Chalalán Ecolodge

Top choice lodge in Parque Nacional Madidi

This is Bolivia’s oldest and most successful community-based ecotourism project. Chalalán provides the opportunity to amble through relatively untouched rainforest and appreciate the diversity of the native wildlife. The lodge’s simple and elegant huts surround the idyllic oxbow lake, Laguna Chalalán. There is a booking office in Rurrenabaque and also in La Paz.

Set up in the early 1990s by the inhabitants of remote San José de Uchupiamonas, it has become a lifeline for villagers, and has so far generated money for a school and a small clinic. Built entirely from natural rainforest materials by the enthusiastic San José youth, the lodge surrounds you with lovely flora and fauna. But it’s the sounds that provide the magic here: the incredible bird chorus at dawn, the evening frog symphony, the collective whine of zillions of insects, the roar of bucketing tropical rainstorms and, in the early morning, the reverberating chorus of every howler monkey within a 100km radius.

Your trip starts from Rurrenabaque with a six-hour boat ride upstream on the misty Río Beni, and moves onto the smaller tributary, Río Tuichi. At Chalalán, you can go on long daytime treks or on nocturnal walks (there are 30km of trails). Boat excursions on the lake are a delight and you can see different types of monkeys who come to feed. Swimming is a must, especially at dusk when the light is heavenly.

The village of San José is another three hours upstream by boat. If you wish to visit it from Chalalán, you’ll need to arrange it in advance through the ecolodge. It’s especially rewarding during the week-long fiesta for the local patron saint around May 1.

Rates include transfers to and from the airport (if you’re coming from La Paz), three great meals per day, a well-trained English-speaking guide, excursions, canoe trips on the lake, plus local taxes and a community levy.