The Park: Parque Ambue Ari currently consists of roughly 800 hectares of jungle, in a very rural area of Bolivia. The park currently has 26 cats including pumas, jaguars and ocelots. There are also numerous monkeys, small mammals and birds that inhabit the park and need to be cared for, but the majority of the work is with the cats. Due to deforestation of neighbouring land, Ambue Ari is now an island of forest which provides refuge to many wild animals, not just those that have been rescued by CIWY, and so Ambue Ari is teeming with wildlife, and it isn't uncommon to see wild monkeys, caiman, birds, anteaters, and the occasional snake. Jaguars have also been spotted, and there are signs of free-roaming Pumas. Animals are arriving all the time, so the Ambue Ari family is constantly growing and changing.
What you'll be doing: The park offers a variety of mucking in with daily tasks: you may be involved in preparing food for monkeys, carrying rocks for the latest enclosure, improving a trail and then spend the rest of the day working with a cat (ONLY if you are staying 30 days or more). In addition, there is a lot of work to be done to build and expand the park, so some construction will probably be a part of any volunteer experience (although it's generally enjoyable work).
If you are staying for less than 30 days then you will not be able to work with a cat, however you will be helping care for the lovely house animals, quarantine, aviary and in the monkey park.
How to Apply: Due to the changing volunteer numbers in the refuge, we do not require that volunteers book ahead - you can arrive at any of our refuges and volunteer whenever you wish with no notice; no prior application form is required. PLEASE NOTE: it is unusual for any of the parks to be full up (and all three parks have never been full simultaneously), however we will post updates on the ‘Volunteer’ section of the website if we are either full up, or are desperate for volunteers at any particular one of our three refuges. However, if there are no updates on the 'Volunteer' page then we have availability at all three refuges, so please keep an eye on this.
Payments made by our volunteers are our main source of donations, comprising 85% of our income, and the minimum amount with which we can feed and care for the animals. Most often these payments are spent within a week on food and medical supplies for the animals or general operating costs of the park. Because we will need to pay for most of these expenses in bolivianos, we discourage payment in dollars and accept cash only.
The prices listed below cover three meals a day (except dinner on Saturdays and those days with a special activity outside of the park), accommodation, water, linens and one set of work clothes. In addition, a security deposit is paid upon arrival in order to cover possible damages and avoid early departure. It is returned at the completion of a full volunteering stay.
*The total cost is what you will have spent after receiving your deposit back.
Please Note: We strive to offer the animals the best quality of life possible, so we encourage our volunteers to work for a minimum length of time that varies depending upon the work area assigned. Work with felines requires a minimum commitment of 30 days, so the 30-night package payment is required upon arrival. If you are working in areas that only require a stay of 15 days, you will only be charged the 15-night package. We maintain this policy for the benefit and stability of our animals.
Important: The cost of living is low; however, there is no reliable way of retrieving cash or cashing travellers’ cheques nearby, so you will need to bring enough for your stay. There is a Western Union and a bank in Guarayos de Ascension, both of which will give you an advance on your credit card at 5% commission or more. The closest ATM is in Trinidad, which is 3 to 4 hours away. Some volunteers will make daytrips to the city and frequently take cash out for others.
Location: Ambue Ari is located 348km north of the city of Santa Cruz, off the main road between Santa Cruz and Trinidad. The closest major town is Ascención de Guarayos, which is roughly 5 hours by bus from Santa Cruz and 45 minutes from the park.
How to get there from Santa Cruz: The bus company "Trans Guarayos Linea 102" has regular departures from Santa Cruz to Guarayos and on to San Pablo (the town after Ambue Ari). Departures start at 06:00 and run through the evening but it is recommended to go early so that you can arrive in the park during daylight hours. Buses depart from ‘Santa Cruz Bimodal Terminal’ (“la nueva terminal”) from the secondary “corta distancia” platform, opposite the train tracks (you must take the stairs down the tunnel and up the other side). Tell the ticket sellers you want to go to “El Parque.”
Buses to Trinidad will also drop you off at the park but you must alert the driver when you see the red PARQUE sign as they often forget. Buses for Trinidad leave between 19:00 and 21:00 and arrive at the park between 02:00 and 04:00.
