- 1 Introduction to the San Matías Integrated Management Natural Area
- 2 Geography and Climate
- 3 Biodiversity
- 4 Tourist Attractions and Recommended Activities
- 5 Threats and Conservation
- 6 Practical Information for Visitors
- 7 Photo Gallery
In the vast landscape of Bolivia’s National Parks, you will find the San Matías Integrated Management Natural Area, a protected area surprisingly rich in biodiversity, with a multitude of flora and fauna species and highly appealing tourist attractions. This guide to the Natural Area outlines its history, plant and animal species, and the opportunities for engaging in activities and tourism within the region.
Introduction to the San Matías Integrated Management Natural Area
History and Establishment of the Natural Area
The San Matías Integrated Management Natural Area was established on July 31, 1997, under the Spanish name "Área Natural de Manejo Integrado San Matías". It ranks as the second-largest protected area in Bolivia. Its creation is endorsed by Supreme Decree No. 24734. Recognized nationally and internationally by the Ramsar Convention on September 17, 2001 (pdf version), it highlights the significance of the Bolivian Pantanal both nationally and globally, emphasizing its conservation efforts.
Objectives of Establishment
Established with a set of clear and valuable objectives for biodiversity conservation and sustainable regional development. These objectives include:
- Conservation of tropical dry forests: The primary aim of the area is to protect and preserve the valuable tropical dry forests, which are fragile ecosystems of great importance for biodiversity.
- Conservation of deciduous forest and wooded savannah ecosystems: It also focuses on preserving the deciduous forest and wooded savannah ecosystems found in the Sunsas and Vencinas mountain ranges.
- High-value tourist attraction: The area is a unique and valuable tourist destination due to its high concentration of aquatic birds, large mammals, and threatened species such as the pejichi, marsh deer, and otters, among others.
- Contribution to species survival and biological processes: Its proximity to the Pantanal Matogrossense National Park in Brazil ensures a sufficient area for the survival of animals and biological processes that require extensive habitats to thrive.
- Fauna and flora corridor: San Matías plays an important role as a corridor for fauna and flora, facilitating the movement of species between different protected areas and contributing to their genetic diversity.
- Promotion of productive and tourism activities: In addition to conservation, the area aims to promote sustainable productive and tourism activities that benefit local communities while contributing to ecosystem protection.
Geography and Climate
The San Matías Natural Area covers 2,918,500 hectares, characterized by diverse landscapes. From humid forests to open savannahs, each ecosystem holds its own beauty and climatic challenges, with a rainy season in summer and a dry season in winter.
Located to the east of the Santa Cruz Department in Bolivia, bordering the Republic of Brazil, the extent of the San Matías protected area encompasses the provinces of Ángel Sandoval, Germán Busch, Chiquitos, Velasco, and the municipalities of San Matías, Carmen Rivera Torréz, Puerto Suárez, Puerto Quijarro, Roboré, San José de Chiquitos, and San Rafael.
The geographic coordinates of the reference quadrant are 16° 37′ 26″ South latitude and 59° 23′ 22″ West longitude, up to 18° 36′ 1.3″ South latitude and 57° 40′ 25″ West longitude. These coordinates define the geographical area in which the San Matías Integrated Management Natural Area is located.
The total area of the natural area, as established by the Creation Decree, is 2,918,500 hectares. According to digital Geographic Information System (GIS) records, the estimated area is 2,930,886 hectares.
Situated in a transition region between the physiographies of the Chiquitano Shield and the Chaco Pantanal Plain, this zone exhibits a wide variety of landscapes, including plains, mountain ranges, and undulating terrain with varying altitudes. Altitudes range considerably, from 108 meters above sea level at Laguna Mandioré to 1,210 meters above sea level at the Sunsás mountain range.
In the eastern and northeastern parts of the area, the foothills of the Chiquitano Shield and the floodplain of the Great Pantanal of the Paraguay River are located. Toward the central and western parts, one can observe low hills and mountain ranges belonging to the Chiquitano Shield. On the other hand, the Sunsás and La Cal mountain ranges are found in the south and southwest.
