Cordillera de Sama Biological Reserve


The Cordillera de Sama Biological Reserve in Bolivia, known in Spanish as the "Reserva Biológica Cordillera de Sama", invites travelers to explore its unique lands, filled with astonishing biological diversity and breathtaking landscapes. From its rugged peaks to its magical Polylepis forests, Sama is a true testament to the untamed beauty of nature. Immerse yourself in this guide and discover the hidden splendor of this Bolivian paradise.

History of the Cordillera de Sama Biological Reserve

Cordillera de Sama Biological Reserve

Establishment and Objectives of the Reserve

Established on January 30, 1991, under Supreme Decree No. 22721, the Cordillera de Sama Biological Reserve was created with the purpose of safeguarding both the watersheds for the supply of drinking water to the city of Tarija and the surrounding communities, as well as the notable diversity of flora and fauna present in this unique region. The main objectives of the reserve are:

  1. Preserve Watersheds: with the aim of ensuring a supply of drinking water for both the city of Tarija and nearby communities. These watersheds play a vital role in the regulation and maintenance of freshwater flow, thus ensuring the well-being and sustainability of the local population.
  2. Preserve Different Ecosystems: from valleys to rugged mountains and Polylepis forests. Preserving these diverse environments is essential for maintaining ecological integrity and promoting the continuity of the environmental services they provide. Each ecosystem plays a specific role in the balance of biodiversity, and their protection contributes to maintaining the health of the entire ecosystem.
  3. Protect Endangered Flora and Fauna Diversity: many of which are in danger of extinction. Protecting these vulnerable species is essential to ensure their survival and maintain the unique biodiversity of the region. The reserve becomes a vital refuge for these threatened species, offering them a safe and conducive environment for their reproduction and development.
  4. Ensure Sustainable Use of Natural Resources: achieving a balance between environmental protection and sustainable use of the natural resources present in the reserve. This involves promoting responsible practices that allow meeting the needs of local communities without compromising the integrity of ecosystems and the biodiversity of the area.

Geography and Geology

Geographical Location

Located in the Tarija department in the western sector of Bolivia, its extent covers the provinces of Avilés, Cercado, Méndez, and Arce, involving the municipalities of El Puente, San Lorenzo, Tarija, Uriondo, Yunchará, and Padcaya.

The geographical coordinates of the reference quadrant of the reserve are approximately 21° 17′ 25.729″ South latitude and 64° 56′ 29.035″ West longitude, to 21° 48′ 19.79″ South latitude and 65° 07′ 39.643″ West longitude. These coordinates pinpoint the precise location of the reserve on the map, allowing for its exact localization for those wishing to visit or conduct scientific research in the area.

The strategic location of the reserve in the Tarija department not only makes it a valuable biodiversity sanctuary but also facilitates access for visitors interested in exploring the natural beauty and diversity of flora and fauna it harbors.

Protected Area and Total Size

According to the Creation Decree, the Cordillera de Sama Biological Reserve covers an area of 108,500 hectares. According to the digital archives of the Geographic Information System (GIS), the reported area is 107,163 hectares.


It is part of Bolivia’s Cordillera Real or Oriental. Its topography presents significant altitude variations, reaching heights of up to 4,700 meters above sea level in mountainous areas and descending to 1,950 meters above sea level in valleys.

From a physiographic perspective, the reserve is characterized by rugged relief with steep slopes, resulting in rugged and mountainous landscapes. Among the most prominent mountain formations are the ranges of San Roque, Cardonales, and Pamparayo to the west of the reserve. Additionally, extending from north to south is the Sama range, which connects with the Ñoquera and Yunchará ranges, forming the Tajzara basin.

Within this basin, different types of terrain can be identified. On one hand, there are expansive plains that offer a variety of habitats for the region’s fauna and flora. On the other hand, the Puna Tarijeña stands out with its glacial valley and river-lake plain, characterizing landscapes of great beauty and uniqueness.


