Madidi National Park does wonders to preserve Bolivia’s unique natural heritage but what many may not know is that the park preserves the country’s diverse cultural legacy as well. Tucked deep within the Amazon Basin and dotting the park’s many waterways, community run ecolodges provide economic stability and cultural prosperity to the indigenous people of the region.
Chalalan Ecolodge is one such place, the oldest and most well known of the community run establishments located within Madidi National Park. After years of brainstorming on how to better the lives of local communities, Chalalan Ecolodge was built by the indigenous people of San José de Uchupiamonas in order to preserve their heritage and create a sustainable way of life for those who live in the jungle.
The ecolodge is situated along the banks of the Tuichi River and the Chalalan Lake, a three to five hour upriver ride from Madidi’s jumping of town of Rurrenabaque. Built with local materials and using indigenous building techniques, Chalalan blends in with the jungle environment, careful not to disturb the surrounding area. Traditional and rustic Tacana-style cabins accommodate only up to 40 gusts at any one time, careful to keep in mind the balance between the human and animal and natural population of jungle.
Chalalan Ecolodge is about the most culturally and naturally authentic experience one can get in Madidi National Park without sacrificing too many of the luxuries many travelers have become accustomed to. The interior space of the cabins and bathrooms have been modeled to look as luxurious as many five star hotels. Additionally, a generator provides electricity for a few hours every evening, just enough time for Chalalan’s guests to charge up their cameras for the next incredible jungle day. However, while some amenities are available to make the experience a comfortable one for visitors to Madidi National Park, the mission of Chalalan is to provide its guests with an authentic Amazonian experience, and that they do.
Daily activities include jungle hikes with locally raised and extremely knowledgeable guides who along the tour make sure to point out the various native uses of local flora as well as perfectly imitate the mating calls of the areas native animals in an effort to lure them out of their deep jungle hiding spaces. The jungle walks are both exciting and educational; visitors to Chalalan are given the opportunity to get to know the Amazon intimately and first hand. Along with a number of hikes, canoe rides and other nature based activities, Chalalan also allows guests to mingle with Madidi’s unique cultural heritage.
At night or when not touring guests through the surrounding jungle, the guides hang out with guests in the ecolodge’s community spaces, sharing their stories, histories and traditions with those who are interested. Handmade crafts produced at the village of San José de Uchupiamonas, located three hours away, are also available for guests at Chalalan to study or purchase.
Chalalan was built to blend in with its surroundings both naturally and culturally. Because of this, visitors to the ecolodge have the privilege of experiencing Madidi National Park closely and genuinely from within. The ecolodge as well as others in the area protect the natural environment by allowing the beauty of unbridled nature to be a source of economic profit, rather than create the necessity for others to destroy the environment looking for monetary gain. Culturally, Chalalan provides a sustainable economic system to local communities and preserves the areas rich human heritage by incorporating that history into the destination and ultimate experience. A visit to Madidi National Park and Chalalan Ecolodge is an experience no visitor will soon forget and like many of the ecolodges past guests, may be one you’ll come to repeat again and again.