National Parks in Bolivia

Explore the spectacular National Parks of Bolivia, where biodiversity unfolds in all its magnificence. Immerse yourself in the pristine beauty of nature in every corner of these protected areas (PAs), from the mighty volcanoes of Sajama National Park to the lush Madidi National Park and the incredible Amboró National Park also featuring volcanoes, waterfalls, lagoons, caves, and spectacular forests. The National Service of Protected Areas (SERNAP) manages 22 protected areas, including 13 national parks in Bolivia, 3 integrated management natural areas, and 6 National Reserves and Biosphere Reserves.

General Context of Bolivia’s National Parks

In Bolivia, the diversity of ecosystems from the Andes to the Amazon has inspired the creation of a network of national parks and protected areas. These spaces preserve the country’s biodiversity and offer visitors a window into the unique natural beauty that Bolivia possesses, such as the Torotoro National Park, which showcases in all its splendor the dinosaur footprints and incredible karstic caves.

History of Bolivia’s National Protected Areas System

The beginning of protected areas in Bolivia dates back to 1939 with the establishment of the Sajama National Park by Decree. It was established with the aim of protecting the Keñua forests in the department of Oruro. During the 1960s, the Tunari National Park (1962) and the Isiboro Sécure National Park (1965) were established, and in the 1970s, Huanchaca was designated, which in the 1980s was reassigned as the Noel Kempff Mercado National Park.

By the late 1980s, over thirty protected areas had been created. However, these lacked uniform and systemic criteria, often responding to diverse and subjective criteria. The Environmental Law in 1992 established legal provisions for the preservation of natural resources.

In the seventies, some research and protection activities began, such as the conservation of vicuñas in the "Ulla Ulla" National Reserve. In the eighties, the Beni Biological Station was established, marking the first experience of planning and managing a protected area in Bolivia.

The Indigenous March for "Territory and Dignity", in August 1990, constituted a historic milestone, allowing the emergence of new social actors, the legal recognition of their territories and rights, and generating new conditions for indigenous conservation and territorial development processes.

The Environmental Law (1992) created the National System of Protected Areas (SNAP), and capacity for biodiversity management was increased. Since then, the total surface area of protected areas has grown by over 1000%, doubling its extension between 1995 and 1997.

More than 40% of the surface area of the 22 National Protected Areas (NPAs) is constituted by lands owned by their populations, overlapping with the protected areas in different administrative spaces.

Since the creation of SNAP in 1993, the management of NPA’s has been marked by the gradual convergence between state management policies and the conservation interests of indigenous inhabitants. In 1998, the National Service of Protected Areas (SERNAP) began to operate with greater autonomy.

Management Categories and Zoning of SNAP Protected Areas

The management categories of Bolivia’s National System of Protected Areas (SNAP), as established in the General Regulation of Protected Areas, are equivalent to the categories of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). In the past, the created protected areas had management categories that didn’t always align with the local reality. This has led to contradictions, particularly with the categories of National Park and Wildlife Reserve, as human presence often involves productive and extractive use of natural resources, which can be contradictory with these categories.

The management categories of Bolivian national parks are as follows:

National Park (NP) II

A National Park (NP) is a category of protected areas characterized by the presence of natural or semi-natural ecosystems. Its main objective is the conservation of biodiversity, as well as the promotion of tourism and recreational activities compatible with nature.

Check the complete list of national parks in Bolivia.

Wildlife Sanctuary (WS) III

A Wildlife Sanctuary (WS) is a protected area with the objective of protecting specific species of fauna and flora. These areas are often established in places where these species have their habitat or carry out vital activities such as reproduction or migration.

Natural Monument (NM) III

A Natural Monument (NM) is a protected area established to protect a specific natural element of exceptional importance, such as a geological formation or a living organism, like an ancient tree. The goal is the conservation of these elements and the education and enjoyment of the public.

National Wildlife Reserve (NWR) IV

A National Wildlife Reserve (NWR) is a category of protected area whose main objective is the protection of wildlife and flora, while also allowing for the sustainable use of these resources. They can be established to protect endangered species, maintain the genetic diversity of specific species, or conserve unique habitats and ecosystems.

Check the list of National Reserves, Biosphere Reserves, and Biological Reserves.

Integrated Management Natural Area (IMNA) VI

An Integrated Management Natural Area (IMNA) is a protected area category that aims to balance conservation with the sustainable use of natural resources. IMNAs allow certain human uses and productive activities, as long as they are compatible with conservation objectives and conducted sustainably.

Check the list of Integrated Management Natural Areas (IMNAs).

National, Departmental, Municipal, and Other Protected Areas

Created to protect and conserve biodiversity, genetic resources, natural ecosystems, and other values of interest. They cover more than 20% of the national territory. However, there are legislative gaps in the management of municipal protected areas.

National Protected Areas

Nationally significant, these are the backbone of Bolivia’s National System of Protected Areas (SNAP). They are places of national or international importance, and their management falls under the responsibility of the National Service of Protected Areas.

Departmental Protected Areas

These areas possess natural features of departmental importance. Their administration and management fall under the responsibility of the departmental prefecture. Currently, there are 27 departmental protected areas, covering 4.7% of the national territory.

Municipal Protected Areas

Municipal protected areas are important for biodiversity conservation. However, clearer mechanisms for articulating these areas with other categories of national and departmental protected areas are still pending.

Private Conservation Areas

The 1996 Forest Law recognizes Private Reserves of Natural Heritage as a category of protected lands. These reserves are not part of SNAP, but the National Authority can approve their inclusion in SNAP.

Conservation Corridors

Conservation corridors are a large-scale biodiversity conservation strategy at a subcontinental level. Corridors integrate human activities and conservation, ensuring the viability of threatened populations and ecosystem functionality.

Reclassification of Protected Areas

To address the categorization issues of Bolivia’s protected areas, some parks have been reclassified. For example, the Ulla Ulla Wildlife Reserve was expanded and reclassified as Apolobamba Integrated Management Natural Area, and the Amboró National Park was divided into an Integrated Management Natural Area and a National Park. However, the assigned category of an area does not necessarily indicate its management level.

Local Population Participation in Zoning

Bolivia’s IMNAs often include areas of strict protection, determined through the participation of the local population in planning processes. Zoning of protected areas is crucial, as it incorporates local visions, expectations, traditional knowledge, and practices into the strategic planning of protected areas. Local stakeholders also assume responsibility for the conservation and protection of the designated zones for these purposes.

Zoning Definition

According to the General Regulation of Protected Areas, zoning is defined as: "the organization of space use based on singularity, fragility, potential for sustainable use, value of natural resources in the area, and of the permitted uses and activities", establishing zones subject to different restrictions and management regimes through which the unit’s objectives related to the protected area’s objectives and categories are expected to be achieved.

List of National Parks in Bolivia

Integrated Management Natural Areas

National Reserves and Biosphere Reserves

Within Bolivia’s protected areas, there are different zones classified by the country’s government, with notable protections such as the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Wildlife National Reserve and the Tariquía Flora and Fauna National Reserve. Additionally, some regions are recognized globally for their invaluable ecological value by international organizations, such as the Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve and Indigenous Territory of Origin. This reserve simultaneously protects indigenous territories for preservation, allowing for harmonious coexistence between local communities and nature.