Occupying 16,000 square kilometres of the far northeast on the Brazil border, PARQUE NACIONAL NOEL KEMPFF MERCADO is the country’s most isolated, pristine and spectacular national park, and one of the most remote wilderness regions in South America. Encompassing several different ecosystems including Amazon rainforest, savannah, and scrubby Brazilian cerrado, the UNESCO World Heritage Site supports an astonishing range of wildlife, including over 630 species of birds, eleven species of monkey, all the major Amazonian mammals, pink freshwater dolphins and the highly endangered giant river otter. Moreover, your chances of seeing these animals are much higher here than elsewhere in Bolivia.
Established in 1979 as the Parque Nacional Huanchaca, the park was renamed (and expanded) in 1988 in honour of the pioneering Bolivian biologist and conservationist Noel Kempff Mercado, who was murdered by drug traffickers after stumbling across a secret cocaine laboratory on the Huanchaca plateau. The park was expanded again in 1997 under a pioneering “carbon credit” scheme, whereby two US energy corporations and the oil giant BP paid around $10 million to buy out loggers operating in an adjacent forest area of 6340 square kilometres, which was then added to the park.
The park’s remote location means it is expensive and difficult to visit: even the organized tours can be pretty tough going. The park’s southern border is over 200km from the nearest town, San Ignacio de Velasco, itself another 400km from Santa Cruz. It is also extremely difficult – and often impossible – to visit the park during the rainy season (Nov–May), when the mosquitoes and other insects are also particularly ferocious.