Chuchini is a little spot of ecological paradise in the tropical forests of
the second largest of Bolivia’s nine departments (states). You’ll find it just 15 kilometers (9.4 miles) north of
the capital of Beni, by taking the highway to the airport until you get just past Loma Suarez (a local naval school) or you can reach this beautiful eco and archeological complex by taking an amazing boat cruise down the
Chuchini was founded by Efrem Hinojosa Hieber, originally from Tarija, who has lived in the area for over 40 years. This family-owned and operated tourist complex is open year-round although access by river is limited to the portions of the year when the river is neither too low nor too high to access the complex through a narrow river channel.
Efrem Hinojosa and his wife instilled in their five children a love for nature that is obvious from the start. What began as a refuge for animals moved out of the failing Trinidad zoo (all animals were cared for, trained and released back into the wild over a period of five years) has now become an important center for the conservation of both wildlife and archeological remnants of the region’s thousands-year old pre-Hispanic mojeño culture.
The Moxos inhabited this region several thousand years ago and were the world’s largest aqua-culture. They built over 20,000 hand-made hills upon which they constructed homes and farms. In addition they constructed immense systems of terraces and channels that cover thousands of square miles throughout the department of Beni. Everywhere you walk you can easily find archeological remnants of this culture just underfoot! At Chuchini you can visit a small museum that houses over 1000 pieces of Moxos pottery as well as human and animal remains found interred in clay pots. Efrem Hinojosa, along with Argentinean, Chilean and Bolivian archeologists Victor Bustos, Bernardo Dougherty, Kenneth Lee and Willan Denevan, led several excavations during which tools, coins, cooking utensils, and other pieces of pottery were found. The Bolivian Institute of Archeology estimates this culture dates back about 5000 years.
You’ll also see other wild animals that have been rescued and are being rehabilitated at Chuchini. Unfortunately, the illegal extraction wildlife from the tropics for sale in cities is still a problem in Bolivia. Many owners of these animals quickly realize they cannot care for these birds and animals and take them to Chuchini to be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. It is Efren’s hope that people will eventually understand the value of the region’s plant life and wildlife and contribute to its conservation rather that its destruction.
At Chuchini, which is several hundred hectares in size, you can take long or short hikes during which you’ll have the chance to observe the natural beauty of the region. You’re guide will also show you some of the species that are native to the area such as pecari, monkeys, parrots, macaws, cranes, and many other beautiful species that are in need of conservation. Chuchini is an excellent area for birdwatching. The department of Beni has more species of birds than any other region of Bolivia. It also has a stunning number of butterfly species, many of which can be seen flitting through the forest as you hike. You’ll also see some of the most beautiful plant and flower species, like some of the over 2000 species of orchids for which Bolivia is famous, or the trees that are the subject of many legends (the bibosi and the motacú) which grow around each other intertwined until the bibosi smothers the motacú and kills it.
Here you can do some fishing (no hunting!) and the family will prepare the fish you catch. Palometas (a species of piranha) are a tasty choice for any meal (even breakfast!) along with delicious locally-grown fruits like papaya, guayaba, and grapefruit. You can also enjoy a dish Eastern Bolivia is famous for – masaco de yuca – along with Bolivia’s most delicious coffees, teas and natural fruit juices.
Take a boat trip down the river, do some waterboarding, swim in the lagoon, go in search of the world-famous pink river dolphins, or go alligator "hunting" in the pitch black of the night with Efrem’s son Efrem (25) who, having grown up at Chuchini, is understandably one of the most knowledgeable people in the region on all things wildlife. He’ll silently paddle a shallow canoe down the black water, under the black sky all the while quietly shining a flashlight up and down the riverbank pointing out the hundreds of alligators sulking under the dense overgrowth. Then, like a flash of lighting, he’s dropped his oar and picked up an alligator out of the water. Young alligators tend to stay out in the center of the river amongst the floating islands of “tarope”, a densely-growing water plant that, if left unchecked, will grow swiftly from one riverbank to the other completely blocking the river. Don’t be frightened. He’s done it so often since his childhood that it’s become as easy as picking flowers to him. (Then he lets them go).
Back at the complex Efrem senior’s wife and daughters (all equally as knowledgeable about the region’s history, archeology, and wildlife and just as adamant about conserving it) are busy preparing succulent meals and snacks for Chuchini’s many guests. Unless it’s raining your meals will be served outside in the shade at the top the hill with a fabulous view of the river below. Lunch usually consists of local traditional foods like majao de pato (duck) or roast chicken, or locro de gallina (a delicious chicken soup). Dinner includes what Beni is known for – beef or other traditional grilled meats - with yucca (manioc), potatoes, fruit and vegetables. Beni is Bolivia’s cattle-ranching capital and second largest agricultural department.
After lunch or dinner, relax in a hammock under the shade of immense trees in a cool Chuchini breeze (because it is located between two rivers, high on a hill, it is usually several degrees cooler in Chuchini that in the areas that surround it).
Chuchini Tourist Packages
Chuchini offers a variety of great tourist packages so you can enjoy the wildlife of the area, do some trekking, experience swimming with Amazon pink river dolphins, take a midnight crocodile "hunt" and do all the amazing things we did during our time there. Contact them below or visit their website for the most recent information.
Volunteer in Bolivia at Chuchini
As a family operated, privately owned nature and wildlife reserve, Chuchini is always in need of donations and/or volunteers to help out. If you love wildlife, want the chance to visit this amazing Amazon region, and would like to interact first-hand with endangered birds and animals, consider volunteering at Chuchini. Volunteers receive free accommodations in return for the work they do and pay $15/day for meals. Volunteers are asked to commit to a 2-week minimum and help out with a variety of tasks such as feeding the animals in the refuge, giving tours, landscaping and clearing of overgrowth, cleaning, and anything else that needs to be done. In return, you'll feel the satisfaction of knowing you are helping to preserve the wilderness and return endangered wildlife to its natural habitats.
Chuchini Eco and Archeological Reserve
Chuchini – Department of Beni – Bolivia
Tel: (591-7) 284-2200
Lorena’s cellphone: (591-7) 282-3595
Linda’s cellphone: (591-7) 281-6053
Return to the Volunteer in Bolivia page.