The reserve exhibits a wide climatic variation due to its topographic and altitudinal diversity. In the higher regions, characterized by the Puna, a cold climate with frequent frosts is experienced. Average maximum temperatures oscillate around 14.8°C, while average minimums can reach -2.4°C. Precipitation in this region is relatively low, recording less than 310 mm annually.

In contrast, the lower regions of the reserve experience a temperate climate with maximum temperatures ranging between 18°C and 32°C. Frosts can occur during the months of June to September. In this zone, precipitation is more abundant, with a range of 600 to 1,250 mm annually. The months from December to March tend to be the rainiest.


Framed within the Plata River macro-basin, it plays a crucial hydrological role in the region. Its main watersheds are of vital importance for the supply of drinking water to the city of Tarija.

Among the main hydrographic basins present in the reserve are those of the Tarija, Pujzara, and Torowayko rivers. These rivers act as essential sources of water supply for the city, ensuring access to quality water resources.

Furthermore, to the north and northeast of the reserve, lies the Guadalquivir River, which houses the La Victoria river sub-basin, the main source of water supply for the city of Tarija. The Tolomosa River basin also stands out; it originates in the eastern sector of the reserve and, along with its tributaries, is used for hydroelectric power generation.

To the southeast is the Camacho River basin, while to the north and northwest is the Tomayapo River basin. To the southwest, the reserve is connected to the Pilcomayo River basin, and in the highlands, the endorheic Tajzara basin is located, which harbors 2 permanent and 3 seasonal lagoons. This latter basin is of special importance, as it was designated a RAMSAR site in 2000 due to its value as an internationally important wetland.


Present Ecological Regions

Characterized by hosting three distinct ecological regions, contributing to its remarkable biodiversity and ecological richness. These ecological regions are:

  1. Inter-Andean Dry Forests: with a climate characterized by pronounced dry seasons and varying altitudes. Inter-Andean dry forests are found in valleys and mountain slopes and consist of plant species adapted to arid climatic conditions. The diversity of flora and fauna in this ecoregion is notable, and some species are specially adapted to water scarcity and seasonal climate changes.
  2. Tucuman-Bolivian Forest: characterized by its temperate and humid climate, with higher precipitation compared to the drier areas of the reserve. The Tucuman-Bolivian forests harbor a rich diversity of flora, including both evergreen and deciduous trees, ferns, and mosses. This ecoregion is home to numerous animal species, such as birds, mammals, and amphibians, finding refuge in the lush and well-preserved forests.
  3. Puna Norteña: an ecoregion found at high altitudes and characterized by its cold and dry climate. In this zone, the predominant vegetation is grasslands and shrubs resilient to the extreme high mountain climate. The Puna is home to unique fauna adapted to harsh conditions, including species such as the vicuña and birds like the Andean condor.

Ecosystems of Cordillera de Sama

Polylepis Forest

One of the most valuable treasures of the reserve is the Polylepis forest, also known as "queñua." This forest is found at high elevations in the mountain range and hosts many species of fauna and flora that are not found anywhere else.

Aquatic Ecosystems: Lakes and Rivers

The reserve also features a series of aquatic ecosystems, including lakes and rivers. These ecosystems are vital for the survival of many species and provide unique opportunities for wildlife observation.

High Andean Páramo

The ecosystem of the high Andean páramo is another habitat that characterizes Sama, known for its resilient vegetation and species diversity.

Characteristic Flora

Home to an impressive variety of plant species, distributed across its diverse ecoregions. In the Puna ecoregion, around 254 plant species have been identified, with some important families standing out, such as Asteraceae, Poaceae, Cactaceae, and Solanaceae. These families play a crucial role in the Puna ecosystem, providing food and shelter for various fauna species and contributing to soil stability and water conservation in this high mountain region.

Among the most prominent plant species in the Tajzara basin is the quewiña forest (Polylepis tomentella), an emblematic species of high mountain ecosystems and one of the world’s highest-growing trees. Quewiña forests are Polylepis forests that grow at the highest elevations and are known for their unique appearance and resistance to harsh climatic conditions.

