The flight to Madidi foreshadows the parkâ€™s tremendous topographic diversity. The small airplane provides front row seats to some of the worldâ€™s highest peaks including IllampĂş (21,276 feet/6,424 meters), Illimani (21,201 feet/6,322 meters), and Huayna Potosi (19,974 feet/6,088 meters). The view is up close and personal: note the roadways wending across the steep landscape, past houses perched on craggy hillsides and nestled in rugged crevasses. Just beyond the highest ridge, the snow covered Apolobamba range plunges into the warm, humid lowlands of the Amazon Basin. Following the landscape, the plane swoops over cliffs, gliding past small farms and densely wooded areas, finally coming to rest on the grassy runway in Rurrenabaque.
Boasting 200 species of mammals, 1,000 species of birds, and 100,000 varieties of insects and arachnids, Madidi is one of the most biologically diverse protected areas on Earth. Birders will be pleased to hear that nearly 1,000 species of birds call Madidi home (in contrast to the mere 800 in all of North America!). An uncounted number of plant species can be found in Madidi; during a recent reconnaissance trek, researchers identified 15 new species of fern flourishing in a single valley of the cloud forest. The physical environs include rainforest and cloud forest, the Amazonâ€™s only pristine savannah, not to mention a series of class five rapids and world class fly-fishing along the Tuichi, a major tributary to the Amazon.
If you donâ€™t like spiders and snakes, instead check out the birds and monkeys. Formerly a hunting area for the Tacana indigenous community, ChalalĂˇn was home to little wildlife ten years ago. Today birders (and non-birders) can view the Amazon screamer, midget kingfisher, birds of paradise, nesting hummingbirds and more. With careful coaching from a guide, the less experienced birdwatchers can learn to spot the flocks of blue and gold macaws and handsome toucans socializing in dense canopy overhead.
If the idea of 1,000 species of birds doesnâ€™t excite your senses, keep your eyes peeled for tree frogs bouncing along the branches of walking cypress trees or snakes slithering up one of the at least six varieties of palm trees or across the strangler vines. Besides creatures of avian, arachnid, and amphibian origins, the 25 kilometers of trails that wind through ChalalĂˇn harbor a host of other interesting creatures. Palm-sized, brilliant blue moths flitter alongside shimmering butterflies creating an intense kaleidoscope of colors. The lucky may see a puma or red brocket deer: fresh tracks often parallel the trail.
If your daytime trek leaves you hungry for more wildlife, take a night hike through the boggy understory, where you might spy the laser-like red eyes of caimans and the hammock-shaped webs of social spiders (the ultimate arachnid extroverts of the rainforest, the social spiders congregate in groups numbering in the hundreds). You might even catch an anaconda or a tree boa in the beam of your flashlight. Visitors often come face to face with tapirs, peccaries or wild pigs and capybaras, the worldâ€™s largest rodent.
This bastion of biodiversity is also a great place to spot monkeys swinging from the trees. Bands of hundreds of yellow squirrel monkeys socialize along the rivers and lakes. Brown capuchin monkeys look like the monks for which they are named, while the piercing shrills of red and black howler monkeys crash through the canopy. Keep an eye out for the newly discovered golden titi monkey, a shy family man that travels in small groups through this area.
Return through Rurrenabaque on Sunday and experience market day. Dugouts brimming with bananas and other products tie up on the muddy bank. Locals shop for necessities from fuel to oranges, plastic hair clips to mosquito nets. While you await your plane, check out the emu at the Safari hotel or grab a brew and round of fresh air billiards at the aptly named Mosquito Bar. Regardless of how long you spend exploring this astounding area, youâ€™re sure to leave feeling like youâ€™ve just scratched the surface of what Madidi has to offer.