during our stay 1$ = 7.30 Bolivianos / 1 SFr = 5 Bolivianos
new North and Central America, but South America was entirely new for the two
of us and so when a good friend of us moved to work to Bolivia we decided to
take the opportunity and pay a visit. Although December is not known to be the
best period to visit Bolivia, because of the raining season, it was a good
period for us to take a full month off, and so we went. Actually, only the Beni
lowland was really inaccessible, for the rest we had no major roubles caused by
three other very helpful Bolivian trip reports in the web and because those
already contain all the general information a visitor may need, we do pass this
section and start directly with our itinerary. A complete bird list follows as
an Excel file.
reports used at the planning stage and during our stay:
29-30: Europe-Bolivia/Santa Cruz-Samaipata
flight with VARIG -Brazilian Airlines from Milan/Malpensa arriving at São
Paulo, Brazil, the next morning. Again aVARIG flight from São Paulo arriving in
Santa Cruz/Viru Viru airport at 10.45.Our friend Fabio came to pick us up at
the airport and we went straight to town (Borrowing owls just outside the airport!)
and from there to Samaipata, a 2-3 hour drive (depending on the state of the
car and the weather) by express taxi.
at La Vispera (24$/double room with bathroom), relaxing and bird-friendly lodge
some 20 mins walk from “downtown”. Saffron finch, Creamy-bellied and
Rufous-bellied Thrushes, Guira cuckoo, House wren and Rufous hornero were
common neighbours. No much else done in the remaining of this long and tiring
A quite and
take-it-easy day. After breakfast at the popular “La Chakana” restaurant we
took an easy 2 1/2 hour walk following the dirt road in the direction of San
Juan del Rosario, almost all the way up to he little white Church. Not too many
birds, all of them but Black and Turkey vultures new for us, included a single
2: Samaipata-Santa Cruz
easy morning birding round La Vispera. After lunch we went to Santa Cruz with a
taxi in quite poor conditions, actually the brakes broke down on the way…
fortunately nothing happened and the driver even managed to fix them, more or
less. Night at the cheap but clean Cañada Hotel (3$/pp), very close by the
Samaipata-Santa Cruz espresso taxi office. Tomorrow the 4 night/5 day trip to
Chalalan Lodge, inside the large Madidi N.Pk, begins. Hour friend booked it
morning start under heavy rain. 1.20 h flight with Amaszonas from Trompillo
airport to Trinidad (Beni), on a small but new 12 seats airplane. 26°C and
sunshine in Trinidad, where we ended up waiting for some unscheduled 7 ½ hours…
before the other airplane coming from La Paz could finally arrive (poor weather
conditions in La Paz, we’ve been told) and take us the 45 mins to San Borja and
then another 20 mins to Rurrenabaque. This last part of the flight was
something of incredible beauty, in and out of stormy clouds and shining sun,
something only Richard Bach could perfectly describe in his books. Nelson, our
guide from Amaszonas, was at the airport waiting and he took us to the nice
Hotel Oriental, where we managed to see just a few new birds before the sun
set. Excellent dinner at “La Perla di Rurre” restaurant.
at Trinidad has plenty of good birds to watch and by simply walking around the
place we had some 25 species, most of them never seen again like a group
of flying Horned screamers, Ruddy ground-dove, Campo flicker (Beni ssp
campestris), Cattle tyrant, Boat-billed flycatcher, Brown-chested martin,
Chalk-browed mockingbird, Rusty-collared seedeater, Red-crested cardinal and
Greyish Saltator. Just near the airport’s gate a wet area had our first three
that we had so many hours to wait we could have taken a taxi and visit the town
of Trinidad or the nearby lagoon which certainly could have added more great
heavy rain started in the middle of the night and lasted most of the 5 hours
boat trip to Chalalan! The long, slender, wooden boat had only a sort of narrow
roof, so we made good use of our rain ponchos. The first 2 hours upstream the
large and powerful Rio Beni (carrying lots of brown water and large
driftwoods!) and then 3 hours upstream Rio Tuichi, into Madidi N.Pk.
and wet, but warm, scenery offered a good number of water birds we would not
meet again on the trip. Capped heron, Wood stork, Roseate spoonbill, Orinoco
goose, Osprey, Grat-black hawk, Black and Red-throated caracaras, Pied lapwing,
Yellow-billed and Large-billed terns, Black skimmer, Sand-coloured nighthawk
(hundreds!), White-winged, White-banded and Souhern rough-winged swallows.
