Riberalta is a city in Bolivia's Beni Department, also known as the Bolivian capital of the Amazon. . As the capital of the province Vaca Diez, the city has maintained its charm even after the Brazilian nut trade sparked recent development. City life in Riberalta is punctuated by nature thanks to its location on the banks of theBeni River and Madre de Dios rivers and its proximity to the Amazon rainforest.
This is the easiest way to go get to Riberalta even though there are few direct flights; you will probably stop inTrinidad before getting to Riberalta. Depending on where you are coming from, you might have to change planes. Don't hesitate to ask the cabin crew if you are not sure. A flight from La Paz is 900 Bs (130$) on average withEcojetand 700 Bs (100$) with Amazonas, although the latter has a plane change in Santa Cruz. FromCochabamba, it costs about 750 Bs (110$) with Ecojet and around 700 Bs (100$) with Amazonas.
Most taxis are motorcycles that charge 4 bolivianos for a ride anywhere in the city. The name of where you are going is more useful than an address. To hail a moto-taxi, wave to flag it down. Moto-taxi drivers are easy to recognize because they wear colored vests representing the company to which they belong.
It costs around 15 Bs (1.50$) per hour or 80 Bs (15$) per day to rent a motorcycle (negotiable from taxistas, the taxi drivers, at the corner of Nicolás Suárez and Gabriel René Moreno). There are some villages outside the city that are worth visiting but keep in mind that most roads are poorly constructed and require slow speeds. If you visit the waterfront, you will likely be stopped by police and asked to show your passport and driver´s license.
Another option commonly used to travel short distances is to hire a moto-car service. To transport big objects around the city, Riberalta´s inhabitants have welded trailers to motorbikes. As it turns out, this method also works well to transport tourists.You can catch these moto-cars near the central market or on Beni Mamoré Avenue. As a reference, the trip to Esmeralda (a natural pool located about 30 minutes down the road) costs 150 Bs.
Like any waterfront city, the majority of attractions are located along the river. From the tourist river promenade you can see the junction between the rivers Beni and Madre de Dios, as well as the forest on the other side.
Along this promenade there is a lighthouse you can climb as well as many restaurants serving fresh fish dishes.
In the main square there is a colonial style church and many restaurants, making it one of the liveliest places in the city. Also worth looking for are the many statues around Riberalta, depicting anything you can imagine including phone booths and trash bins.
As in any Bolivian city, the markets are always fun to visit. The most notable in Riberalta are the main market, San Jose market and Abasto market.
Along the river: You can walk along the river or sunbathe on the long stretches of sand.
Aquicuana reserve: Located only half an hour from Riberalta, Aquicuana is a protected nature reserve that is home to two local communities, a medicinal retreat center called Pisatahua, and an abundance of flora and fauna. Local guides are available for fishing, nature or custom tours in the jungle where they can point out wildlife including a stunning variety of birds, monkeys and river animals, as well as traditional medicinal plants and their uses.
Tumichuqua Lake: 25 km from Riberalta on the road to La Paz is the community Tumichucua (¨isle of palms¨ in one of the region´s many native languages). The emerald-colored lake is home to a beautiful island, home to dense and diverse wildlife. Swimming is permitted and you can ask for a boat or kayak tour to visit the island.
Esmeralda Park: This park is located about thirty minutes from Riberalta and contains various activities such as a natural swimming pool, tennis courts, volleyball courts, barbeques to rent and various playgrounds for children. The entrance fee to access the pool and the park is 30 Bolivianos per person.
Las Piedras: Las Piedras is small town about 5 km from Riberalta on the other side of Rio Beni that you can get to by motorbike, taxi or bicycle. After crossing the river, go uphill and when the road turns left you will see a small path leading into the forest and to some Incan ruins of a fort and a wall. They might be a little hard to spot but they´re there! Located close to the crossing between the rivers Madre de Dios and Beni, this was a strategical point for trade and military purposes. These ruins have not been studied extensively but an investigation was made by the University of Helsinki in 2002 in which some key archeological artifacts were discovered. Most of them are now in a museum in Lima although there are still a few pieces in Las Piedras.
About 2 km from the ruins and the river is the town of Las Piedras. When you enter the town there will be a small store on your right-hand side next to the football field where you can have food or play pool. They also have rooms available for overnight guests. Within the town there are some more ruins of a long wall built by the Incas.
