Bolivia by Bike, Bus and Boat

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La Paz to Rurre, Bolivia, South America
By Jared Johnsen

Canoeing up the River in the Amazon
Canoeing up the River in the Amazon
Barreling down the hairpin turns of Andean switchbacks is likely to distress the most intrepid of travelers. This is especially true on a public bus loaded down with people, swaying outward at the peak of each turn. Some of us just can’t help but wonder about the person behind the wheel-the person in control of our lives. I mean, who is it after all? Does he really know how fast he can handle those corners on loose gravel? Others simply feel an extreme case of vertigo. Being propped up on the last few inches of earth that spill over a sheer mountain wall dropping for miles below, somehow, just isn’t enough. Imagine now, an alternative, more adventurous means of descent. I don’t know if I’d call it safer per se…but you’d be the one in control and you could reduce those lumbering four tires down to two. Imagine plunging all the way from snow-capped peaks at 4,700 meters all the way down these patchy roads to the ruddy soils of the sub-tropics not in a clumsy bus, but – gasp – on a bicycle. Now this is living. Beyond your gravity assisted ride through breathtaking mountains are the beautiful sub-tropical forests surrounding the sleepy town of Coroico, where you can spend a few nights relaxing and taking in the lush mountainscape. And beyond here, are the lush Amazonian wetlands out of Rurrenebaque, which is one of the best places of the jungle to catch a glimpse of wildlife. So if you weren’t going to miss these stunning environments anyway, why not create a triathlon that goes all the way to the jungle? We begin donning a helmet and shall finish strapped into a lifejacket.

Setting up your journey

The first leg of this trip begins on the road dubbed The World’s Most Dangerous Road, which seems to just beg for adventure tourism. Naming it thus is almost like daring a child to jump off a low roof or taunting a celebrated climber with a mountain yet to be summited: It simply must be done. There are a few companies who have cropped up offering this hair-raising transport down the mountain and you will be able to book with them in La Paz. Gravity is considered one of the better companies and provides high quality bikes with top-of-the-line brake systems. But before you set off on your two-wheeled plunge, you will have to set up your jungle tour and flight back to La Paz – unless, of course, you wanted to bike back. One of the tour agencies will help you set up your trip into the Amazonian wetlands as well as arrange a $50 flight back to La Paz. My suggestion is to arrange your jungle tour 3 to 4 days after the day you bike down to allow yourself time to enjoy the cloud forest a couple days and arrive in Rurrenebaque at your leisure.

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Relaxing at Sol y Luna in Coroico
After you get it all set up, you can spend a couple days enjoying La Paz, which is a fascinating city of commercial buildings and government officials trying to operate amidst the chaotic masses of indigenous people who’ve migrated to the area to hawk goods, eke a living – and occasionally – strike for rights and higher wages, blocking all flow to and from the city. Despite these possible delays, many find this highest capital of the world unique in South America and more than worth a visit. Mainly populated by the indigenous people, this city is also loaded with intricate weavings and alpaca garments at prices you cannot possibly imagine.

On that memorable day you bike down the World’s Most Dangerous Road you will want to start out with some warm gear, as the first few miles can be quite chilly. But soon that frigid dry air will be replaced with wet and warm air as you drop 3,600 meters into the sub-tropical Yungas. Upon reaching the bottom you will have covered 64 kilometers and be in some of the most wonderful climates available with warm days and cool nights. Trust me, this is a real treat after being in the frigid altiplano atmosphere of La Paz. Before heading back, tour companies provide dinner at Hotel Esmeralda in Coroico. Yet, be forewarned that once the people at the hotel find out you intend to stay, they will try desperately to get you to spend the night at their hotel. The problem is that if you did this you would be missing out on the coolest spot, perhaps in all of South America. A couple miles farther up the road is the place to be, at Hostal Sol y Luna. It is perfect for relaxing, hiking, or just reading a book. These wooden cottages have candles and private outdoor showers of bamboo enclosures, and outdoor hammocks. If you are looking for luxury, this may not be the best answer. But if you have come for the best views in town of verdant valleys from a rustic home, a couple nights are a must. These individual wooden abodes are built inside a sub-tropical paradise of hiking trails offering the most fabulous outdoor experience to be had indoors. Stay in the one named Alaya if it is available. You will thank me later.

Our Guide Wading out into the Pampas in Search of an Anaconda
Our Guide Wading out into the Pampas in Search of an Anaconda
When you are ready to leave this paradise, you can take a bus in town to the jungle town of Rurrenebaque. Keep in mind this is going to be about a 10 hour journey through dirt roads, usually several inches deep in mud that will, if you are lucky, lead you to the jungle. Occasionally buses get stuck in the muck, but if you are willing to get out and push, you should make it. This trip can be done at night to avoid total restlessness and should bring you into town at dawn. The town is mainly businesses built around tourism, so finding your jungle tour company won’t be too hard. After they take you to the boat that will lead you to your jungle lodge, get ready for an introduction to a wide array of jungle creatures on the way in. You will likely see hundreds of caiman basking in the sun, several species of monkeys, piranhas, pink freshwater dolphins, and if you are lucky, the mighty jaguar. But don’t count on this, as it tends to scare them off. The lodges are basic and comfortable, equipped with mosquito netting and outhouses. The real excitement is outside though, and will leave you thoroughly filled with lasting memories of exotic animals and mysterious animal calls. Honestly, you’ll here and see more animals here than any jungle trip in Peru or Ecuador.

After you boat out of the jungle, you are ready to board a plane back to La Paz. And if you thought your adventure was over, wait until your plane arrives: a 20 passenger propeller plane that takes off from a cleared grass field. High in the air you will watch the vast jungle climb back up to the 13,000 foot capital you came from on a bicycle so long ago.





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