Another notable species in this area is the yareta (Azorella compacta), a type of plant that forms compact cushions and is typical of cold and windy regions of the Puna. These yareta cushions are important for water retention and soil protection, in addition to providing shelter for small animal species.

Likewise, the tolares, referring to areas densely populated with Tola genus plants (Parastrephia), are also characteristic of the Tajzara basin and contribute to the diversity of flora in this region.

Wildlife of the Biological Reserve

Among the species inhabiting the reserve, the animals typical of the high Andean ecosystems stand out, such as the vicuña, a protected and emblematic species of the region. Mammal species like pumas and spectacled bears also inhabit the reserve, playing a key role in the ecosystem’s balance.

Birds are another prominent feature of the reserve’s fauna, with more than 200 registered species. Among them are emblematic birds like the Andean condor, which is Bolivia’s national bird and a symbol of the mountain’s majesty.

In addition to highly visible species, the reserve also hosts a variety of lesser-known fauna, including amphibians and reptiles adapted to high mountain conditions.

Tourism, Attractions, and Activities in Cordillera de Sama

Laguna Taxara (Lake Taxara)

Lake Taxara is a beautiful body of water located within the reserve, surrounded by the fantastic landscape of Cordillera de Sama. It is an ideal spot for bird watching and enjoying hikes in its surroundings, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the area.

Laguna Pujsara – Lake Pujsara (Pujzara or Pugsara)

Lake Pujsara is another treasure of the reserve, with its charming natural beauty and abundant wildlife that attracts nature lovers. It’s a perfect place to enjoy moments of tranquility and contemplation.

Laguna Grande (Grand Lake)

Grand Lake is a gem in the reserve, with its picturesque setting and pristine natural environment. Here, visitors can delight in the sight of various bird species and plants that find refuge in this beautiful location.

Natural Hot Springs (San Pedro de Sola)

The natural hot springs in San Pedro de Sola offer a unique experience of relaxation and well-being amidst nature. These areas of thermal waters and springs are an ideal place to disconnect and enjoy a refreshing bath.

Laguna Brava – Brava Lake (Toroguaico)

Brava Lake is a marvel of crystal-clear waters and stunning landscapes that invite reflection and contemplation. It’s a perfect place to connect with nature and enjoy moments of peace and serenity.

Trampa de vicuñas – Vicuña Trap (Chorcoya Avilés)

The vicuña trap is a fascinating site where it’s possible to spot vicuñas, a protected and emblematic species of the region. This unique experience allows for appreciating the beauty of these elegant creatures in their natural habitat.

Dunas de Taxara – Taxara Sand Dunes (Tagsara, Tacsara or Tajzara)

The Taxara Sand Dunes are formations of sand dunes that create a stunning landscape in the reserve. This unique environment offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to explore and marvel at the beauty of a desert amid the mountains.

Indigenous Paths

The ancient Indigenous Paths are historical witnesses that connect the Pampa de Taxara, the Abra de Calderillas, and Pinos Sud. These trails built by natives and indigenous people in the past offer a cultural and natural experience, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in local history and traditions.

Cordillera De Sama (Sama Mountain Range)

The Cordillera de Sama, located in the lower and southern part of the Eastern Cordillera, is a mighty mountain formation. Its steep slopes and plateaus create an impressive backdrop for the lakes that form at its feet, providing panoramic views of great beauty. Moreover, numerous hydrographic basins offer the opportunity to enjoy refreshing swims in certain times of the year, enhancing the experience in this magnificent mountain range.

Popular Activities and Attractions

The Cordillera de Sama Biological Reserve offers visitors a variety of exciting activities, including hiking, bird watching, fishing, and photography. Additionally, visitors can explore ancient archaeological sites and learn about the rich history and culture of the region.

Tips and Recommendations for Visitors

To fully enjoy Sama, it’s essential to be well-prepared. It’s important to bring appropriate clothing for the changing weather and be aware of the reserve’s regulations to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.

