Northeast of Rurrenabaque, the dense forests of the Andean foothills quickly give way to the Pampas del Yacuma: the vast, swampy grasslands that dominate much of the Beni. Though they have been grazed by cattle for hundreds of years, the pampas still support a great deal of wildlife, particularly along the forested banks of the great rivers that meander across them. The pampas themselves are not that impressive: a great expanse of swamp and tangled cattle pasture with the occasional lake. Tours with the agencies listed here (many of whom now have shared or private lodges in the pampas) are nevertheless worth it just for the amount of wildlife you’ll see along the Río Yacuma.

The Río Yacuma

In the rainy season (roughly Nov–April), the Río Yacuma river bursts its banks and floods great expanses of the surrounding grasslands, causing wildlife to become more dispersed and breeding ferocious mosquitoes. In the dry season, however, it’s reduced to a narrow river that attracts an amazing abundance of fauna. Sinister black-and-white caymans – some over 2m long – lounge on the muddy banks, slipping quietly into the water as you pass; turtles queue up to sun themselves on logs protruding from the water; groups of capybara, the world’s largest rodent, watch with apparent indifference as canoes pass right in front of their noses. Most spectacular of all, though, are the pink freshwater dolphins, known as bufeos, that fish and play in the wide bends of the river. In addition, all manner of birds live on the banks, including herons, three different species of kingfisher, elegant roseate spoonbills, massive storks and the clumsy hoatzin.

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