- 1 Data of the Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve and Communal Land of Origin
- 2 Geography
- 3 Biodiversity of Pilón Lajas
- 4 Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities
- 5 Tourist Attractions and Activities
- 6 Conservation and Sustainability
- 7 Research and Education
- 8 Visitor’s Guide
- 9 Photo Gallery
- 10 Referencias
Travel to the natural and cultural richness of the Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve and Communal Land of Origin, known in Spanish as "Reserva de la Biosfera y Tierra Comunitaria de Origen Pilón Lajas", one of the finest protected areas in Bolivia. This guide will provide you with an in-depth look at the biodiversity, community life, and tourist attractions that make this reserve a mighty destination on your travel list.
Data of the Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve and Communal Land of Origin
Situated to the southwest of the Beni department, in the province of Ballivián, and to the east of the La Paz department, encompassing the provinces of Sud Yungas, Larecaja, and Franz Tamayo. The municipalities involved in its area are San Borja and Rurrenabaque in the Beni department, and Palos Blancos and Apolo in the La Paz department.
The geographic coordinates of the Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve are: 14° 26′ 16.48″ South latitude and 67° 48′ 28.98″ West longitude to 15° 26′ 55.45″ South latitude and 66° 52′ 7.32 "West longitude.
This strategic location between the Beni and La Paz departments, along with its diverse landscapes ranging from mountains to tropical jungle areas.
History of the Pilón Lajas Reserve
Declared a Reserve and Communal Land of Origin in 1992, Pilón Lajas has become a model of sustainable conservation and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples.
Established on April 9, 1992, through Supreme Decree No. 23110 in Bolivia, establishing its status as a Biosphere Reserve and Communal Land of Origin, the Pilón Lajas Reserve serves as a model of sustainable conservation and respect for the rights of the indigenous communities that inhabit it.
Objectives of its Creation
- Preserve biodiversity: One of the main purposes of the reserve is to protect the richness of flora and fauna present in the area. The diverse ecosystems, such as humid forests and savannas, harbor a wide range of species, including many endemics not found anywhere else in the world. Preserving these species is essential for maintaining ecological balance and ecosystem health.
- Conserve ecosystems: The reserve safeguards the diverse ecosystems present within its territory, from mountains to tropical jungle areas. This includes the protection of important hydrographic basins, such as those of the Quiquibey and Colorado rivers. These rivers are of vital importance to local inhabitants, both indigenous and settlers, who rely on them for their daily activities and livelihood.
- Safeguard indigenous cultural heritage: Protect and value the cultural heritage of the indigenous Tsimané and Mosetene communities that have inhabited the area ancestrally. Recognition and respect for their traditions, subsistence practices, rituals, and spiritual beliefs are integral to the Pilón Lajas experience, promoting a harmonious relationship between these communities and the natural environment.
Classified within the "Biosphere Reserve" management category, which is equivalent to a "Managed Natural Area" according to the classification of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), falling under Category VI.
This designation as a Biosphere Reserve signifies a quest to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems with the sustainable use of natural resources by local communities. It’s an approach that promotes coexistence between environmental protection and human activities dependent on nature in the area.
It’s also considered a "Communal Land of Origin" (TCO), meaning it’s an area belonging to the indigenous Tsimané and Mosetene communities that have inhabited the region ancestrally. This ensures that local communities have rights over their territories and resources, recognizing them as key actors in the management and conservation of the area.
Together, these management categories reflect the comprehensive and equitable approach to conserving biodiversity, respecting indigenous culture, and ensuring sustainability in the use of natural resources in the Pilón Lajas Reserve.
According to the Creation Decree, its surface area is 400,000 hectares. However, according to the digital Geographic Information Systems (GIS) records, the registered surface area is approximately 385,850 hectares.
Recognition as a Biosphere Reserve
In 2007, Pilón Lajas was officially recognized by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve, highlighting its commitment to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.
It is located in the Sub-Andean physiographic province of Bolivia. Its altitude varies, reaching up to 2,000 meters above sea level. The region features a topography characterized by mountain ranges extending from southeast to northwest, resulting in steep slopes and deep valleys.
