The original inhabitants of the Beni lowlands were the indigenous Tacanas, Mosetenes, T’simanes and smaller numbers of Esse’ejas, who lived along the many rivers and streams that flowed down from the hills. These hunter-gatherers were dependent on the abundant natural resources of the Bolivian Amazon, and lived in peaceful cohabitation with the forest.


In the 16th Century, European explorers began to arrive, drawn by tales of the legendary lost Inca city of Paititi, or El Dorado, said to be brimming with gold, silver and precious stones. Encouraged by the many gold deposits found in the surrounding lands, they penetrated deeper into the jungle, determined to conquer its riches – and its inhabitants. By the 17th Century, Jesuit and Franciscan missions had colonized parts of the region, and began to establish towns and import cattle for their ranches. Rurrenabaque was founded in 1844. Andean settlers flocked to Rurre as it became the center for the extraction and export of quinine – used to treat malaria, and then the focus of the rubber boom, which lasted until 1920. Native Tacanas and Mosetenes were employed as laborers, and began to integrate into colonial society.


Madidi National Park were established to protect Rurrenabaque’s wonderful cultures and biodiversity.
By the mid-20th Century, the establishment of state schools further eroded the native language and culture of the Rurrenabaque region, and even the T’simanes, who had resisted colonization for centuries, became more involved this modern society, as new roads were cut through to Rurrenabaque from La Paz in the 1980s. By the 1990s, however, the rights of the indigenous people began to be recognized, as well as the importance of conservation, and the Indigenous Territory of Pilón Lajas and Madidi National Park were established to protect Rurrenabaque’s wonderful cultures and biodiversity. Today, ecotourism contributes to this effort, as visitors to Rurre discover and appreciate its unique cultural traditions, and provide an economic alternative to the exploitation of the Amazon’s precious natural resources.