From Puertos Barador or Almacén, some 15km southwest of Trinidad (a motorbike taxi will take you for around Bs20), you can get a ride on the regular cargo boats that ply the waters of the Río Mamoré, either downstream to Guayaramerín on the Brazilian border or upstream as far as Puerto Villarroel in the Chapare. In places more than 3km wide, the mighty Mamoré – its name means “Great Mother” in Moxeño – was once one of the great waterways of the Bolivian Amazon and still sees a good deal of traffic. Canoes, barges and double-decker river boats ply its silt-laden waters, carrying supplies to the isolated communities along the river bank, collecting cargoes of timber or bananas, and carrying cattle downstream to markets in Brazil.
Travelling this way is one of the classic Amazon experiences, and an excellent way to get a feel for the immense scale of the forest and the lifestyle of its inhabitants. The river boats glide through the forest at a languid pace, with plenty of opportunities for spotting wildlife along the way, particularly cayman, pink river dolphins and innumerable birds. Every so often the dense vegetation of the river bank breaks to reveal a riverside settlement, usually no more than a cluster of thatched houses on stilts. For the villagers, isolated in the midst of this immense wilderness, the arrival of a boat can be the main event of the day, and if yours stops to load or unload cargo it’s likely to be besieged by locals selling bananas or fish, or simply seeking the latest news and gossip from upriver.