It was touch and go as to whether we would be able to go to Refugio Los Volcanes, about an hour and a half south west of Santa Cruz. With all the recent rain part of the road (the old main highway between Santa Cruz and Sucre) had washed away and had been closed in the days prior, but we were lucky as they had started letting cars through.
We had a driver that took us, our guide Nick and two other blokes from Tassie to the gate of Refugio Los Volcanoes, a private property bordering the southern side of Amboro National Park. From there we would be collected by a 4wd from the Refugio, as only their vehicles are allowed to use the road to the property.
The drop off point was spectacular. We rounded a bend and pulled up the car in the perfect position for a view over the valley to the towering, rounded rocky peaks that were Los Volcanes. Nestled at their base on a clearing was the Refugio where we would spend the night. It was a bit grey and miserable but the place looked amazing so we didn't care too much. We climbed a nearby hill to snap a few photos before climbing into the 4wd to take us to the Refugio.
The road to get there was insanely narrow and steep with tight hairpin turns, rocky in some parts and slippery clay in others. We took comfort in the fact the driver had done this many times before in the sections with steep drops, especially where they were completing some road repairs of their own. It would have been a great downhill bike ride!
We pulled into the clearing and were surrounded by towers of rock on 3 sides of deep reds and browns, with green forest everywhere. The lovely Refugio had hammocks and chairs to relax in, but we didn't have time for that just yet. There was exploring to be done!
Before lunch we checked out the smaller of two waterfalls on the river that ran right beside the refugio. It was only small but in a pretty little gully and the water was crystal clear and it had a nice red sand beach. Then it was time to refuel before the afternoons trek.
As we set off on our afternoon walk the clouds started to clear a little and we had some glimpses of blue sky. With the sun on the red cliffs, the blue and white of the sky and the green of the forest the colour contrasts were awe inspiring. We crossed some rivers and streams as we walked which had rich red sands like the rock of the cliffs.
When we looked up to the sky the clouds appeared to be racing past us due to the perspective offered by the tall cliffs surrounding us. It really was a breathtaking setting and we had an enthusiastic and excited guide keen to show us as much of this magic place as possible.
The walk took us through forest trails, past huge trees and orchids that were unfortunately not in flower. Nick explained the animals that can be found in the area including deer, tapir, pumas and jaguars, and the types of places they sometimes hang out. They hadn't decided to hang out that day. Perhaps the Refugio dog that insisted on accompanying us on our walk had something to do with it.
We walked up a hill that gave us yet another spectacular view when we broke through the tree tops, before we made our way back down to the Refugio. After a little rest we went back to the waterfall for a swim. The water was cool and refreshing, in fact it is so clean you can drink it. So refreshing.
Some more late afternoon relaxation time allowed us to spot a condor circling above for a while, though it was far off in the distance. Our day finished well with some lovely wood fired pizza and an early night.
We were up bright and early for breakfast the next morning, then we set off to try and spot some toucans and set a camera trap so Nick could try and get some shots of the larger animals in the area. He is really passionate about jaguars in particular and is trying to fight for their conservation.
In Bolivia, if you kill a cow (of which there is a high possibility given they aren't really kept in paddocks and just roam across highways) you will receive a huge fine, perhaps even imprisonment. However if a Jaguar kills a cow, it's perfectly acceptable for that farmer to go and kill the Jaguar without any consequences. How backwards is that!
Anyway we digress. Off to see the birds, there was a lookout area a bit of a climb up hill along a nice forest trail. When we arrived, we saw loads of parrots, a couple even landing in a nearby tree where they stayed quite some time for photos. We didn't see any toucans though which was a shame.
From there we followed a ridge line back down the hill, through some bamboo forest which felt a bit random, and it was there we found a spot to set the camera trap. Nick had set one in this spot before and captured a jaguar among other things.
The rest of us "helped" by clearing away shrubbery that would set of the camera if it were to catch the wind, and Nick made one of the Aussie guys get down on all fours and crawl past the trap to test it. Only a Tasmanian would believe being on all four was absolutely necessary!
After a lunch break we went for another long walk through the valley. We made several river crossings which were rather interesting given the rivers were more swollen that usual. We skilfully hopped and balanced from one rock to the next and for the most part made it through without getting wet.
In the sands beside the river Nick spotted some big cat paw prints, so we made our way down to check it out. It had looked huge from our initial vantage point, but when we got closer it wasn't as big as expected. Likely a puma not a jaguar. This was as close as we got to seeing a big cat.
Our last little venture at Los Volcanes was to the bigger waterfall a little further downstream, before we started making our way back to Santa Cruz. The 4wd drove us back up the insane entrance road to our pickup point, and given the better weather today we were able to admire the same panoramic view but with a bit more sunshine. What a beautiful spot.