Chalalan’s “harbour” a 1800m trail takes you through the middle of a green
jungle to the beautiful and comfortable lodge, set at the side of a nice lagoon
which offers a bit of an open area in the middle of the thick Amazonian forest.
A large tree holds breading Amazonian oropendolas, singing all day long their
gorgeous song (don’t miss the chance to watch a singing one, good fun!). The
rooms are very nice with mosquito nets, very handy to keep most of the many
XXL-sized insects otside… Hoazins were common near the water, and the lake had
Anhinga, Agami heron, Olivaceous cormorant, Least grebes and Sungrebes. A night
walk added the Noisy night monkey.
Eco-lodge sees you inside Madidi N.Pk.. It is owned by the local community of
San José village, another 3 hours upstream, and the friendly atmosphere
together with good food makes you really feel welcome. This beautiful place
offers many hiking opportunities inside the reach forest and the lagoon is
suitable for swimming, Caimans permitting! Highly recommended! Chalalan has a
has a morning, afternoon and night activity giving you the opportunity to bird
as much as possible in the frustrating thick forest. Nelson really knew his
birds and bird calls and spoke very good English. We took 4 different hikes
during the day and two canoe trips, one in the afternoon and one by night,
which added Paraque and Caimans to the list.
animals seen: Brown capuchin and Squirrel monkeys, Red howler-monkeys, Collared
peccary, Agouti, Tent-making and Long-nosed bats, Amazon tree-boa, Amazon
horned frog, White-lined leaf-frog, Common tree frog, Spot-legged dart-frog and
many good-sized insects and spiders.
7: Chalalan-Rurrenabaque-Santa Cruz-Samaipata
On the way
back the boat took only about three hours to Rurrenabaque. No rain, much less
water in both rivers but also fewer birds; Ruddy pigeon, Capybaras and many
butterflies. We smoothly flew back to Santa Cruz via San Borja and Trinidad,
and again espresso taxi to Samaipata/La Vispera.
8: Samaipata-Mataral (1’400m)
morning to relax a bit. This afternoon a 12 day birding tour with Michael
Blendinger, an Argentinian biologist working as a bird guide in Samaipata (e-mail:
email@example.com) begins. With a 4x4 rented in Santa Cruz we
started to explore the dirt but well maintained Old Road Samaipata-Cochabamba
and stopped to camp at the side of a small farmland road, in dry Mataral, near
the Rock paintings. Lots of new good species seen, including a female
Scissor-tailed nightjar at dusk, after a gorgeous sunset.
9: Mataral-Laguna Verde-Siberia-Incallajta
going to be a long day. Early morning walk towards the Rock paintings, spotting
many good birds along the way saw us never reaching the historical site. Andean
parakeet,Greater wagtail-tyrant, Euler’s, Three-striped and Crowned slaty
flycatchers, Red-eyed vireo, Purple-throated euphonia, Black-crested and
Grey-crested finches and Saffron-billed sparrow among the specials.
drive trough a dray valley with many blooming cactus, and just after the
village of Comarapa we saw the only White-tailed hawk of the trip. From
Comarapa a rough 4x4 road climbs up till Laguna Verde, where in a couple of
hours we added Red-necked woodpecker. Back to Comarapa and the Old Road towards
Cochabamba, till we entered the Siberia cloud forest. Pretty wet, foggy and
chilly but many blooming orchids and good birds including Red-crested cotinga,
White-crested Elaenia, White-throated tyrannulet, Glossy-black thrush and
Straw-backed tanager. At 18.30, almost dark, we hit the road again in the dense
fog with a male Scissor-tailed nightjar taking off in the car’s head lights.
