The biggest tourist draw in Villa Tunari is Parque Machía, just across the river from the village. The park is home to a non-profit organization called Inti Wara Yassi, dedicated to caring for sick or previously captive animals. Our visit was a bizarre experience, as interesting as it was troubling, and has become a constant topic of conversation between me and Juergen. Rehabilitating wild animals is usually an inarguably noble endeavor. But with Inti Wara Yassi, we’re not so sure.
We had such a great time during our first hike with José, that we immediately scheduled another: this time through the Parque Nacional Carrasco. Carrasco is one of the most ecologically diverse areas in Bolivia, with a total size of about 2400 square miles. 5000 plant species have been recorded here, including over 200 types of orchids, and the park is home to rare animals like the Andean Spectacled Bear, the taruca (North Andean Deer), the jaguar, and the Andean Cat.
On our second full day in Villa Tunari, we struck out into the rainforests north of the village, under the supervision of José, a great guide with twenty years of experience in the region. A six-hour hike along rivers which left our shoes soaked, legs pockmarked by the itchy bites of vicious flies and minds scarred by our first encounter with quicksand. It was a blast.
La Jungla park in Chipiriri is 30 minutes by taxi from Villa Tunari. It’s an odd enterprise; privately funded and operated by members of the community to take advantage of tourism to the Chapare region. The park is a giant jungle gym, in a more literal sense than usual. With a number of swings and playground constructions for children, and more intense offerings for adults, it’s a fun place to spend a couple hours.
According to our original itinerary, we were to visit the jungles of Rurrenabaque after our stint in Cochabamba. But after looking at the map, we altered our plans and instead checked out the jungles of the Chapare province, much closer to Cochabamba and less frequented by tourists. The capital of Chapare is Villa Tunari.
Built in 1945 with the cooperation of Mexico, Angostura was the biggest irrigation project yet attempted in Bolivia, and still provides over 75 million cubic meters of water to the region, and is a gorgeous place to take a short boat ride.
We were a bit disappointed about the lack of touristy things to do inside the city of Cochabamba. A few interesting buildings and churches, but you would expect more for a city of its size. Luckily, the surrounding areas definitely picked up the slack. Beautiful small towns, mountains for trekking and areas of incredible natural beauty, such as Pairumani Park.
A slightly-alcoholic drink made from fermented corn, chicha is a sickly-yellow beverage hugely popular in Bolivia, especially in and around Cochabamba. It’s always homemade, prepared in huge earthenware vats, where the corn mixture is left to ferment for several days.
One of the most impressive buildings in Cochabamba is the Convent of Santa Teresa, on the corner of Ecuador and Aguirre. This still-active convent of Carmelite nuns was established in 1726, and is now open to the public for tours. The nuns live separated from the rest of humanity, hidden away from prying eyes in sections of the temple which are strictly off-limits.
The charming village of Tarata makes a perfect day trip from Cochabamba. It’s a quick 45-minute trip in a minibus, which costs just five Bolivianos, or about $0.70.
Only about 8000 people live in Tarata, but this town boasts a disproportionate amount of importance in Bolivia’s history.