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Community-Based Tourism in Bolivia

Fanny Steinbeck de Eguez, the mayor of Buena Vista, located just an hour out of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, proudly explains that two years ago her municipality, located just an hour out of Santa Cruz, invested $6,000 to develop what is now a $65,000-a-year, 426-bed tourism industry in Buena Vista and the nearby Amboro National Park. This is significant in a country where a family’s average monthly earnings are $100.

Founded in 1694 by Jesuit priests fleeing the inquisition, Buena Vista is now a place where visitors are welcome to participate with the townspeople in celebrating their history and culture. Local guides are available as interpreters.

Several indigenous communities located on the outskirts of the town offer ethnotourism activities with the help of NGOs such as Care International and Cedet. Visitors can watch the Chiquitanos weave baskets and hats out of wild jipijapa plants and visit with them in their homes.

All 18 families of the Aiquiles Sandoval community donated a total of 350 acres of their land to form a cooperative, UNAPEGA, along the Sukut River. There they built a reception center and a two-kilometer guided nature trail and plan to have camping sites, athletic fields, scenic lookouts, and riverside cabins. Currently, UNAPEGA hosts groups of up to 30 people for a day visit which can include a traditional feast of locro (chicken with sauce and rice), sonso (yuca with cheese and butter), or masaco (fried pork and plantains). To arrange a visit to the Aiquiles Sandoval community, contact the Spanish speaking UNAPEGA office in Buena Vista at 011-591-932-1222 or Santa Cruz 011-591-3-426077.

What is now Amboro National Park was a source of gold for pre-colonial communities. When the Spanish arrived, they forced native tribes to carry sacks of gold to the edges of their regions and the next tribe would carry the gold to the edges of their regions; until the gold reached Santa Cruz. Since the tribes did not communicate, no one knew how much gold was being taken from Amboro or where exactly it came from.

A national park since 1984, Amboro is a vast jungle wilderness home to a few indigenous Yurakaré and Yuki communities, 900 bird species, and countless rare animals, trees, and fish. On a recent visit, I saw Martin and Orku monkeys, parrots, butterflies, bats, hawks, mahogany trees, and “hiergeron” trees whose sap is used to kill fish.

It is best to visit the park from June to November and enter with a guide. The locally trained guides are very knowledgeable. Just ask at the mayor’s office on Buena Vista plaza or call Ricardo Romello in the Santa Cruz office at 011-591-3-330623. Prices range from $15 to $120 per day depending upon the number of persons.

English expatriate and long-time Buena Vista resident Guy Cox also offers spectacular one- and two-night camping and bird watching tours of the Ambro National Park. Before departing, Guy invites guests to accompany him food shopping at the Buena Vista open air markets to select the foods to bring on the excursion. He prepares all meals on the trail. The tour consists of a hike deep into the jungle to La Chonta. Tours cost $50 a day for two people. Contact him in Buena Vista at 011-591-932-2054 or guy_cox@hotmail.com.

Professionally trained and respected tour operator Walter Guzman of Forest Tour Operation in Santa Cruz organizes all types of Amboro tours from his Santa Cruz city office. He speaks some English. Contact him at 011-591-3-548738 or forest@mail.zuper.net.

The Hombre y Medio Ambiente Information Center in Yapacanl, another entrance to the park, an hour and half from Santa Cruz offers guided day tours in Spanish for groups of 11 or more people. Prices range from $18 to $22 per person and include transportation from Santa Cruz, a 40-minute guided hike through the jungle, and lunch. The program is operated by a group of Bolivian university students and faculty. Call or fax 011-591-933-6138 for more information.

In Buena Vista, items of hand-woven fibers, ceramics and other natural materials can be purchased at the kiosk in the plaza principal or at the Arte Campo store near the plaza. Arte Campo is an association of 12 rural artisan groups representing 700 women and their families. Its objective is to strengthen communities and stem urban migration by creating profitable industries within the villages.

At the more economical hotels—such as the Glady Bal (011-591-932-2018), Las Palmeras, Posa Azul, La Cosana, and Nadia—the cost of a room is around 20 Bs ($1=5.81Bs). The more elaborate EcoResort (011-591-933-2048) has a swimming pool and air conditioning. The Cabañas Quimoré, Buena Vista’s first hotel, offers private cabins, entrance to the park, horseback riding, and two- to seven-day tours with scientific experts. Contact them at 011-591-932-2081 in Buena Vista or 011-591-3-4227747 in Santa Cruz.

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