Bolivia is a country that has a special place in my heart. (And so does Christi Sue Penland, a girl I dated from Bolivia). The country, especially the capital city, La Paz, is just a trip. Almost 13,000 feet above sea level, high in the Andes, most people don’t have the constitution to do well (at first) in the capitol. Not much grows, and everything, from houseflies to airplanes, have difficulty in the high high altitude.
Can such a place be ideal for eco-tourism? When travelers think of ecotourism destinations, places like Costa Rica or Belize come to mind, but not Bolivia. However, This is about to change because the indigenous people known as the Tacanas, of Bolivia’s Amazon region, are banking on ecotourism as an alternative way to make a living.
Located at the banks of the Beni River in the village of San Miguel del Bala, the Tacanas, about 5,000 in population throughout the area, built an eco-lodge that includes seven cabins, made of local materials including dry palm leaves and native wood. The cabins are scattered throughout the area, providing privacy inside the rainforest. The remote lodging is accessible by way of a 40-minute boat ride from the small town of Rurrenbaque in Northern Bolivia.
While at the lodge, guests can go trek through different trails that lead out from the lodge. These excursions teach visitors about ancient hunting techniques, and medicinal plants found in the rainforest. Guests can also visit a salitral cave where wildlife roam freely or a natural pool and waterfall. After a long day of hiking the forest, guests enjoy local cuisine such as grilled fish wrapped in the leaves of the dunucuabi plant. Visitors can also visit with one of the Tacana families in one of their houses made of palm leaves and bamboo.
According to the Latin American Herald Tribune the 45 Tacana families that live in San Miguel de Bala are primarily fishermen and farmers. The community’s leader, Biter Supa, told the Tribune that lack of electricity and health care are the Tacana’s main problems. But, that they do have potable water and a local school which the roughly 60 children living in the village attend.
Near the lodge is Madidi National Park, consisting of 4.5 million acres of land located between the northeastern area of La Paz province and on the border of Peru. The park is one of the largest biodiversity regions in the world and is home to 1,000 animal species including jaguar, spectacled bear, tapir, and capybara. It’s also home to approximately 6,000 varieties of plants.
Some of the park has been designated as Tierras Comunitarias de Origen (TCOs), by the government, which can be described as similar to the Native American reservations throughout the U.S. The area is set-aside for the indigenous communities to continue their traditions and to have a permanent home in the region.
According to Nicolas Janco, with the Mashaquipe tourist agency who spoke with the Latin American Herald Tribune, “Tourism is an engine that is helping us greatly to improve our quality of life. Especially for the Tacana.” He is currently lobbying the Bolivian government to promote the indigenous-populated rainforest area as a tourist destination.
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