Supporting Local Communities Through Eco-Tourism

Mutually beneficial for both the countless plant and animal species that inhabit the region as well as their human counterparts, eco-tourism offers a sustainable, long-term economic alternative for communities wishing to protect and preserve local environments.

From tropical river valleys to the high, wind-swept Altiplano, seven small but distinct communities inhabit the wild areas adjoining and inside the Northern Tiquipaya Wildlife Reserve (NTWR). Working together these communities have formed the Yunga Pampa Association of Community Tourism (ATUCYUPA), which serves as an advisory council responsible for the NTWR's eco-tourism project. Members of ATUCYUPA have worked tirelessly since 2005 to make the dream of eco-tourism a reality in the NTWR. In the beginning, this meant building the reserve's eco-lodge by hand, but more recently it has focused on attending training workshops to learn the skills necessary to successfully manage a modern eco-tourism business.

Eco-tourism in the NTWR offers local inhabitants not only a chance to develop much needed alternative incomes but also a way to take pride in the majestic region they live in. It also opens news doors in the lives of community members by providing them with valuable opportunities to explore and learn new skills and trades. 

The cross-cultural interaction that results from eco-tourism at the NTWR has the added result of providing tourists and local Quechua farmers and herders the opportunity to share their respective traditions and benefit from the cultural experiences that follow.

Communities of the Northern Tiquipaya Wildlife Reserve

community imageThe seven communities in and near the NTWR are proud of their strong culture and traditional lifestyles and maintain deep ties to the lands they occupy. Primary occupations in the area remain farming and herding. In the highlands, potatoes are cultivated, while llamas, alpacas and cattle are grazed. In the subtropical valleys, there is a notable diversity in the crops produced, which include bananas, yucca and corn. However, small-scale self-sustaining farming remains the norm. According to a 2004 CIDEDER (Center for Ecological Defense and Rural Development) study, barely one percent of the land included within the reserve is currently under cultivation.

Contact with the regional capital of Cochabamba is extremely limited, especially in the lowland community of Carmen Pampa, which is a two-day walk from the nearest road. Communities range in size from several hundred strong to tiny villages like Totolima, comprised of thirty families.

During major holidays (Christmas, Saint John’s Day, Carnival) communities celebrate by forming musical groups to play traditional Andean music, known as lichiwuayos and tarqueadas, with large Andean panpipes, eight-stringed guitars and other homemade instruments.


Although the NTWR shows little evidence of human presence, the area has a surprisingly rich history. The discovery of prehistoric rock art in the reserve points to the fact that humans have inhabited the area for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Because the NTWR sits on the the natural frontier between Bolivia's high and lowlands, it was home to an important trading route between tribes inhabiting the Amazon Basin and the mountain-based cultures which thrived in the Andes. Tropical goods such as coca leaves, gold, and exotic feathers were traded for highland ones like llama meat, chuño (dehydrated potatoes) and corn. While this trade has waned in modern times, local inhabitants still climb and descend the ancient trade road in the NTWR to exchange goods during Bolivia’s rainy season.

During the height of the Inca Empire, the Tiquipaya region marked the eastern reach of Incan territory in Bolivia. Besides the ruins left, the most prominent reminder of that period is the Quechua language, brought by invading Incas in the fifteenth century, which remains the dominant form of communication in Northern Tiquipaya to this day. Following Bolivian independence in 1825, the owners of two large estates ruled the area until  Bolivia's 1952 Agrarian Revolution. In the years that followed, local peasants exercised new freedoms and formed some of the present day villages found in and near the Northern Tiquipaya Wildlife Reserve.

Organic Goods and Local Handicrafts

organic goodsThe lowland Yungas communities found in the reserve are especially proud of the organic honey they produce. In addition, they are also known for their high-quality peppers and the wide variety of tropical fruits they grow. Recently, locals have also begun using their woodworking skills to produce traditional handicrafts in small  quantities. Communities in the Andean highlands are renowned for the p'ullus (wool blankets), ponchos, and mantles woven on hand looms using sheep and llama fibers.

Rumi Plaza's Pre-Historic Rock Art  

Local guide and art work at Rumi Plaza.

Prehistoric pictographs found at Rumi Plaza, located on the western edge of the reserve, indicate that the area may once have served as a religious site. The paintings found in this remote, rocky spot, depict a variety of local wildlife, including: bears, foxes, snakes, llamas, pumas and vicuñas. Interspersed among these recognizable images are human-like figures, abstract geometric designs, and other enigmatic shapes. Bolivian archaeologists believe that these paintings, which cover three flat rock panels, could signal that the site was once used for sacrifices. The shapes and colors (red, yellow and white) of the art suggest that they were probably done between 500-1,000 a.d., during the reign of the Tiwanaku kingdom that dominated much of Western Bolivia. Despite the best guesses of scientists, little in the way of hard facts is known about the origin and function of the mysterious artwork.

Notwithstanding centuries of exposure to the elements, the paintings remain in a well-preserved condition. Today, villagers from the nearby village of Huari Pucara lead guided hikes to the site. 

  Rumi Plaza.

Local Lore of the NTWR

Local Lore of the NTWRTres Tetillas as seen from Yunga Pampa eco-lodge.

Since colonial times, the area surrounding the village of Totolima, which composes the heart of the reserve, has been the subject of innumerable myths and legends. According to one legend, the Tres Tetillas, a series of three nipple-shaped peaks located near Totolima, were once the site of a fabulously rich Incan gold mine. The Incas, however, were not the only people to capitalize on the mine's wealth. The story goes that the Jesuit Order also took advantage of this rich area, secretly ferreting vast sums of gold out of Bolivia. However, when the Jesuits were expelled from Bolivia they took the secret of the mine’s location with them. Since that time, adventurers, explorers, and gold hunters have searched in vain for the elusive mine. Many of these expeditions, locals say, were never seen again. Those lucky enough to return came back with stories of strange misfortunes and unexplained  disturbances in the night. While these tales have fueled speculation about ghosts, they have done nothing to damper interest in the mines.