The Great Pantanal is a vast floodable plain primarily situated in the eastern part of the protected area, extending across both Bolivia and Brazil, although occupying a larger area in the neighboring country. This formation is ancient and has undergone long processes of erosion and sedimentation, constituting a depression subject to alluvial deposits due to the constant accumulation of waters from the upper Paraguay River basin.
It is part of the Río de la Plata river basin, being traversed by important hydrographic sub-basins. Among the main sub-basins are those of the Paraguay River, Curiche Grande, Cáceres, and the Tucavaca-Otuquis sub-basin.
These rivers significantly contribute to the formation of the Great Pantanal, an extensive wetland of significant ecological value that extends across a vast floodplain. Due to the importance and ecological relevance of this wetland, the Natural Area has been recognized as part of the RAMSAR site, a designation highlighting its status as an internationally important wetland.
The Great Pantanal is a unique and diverse ecosystem, housing a wide variety of flora and fauna species adapted to the conditions of humidity and flooding. The presence of this wetland in the San Matías Integrated Management Natural Area adds special value to biodiversity conservation in the region, making it an important destination for scientific research and sustainable tourism.
It features a warm sub-humid tropical climate, characterized by two distinct seasons. The dry season aligns with winter and extends from May to September, with July being the driest month. On the other hand, the rainy season occurs during summer, spanning from November to March, with the highest intensity of rainfall in January.
During the months of peak precipitation, the northeastern area experiences higher rainfall volumes, reaching up to 1,300 mm, whereas rainfall diminishes towards the southwest, registering around 1,000 mm.
Regarding temperatures, maximum temperatures average around 32.7°C, while minimum temperatures reach values close to 14.2°C. These thermal variations are typical of a tropical climate and contribute to the diversity of ecosystems and species found within the protected area.
The area is home to a rich variety of flora and fauna species, including numerous endemic and threatened species. Here, you can find everything from the mighty jaguar to a diversity of birds that turn the place into a paradise for birdwatchers.
The protected area encompasses three major ecoregions, each with distinct characteristics and flora. These ecoregions are the Chiquitano Dry Forest, the Floodable Savannas or Pantanal, and the Chiquitano Cerrado.
- Chiquitano Dry Forest: This ecosystem is characterized by its warm and sub-humid climate with a pronounced dry season. Deciduous forests are found here, where trees shed their leaves during the dry season. The vegetation includes trees like quebracho, urunday, lapacho, and other species adapted to drought.
- Floodable Savannas or Pantanal: An extensive wetland characterized by seasonal floods. It is a unique and diverse ecosystem, home to a rich variety of aquatic life and avifauna. The Pantanal is one of the largest wetlands in the world and houses iconic species such as the yacaré, giant otter, and jaguar.
- Cerrado: A Brazilian biome extending into Bolivia. Known for its vast savannas with scattered trees and rich biodiversity, including a wide variety of birds and mammals. It is an important ecoregion for conservation due to its natural richness.
The contrast between these ecoregions is remarkable, as climatic and topographical features create an abrupt change between hygrophilous and xerophytic vegetation. This means that the flora of each ecoregion adapts to specific conditions. The presence of these ecoregions makes the park an exceptional place for biodiversity observation and study.
With a total of 20 identified vegetation units, of which two are free water units and one is anthropogenic modification. The following describes 14 of these vegetation units and some of the most representative species present in them:
- High Semideciduous and Subhumid Forest: This forest features species like morado (Machaerium scleroxylon), cuchi (Astronium urundeuva), and roble (Amburana cearensis).
- Semideciduous Forest Typical of Cerrado and Subhumid Foothills: Species such as white, yellow, and pink tajibos (Tabebuia spp.), alcornoque (Tabebuia aurea), and cedro (Cedrela sp.) can be found here.
- Hydrophilic Semideciduous Forest: This unit features species like jichituriqui (Aspidosperma sp.) and chaáco (Curatella americana).
- Semideciduous Forest with Poorly Drained Soils: This vegetation unit contains curupaú (Anadenanthera colubrina) and mora (Morus sp.).