From Santa Cruz there are also many Rapiditos (shared 7-person mini vans) that are slightly faster and leave all the time from the same platform as the buses, some go all the way to San Pablo and will drop you off directly at the park.
How to get there from Guarayos: From the Guarayos bus terminal there are lots of buses and/or Rapiditos that will take you the 45 minutes out to the park. These buses pass the park and go the other way as well, so it's fairly easy to hop from the park into Guarayos if you want to.
When you arrive: You will see a small casita - our fumador - and laundry lines. Walk down the main pathway that leads into camp to the comedor - the central building. Ask for the volunteer coordinators. If they are not around, you will be shown to the office to store your stuff and you can hang out on the patio until they get home.
Please try to arrive before dark as we have no electricity and it´s difficult to unpack and give tours in the dark - plus we all go to bed pretty early!
If you arrive on a friday or saturday night, chances are camp will be empty - we will be in Santa Maria - 8 kilometers away. Just put your stuff down somewhere and wait for one of us to come home or hitch into santa maria which is back towards Guarayos.
Facilities: Ambue Ari is more rustic than Parque Machía, there is no electricity, hot water, phone line or access to the Internet. The park has running water, eco toilets (long-drops, essentially) and (cold) shower facilities. The water is from a well, and most volunteers drink it straight without treatment with no problems. If you're concerned about water purity, you can bring your own water purification.
There are no shops, restaurants or pharmacies, but 8 km away, in a village called Santa Maria, there is a basic shop with a phone for emergencies that sometimes works (but is very expensive) and we have a house for volunteers (used when the accommodation at the park is full).
The nearest large town is Ascención de Guarayos, 48 Km away, where there are phone and email services, and although they are generally reliable, they can sometimes be temperamental, so expect to be away from it all until you get back to Santa Cruz. Guarayos also has a food market, farmacies and a small hospital.
Accommodation: Currently, most volunteers live in the park itself. The park has sleeping space for approximately 65 volunteers, in shared dorms with bunk-beds. If more space is needed, there is a house in Santa Maria 8km away (10 minutes by bus) with space for another 15 - 20 volunteers there. Some volunteers with their own tents may choose to camp at the park, however during the wet season (Dec-March) this is not possible.
The beds have bottom sheets but no blankets or pillows. It is occasionally cold at night, so if you have one, do bring a sleeping bag or blanket. There are a number of mosquito nets available, but they aren't all in the best condition. They can be purchased cheaply in most parts of Bolivia, including in Ascención de Guarayos.
Food: The park has a kitchen and a cook, all meals are cooked and eaten there (and included in the volunteer fees). Vegetarian options are also always available, and in general the food is very good and plentiful. If you have special needs or wants, (such as an Oreo habit you just can't kick), you should bring those items with you. Limited supplies can be bought in Santa Maria, or a much wider selection in Guarayos. Vegans are advised to bring protein foods as there is little locally available aside from staples, ie, rice and vegetables. Oats are very rich in protein, so porridge is recommended! Vegetarians or vegans may wish to stock up on some spices/sauces et cetera as local vegetarian fare is largely eggs and cheese.
What to bring:
What you'll spend: Remember that except for volunteer costs your expenses will be minimal. Allow enough for your choice of the following:
Health: Mosquitoes are bad but repellents, chemical and natural, are not allowed to be worn when working with the animals because they can be toxic if ingested and some of our cats have had bad reactions to the citronella in the natural stuff. Natural repellent can be worn at night after work but must be washed off before returning to work.
Ascención de Guarayos: It is fairly easy to pop into Ascención de Guarayos. There are occasional buses from the park, or a 70Bs taxi shared between several people.
Children: The minimum age for volunteers is 18 (17 on referral). Children can tour Parque Machia and meet some of the animals there - we regularly have children visiting (we run school programs throughout Bolivia).
Contact: there is little contact with the outside world once you are at Ambue Ari. If you urgently need to contact a volunteer at the park, please email email@example.com however be aware that message may take quite some time to arrive at the park.