In the eastern sector of the reserve, there is an area known as the piedmont, which covers approximately 20 to 30 km along the road that connects Yucumo with Rurrenabaque. The piedmont is a region situated between mountains and plains, serving as a transitional area with distinctive characteristics.
In the central part of the reserve, along the banks of the Quiquibey River, there extends a piedmont plain with gentle dissection, meaning it presents a soft partitioning of the terrain in a north-south direction.
It is part of the Amazon River macro-basin, which means its hydrographic network is connected to the Amazon Basin, one of the largest and most important in the world. Within the reserve, two main hydrographic basins stand out: that of the Beni River and the Yacuma River.
The Beni River is one of Bolivia’s major rivers and plays a crucial role in the region’s hydrography. Additionally, the Yacuma River is another significant tributary in the protected area.
The hydrological regime of the reserve is seasonal, experiencing periods of high and low water directly related to rainy and dry seasons, respectively. During the rainy season, river flow increases significantly due to abundant precipitation. In contrast, during the dry period, river flows can decrease considerably.
It’s important to note that despite this seasonal regime, river flows can experience sudden and sharp fluctuations within a few hours due to unexpected rainfall occurrences that can happen outside the typical rainy season.
This variability in the hydrological regime is a distinctive characteristic of the region and plays a fundamental role in the life and ecosystem of Pilón Lajas, affecting biodiversity, vegetation, and human activities dependent on water.
The Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve and Communal Land of Origin is situated in tropical climate zones with well-defined rainy seasons. However, due to the altitudinal variations in the region, there are significant climate differences in different areas.
In general, temperatures in the reserve range between 23 and 32 °C on average. Higher altitude areas tend to be cooler, while lower altitude zones experience warmer temperatures typical of a tropical climate.
Annual rainfall averages around 2,444 mm. However, this figure can vary depending on the geographical location within the area delimited by the Bolivian government. Overall, the region experiences two main seasons:
- Rainy Season: Occurs during the warmer months of the year, typically between November and March. During this season, rainfall is more intense and frequent, leading to river floods and higher humidity in the environment.
- Dry Period: Takes place during the cooler months, usually from April to October. During this time, rainfall decreases significantly, resulting in drier and sunnier days.
These climate variations influence biodiversity and the lives of local communities, as well as impacting tourism and conservation activities. It’s important to consider these factors when planning a visit to Pilón Lajas, ensuring a pleasant and safe experience in this hidden treasure of Bolivia.
Biodiversity of Pilón Lajas
The reserve boasts a remarkable diversity of ecoregions, making it an area of great significance in terms of biodiversity and natural richness. The ecoregions present in the reserve are as follows:
- Southwest Amazon: Encompassing the lower part of the reserve, with altitudes ranging from lowland forests to elevations below 300 meters above sea level. This region is part of the vast Amazon rainforest, characterized by lush vegetation and rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. Tropical forests and floodplains are common in this ecoregion, providing vital habitat for a wide variety of species.
- Yungas: Found at higher altitudes, around 2,000 meters above sea level. This ecoregion is known for its mountainous landscapes and cloud forests. The vegetation varies from humid forests to high-altitude grasslands. Here, too, a wide diversity of flora and fauna species adapted to high-mountain conditions can be found.
In addition to these two main ecoregions, the reserve harbors three additional sub-ecoregions that reflect the distinct characteristics and habitats present in the area. The presence of these ecoregions and sub-ecoregions contributes to its natural richness and provides unique opportunities for observing and studying diverse ecosystems and species.
With a record of up to 736 species of vascular plants to date, it is estimated that the reserve could host up to 3,000 different species, reflecting the botanical richness of this area.
Among this diverse flora, six species of plants are endemic, meaning they are found only in this region and nowhere else in the world. These unique species are:
- Solanum exiguum: a member of the Solanaceae family, this is an endemic shrub to Pilón Lajas.
- Piper tumupasense: belonging to the Piperaceae family, it’s a species of pepper that is also endemic to Pilón Lajas.
- Pentaplaris davidsmithii: an endemic plant species with the scientific name Pentaplaris davidsmithii.
- Zamia boliviana: a cycad species endemic to the region. Cycads are a group of plants resembling palms.
- Cissus boliviana: a species belonging to the Vitaceae family and is endemic.
- Aphelandra sp.: part of the Acanthaceae family, it’s a species of Aphelandra found solely in Pilón Lajas.