Dead tired we arrived at Incallajta at 23.00, where we camped at the side of
the road near the Ruins’ gate (a new but useless campground has been created
seen at Mataral: 48 species
seen at Siberia: 18 species
Wow, what a
place to wake up in the sunny morning! Visiting the ruins and surrounding many
birds took much of our morning. Grey-hooded and mountain parakeets,
Brown-capped tit-spinetail, Azara’s spinetail, Creamy-breasted canastero,
Rufous-capped ant-shrike, Gret kiskadee, Brown-capped redstart, Rufous-sided
warbling-finch, Fulvous-headed brush-finch, Rufous-bellied saltator and a
flight-display of a pair of HUGE Andean condors. We arrived in Cochabamba in
the heat of the day and visited the nearby Alalay lagoon (the access to the
lagoon opposite the town looked quite safe). Puna teal, Black-necked stilts,
Andean avocets, Plumbeous rail, Andean coot, Wren-like rushbird, Many-coloured
rush-tyrant, Yellow-winged blackbird. Night at the very nice and peaceful
Hostal Florida with a welcome shower (14$/double room with bathroom).
seen at Incallajta: 28 species
seen at Alalay lagoon: 32 species
11: Cochabamba-Carrasco N.Pk.
morning visit to the lagoon added both Lesser & Greater yellowlegs and
Sacata-Santa Cruz, before Cotani we left the main road and entered the Old
Chapare Road, climbing up through Cotani Alto and up again till a foggy and
cold mountain pass at about 4’500m. Here the road gets definitely rough and
goes down the other side facing the Amazonian and entering Carrasco N.Pk.. The
rain, the bad condition of the road and the steepness of the sides were quite a
feeling as we slowly drove down through elfin and cloud forests, till 2’400m.
Magically here the rain stopped and the fog opened to reveal what a stunning
place we were in. In the middle of an absolute wilderness!
used to connect Cochabamba to Santa Cruz until some years ago, when a new and
much easier one was build through Corani. The many large land slides made this
old one inaccessible anymore from about 2’200m, where there is a mine,
downwards. Till that altitude the road is maintained, at least passable, by the
mine workers coming here by truck about once in a while. Because we’ve met the
truck up the pass we knew we where not going to meet another human being for
the next three days.
12: Carrasco N.Pk.
night rain we enjoyed a gorgeous sunrise at 5.20. We walked the road the way
down to the mine, adding many new good birds. And in the afternoon we explored
the road upwards again. Nice singing frogs and few mosquito. Plumbeous pigeon,
Andean pygmy-owl, Gould’s inca, Great shappirewing, Amethyst-throated sunangel,
Blue-mantled thornbill, Hooded mountain-toucan, Plain-brasted earthcreeper, Black-throated
thistletail, Zimmer’s tapaculo, Band-tailed and Barred fruiteaters,
Crowned , Slaty-backed, D’Orbigny’s, Rufous-breasted and Brown-backed chat-tyrants,
Pale-footed swallow, White-collared jay, Citrine warbler, White-browed and
Blue-backed conebills, Grass-green tanager, Three-striped hemisphingus, Hooded
and Blue-winged Mountain-tanagers, Plumbeous sierra-finch, Moustached and
13: Carrasco N.Pk.-Cochabamba
planned to camp three nights in here but although the place was really worthy,
the high humidity made us decide to leave one day earlier. So, with many stops
on the slow way up (average speed 4-5km per hour!) we headed back towards
Cochabamba. Just above the (cold) elfin forest and near the Polylepis
trees we saw our first Viscacha. Night in Cochabamba, Hostal Florida, where we
could dry our things up.
seen at Carrasco N. Pk.: 40 species
14: Cochabamba-Lake Poopo
the main Cochabamba-La Paz road, through a mountain pass at about 4’800m and
first Llamas and Alpacas. Good road, many kids and dogs bagging at the side of
Caracollo we headed south through the sad-looking mining town of Oruro and then
to Lake Uru Uru, almost totally dry and holding only Yellow-billed pintail.
Another long drive with Andean lapwings, Puna ibis, Mountain caracara on the
way till we reached Lake Poopo, much drier than we expected it to be in the rainy
season. At Challapata we entered a rough 4x4 trail towards the lake, first
along a river (Crested and Speckled ducks, Black-crowned night heron, Andean
flicker), then through some abandoned fields and than just off road till the
soil was hard enough to hold the car’s weight. Borrowing and Short-eared owls,
Chimango caracara, Black-winged ground-dove, Common and Puna miners. And many Ctenomys
rodents all over the place. Chilean flamingos visible far in the horizon,
the soil being too muddy to get closer and the birds being too shy because of
human persecution (hunted for food). We camped in the middle of nowhere again,
underneath an incredibly beautiful, chilly night sky.
