Carrasco National Park Road
by Lawrence Rubey and A. Bennett Hennessey
The Carrasco National Park road, which was historically the old road between Cochabamba and Villa Tunari, is now rarely as parts of the road are impassible. The lower part of the road covered in this site description is kept open and in good condition by an Italian magnesium mining company that runs a low impact mine at
2300 meters. It provides access to the same habitat as along the new road, but almost no traffic noise. There is also the option of camping just off the disused portions of the road.
The park headquarters is found near the start of the Carrasco National Park road. From here, the Oilbird caves, or "Cavernas del Repechon Guacharos" in Spanish, make a wonderful 2 to 3 hour excursion from Villa Tunari. Access to the caves is tightly controlled and requires a park guard escort. Visitation rules and times have changed several times in recent years. In the past, access was restricted to a maximum of 10 persons and departure times were 7:30 AM and 2:00PM. Some tourists have been told that the caves can only be visited on Saturday and Sunday, unless an appointment is made 24 hours in advance. With the uncertainty, the best strategy is to visit the park office upon arrival in Villa Tunari and make arrangements with the guards to see the oilbirds on a following day. If you have the time, the best option is to visit or phone the Carrasco Park Office in Cochabamba (try telephone 717-49970) or contact firstname.lastname@example.org). Oilbirds are nocturnal so, if possible, the caves can be visited during heat of the day when other bird activity has lulled. The guards also know a good Cock-of-the-Rock lek that is usually active during the late afternoon.
Continuing up the road from the park headquarters, just after the river crossing, the road passes through interesting Foothill Tropical forest. This area can be easily birded from the road. This area would make a good early morning walk. Amazonian Umbrellabird have been seen here and the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek is in this area. The road does pass a community, with its associated agriculture and firewood collecting. As a consequence the habitat between
700 m to
900 m is highly disturbed, and as such offers many of the common birds of disturbed habitat such as Squirrel Cuckoo, Yellow-billed Oropendola, Crested Oropendola, Piciu Ground-Dove, and Silver-beaked Tanager. Just after the small settlement, there is a small pond/marsh that is worth a quick scan.
There is a point where the road starts to climb along a series of switch-backs. The Bolivian Recurvebill has been seen in this area, but it is a rare bird, and one should be familiar with its call if you hope to see it. After around 900m, once human disturbance has declined, anywhere along the road can be good birding. There are two good water sources, one at
1900 meters and a beautiful waterfall at around
2200 meters. Much of the montane forest on the upper Carrasco road (for example, around
2500 meters) saw some disturbance in the past when the road was more heavily used. But large sections of forest have come back nicely, and birding on the upper portions of the road can be more pleasant than similar elevations on the
Chapare Road because of the absence of road noises and passing traffic. Yungas Antwren is worth searching for here above
It is also possible to access the upper end of the Carrasco National Park road from Cochabamba, leaving the man road at Aguirre, a small town about
42 kilometers from Cochabamba. This area is a good place for Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant.
The guides at Carrasco National Park offer a 3 day trip from
Cochabamba down the
Old Chapare Road to some place where you can catch a ride back up to Cochabamba. They call it the "Caminando en las Nubes", 42km. The route goes from 4,100 to 300 msnm. The contact phone # is 717-49970.
Logistics: Starting from the new tollbooth in Villa Tunari at the western edge of town, head west toward
Cochabamba on the main road. Paractito is the first village encountered, about
4 km after leaving the Villa Tunari tollbooth. (If you are travelling to Villa Tunari, look for the signs saying "Paractito"). Turn south at Paractito (left if coming from Villa Tunari) and pass through farmed areas and early successional growth. At
6.1 km, reach a turn off to the left with a sign for "Parque National Carrasco." To the left is the park headquarters and the trail to the Oilbird caves. For the Oilbird caves, turn left and continue for another kilometer, crossing a very narrow wooden bridge and arrive at the park headquarters and parking area. Otherwise, for the montane forest area, continue straight and begin climbing. Upon reaching a fork in the road, make a sharp turn to the left and, within
100 meters, cross a rather large (usually shallow) river. The road continues straight after this, slowly climbing to
GPS reading at Paractito, turn for Carasco National Park: S 17 00.847' W 65 27.361'