is no electricity here, so make sure you have a way of recharging your cameras, you’ll want to take pics!
- Take extra clothing – if it is wet, clothes take very long to dry since it gets humid. Try and take a change of clothes for every day, putting on smelly damp clothes can be horrific. Likewise if it is sunny then dry everything as fast as you can!
- Stay a night in Rurrenabaque either side – you will need a day to prepare and gather energy, and likewise a break on return.
- Bring a good head torch – At night it’s just you and the candles, which makes preparing for the next day and general evening activities pretty tricky. Also jungle night walks would be quite risky without some form of light!
- Earplugs – some of you might sleep like a baby to the sound of a thousand frogs, crickets and the occasional nocturnal bird, but if you don’t you will barely sleep – earplugs are a good way to reduce the noise.
Ok, so how do I get in touch?
If you would like to enquire then you can email or call at any time. Madidi Travel are always open for discussion and to share ideas about their work and tourism opportunities. If you are international then they’ll be happy to have a WhatsApp or Skype conversation with you.
If you are already in La Paz then drop into their office before 5pm. It’s located in a little courtyard on Linares Street just off Calle Sagarnaga (next to the San Fransisco Church). Don’t accidentally walk into the ‘Madidi Jungle’ office like I did, which is right next to it!
Address: Calle Linares, no. 947
If somehow you’re already in Rurrenabaque, then the office is unmissable. It’s a beautiful old wooden building just off the main square near the river.
Address: Calle Comercio between Santa Cruz and Vaca Diez