If you stay at El Refugio, don’t tell anyone about it. My estimate is that only 4,000 visitors arrive each year, and once the word gets out – once the guidebook authors actually spend some time here -- the waiting list for one of the seven rooms may number 10,000. So far, it seems that mostly French tourists have discovered the place.
As I tell my Arizona friends, this is Sedona on steroids, with jungle. The scenery astounds you. There are hiking trails, where you can see the flora and fauna (mostly birds and butterflies) from different perspectives. Or, you can just sit in one place, or lie in a hammock, and watch the colors change every few moments as the movement of sun and clouds changes the light. It is like immersion into an Impressionist painting.
Listen to the small waterfall behind the dining room, or to the birds in the surrounding trees, when you can hear them above the chatter of the French tourists, who talk because it is their nature not to listen.
The notice on the door of your room advises in Spanish that there are poisonous insects and animals in the vicinity, but the greatest danger to your health is probably overeating. The food is plentiful and good. They will serve you more than you should eat, and you will feel compelled to consume all of it because it is included in the price, and tastes great. Meals are not gourmet cuisine, but the kind of home cooking that you would expect to find in an upper-class Bolivian home.
They tell me cell phones work here if you stand in the right place, but shame on you if you bring one unless it is just to be used as a camera. The outside world can wait. There are no overhead wires, but plenty of electricity, from solar with hydro as backup, which means plenty of hot water at the showerhead.
El Refugio is halfway between Santa Cruz and Samaipata, so it should be indexed to both places. To get there: A Toyota taxi took me to the top of one of the hills overlooking the valley. The last few kilometers are a really bad road. You then transfer to a Suzuki four-wheel drive for the exhilarating ride downhill to the lodge. This in itself was worth the cost of admission. Think “Raiders of the Lost Ark” meets “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.”
A couple of more energetic guests sent their luggage ahead in the “jeep” – every 4wd vehicle in Bolivia is called that – and hiked down. That is probably a better way to see more, instead of relying on the hiking trails.
If you live somewhere that stars are seldom seen, allow time in the evening for astronomy. Bring a map of the Southern constellations.
- Also Known As:
- Refugio Los Volcanes Bolivia/Samaipata