- High Riparian Forest: Species like soto (Schinopsis brasiliensis) and cuta (Phyllostylon rhamnoides) can be found in this unit.
- Islands of Forest: Species like cuta blanca (Astronium fraxinifolium) and tacuara (Guadua sp.) are present here.
- Semi-high Altitude Pampa: This unit hosts species such as lapako (Tabebuia ochracea) and trompillo (Guarea macrophylla).
- Palm Groves on Dikes with Short Flood Periods: This area contains motacú (Attalea phalerata) and extensive groves of Copernicia alba.
- Closed Fields: Species like Caesalpinia floribunda and Acosmium cardenasii can be found here.
- High Cerrado: Species like Talisia esculenta and Pterocarpus rohrii are present in this unit.
- Herbaceous Aquatic Vegetation: This vegetation unit hosts species like victoria regia (Victoria regia) and victoria cruciana (Victoria cruciana).
The area hosts a diverse and representative fauna, the result of the convergence of four biogeographic currents that contribute to its high biodiversity. Among the most remarkable animal species present in the area are:
- Yacaré (Caiman yacaré): inhabits the aquatic areas of the Pantanal, adapted to freshwater life.
- Londra (Pteronura brasiliensis): known as the giant otter, it is a semiaquatic mammal found in rivers and lagoons of the area.
- Land Tortoises (Geochelone carbonaria and G. denticulatá): two species of land tortoises present in the region.
- Sicurí (Eunectes notaeus): the yellow anaconda, a large snake that inhabits wetlands.
- Boyé (Boa constrictor): a constrictor snake found in various habitats of the area.
- Chonono Rattlesnake (Crotalus durissus): a venomous snake known as the rattlesnake, inhabiting the region.
- Pantanal Deer (Odocoileus dichotomus): a deer adapted to aquatic environments in the Pantanal.
- Gama or Pampas Deer (Ozotoceros bezoarticus): a South American deer that inhabits the pampas.
- Manechi (Alouatta caraya): howler monkey found in the forests of the region.
- Pecari (Tayassu pecari) and Taitetú (Tayassu tajacu): two species of peccaries present in the area.
- Tigers or Jaguars (Panthera onca): the jaguar, an emblematic feline of the region and a top predator.
- Borochi (Chrysocyon brachyurus): known as the maned wolf or aguará guazú, a South American canid.
- Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis): a small feline that inhabits various ecosystems.
- Tapir (Tapirus terrestris): a large and robust herbivorous mammal found in the region.
- Huaso (Mazama americana) and Urina (Mazama gouazoubira): species of deer that inhabit the area.
- Jochi Calucha (Dasyprocta variegata) and Jochi Pintado (Agouti paca): two rodent species present in the forest.
- Pejichi (Priodontes maximus): giant anteater, a large insectivorous mammal.
- Armadillo (Dasypus novencinctus): common armadillo, a characteristic mammal of the region.
- Rhea (Rhea americana): the ñandú, a native running bird of South America.
- Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus): the blue macaw, an emblematic species chosen as a symbol of the area and the region.
- Jabiru Stork (Jabiru mycteria): a large stork species found in wetlands.
- Mutún Pava (Mitu tuberosa): an endemic bird of the region.
- Harpy Eagle (Harpía harpyja): an eagle considered an endangered species.
- Amazon Kingfisher (Chloroceryle amazona): a colorful bird found along riverbanks and lagoons.
- Cardinal (Paroaria coronata): an endemic bird of South America.
- Black Hawk-Eagle (Buteogallus urubitinga): a raptor found in various habitats of the area.
The diverse and representative fauna of San Matías reflects the significance of this region as a rich and varied habitat for numerous species, many of which are emblematic and protected due to their conservation status.
Tourist Attractions and Recommended Activities
With its natural beauty and rich culture, the Area offers a wide range of tourist activities. Whether you enjoy hiking, bird watching, or simply relaxing in nature, the Area has something for everyone. Additionally, there are community tourism programs that allow you to experience the local culture in an authentic and sustainable way.