Conservation and Management

Threats to the Reserve

Cordillera de Sama Biological Reserve faces numerous threats, including deforestation, illegal hunting, and climate change. These threats jeopardize its unique biodiversity and the ecosystems it supports.

Conservation Strategies

To combat these threats, several conservation strategies have been implemented in the reserve. These include land use regulation, environmental education, and the involvement of local communities in conservation initiatives.

Involvement of the Local Community

Local communities play a vital role in the conservation of Sama, both in the direct protection of ecosystems and in promoting sustainable tourism in the reserve.

Scientific Research

Notable Studies and Research

Sama has been the focus of numerous scientific studies over the years, significantly contributing to our understanding of biodiversity, mountain ecosystems, and conservation.

Contributions to Science

From the discovery of new species to understanding the impacts of climate change on high-mountain ecosystems, Sama has made invaluable contributions to science.

Socioeconomic Impact of the Reserve

Benefits for Local Communities

The reserve not only protects biodiversity but also provides socioeconomic benefits for local communities. These include tourism, sustainable resource collection, and the provision of ecosystem services such as freshwater.

The Reserve as a Source of Natural Resources

In addition to its ecological importance, the Cordillera de Sama is also a significant source of natural resources for local communities, including water, wood, and medicinal plants.

Visitor’s Guide

Best Time to Visit

To enjoy a pleasant experience, the best time to visit is during the transitional months between seasons, when there is less rain and temperatures are moderate, without extreme cold or heat.

  • From April to May: These months represent the transition period between the rainy and dry seasons in the lower areas of the reserve. Precipitation gradually decreases, providing an opportunity to explore the natural beauty without worrying about heavy rains. Temperatures are moderate, allowing for hiking and outdoor activities without experiencing intense cold or extreme heat.
  • From September to November: This period marks the transition from the dry season to the rainy season in the higher areas of the reserve. Temperatures begin to rise, creating a pleasant environment for exploring the mountainous areas. Additionally, the rains are not as intense as in the months of December to March, making it easier to visit and enjoy the landscapes without weather interruptions.

How to Reach Cordillera de Sama Biological Reserve

The reserve is accessible by road from the city of Tarija. While some areas may be challenging to access during the rainy season, most of the reserve is accessible year-round.

Public and Private Transportation

There are options for both public and private transportation to reach the reserve from Tarija and other major cities. It’s recommended to hire a local guide to explore the reserve safely and responsibly.

Accommodations, Hotels, and Campgrounds

TAJZARA ZONE Pujzara Lodge Pujzara Community Lodging, capacity for 13 beds. Food, capacity for 30 people. Ms. Palmira Colque
Phone: 78242556
Ms. Zulma Colque
Phone: 69315418
Local Tour Guides Ms. Palmira Colque Phone: 78242556
Ms. Zulma Colque Phone: 69315418
INCA TRAIL – CALDERILLA AND PINOS SUD ZONE El Turista Inn Calderilla Community Lodging, capacity for 9 beds. Food, capacity for 20 people. Ms. Mariela and Agustina
Phone: 72942476
El Cumpita Inn Pinos Sud Community Lodging, capacity for 4 beds. Food, capacity for 10 people. Mr. Oscar Pantoja
Phone: 78708893
SAN PEDRO DE SOLA ZONE San Pedro de Sola Lodge San Pedro de Sola Community Lodging, capacity for 40 beds. Food, capacity for 100 people. Local Guide services and Camping areas available. Ms. Eulalia Yufra
Phone: 67376727
MARQUIRI ZONE Arce Hotel San Lorenzo Town, next to the church Lodging, capacity for 20 beds. San Lorenzo Market
San Lorenzo Town, next to the church
Breakfast, refreshments, and lunches available.

(*) Subject to change based on the season.

Visitor Regulations

To protect the biodiversity and ecosystems of the reserve, visitors must follow a set of regulations. These include not littering, not collecting plants or animals, and respecting historical and cultural sites.

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