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Outdoors in the Green Foliage of Villa Tunari, Bolivia

In Villa Tunari, the main town in the Chapare region of Bolivia, a movie poster hangs on the cement wall. A note attached to it proudly announces that this major Spanish film Tambien La Lluvia was recently filmed on location here. Chapare's landscape of subtropical greenery and rolling hills makes for a lush movie set. Today, hostales and tour activities are popping up to accommodate weekend vacationers looking for a fresh air getaway from nearby Cochabamba.

Just several hours north of the city of Cochabamba by bus, the change of scenery is dramatic. A drop in altitude means warmer nights and a totally different flora and fauna. The forested hills are hospitable to orchids, heavy fern plants, and a vast range of bird wildlife. Along Villa Tunari, the rivers San Mateo and the Esp?ritu Santo converge.

Animal Encounters at Mach?a Park

For visitors staying in Villa Tunari, a nearby highlight is Mach?a Park, a refuge and nature preserve for monkeys and other wildlife. The 36 ha of territory is home to around 120 species of trees and animals such as badgers, a parrots, and three different species of monkeys. Run by the Inti Wara Yassi environmental group, the park specializes in rescuing primates from captivity and reintroducing them into a natural environment. It also offers unique volunteer opportunities for both Bolivians and foreigners.

Before entering, everyone is required to leave all loose possessions - food, drinks, bags, purses, etc, - at the entrance. You can bring cameras for an small additional donation fee but hold on to them closely. Mach?a Park wants to keep the preserve safe, both for the animals and the guests. As a sign states in Spanish, "the park is not responsible for animal bites."

The 3.2 km path inside the park leads to several lookout points to look out onto the town of Villa Tunari, the rivers, and the surrounding mountains. At some point, intrepid spider monkeys are likely to emerge from the thick greenery to gawk and be gawked at. They will be playful, they may even reach for your hand, but mind the signs of caution and handle at your own risk.

Rafting Bolivia in Villa Tunari

Also in Villa Tunari is one of only a few rafting tour operators in the country. The Rafting Bolivia office is located on the west end of town, and you can arrange your rafting trip there for the following morning or afternoon. The price is 150B, which includes transport to the top of the river, equipment, helmet, life vest, and local guides who give instructions and offer help to first-timers.

During the dry months of May through December, the river is low with patches of rapids. During the rainy seasons of January through April, expect higher waters and a wilder ride. At the beginning of the route, look for the single cable that local people use to pull themselves from one side of the river to the other. What looks like a zip line for foreigners is actually an important bridge that requires amazing arm strength for the people of all ages who use it.

The route passes by local fisher men, or boys, who are either casting their lines from the river banks or balanced carefully atop traditional wood fishing rafts. On the calmer stretches of the river, the rafting guides will pull out their own fishing supplies and try their luck. On a good day, they'll pull in a fish and plop it into a bucket destined for the platter of one of the town's several local restaurants, reminding passengers to be sure to include a fresh fish meal in their outdoor getaway to Villa Tunari, Chapare.

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