Though there isn’t really that much to do in town, Rurrenabaque’s appeal is in its surrounding natural beauty. It’s easy to pass a day or three here while waiting to join a tour. Scramble up a 295-step staircase two blocks from the plaza, and then up a dirt-and-stone pathway to a mirador, and finally to a big cross (La Cruz) overlooking town and the Beni. Bring your hiking boots!
Rurrenabaque has a surplus of great sleeping options and the scene is ruled by one thing: the hammock. The sagging sack can be the sole factor in deciding whether a business does well here or not, so expect hammocks and enjoy the mandatory laziness.
Eating options are varied, from quick chicken to fresh fish along the riverfront and fantastic international cooking. In addition to the Beni standard, masaco (mashed yucca or plantains, served with dried meat, rice, noodles, thin soup and bananas), try the excellent pescado en dunucuabi (fish wrapped in a rainforest leaf and baked over a wood fire).
The Sunday feria along the riverfront attracts local farmers with all their wild and wonderful produce.
Drinking & Nightlife
Rurre is a lively town and there are several bars and discos. Most bars run along the same lines, following a very successful bamboo-walled, palm-roof model with pub meals served during the day and tropical cocktails at night. Ask about happy hour, they all have one!
Most agencies have offices on Avaroa. Tours can usually be paid for with credit cards.
Choosing a Jungle or Pampas Tour
Jungle and pampas tours are Rurrenabaque’s bread and butter, but quality of service provided by the numerous tour agencies varies considerably; in the name of competition, some operators are much less responsible than they ought to be. This is largely a result of over-demanding budget travelers expecting low prices with big results, bartering prices down and compromising their own safety and levels of service in the process. In the interests of responsible travel, consider the following carefully before you hand over your cash:
- Cheaper most definitely does not mean better. Local authorities have set minimum prices at B$1,200 for a three-day, two-night excursion; be suspicious of any company that undercuts those rates and do not barter for a lower price.
- Every company uses the word ‘ecofriendly’ as a throwaway sales gimmick. Catch out the conmen by asking the vendor to explain how their company is ecofriendly.
- There are no guarantees of spotting wildlife. Any company that offers them is likely to be breaking the rules. Guides are forbidden from feeding, handling or disturbing animals. If your guide offers to capture anacondas, caiman or other animals, object and tell him why.
- Use only Sernap-authorized operators, as these are the only ones allowed to legally enter Parque Nacional Madidi.
- Foreigners must be accompanied by a local guide, but not all speak good English. If this is likely to be a problem, ask to meet your guide.
- Talk to other travelers about their experiences and boycott companies that break the rules. Be responsible in your own expectations.
- Better still, opt for one of the community-run ecotourism ventures, which, although more expensive, are definitely more worthwhile and aim to help sustain communities and preserve the richness of the rainforests for the generations to come.
The Bolivian rainforest is full of more interesting and unusual things than you could ever imagine. Local guides can explain animals’ habits and habitats and demonstrate the uses of some of the thousands of plant species, including the forest’s natural remedies for colds, fever, cuts, insect bites (which come in handy!) and other ailments. Note that you are likely to see a lot more plants than animals.
Most trips are by canoe upstream along the Río Beni, and some continue up the Río Tuichi, taking shore and jungle walks along the way, with plenty of swimming opportunities and hammock time. Accommodations are generally in agencies’ private camps.
Rain, mud and mariguí (sandflies) make the wet season (especially January to March) unpleasant for jungle tours, but some agencies have camps set up for wildlife watching at this time.
It’s easier to see wildlife in the wetland savannas northeast of town, but the sun is more oppressive, and the bugs can be worse, especially in the rainy season. Bring binoculars, a good flashlight, extra batteries and plenty of strong antibug juice. Highlights include playful pink river dolphins, horseback riding and night-time canoe trips to spot caiman.