Adventures in the Bolivian Pantanal

Rio Paraguai, tri-border area

“We usually eat them whole, with our hands.”   She mimed chomping across the bony flesh, then gestured to the knife and fork on the table. “But you can use those.”

Piranhas have a fearsome reputation but most of the time they’re harmless enough. Just don’t get into the water with them during mating season.


The Parque Nacional Otoquis, or the Bolivian Pantanal, sits hard up against the border of Brazil, an immense wetland swimming with towering jabiru storks, caiman slowly roasting on the shore and families of capybara. Yet it receives only a tiny fraction of the tourists that visit the Brazilian Pantanal.

Jabiru storks


Why?   The answer partly lies in infrastructure. Although the road that takes you close to the entrance of the park is paved (thanks to the immense iron ore mine, Mutun, one of the largest in the world), once you pass the military checkpoint it’s bumpy and rutted all the way to the end of the line at Puerto Busch, an outpost of the Bolivian navy, 137 km away. Don’t even think about it without a 4×4 in the wet season.


Storks in the Bolivian Pantenal


We were heading further down river, to the tri-border area and the Tres Gigantes research station.

Tri-border area Brazil/Bolivia/Paraguay


The watery border marked a hazy line – over there, Bolivia, over here, Paraguay. This second visit to Paraguay felt even stranger than the first – no official stamp this time. We’d passed a border post and stopped briefly upriver, but you couldn’t help feeling this would be a good place to disappear.

While you’ll find a few people on the dirt road to Puerto Busch (mostly families on fishing trips at the weekend), once you’re out on the water it’s an isolated, hypnotically beautiful, wilderness.



Tres Gigantes is a biological research station with a handful of permanent residents, but we were the only ones staying in the lodge.

The high water level meant the giant anteater (one of the ‘three giants’) stayed away, but dozens of birds, snakes and the occasional caiman sighting kept us busy. If you’ve never slept under a parakeet roost, be prepared to be woken at dawn!

Green rafts of floating plants appeared and disappeared over night, offering a different view every morning.

Catching fish in the Pantanal


One evening I took a canoe out as the sun set, the sky a blaze of pinks and oranges shimmering on the water. It can’t have lasted more than a few minutes, but it’s something so magical I can only recommend going there and experiencing it for yourself.



The jumping-off point for the Parque Nacional Otoquis is the border town of Puerto Quijarro, or the nicer Puerto Suarez. Puerto Suarez is currently served by two flights a week from Santa Cruz with Transporte Aereo Militar.

To visit Tres Gigantes from Bolivia, we travelled with Amboro Tours.  You can also visit from Paraguay but access is more difficult due to the isolated nature of this part of the country.


I’m linking this post up with a new travel blog hop, #wanderfulwednesday. Find the hosts of this at the sites below and join in every Wednesday at 8am GMT. 

Marcella :

Lauren :

Van :

Isabel :

15 Comments Add yours

  1. Moritz says:

    Such beautiful pictures. I’m tottally fascinated by the nature in Bolivia. It must be really amazing to be there for longer :)

    1. Claire says:

      Thanks Moritz! It’s a special place.

      1. Moritz says:

        It definitely is. You are welcome! :)

  2. This looks amazing! I didn’t visit while I was in Bolivia so thanks so much for sharing some information about this area as I think it’s one that isn’t well known to that many people. Gorgeous photos too!! Thanks so much for linking up with #WanderfulWednesday, hope to see you again next week! :)

    1. Claire says:

      Thanks Marcella!

  3. Isabel says:

    Wow Claire. Thank you for sharing with us such a magical natural place! In which season did you visited by the way?

    1. Claire says:

      Thanks Isabel! We visited in July, the dry season.

  4. I love your way of story-telling – great intro! :) I have to admit, I know next to nothing about Bolivia so thanks for sharing this!! It seems like a fascinating country!

    1. Claire says:

      Thanks, that’s nice of you to say!

  5. Oooooo now that I’m living in South America I’m always on the lookout for new destinations and this looks great!! Canoeing into the sunset sounds like a dream! :D .. Thanks so much for linking up with us!! :D

  6. Wow, what an incredible place. Thank you for sharing somewhere so off the beaten track :)

    1. Claire says:

      You’re welcome. Thanks for stopping by!

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