These six endemic species are remarkable examples of the unique biodiversity found in the Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve. In addition to these endemic species, the flora of this area includes a wide range of tropical plants, shrubs, and trees, creating a colorful and lush tapestry of life throughout this region of Bolivia.
The fauna of the Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve and Communal Land of Origin boasts 778 species of vertebrates, highlighting the significance and value of this area in terms of biodiversity.
Among the registered vertebrates, the following figures stand out:
- Large and medium-sized mammals: The presence of 85 species of mammals has been confirmed, including big cats like jaguars and pumas, as well as other mammals such as tapirs, monkeys, deer, and various species of rodents and bats.
- Birds: A total of 531 bird species have been recorded, making the protected area a paradise for birdwatchers. Diverse tropical birds, raptors, toucans, parrots, and hummingbirds can be spotted in this area.
- Amphibians: 35 species of amphibians have been identified, including frogs, toads, and salamanders, some of which are endemic to the region.
- Reptiles: Up to 58 species of reptiles, including snakes, lizards, and turtles, contribute to the richness and diversity of the ecosystem.
- Fishes: A total of 69 fish species have been recorded in rivers and bodies of water, underscoring the importance of aquatic ecosystems in the area.
This impressive diversity of fauna in Pilón Lajas offers visitors a unique opportunity to enjoy animal sightings in their natural habitat and appreciate the magnitude and complexity of the Bolivian ecosystem.
Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities
Coexistence between Biosphere Reserve and Communal Land of Origin (TIOC)
The Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve and Communal Land of Origin (TIOC) presents a unique situation as it overlaps by 90% with the Tsimane-Mosetene indigenous territory, formerly known as the Communal Land of Origin (TCO) Pilón Lajas. This overlap of protected areas and indigenous territories creates a unique scenario where the reserve has a dual status.
The Tsimane-Mosetene indigenous territory covers a significant portion of the reserve, extending from the Beu mountain range to the Bala and Pilón mountain ranges. Tsimane-Mosetene communities are dispersed throughout the area, with a greater concentration in the northern and southern sectors. These indigenous communities have ancestrally inhabited this region, and their presence is essential for the conservation and sustainable management of natural resources.
In addition to the indigenous communities, there are also settlements of settlers in the southeastern part of the reserve, primarily Quechua and Aymara populations who have established themselves along the road that connects the towns of Yucumo and Rurrenabaque.
This overlap of protected areas and indigenous territories reflects Pilón Lajas’ commitment to biodiversity conservation and the promotion of the rights and culture of indigenous communities. The coexistence of the reserve and the indigenous territory creates a unique opportunity for joint management and collaboration between local authorities, indigenous communities, and conservation efforts, with the aim of protecting and preserving this valuable natural and cultural area.
Mosetén, Tsimané, and Tacana Indigenous Communities
Pilón Lajas is home to the Mosetén, Tsimané, and Tacana indigenous communities. Visitors have the opportunity to learn about their rich culture and traditions, providing an enriching journey beyond the natural beauty of this nature-filled landscape.
Pilón Lajas is home to a diverse population, including various indigenous peoples and settlers. In total, 25 communities and scattered settlements are located within the reserve, mostly composed of extended families.
Among the indigenous peoples present in the region, the Chimán, Mosetén, and Tacana stand out, as they have ancestrally inhabited these lands. These indigenous communities are distributed in different areas within the reserve, with 16 settlements located near the road in the foothill zone, 6 settlements in the central valley of the Quiquibey River, and 3 settlements along the Beni River.
The growing settler population, mostly migrants from the Altiplano, has established their homes in the upper Quiquibey River area. These settlers are organized into eight colonization centers in the outer buffer zone, along the road that connects Yucumo with Rurrenabaque.
Overall, the population residing within the reserve area and the outer buffer zone, excluding urban centers, is estimated to be around 6,216 inhabitants, of which 1,357 are indigenous inhabitants and 4,859 are settlers. Surprisingly, nearly 25% of these individuals live within the protected zone in Bolivia.
In the outer buffer zone, the areas with the highest population density correspond to the urban centers of Rurrenabaque, with 4,959 inhabitants, and Yucumo, with 1,404 inhabitants. Additionally, a significant concentration of settlers is observed in the eastern and southern sectors of the area.