15: Lake Poopo-Salar de Uyuni
sunrise with a group of wild Vicuñas and fresh Lesser Rhea’s paw prints. The
water in the lake too far to get any closer, we headed back towards the main
road with a large Black-chested buzzard-eagle. Very dusty long drive with
Quinoa fields before the white Salar de Uyuni finally appeared on the horizon.
A stop near a little river on the way brought a few Bair’d sandpipers. At
Colchani we stopped at a “garage” to add a plastic cover underneath the car’s
engine and we took the “mechanic” along as a guide in this endless, flat, white
place. A visit to the salt-Hotel at the entrance of the Salar is a must. After
an 80km drive on the flat salt crust, at Incahuasi Island, a trail takes you
through thousand-year old cactus (growing 1cm per year) Golden-spotted
ground-dove, and Black-hooded Sierra-finch, but we continued another 10km to
finally “land” on our target place, Isla Pescado. Nobody around, very cold wind
blowing at sunset.
seen at Uru Uru and Lake Poopo: 34 species
16: Salar de Uyuni-Potosì
start could not be missed in such a place, it looked like being in the middle
of Antarctica! Black-hooded Sierra-finch, an unidentified “rufous-capped”
ground-tyrant and lovely Viscachas. A pity we soon had to head back, it would
have been great to walk the 10 km distance to Incahuasi Island! At Colchani the
car received a first “car wash” and then the second in Uyuni. No more than 10km
after Uyuni we had our first flat tire but we decided to trust our luck and our
second spare tire and keep driving the very long 200km to Potosì. Our first and
only 4 Lesser Rheas along this road that soon turned out to hold the best
scenery we’ve seen in our Bolivian trip! Landscape of stunning beauty for at
least 100km, a real pity we didn’t have time to stop and camp here! Some 30km
before Potosì we had our second flat tire and so we only reached the town dead
tired again, by night. Night at the nice and recently renovated Jerusalem hotel
(20$/double room with bathroom).
the highest town in the world but one only feels the 4’000m when walking the
uphill streets. Here taking an Aspirin can really help! Visiting the water
reservoir from 4’500m, the many lakes above town, we added Silvery grebes,
Grey-breasted seedsnipe, Andean flicker, Rock earthcreeper, Puna ground-tyrant,
Ash-breasted sierra-finch. Another 2-3 hour drive to Sucre (2’790m) on a smooth
paved road through a very man-made habitat. Sucre is a very nice town and
deserves a visit. Colonial white buildings, lots of flowers and friendly
athmosphere. Night at Hostal Los Pinos (18$/double room with bathroom).
seen round Potosì: 18 species
Sucre we did some birding along a side dirt road with Black-billed
shrike-tyrant, Great pampa-finch and Bolivian blackbird. After Aiquile
the landscape got nicer, dry but green vegetation. Two flat tires together this
time! Cliff parakeets on the way. Along the beautiful Saipina Valley we
suddenly had an incredible meeting with the endangered Red-fronted macaw,
what saw the three of us jumping out of the car to enjoy no less than 20 of
this endangered birds playing swiftly on the wings. What a luck and what a
sight! At San Isidro we had our tires fixed and by night, very tired again, we
reached Hotel Paraiso (11$/double room with bathroom) in Comarapa.
along another dirt side road just after Comarapa to admire blooming cactus and
other already familiar birds, including Andean condor. Round lunch time,
nauseated by the too long days in the car, we arrived in Samaipata, where we
discovered that our friend Fabio got pretty sick indeed.
The 12 day
birding tour brought us many species of birds and took us in very interesting
places, but honestly, the second part up the Altipiano included too many long
driving hours and too little birding. Michael really knows his birds and the
area between Samaipata and Cochabamba and without his help the many Bolivian ssp
could not have been identified. Anyway, if we would have to do it again we
would have simply taken him for the first week and then rent a car with driver
to do the Altipiano, where there are fewer birds. Night at La Vispera.
