Madidi National Park is located in the western part of Bolivia’s Amazon Basin and is one of South America’s most intact ecosystems. It covers an area of 1.8 million hectares and was only created 12 years ago. Presently only 8.000 people visit the park per year.
The area of the park itself ranges from mountains 6.000 meters high to the Amazon lowlands, making it South America’s most diverse wilderness gems with a huge variety of fauna and flora. Sustainable ethno- & ecotourism is the philosophy here and of what we observed so far it is not just a marketing trick.
In order to visit the Madidi we decided to use the service of Bala Tours, one of the more expensive agencies, for various reasons. Firstly it had been recommended several times by travelers on the ThornTree forum, but mainly for the comfort of its Tacoaral Lodge in the park. It consists of three buildings, two are subdivided in 6 rooms and one serves as dining room / kitchen. But most important, it is equipped with a solar panel that produces enough energy to provide light for in the lodge, a luxury we have come to appreciate after outings in Venezuela. Yes, and there were real showers, also absolutely necessary after walking in the humid forest for hours. To create enough pressure for operating the showers, for half an hour a day a generator is used to pump the water from the well up to a little tower.
The 4 days / 3 nights tour with Bala Tours costs 170 USD, whereas the cheap agencies offer 3 days / 2 nights tours for as little as 50 USD, but travelers stay in dorms, wash in the muddy river and find their way to the toilet at night by holding a candle. Do not waste your time to bargain, Bala Tours goes by their price list!
We reached our lodge after a three hour boat ride up the Rio Beni and then Rio Tuichi, this ride alone is worth the trip. Only a small number of agencies are permitted to run a lodge inside the park, all together eight and they are all situated along Rio Tuichi, with the fancy Chalalan Ecolodge the furthest up. This lodge was created in 1990 by the inhabitants of a remote Amazon village and has been extremely successful ever since.
Our lodge was further down and less well equipped, but extremely comfortable and clean with large airy rooms. All the material used to build the lodge is taken from the forest and fruits tree and a small vegetable garden helped Bernando, who cooked for us, to create his incredibly tasty meals.
We were the only tourists there at that time and had the whole attention of Estella and Pedro who run the lodge. Yadmani, our guide, took us on long walks around the forest and showed great expertise pointing out the various plants, trees and the occasional wildlife, especially interesting was to learn how many of these plants are used as medicine.
We enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere, although quiet it never was. Why? You need to hear the racket the insects and birds are able to create in order to believe this, especially in the morning.
The only downside of such a trip is that you are eaten alive by zillions of insects which are so small that you do not even see them. Only after hours the agony sets in when you realize your body is plastered with red itching spots.