Surrounded by nature, Riberalta is situated in the fork of the RÃo MamorÃ© and the RÃo Beni and is encircled by lean tropical forests. The town is fuelled by cattle ranching and Brazil nuts, with most of the townâ€™s population working in one of these two industries. Like most Bolivian towns, life revolves around the main plaza, where the friendly locals take shade in the tropical heat. The rivers provide sandy beaches to relax on, and abundant fishing, while the thick forests are perfect for walks to enjoy the abundant flora and fauna.
Alongside the neighboring towns of GuayaramerÃn and Cachuela Esperanza, Riberalta came into existence as a hub for exploiting the treasures of the rainforest, in this case rubber and Brazil nuts. In the late 19th century, there was an influx of entrepreneurs from all over the world, eager to exploit the huge rubber resources in the area. Industry boomed and a number of towns sprung up, the first being Cazuela Esperanza in 1882. By the 1920s however, the industry had gone onto decline, due to dropping rubber prices after the First World War and the immergence of new plantations in Asia.
Today, Riberalta is a major Amazonian town, with a laid-back atmosphere and an average temperature of around 26 degrees. There is an attractive cathedral on the main plaza, which was completed in the 1990s but incorporates the facade of the original early 20th century structure. The spacious open interior (the cathedral is the biggest in the Bolivian Amazon) has cedar rafters and recent religious artwork inside.
Outside of town you can visit the parquet mirador la costanera, which commemorates the only stream ship to have traversed the rivers of the Bolivian Amazon, la lancha Tahuamanu, and has good views over the river and forest; or travel the seven kilometers to the clear waters and fishing at lake el Prado. There is also the lake at Tumichucua, 21 kilometers from Riberalta and in the middle of virgin forest. You can stay here at the Centro de FormaciÃ³n Vicariato de Pando casa de retiro â€˜San Luisâ€™ (Tel: 3-852-3432).
There are a couple of Brazil nut plants in the southern part of Riberalta that receive visitors with the ownerâ€™s permission. Here you can learn about the process of producing Brazil nuts â€“ from removing them from the coconut to the drying process. Beneficiadora Vargas can be found at Av. Wilfredo Barba and Av. Fuerza Naval, southeast of Plaza Conavi, and Beneficiadora Manutata is at Av SimÃ³n BolÃvar and Av. HÃ©roes del Chaco, near the bus station.
Riberalta has plenty of accommodation, for example the Hotel Colonial, a block from the plaza (Av. PlÃ¡cido MÃ©ndez 745, Tel: 3-852-3018). Other lodging options include Hotel Campos (Av. Gabriel RenÃ© Moreno near Av. Cosme GutiÃ©rrez, Tel: 3-852-3691), Hotel BahÃa (Av. MÃ¡ximo Henike, Tel: 3-852-2606) with views of the river, the good-value Residencial Los Reyes (Av. Sucre between Av. La Paz and Av.Oruro, Tel: 3-852-2615) near the airport, and rooms with shared bathroom at Hotel Lazo (Av. Nicanor Gonzalo Salvatierra 244, Tel: 3-852-2380) a few blocks from the plaza.
Like most towns in the area, fish and meat are a specialty in Riberalta. There are plenty of restaurants in and around the main plaza, including, Club Social, Restaurante ConfiterÃa â€˜Horno Cambaâ€™ and La Parrills, south of the plaza on Av. Doctor MarrtinÃ©z. You can pick up juices or snacks at the Mercado Central or at one of the heladerÃas dotted around town
There are a couple of phone shops and an internet cafe on the main plaza, plus the post office. The Banco Mercantil on the south side of the plaza will change travelerâ€™s checks and Prodem (Av. NicolÃ¡s SuÃ¡rez 454, Tel: 3-852-2959, second agency at central market) can give cash advances with commission. Thereâ€™s no ATM. You can hire motorbikes from the corner of Av. NicolÃ¡s SuÃ¡rez and Av. Gabriel RenÃ© Moreno.
Other places nearby Riberalta: San Borja, Rurrenabaque, Trinidad, GuayaramerÃn, Chiquitos, Magdalena, Parque Nacional Noel Kempff Mercado, San Ignacio de Moxos, The Southwest, Salt Flats and Wine Regions and Parque Nacional Madidi.