In total we
did 2’730km, to and from Santa Cruz..
19-29: around Samaipata
originally planned to spend Christmas visiting La Paz and Titicaca lake with
Fabio, but because he was too sick we decided to stay in Samaipata with him
instead. Honestly, the idea of another 16 hour/one way long bus trip to La Paz
wasn’t temping at all and actually we managed to see places round this nice
village we would have missed otherwise. For the next 10 days we stayed at the
simple but comfortable Hotel Don Jorge (7$/double room with bathroom), situated
inside the village.
with the local guide Don Gilberto, we took the 5 hour hike through nice valleys
to El Fuerte. He doesn’t speak English nether he knows the birds but we had a
good time, adding Squirrel cockoo. Two unidentified tinamous, a big and a small
one, took off in front of us a couple of times; we are not sure but we thought
them to be Red-winged and Darwin’s.
Volcán & Cuevas waterfalls:
only need a taxi for the whole day (20$) to take you the some 50km, down
towards Santa Cruz, to the beginning of the dirt road to Laguna Volcán
(signposted) facing the beautiful red rock you’ll certainly notice from the
road. The 2.5km hike to the lagoon (1’150m) starts here, take plenty of time
because there are plenty of birds to watch on the way! Arriving early, but not
too early, in the morning with the first rising thermals we had three King
vultures together in a mix flock with Turkey and Black ones. At the Lagoon we
were supposed to pay a little entrance but there was nobody there. We didn’t
see the Andean duck, but breeding Pied-billed grebe, Plumbeous kite, Wattled
Jacana, Green-cheeked parakeet, Chestnut-eared aracari, what could be a Crested
oropendola (not well seen) and many incredibly elegant Swallow-tailed kites.
On the way
back we stopped at Cuevas waterfall, the 5 Bolivianos entrance fee is
definitely worthy, Swallow tanager, Grey-necked wood-rail, Swainson’s thrush,
Brown-capped vireo, Pectoral sparrow and plenty of Swallow-tailed kites again.
We really enjoyed this exciting day!
N.Pk from Samaipata
the cloud wrapped round the mountain tops, where Amboró N.Pk. begins, doesn’t
really feel attractive on a sunny blue-sky day, but once you enter the
fascinating cloud forest not even the mud bothers anymore!
N.Pk.-Las Yunga (2’300m):
organised this hike with another local (German) guide Frank (not a birder) and
because he was not available today, Yolly, his assistant, came with us. 45$
including the taxi taking us the some rough 25km to the beginning of the trail,
inside the cloud forest. Nearly 3 hours hiking down and up again inside a wet
tree fern forest. Very frustrating birding but nice place to see.
N.Pk.-Las Lauras (2’200m):
Frank came with us (50$ car included), 1.30 h 4x4 drive along another even
rougher road, the last section being inside a private property you need a key
to enter. 15 Bolivianos/each to pay at the very friendly people living at the
beginning of the trail, but the price also included coffee and excellent
cheese-empanadas on the way back! As soon as we entered the forest, good to
bring some adrenaline, we discovered fresh Jaguar paw prints in the mud. We
knew the big cat was there somewhere and even though we didn’t see it, we knew
it certainly did see us! The very nice 5 hour hike in this wet green jungle
added Masked trogon, Blue-banded toucanet and a close by male Crested quetzal!
another 2 hours from half the drive back to Samaipata, in the hot and bright
many morning hikes exploring a good part of the dirt roads, trails and cow
trails round the village of Samaipata. Even though it got very difficult to add
new species, we managed to add Planalto hermit and Green violet-ear, enjoying
anyway our stay.
seen round Samaipata: 59 species
30: Samaipata-Santa Cruz
morning helping our friend Fabio getting organised to come back to Switzerland
with us. Later we took our last espresso taxi to Santa Cruz. Night at Hotel
Cañada, hot and humid air.
31: Santa Cruz-Europa
from Viru Viru airport, in a very hot day, at 16.20 with VARIG to São
Paulo/Brazil and from there at 23.45 departure to Milan/Malpensa where we
arrived after a smooth and quite flight on January 1, at 14.20. Thousands of
fire works exploding underneath us, all over São Paulo, to welcome 2003 at
Ricceri & Marco Salvioni