Birding & Nature Guide
If you can imagine a trajectory from being born in a remote village in the middle of the jungle with no electricity or running water, speaking Quechua as your mother tongue to being trained by biologists, tourism experts and bird watchers to being one of the best and most sought-after birding guides in Bolivia, then you will understand the path of Sandro Valdez. In what is now Madidi National Park, the people of the tiny village of San Jose de Uchupiamonas were cut off from easy access to commerce, education, medicine and basic infrastructure by a jungle wilderness crisscrossed by wild rivers like the Tuichi and Beni Rivers. Their only access to the outside world was via log rafts and by walking for days through the jungle. This is the trajectory of Sandro Valdez and his family.
When Sandro was about to transition to adulthood, he was part of a village-wide effort to create a lodge in the wilderness. The idea was to bring tourists to see wildlife in the jungle and have a safe place to sleep and eat next to a magical lagoon called Chalalan. This was a dream in the works for generations of the villagers of San Jose. With the help of outsiders, NGOs and the IDB Sandro and the people from San Jose leaned into the nature tourism business model and have made enormous strides in three decades of hard work while facing social and economic challenges.
Sandro completed his guide training in Chalalan Lodge in 1999, continued studying and guiding, then became a research biologist in 2005, studying the endangered red-fronted macaw. His passion was born from his love of birds as a child and with the nurturing of many people on his path and in 2006 he became a professional birding guide. To-date he has guided in all 9 departments of Bolivia, traveled to Peru and Ecuador and has a life list of over 1,200 birds that he knows by name, call and sight. He is a founding member of Chalalan Lodge and Sadiri Lodge, both in Madidi National Park. He is a registered guide in the Departments of La Paz and Beni and is a certified bird guide for the National Federation of Tourism Guides in Bolivia.
He is a master of his domain in the tropical jungles of the Amazon basin. Put him anywhere and he will make a shelter, start a fire and catch some fish for dinner. This is his backyard, his area of dominance and his home. Besides being an amazing and passionate bird guide, he is also a well-heeled naturalist, and he can share his knowledge of insects, plants, fungi, mammals and a long list of living organisms that live in the jungle.
He currently lives near the river-side town of Rurrenabaque with his wife and son, but his mother, father and extended family live in San Jose, still in the middle of the jungle, but, finally with seasonal road access and electricity. Sandro speaks fluent Quechua and Spanish and very commendable English.
Any trip with Sandro is an education and an adventure because you never know what amazing bird or animal he will find or call in or show you what plant in the jungle is used as a natural medicine. His latest endeavor, with his two brothers Ovidio and Elio, is another lodge on Santa Rosa Lake called Yuruma Journeys, which in Quechua means the protector of the village.