Traditions and Culture
From their subsistence practices to their rituals and spiritual beliefs, the traditions of the Mosetén and Tsimané communities are an integral part of the Pilón Lajas experience. Visitors can firsthand learn about these fascinating and nature-respecting customs.
Tourist Attractions and Activities
Asunción de Quiquibey Community
In Pilón Lajas, the Asunción de Quiquibey Community offers trails, viewpoints, resting areas, and the river of the same name. Their Mapajo ecotourism lodge provides a unique experience with the indigenous cultures of the Amazon rainforest. Built by the Quiquibey River community members, it serves as the starting point for exploring streams, rivers, forests, and other communities. It is currently in the process of being reactivated.
Mapajo Ecotourism Lodge
This lodge, built by the Quiquibey River community members, is a perfect place to immerse oneself in the indigenous culture of the Bolivian Amazon rainforest. Tourists can have an authentic and unique experience by staying at the lodge and learning about the traditions and ways of life of the local communities. Additionally, from the lodge, visitors can explore various streams, rivers, forests, and mountains, allowing them to delve into the natural beauty of the area.
The archaeological remains in the reserve reflect the historical occupation of the area. Rock paintings, petroglyphs, ceramic pieces, lithic metal tools, and burial sites can be found in various parts. These cultural remnants add significant historical and cultural value to the visitors’ experience in the area.
Rurrenabaque is known as the Touristic Pearl of Beni, serving as the main gateway to the Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve and Communal Land of Origin. This town offers a wide range of services for tourism, including dining options, hotel accommodations, tour agencies, transportation, tourist information, and recreational activities.
The Pilón Lajas Interpretation Center is planned to be established in Rurrenabaque, providing visitors with a valuable opportunity to better understand and appreciate the natural and cultural richness of the region.
Conservation and Sustainability
Pilón Lajas faces several conservation challenges, from deforestation to climate change. Despite these challenges, efforts continue to protect its biodiversity and promote sustainable development.
A series of sustainability measures have been implemented, from biodiversity monitoring to the promotion of sustainable tourism practices. These measures underscore Pilón Lajas’ commitment to environmental protection and the preservation of its cultural heritage.
Research and Education
The Pilón Lajas Reserve is a significant center for scientific research, providing valuable insights into tropical biodiversity and the relationships between humans and the environment. This presents an opportunity to learn about the wonders of nature and the importance of its conservation.
Environmental Education Programs
Educational programs in the reserve are designed to raise awareness about conservation and sustainability. Visitors can participate in these programs to gain a deep understanding of the ecosystem and its relationship with the local community.
How to Get There
To reach the Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve and Communal Land of Origin, there are two main options:
- By River: You can get there by taking a boat trip along the Beni River and its tributary, the Quiquibey River, which runs through the central part of the reserve. This mode of transportation is a unique and exciting experience, allowing you to appreciate the beauty of the natural landscape during the journey. It’s important to coordinate river transport with authorized local operators and take into account river conditions, especially during the rainy season.
- By Land: The other option is to use the road that connects Palos Blancos, Yucumo, and Rurrenabaque. This road is located about 5 km east of the Pilón Lajas Reserve. From Rurrenabaque, a popular tourist destination in Bolivia, you can take ground vehicles like vans or buses to reach the reserve. The road can provide a panoramic view of the region, but it’s also recommended to check the road conditions before embarking on the journey.
It’s important to note that accessibility can vary depending on weather conditions and the time of year. Therefore, it’s advisable to plan your trip in advance, consult with local tour operators, and ensure you comply with all necessary regulations and permits to enter the reserve. Upon arrival, you can immerse yourself in the natural and cultural richness of Pilón Lajas, enjoying various activities such as hiking, wildlife observation, and immersing yourself in the community life of the Tsimané and Mosetene indigenous communities.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Pilón Lajas is during the dry season, which extends from April to October. During these months, rainfall decreases significantly, allowing for enjoyable days that are drier and sunnier.
Temperatures during the dry season are more pleasant, ranging from an average of 23 to 32 °C. This time of the year avoids heavy rainfall and river floods, making it easier to explore the reserve’s tourist attractions and trails.