Located in Bolivia's enormous Amazon River Basin, Madidi National Park and its buffer zones cover 7,320 square miles of prime watershed and forest habitat. Together with neighboring reserves and parks, Madidi forms one of the world's largest and most diverse protected areas—a 15 million-acre patchwork referred to as the Madidi Mosaic. The Manu National Park, Tambopata-Candamo Reserve and Bahuaja-Sonene National Park in Peru form the western bulwarks of this international conservation collective.
Madidi's territory evokes South America in miniature; its borders include rainforest, montane dry forest, cloud forest, paramo grassland, lush canyons, and Andean glaciers. The list of charismatic megafauna is similarly diverse; jaguars, spider monkeys, endemic squirrel monkeys, pumas, tapirs, spectacled bears, giant river otters, and maned wolves work their niches in the various biomes. Biologists surmise that 44% of all Western Hemisphere mammals and 38% of tropical amphibian species reside in this South American ark.
So far, approximately 700 bird species have been observed here. Astonishingly, more than 1,100 are estimated to live within the park—roughly 11% of the planet's avian biodiversity. Marquee examples include Andean Condors, Harpy Eagles, Red-and-Green Macaws, and the crested cotingas known by the name Andean Cock-of-the-rock. In 1990, one observer famously listed 403 species in two weeks on just four miles of Alto Madidi trail.
Madidi is veined with rivers—dark waterways that mirror the surrounding forest. The four main rivers—the Tuichi, Madidi, Quendeque, and Heath—drain six sub-watersheds. These riparian highways serve as biological corridors and cultural conduits.
Towns and roads are rare within the park; however, some villages on the Rio Tuichi and Rio Beni have been granted special UNESCO designations, allowing the use of forest resources to maintain traditional lifestyles. Indigenous groups include the Tacana, Tsimané, and Quechua.
Madidi is most easily accessed through the Beni River town of Rurrenabaque, located near the park's eastern boundary. Scenic flights from La Paz to Rurrenabaque pass over Andean and Amazonian landscapes. These flights depart the capital five times per week, with an average flight time of fifty minutes.
The Serere Sanctuary, a 9,884-acre private reserve on the Beni River, is three hours north of Rurrenabaque by canoe. Serere's goals—funded through tourism—include the support of conservation efforts and expansion the protected areas of the Madidi Mosaic. Guests can stay at the lodge for three or more nights, enjoying exclusive access to the rainforest sanctuary. Each day, local guides lead groups of up to six guests on wildlife viewing hikes and canoe trips.
Chalalan Ecolodge, deep within Madidi, rests on the shore of Chalalan Lagoon. Operated by members of the indigenous San Jose de Uchupiamonas community, this rustic lodge focuses on birding and cultural interaction. Guests hike jaguar paths and canoe the surrounding waterways, learning from native guides who expertly identify camouflaged fauna and beneficial flora. Reaching Chalalan is part of the adventure; visitors travel south of Rurrenabaque on the Beni River, and then northwest on the Tuichi River, stopping en route for hikes and wildlife viewing. The trip to the lodge from Rurrenabaque takes about 5.5 hours. The return trip is considerably shorter—about three hours. The lodge itself rests on the shore of idyllic Chalalan Lagoon, shrouded by rainforest.
A closer option is the eco-lodge operated by the Tacana community of San Miguel del Bala, forty minutes upstream from Rurrenabaque on the Beni River. The lodge's simple cabins are dispersed throughout the forested property, giving visitors a sense of rainforest immersion. Hiking options include visits to a salitral salt lick, a waterfall pool, and a cool canyon favored by hummingbirds.
Madidi receives about 86 inches of rain per year, two-thirds of which falls during the October to April rainy season. December through March is especially wet, with the possibility of intense downpours. The rainy months are also the warmest, with highs near 90F and lows near 72F. May to August is slightly cooler; highs range from 86F in May and August to 83F in July, with lows near 65F. Year round travel is possible, and each season has its advantages. However, the sunnier skies and cooler conditions from May to August are generally viewed as the most comfortable.
The eco-lodges in and around Madidi are rustic, but comfortable. Visitors should be prepared for limited electricity, rare hot water, simple food, and the occasional six or eight-legged cabin visitor. Hammocks, mosquito nets, private bathrooms, and friendly staff ease the transition.
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