The immense flood plain of the Pantanal covers the eastern edge of Bolivia, continuing out into Brazil and Paraguay. The area is one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the world with lakes, swamps and grasslands and contains flora and fauna typical of many different ecosystems. Often overshadowed by the Amazon as a wildlife viewing destination, the zone has a wide biodiversity that more than competes with its northern neighbor, including over 1,000 species of butterfly, 650 species of bird, 260 of fish, 40 amphibians and 1,650 identified species of plant. In the rainy season, as the area fills up with water, the Pantanal becomes the worldâs largest freshwater wetlands, covering 158,000 km2, bigger than the size of England.
The Bolivian portion of the Pantanal incorporates about 32,000 square kilometers of the total mass. It is however, the most pristine and untouched part of the whole marsh area and has been described as an unrivalled wildlife sanctuary. Here you can see jaguar, spider monkey, toucan, anaconda, caiman, capibara and seriously threatened species such as the marsh deer, giant river otter and Hyacinth Macaw. If you come at the right time, youâre far more likely to see these animals than anywhere in the Amazpn. There are two protected areas within the Bolivian Pantanal: the Ãrea de Manejo Integrado San MatÃas to the north and the Parque Nacional y Ãrea Natural de Manejo Integrado Otuquis to the south. The first of these incorporates 2.9 million hectares, is the second largest protected area in Bolivia and includes highly diverse Dry Chiquitano Forest. The two main settlements in the Pantanal area are Puerto Suarez and Puerto Quijarro, both of which are close to the Brazilian border. There is also the town of San MatiÃ¡s, the gateway to the neighboring national park, and a number of indigenous communities. Puerto Suarez is situated on the shores of Laguna CÃ¡ceres, at the heart of the Pantanal. There are a number of hotels in town, of varying levels of comfort.
Hotel Sucre(3-976-2069), on Avenida Bolivar in front of the main plaza, has comfortable singles, doubles and triples with A/C, private bathrooms and TV for between $24 and $34. Thereâs also a restaurant here that serves breakfast ($1.50-$3), lunch ($3) and dinner ($5.50-$9). You can find lots of other accommodation options along Avenida Bolivar, including Hotel Ejecutivo (3-976-2270). There are plenty of eating options on this street too, and on the main plaza. Thereâs also a restaurant on the lake, El Mirador.
Puerto Quijarro can be found just 17km to the east of Puerto Suarez, next to the Brazilian border. The Hotel Jardin del Bibosi (Tel: 3-978-2044) is in the centre of town on Avenida Luis Salazar de la Vega. They have a range of stylish quarters from standard rooms to executive suites ($14-$69), a swimming pool, restaurant, internet, garage and a travel agent. Hotel La Cascada (Calle Sucre, Tel: 3-978-2005) also has a good pool and singles, doubles and triples from $26 to $26. There is also a new resort hostel, Tamengo (Calle Costa Rica 57, Tel: 3-978-3356, www.tamengo.com), in Puerto Quijarro, which provides a full service with a book exchange, internet and WiFi, outdoor swimming pool, tour agency and tourist info, volunteer connections in the area, laundry, and football and volleyball pitches. They can also arrange events. Prices start at $8.50 in large dorm, up to $155 for a six person room with private bathroom. Just outside of the center of Puerto Quijarro, in the Arroyo ConcepciÃ³n region, youâll find the Hotel Pantanal, a luxury resort with standard single rooms from $79, up to $140 for a junior suite. Here you get all the trimmings â restaurant, outdoor swimming pool, sauna and tennis, football and volleyball courts. They also have horseback riding available for guests, where you visit caves located on the property, and organise trips out into the Pantanal and other attractions in the area.
San MatÃas also has a range of accommodation available, including Hotel Las Palmas (Av. BolÃvar, Tel: 3-979-2333) and Residencial Bolivia (Av. Barrientos, Tel: 3-979-2151). You can also find a wide selection of hotels along Avenida RenÃ© Barrientos. The town has plenty of phone shops and there is also a bank here. For tourist information in San MatÃas, Puerto SuÃ¡rez or Puerto Quijarro, head to the alcadÃa in any of these settlements, or try any of the places listed in tour opetrators. Puerto SuÃ¡rez has a Bisa bank and Banco UniÃ³n, a large supermarket, hospital, pharmacies, and internet and phone shops. There is also a ProSalud hospital in Puerto Quijarro, phone shops and internet access.
Other places nearby The Bolivian Pantanal: La Higuera, Yacuiba, Parque Nacional Kaa-lya del Gran Chaco, Villamontes, San JosÃ© de Chiquitos, San Javier, San Miguel de Velasco, Vallegrande, San Rafael and Santa Cruz.