To see the archeological artifacts or learn more about the Incan ruins and the history of the Incas in the Amazon, you can ask for a man named Mr. Carlos Chipunano. If you speak a little Spanish, he can show you around and give you some historical facts for a tip.
Victoria lake: If you want to go further, there is a lake about 9 km from Las Piedras. Halfway between the town and the lake is a resort where you can swim, eat and stay in cabins.
Rubber-boon city: Founded in 1882 and at 90 km from Riberalta, this was the biggest city in Beni during the rubber-boom. The travel agency in Riberalta offers tours here.
Pisatahua: Pisatahua is an integrative plant-medicine and ayahuasca retreat, located in a remote area of the Bolivian Amazon. In the heart of the Aquicuana Reserve, the 80 hectare center is situated in one of the most biodiverse areas of the world. This idyllic environment provides an incomparable setting to be immersed in the beauty of the Amazon jungle while working with traditional plant medicines.
Brazil nut production plants: you can go to the several tourism agencies in Riberalta to organize a tour in one of the plants.
Sustainable Bolivia, . is a school in Riberalta where foreigners can choose to learn Spanish or three different local indigenous languages.
Sustainable Bolivia, . * 'Sustainable Bolivia' is an organization that coordinates volunteers and grassroots organizations in Riberalta, and also offers Spanish and indigenous language classes. You can live in their volunteer house, stay with a family or live in a hostel while volunteering or taking classes. It´s a great way to learn about the city. Grants to organizations are administered by the volunteers themselves, so they know how the money is being used.
There are a few different travel agencies in Riberalta which offer fairly priced tours. They don't speak English but they do provide friendly service.
Riberaltatours, is located on Avenida Sucre in the centre, Tel 852 34 75. They have two pre-made packages, either for five days and four nights ($155USD per person) or four days and three nights ($135USD per person). The first includes breakfast, pick-up from the bus station, accommodation, a guide, a city tour and excursions to an almond producer, a sawmill, Tumichucua, Guayaramerin (at the border between Bolivia and Brazil) and Cachuela Esperanza. The second option includes breakfast, pick-up from the bus station, accommodation, a guide, a city tour and excursions to Gonzales Moreno and Las Piedras, which includes a boat tour with a meal. However, the agency is flexible and you can make your own itinerary. They can also help you organize other activities outside the program if you want, such as fishing, boat trips, etc.
he three main markets in the city (Central Market, San Jose Market, and Abasto Market) are open every day. At the central market you can find fruits, vegetables, meat and fish, as well as soap, shampoo, appliances, etc. The same types of products are sold at San Jose market although with less variety. Finally, the biggest variety of fresh food is found at Abasto market. It is advisable to shop on Tuesdays and Thursdays because the products arrive fromLa Paz or Brazilon those days.
In these markets you can find fruits such as asaí, cupuaçu, pineapple, coconut and many other surprises like Amazonian chocolate (pure cacao), Brazil nuts, almond oil, coconut oil, etc.
On Sundays, there is a market in the center called "La Feria" where you can find makeup, clothes and many other items at cheap prices.
Whether it´s a simple meat kebab or a lunch ¨completo¨, the various restaurants around the plaza and near the Beni river offer something for everyone. The most upscale restaurant in town is El Tropical which offers huge portions. Apart from that, Club Social Progreso located on the main square offers hearty, affordable meals and a delicious lunch (a little more expensive in the evening but of the same quality). The many "cabañas" along the Beni river offer delicious meals and gorgeous views. Breakfast and lunch is also served at the markets, where you can try local dishes such as masako, majadito and cuñape.
The local custom, given the high temperatures, is to drink a refreshing (as the name suggests) ¨refresco¨ throughout the day. Refrescos are sold all over but Asaí Manía offers particularly tasty options. You also have to try the Copoazu juice and Majo.
In terms of nightlife, the people of Riberalta are big fans of karaoke. Karaoke bars are scattered all over town. As for nightclubs, the most frequented is called Faro's and is packed during the weekends, Saturday nights in particular.
The most upscale lodging option is the Colonial Hotel or Hotel Avenida which offers good standard rooms with air conditioning. Hotel Jomali is popular due to its location close to the main square.
Riberalta is one of the safest cities in Bolivia and it is safe to walk around even at night. However, for female solo travelers it's always a better idea to take an official taxi after dark.