Santa Cruz is in Bolivia’s Amazonian Basin, surrounded by jungles, with the hot, humid climate of a rain forest. So the existence of a massive field of sand dunes just sixteen kilometers south of the city is a geological marvel. On our very last day in Bolivia, we visited Las Lomas de Arena, declared a National Park in 1990.
Seven kilometers outside of Santa Cruz, the Biocenter Güembé combines aspects of a resort, a natural recreation park, a swimming pool, and a zoo. We visited for half a day and could happily have stayed for much longer, relaxing by the pool or exploring the grounds more thoroughly.
If you’re going to call yourself “Island of the Sun”, you had better be pretty awesome. Island of the Tick and Sock Isle, you guys can go ahead and suck: we’re not expecting much from you. But an island named after the entity around which our world rotates, which provides warmth and life to everything on the planet? You had better be freaking amazing. And with some crazy Inca ruins, a central role in ancient mythology, and a gorgeous setting in the world’s highest navigable lake, the Isla del Sol definitely delivers.
Though we didn’t enjoy our time in the city of Copacabana, there were plenty of interesting things to see in the immediate area. This was a place of extreme importance for the Inca Empire and pre-Inca tribes, and a number of centuries-old ruins still exist today.
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.