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.
With our three months in Bolivia almost over, we arrived in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the country's most populous city. The Department of Santa Cruz is Bolivia's biggest state, occupying almost the entire eastern half of the country. Consider: even though Bolivia is one of South America's "small" countries, the department of Santa Cruz is bigger than Germany! The idea that three months would be enough time to comprehensively explore Bolivia was probably a little naive.
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.
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.
Masks are an essential part of Bolivian celebrations, allowing dancers to adopt the personalities which populate the country's myths and legends. Demons, dragons and angels join representations of real-world creatures like bears and beavers.
La Paz has a number of intriguing museums, including one dedicated to the unfairly maligned coca leaf, and another which takes a look at the War of the Pacific, when Bolivia lost its ocean access to Chile. Though we're normally big on museums, we were constantly distracted by the bustling street markets, and never made it to most of La Paz's. But we dared not skip out on the Museo de Etnografía y Folklore, near Plaza Murillo.