by A. Bennett Hennessey
The town itself is on the eastern bank of the Beni River, fronting the northern edge of the Susi foothills. An ancient Tacana trading center, Rurrenabaque ("Rurre" as it is known to locals) boasts a population of over 10,000 and now has a budding eco-tourism industry, mostly serving the young backpacker market with bare-bones, inexpensive jungle and pampas tours. But there are the beginnings of more professional eco-tourism.
The attractiveness of Rurrenabaque is based upon is location: smack in the middle of three habitat zones: the Amazonian forest of the department of La Paz, the pampas of the department of Beni, and the foothill forest (at 500 to 900 m) of the Andes. The endless stream of backpackers also means that Rurrenabaque creates a certain level of very flexible tour agencies, at least twenty. With a bit of ingenuity, planning and bargaining, one can easily arrange an inexpensive customized trip, especially if you have a small group. For most of the sites in this section, many of agencies will be able to supply a guide (experience and knowledge being highly variable, with the typical guide knowing most mammals and unfortunately no more than a dozen of the most conspicuous bird species), transportation, sleeping materials and simple food.
Logistics: There are several options for getting to Rurrenabaque. By plane, one company called Amazonas travel runs the jaunt- but over the Andes with a single engine in a Cessna Caravan (the largest Cessna you will ever fly). These flights tend to be more reliable- with two flights a day during the tourism season. I personally don't like the idea of flying over the Andes with a single engine. Amazonas now have more planes, so maybe this is changing. Amazonas are a bit more modern in making reservations, e-tickets and such. The flight is around 150 USD round trip.
Flights by the airline run by the Bolivian military airline (TAM) (using solid two-engine Fokkers) are by far the most popular. And the return flight is doubly popular as new customers include those that have endured the bus trip down from La Paz! TAM currently has three flights a week from La Paz to Rurrenabaque, one flight a week from Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. There are also flights from Cochabamba to the nearby town of Reyes. From Reyes, it is only an hour in a mini-bus to Rurrenabaque. TAM is less expensive, around 100 USD round trip.
Buses to Rurrenabaque leave La Paz regularly from the Villa Fatima neighborhood, but are not always reliable and are far from luxurious. The trip is about 18 hours (but one of your authors once sat on a Rurrenabaque bound bus for 36 hours). Three La Paz bus companies currently make this trip daily. For a less bumpy ride, make sure you get a seat near the front of the bus. In general, buses servicing the smaller Bolivia towns are much lower quality than those that serve the major cities. There are also buses to Rurrenabaque from Trinidad, Riberalta and San Borja.