Santo Corazón and Bahía Negra (Holy Heart and Black Bay)
Located to the west of the natural area, these communities are representative of Chiquitano and Ayoreo cultures. Their cultural expressions, such as traditions, dances, and cuisine, are part of the attraction of the place.
Puerto Gonzalo (Port Gonzalo)
Situated on the shores of Laguna Gaiba, Puerto Gonzalo offers a magnificent landscape, natural beaches, and abundant flora and fauna, making it a privileged place to enjoy nature.
Lagunas Gaiba, Uberaba, Mandiore (Gaiba, Uberaba, and Mandiore Lagoons)
These lagoons to the southeast of the ANMI offer a diversity of fauna, including giant otters, lizards, birds, herons, ducks, and coots. It’s also an ideal spot for sport fishing.
Río Paraguay (Paraguay River)
Navigating the Paraguay River allows you to enter and admire the large lagoons of the Bolivian Pantanal, such as Gaiba, Uberaba, and Mandiore. In addition, you can observe various waterfowl, mammals, and abundant vegetation.
The Bolivian Pantanal
This attraction is widely known for its astonishing biodiversity. It’s an ecosystem composed of a mosaic of lagoons, swamps, river channels, flooded plains, and palm trees, providing a unique natural spectacle.
Remnants of ancient cultures were found near Laguna Gaiba, north of the El Carmen Puerto Suarez Road, and in the Navidad and Las Petas area, adding a touch of history and mystery to the region.
A stretch of a gas pipeline that runs through a section of the ANMI San Matías revealed artifacts from pre-Columbian cultures dating back 1000 to 1500 years from our era, offering a fascinating glimpse into the ancient history of the region.
Threats and Conservation
Despite its significance, the Area faces a series of threats, including deforestation, poaching, and climate change. However, thanks to conservation and management efforts, strategies are being implemented to address these challenges and ensure the long-term survival of the Area and its biodiversity.
Practical Information for Visitors
To visit the San Matías Integrated Management Natural Area, you can fly to Santa Cruz and then take ground transportation. There are accommodation options and services available in areas near the park. Remember that it’s important to respect the park rules and maintain respectful behavior towards nature and local cultures.
How to Get There?
The San Matías Integrated Management Natural Area has various access routes that allow visitors to reach its different sectors.
In the north, you can access the area from the Santa Cruz – San Ignacio – San Matías highway, with entrances available through San Rafael, Tornito, Villazón, and Natividad to Candelaria.
In the south, access is facilitated via the Santa Cruz – San José – Roboré – Carmen Rivera Torres – Puerto Suárez – Puerto Quijarro highway. From Roboré, you can enter Santo Corazón, passing through Santiago de Chiquitos.
From Carmen Rivera Torres, you can access communities in the southern zone of the ANMI, including Rincón del Tigre.
Within the region, and even within the protected area, there are airstrips for small planes in some communities and ranches, providing an additional transportation option for visitors.
Additionally, another entry option is through the Tamengo Channel to the Paraguay River, and through it, to the Mandioré, La Galba, and Uberaba lagoons.
Accommodation and Services
Although San Matías is a protected area, there are accommodation options and services available in nearby areas. This includes hostels, hotels, and dining services that can complement your visit to the Area. Close to the San Matías Integrated Management Natural Area, there are several localities that offer accommodation and services for visitors. Some of these localities include:
- San Matías: The closest to the protected area, San Matías offers various accommodation options, ranging from simple hotels to hostels and lodges.
- Roboré: Located to the south of ANMI, Roboré also has accommodations and services for tourists who want to explore the region.
- Puerto Suárez: Located to the south of San Matías, Puerto Suárez offers a greater variety of accommodations and services due to its proximity to the border with Brazil.
- Puerto Quijarro: Situated next to Puerto Suárez, this locality also offers accommodation and services options for visitors.
- San Rafael: To the east of the protected area, San Rafael offers some accommodation and services options for those wishing to explore the eastern part of ANMI.
Recommendations and Precautions
As with any nature trip, it’s important to take precautions to ensure your safety and the preservation of the area. This includes wearing appropriate clothing and equipment, respecting signs and park rules, and maintaining respectful behavior towards nature and local cultures.