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Chalalan: a community owned eco-lodge in the heart of the Bolivian Amazon

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Bolivia is a country of contrasts. The capital of La Paz is situated in the bleak, high-elevation Andean plateaus, the southwest is a hot place of wetlands and Chaco desert, savannahs replete with wildlife roll across much of the east, and untouched, Amazonian rain forests blanket the northeast. A large chunk of those evergreen forests are protected within Madidi National Park, one of the wildest, most biodiverse areas of the planet.

Madidi has retained its wilderness flavor because of its inaccessibility. Veritable expeditions were required to set foot in this park due to the lack of roads until the Chalalan Ecolodge was built during the 1990s. Although it’s still an adventure to get there, guests of the ecolodge will find solace in the form of comfortable rooms in an amazing jungle-wilderness setting. The place is entirely owned and operated by a local native community who would have otherwise made clearings and hunted in the forest for survival. Instead, they use their tracking skills and forest knowledge to show tourists the wildlife of Madidi and various medicinal plants that grow in the forest.

Because the area is pretty much untouched, sightings of large macaws are common, seven species of monkeys are encountered on the trails (including large troops of Squirrel Monkeys accompanied by Brown Capuchins), tapirs occur in good numbers, and even jaguars are occasionally seen. Local guides increase the chances of finding these and other shy, rain forest animals and since each guest of the lodge gets their own guide, most visitors to Chalalan come back with unforgettable sightings of rare, rain forest wildlife.

The community was in touch with their natural surroundings before the lodge was built and incorporated this into the design and function of the buildings by using locally grown palms fronds for the roofs, composting systems to treat waste, and solar power for electricity (which is limited but you don’t need much in the heart of the Amazon rain forest).

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