Northeast of Cochabamba, the main road to Santa Cruz crosses the last ridge of the Andes and drops down into the CHAPARE, a broad, rainforest-covered plain in the Upper Amazon Basin that has been heavily settled by peasant migrants from the highlands, who over the last few decades have turned the region into the main source in Bolivia of coca grown to manufacture cocaine. For the traveller, the ongoing conflict between cocaine producers and Bolivian government troops means that despite its great natural beauty the Chapare is not the place for expeditions far off the beaten track. For all the region’s troubles, however, the towns along the main Cochabamba to Santa Cruz road are peaceful and safe to visit, though most are fairly unattractive. The exception is Villa Tunari, a one-time narco-traffickers’ playground that is now at the centre of efforts to promote the Chapare as a tourist destination. The rainforests of the Parque Nacional Carrasco are within easy reach, and the town enjoys a beautiful setting and is a good place to relax. Otherwise, the main point of stopping in the Chapare is to make the exciting river trip from Puerto Villarroel, the region’s main port, north to Trinidad in the Beni.
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