Villa Tunari and Inti Wara Yassi
July 5, 2010
By Erik Vansonnenberg
In Bolivia, short distances often go a long way. The 166 kilometer (100 mile) trip from Cocabamba to Villa Tunari is a worthy example, descending 8,000 feet to Bolivia’s rainforest and offering up some of the country’s most accessible and spectacular wildlife. Unfortunately, as elsewhere in Bolivia, short distances don’t mean short travel times—the boiling but magnificent trip takes anywhere from 4 to 7 hours.
Villa Tunari is home to only a few thousand Bolivians and is known for coca growing, lush rainforests, and the Inti Wara Yassi animal refuge. Meaning Sun Moon Star in the indigenous languages Quechua, Aymara, and Guaran, respectively, Inti Wara Yassi is home to monkeys, pumas, birds, and various other species of mammals. The refuge is perhaps one of the few sights where you may see as many South American tourists as gringos (excluding the throngs of foreign volunteers), and all healthy animals are free to leave the park.
Inti Wara Yassi is located within Machia National Park and is the only portion of the Park open to the public. The refuge offers a 3.1 kilometer (2 mile) hiking trail with a picture-perfect lookout point, two somewhat disappointing waterfalls, a lofty suspension bridge, and an almost guaranteed array of visible wildlife. Beginning at the park entrance, signs and volunteers warn visitors to leave their backpacks, empty their pockets, and hold their cameras and glasses tightly in-hand. The agile spider-monkeys and more intelligent cappuccino monkeys have been known to strip tourists of their cameras and glasses. But don’t let the monkeys’ lack of respect for your possessions deter you—they are friendly, curious, and fascinating. Volunteers are always on hand to protect the animals from tourists and are happy to answer questions. Gentle and playful visitors may even share a bench with a monkey or find one crawling on their lap for a hug.
Villa Tunari makes an ideal weekend trip from Cochabamba for time-stripped travelers, or an excellent jumping-off point for those wishing to trek deeper into Bolivia’s eastern Amazon. Prices for the park and the town are incredibly affordable (a few dollars for you and the same for your camera). The town has no supermarket and a limited outdoor market, so it is recommended to bring food for the day before eating at one of the many restaurants or hotels at night. Stopping by Villa Tunari the second week of June will also give you 72 non-stop hours of music, drinking, and dancing during the town’s festival for the local saint, the name of which nobody appears to know. Buses to Villa Tunari leave from southeast of Cochabamba’s main bus terminal—ask any hotel or taxi driver in the city. The smaller mini-buses are recommended for their typically shorter travel time and sometimes less-cramped conditions.