Forty kilometres west of Santa Cruz, PARQUE NACIONAL AMBORÓ spans 4300 square kilometres of a great forest-covered spur of the Andes. Situated at the confluence of the Andes, the Amazon rainforest and the Northern Chaco, and ranging in altitude from 3300m to just 300m above sea level, Amboró’s steep, densely forested slopes support an astonishing biodiversity. Over 830 different types of bird have been recorded here – the highest confirmed bird count for any protected area in the world – including rarities such as the cock-of-the-rock, red-fronted and military macaws and the blue-horned curassow or unicorn bird, which was once thought to have been extinct. There are also jaguars, giant anteaters, tapirs and several species of monkey. Its enormous array of plant and insect species, meanwhile, is still largely unexplored. This biological wealth is all the more amazing given that Amboró is so close to Santa Cruz. You must be accompanied by a guide (roughly Bs150–200 per day) – best organized before setting out through a travel agency or hotel in Buena Vista or Samaipata – to enter the park.
The national park, established in 1984, was expanded in 1990 to encompass some 6300 square kilometres. However, by this time the park’s fringes were already under huge pressure from poor peasant farmers, who began clearing the forest for agriculture, as well as hunting and logging inside the park boundaries. In 1995, amid rising tension, the Bolivian government gave in to political pressure and reduced the park by two thousand square kilometres, creating a “Multiple-Use Zone” around its borders. This buffer zone is now largely deforested, and the peasant farmers are beginning to encroach on the remaining park area. The easiest parts of the park to reach are also the most likely to have been affected by this encroachment, though the pristine interior regions of the park are deliberately kept relatively inaccessible. Nonetheless, the park refuges are set amid splendid, largely intact rainforest, and the chances of spotting wildlife are fairly high. The park’s higher-altitude southern section, which includes beautiful cloudforests, can only be visited from Samaipata.