Rosa María Ruiz is a towering figure in Bolivian conservation and one of the key people involved in creating the park we now know as Madidi. She lived in Madidi in its early years as a self-described hermit, but her outspoken criticism of Sernap – and its inability to control illegal logging and hunting – resulted in death threats, a ban from the park and, eventually, the torching of her jungle lodge. Undeterred, she set up shop three hours upriver from Rurrenabaque, creating her own private reserve: Serere.
Named after a bird with a blue face and punk-rock hair, this 4,000-hectare refuge has four lagoons, a week's worth of hiking trails, and enough monkeys, birds and reptiles to please the pickiest of wildlife watchers. Guides say they have more luck finding the famed Madidi wildlife here than along the increasingly crowded Rio Tuichi, where nearly every other Rurrenabaque-based outfit has its jungle camps.
When you visit Serere you create your own itinerary based on your specific interests, with the help of indigenous guides. You eat organic food (much of which comes from the garden on-site) and sleep in spacious thatch-roofed cabins with screens for walls, so you feel like you're right in the thick of it when the critters saunter by. The income earned by the ecolodge gets pumped back into local conservation efforts.
The March 2000 National Geographic cover story that first put Madidi on the map is a great read for those who want to learn more about Ruiz and her remarkable conservation work in the face of innumerable obstacles. You can find a copy of it – and book a trip to her reserve – at the Madidi Travel office in Rurrenabaque.