Apa Apa Reserve

by Lawrence Rubey and A. Bennett Hennessey

Update: I was told in January 2022 that the Apa Apa forest remains, but some of the larger trees have been cut down, the edges are closer with agricultural fields, and the road that runs through the forest reserve has much more frequent traffic now- so not as silent as in the past. But I was told the forst still has a lot of the great birds of the past. Accomodations is difficult now, especially after COVID. 
   Apa-Apa Ecological Reserve, part of the Portugal families Apa-apa Hotel, located just north of the town of Chulumani, is one of the best "accessible" sites in Bolivia for middle-montane Yungas species. Although access is a bit difficult, this is a premier site that offers a host of interesting species. This is the only site in Bolivia where the Scimitar-winged Piha has been commonly seen. Other key species for this site include Hooded Tinamou, Rufous-faced Antpitta, Short-tailed Antthrush, Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater, Chestnut-crested Cotinga (scan the tops of the forest in open areas), Straw-backed Tanager, Versicolored Barbet, Yungas Manakin, and Slaty Finch. Joseph Tobias has reported Oilbirds drinking from a small pond on the summit. "Arriving from the Chulumani side, a small half-hidden path runs off to the right at the very summit of the road. This path passes an obvious pond after 40 m or so. The Oilbirds come to drink or bathe at the pool from just after dark." This suggests that there is an Oilbird cave nearby which is probably active from September to March.

Unlike much of the La Paz Yungas, where accessible forests are dominated by second-growth and logging has wiped out many of the larger trees, Apa-Apa is mostly a virgin forest. That it survives to this day is largely a tribute to the Portugal family and strict community prohibitions on logging and land clearing in the forest. The forest was once part of a large coca estate that was broken up in the land reforms following the 1952 revolution. The Portugal's, whose ownership of the estate dates to the 1600s, still live in the valley below the forest and are working to promote sustainable eco-tourism in the forest. They also run the Apa-apa Hotel, which can receive guests from Chulumani.

Apa-Apa can be approached from the trails from the Apa-apa hotel, about an hours walk from the hotel, or along the main road. Most birding is done from either the road that runs from San Cristobal, through the forest, to the village of San Isidro on the other side of the serrania or from the Portugal Hacienda winding up into the forest. Fortunately, the San Isidro road sees little traffic (one or two vehicles per day), while the Hacienda road eventually becomes a narrow track suitable only for foot traffic. From either San Cristobal or Hotel Apa apa, the real forest begins at about 2,150 meters after passing through second-growth forest and recently burned areas. Foraging flocks can be encountered anywhere from here. From 2150 meters, both roads climb to intersect the summit at about 2450 meters. Listen for Rufous-banded Owl here at night. The other side of the summit is significantly drier and the road descends into the village of San Isidro. Nearly 150 species have been recorded in Apa Apa and this number is likely to grow as more research is conducted.

Logistics: Chulumani, a pleasant village in the Yungas, is on the South Yungas Road (note this is one of those steep edged Andean roads that requires an experienced driver), less than four hours from La Paz (Chulumani is only 115 kilometers from La Paz, but such distances are deceptive given the quality of the road). Contact information has changed. The best way to visit Apa-Apa ecological reserve is to contact Ramiro Portugal at 725 47770 (you can try to make a reservation at apapayungas@hotmail.com). The Apa-apa hotel is nestled in a valley below Apa-Apa Forest and offers hiking trails into the forest. Accommodation is available at the Apa apa hotel (five rooms with private bathrooms- max. occupation 16 people- plus camping). Prices in 2008 for the hotel is around 8 US$ per person, lunch and diner is around 2 US$. One can make a reservation at the Apa-apa hotel from La Paz, and then take a local bus to Chulumani (see a Bolivia guide for bus info) and phone the Apa-apa office in Chulumani.where they can pick you up in their vehicle. There is also a one time obligate 25 US$ fee for a guide tour of the forest trails.

The Portugals own the Apa-apa ecological reserve. If you wish to enter the area for the day on the road or stay at a different hotel, we strongly suggest you contact the reserve with the contact information mentioned above to request entrance permission and the day fee. If you stay at hotel Tamapaya, you should make arrangements with the owner to leave a entrance fee donation for the Apa-apa lodge.

If you have a larger group, or need a hotel closer to La Paz, an excellent option is to back-track to 21.2 km to Puente Villa (the main bridge). Just after the Puente Villa bridge (remember you are back-tracking travelling from Chulumani to La Paz) is the Hotel Tamapaya. Coming down from La Paz, before you reach the Unduavi river and the Puente Villa bridge, there is a turn off to the left with the sign Hotel Tamapaya. The grounds offer good birding and a double room is less than $30. Recently the La Paz office has been closed, but reservations for Hotel Tamampaya and Hotel Apa apa can be made throughbirdbolivia@birdbolivia.com.

For those intent on visiting with your own vehicle re-set your odometer at zero at the start of the South Yungas road (Unduavi). At ~49 km you will pass Puente Villa, close to Tamampaya Hotel. At 69.5 km on the South Yungas road arrive at the village of San Cristobal. The road actually enters the main plaza of San Cristobal ( 1900 meters elevation). At the plaza re-set odometer again to zero (0.0). Instead of bearing right and continuing to Chulumani, bear left around the plaza, and make a sharp right turn at the street corner dominated by the pink church. Following the street uphill (can be rough going!), the road forks in three directions after 100 meters or so. Take the central fork, keeping the houses on your immediate right. Continue climbing, passing modest farmers' houses and cross a soccer field. At 5.8 km on this access road, the forest begins. A wider part of the road can be found at about 7 km where it is possible to park or even camp. The summit ( 2450 meters) is reached at 8.7 km from San Cristobal Plaza. If you plan on using public transportation and hike in, get the bus to Chulumani and ask to be let off the bus at San Cristobal (but notify Apa-apa ecological reserve before hand).

GPS reading at point on access road where forest begins: S 16 20.971' W 67 30.569'

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