Santa Cruz is the wealthiest and most populous city in Bolivia, and a fascinating place to spend a few days getting to grips with the fascinating diversity of Bolivia. Compared with the thin air and chilly nights of La Paz and other high altitude Andean cities, the climate of Santa Cruz (at just 400 metres) is warm and tropical.
The modern city is growing fast and there are new restaurants, bars, apartment blocks and shops everywhere, as well as a pumping local night scene, giving it the feel of a city on the cusp of change. Amidst the city centre’s old narrow streets you’ll fight for a place to walk as taxis compete with horses and carts for space. Old men take siestas in plazas and sip chicha (corn drink), whilst young teenage hipsters play their music loud.
The Santa ‘Cruceños’ are a mixture from many different eras of the history of Bolivia – from Russian immigrants to the Japanese community.
Did you know? The city is also home to the largest population of sloths anywhere in the world. Take a walk to the outskirts of the busy city and you’ll see these carefree creatures climbing the trees.
Places to stay in Santa Cruz:
- Jodanga Backpackers – Perhaps the most popular backpacker hostel in Santa Cruz, the hostel provides free WIFI, breakfast, dorm rooms, communal kitchen and even a swimming pool! You’re guaranteed to make friends here at this party hostel.
- Bed and Bar Backpackers – This is a great budget option for backpackers, with a very friendly owner and a quieter vibe than the above. Clean and good place to stay with dorms and privates.
Best Bars in Santa Cruz!
- San Bartolo Bar – Very fun cocktail bar with music and dancing.
- Pallet Bar – Fun bar with friendly atmosphere, popular with students.
- Duda Bar – Local favourite and busy on weekends.
Things to do in Santa Cruz…
- Parque Urbano: The ‘city park’ is worth visiting to watch the local life, especially at weekends when the park gets crowded. Many outdoor events take place within the 20 hectares, from fairs to concerts. There’s also a dancing musical fountain, (just in case you were still unsure about whether to go!) which ‘performs’ every night at 7.30pm.
- Bio Centro Guembé Eco Park: Just 15 minutes from the centre of Santa Cruz lies this impressive tourist attraction that’s definitely worth a visit for backpackers wanting a day to relax in beautiful surroundings. This place is 25 hectares of stunning nature including the world’s largest butterfly park, 15 swimming pools, nature walks, an orchid house, a huge aviary, tortoise house and a monkey beach!
- Jardin Botanicó – The botanical gardens in Santa Cruz are great for sloth spotting! In this 460 acre tropical rainforest park you can also spot many other types of wildlife, including ring-tailed coaties, monkeys, armadillos and many types of colourful birds.
- Parque Lomas de Arena – A natural desert just 17 kilometres southwest of Santa Cruz has sand dunes that rise over 12 metres into the sky. There are lagoons amidst the dunes, tropical plains and jungles, all of which are excellent for wildlife spotting! The park is also a great place for sand boarding!
Day trips out of the city can be arranged by:
- Nicks Adventures Bolivia – offers specialised wildlife tours to Bolivian National Parks.
- Forest Tour Operator.
- Ruta Verde Travel – Dutch-Bolivian tour company based in Santa Cruz offering trips all over Bolivia.
Things to see and places to go just outside the city…
- Amboro National Park – One of the most incredible national parks in Bolivia is just a few hours’ drive from Santa Cruz. A jungle paradise famous for its rugged and unspoiled topography. The park stretches 4,425 square kilometres from the foothills to the Andes to the northern Chaco, and the Amazon Basin, thus presenting three distinct ecosystems. The three diverse environments make this one of the most unique national parks in the world.
- Jardin de las Delicias (Garden of Delights) – Two hours drive (65km) from Santa Cruz you’ll find these spectacular, and rarely visited waterfalls, deep in the jungle bordering Amboro National Park. The waterfalls are set amidst towering sandstone cliffs and tropical forest. You can swim in the falls and cool down after a trek to get here. Relax and spot toucans, parrots and falcons in the skies above.
- Espejillos waterfalls – Take a day trip from the city to see these beautiful waterfalls, close to the city and unknown to many tourists. A series of gorgeous waterfalls and natural pools surrounded by forest offers a great reward after a bump off-road journey in a 4WD!
- Samaipata – A tourist Mecca of colonial buildings and cobbled streets where there is plenty to do. You can see Inca Ruins, take treks see the Andean condor or hike into Amboro National Park. It has a much cooler climate than Santa Cruz (at an altitide of 1600m) and people from all over the world have chosen to settle here. It’s also on the famous ‘Che Guevara’ route.
- Kaa Iya National Park – This national park is the best large mammal viewing destination in Bolivia. The park is famous for being one of the most likely places to spot a jaguar roaming freely in the wild. It’s also renowned for being the only park in the whole of the Americas that was founded and administered by indigenous people. The park is very remote and can serve up harsh conditions to trekkers – only for true hard core nature fans.
- Otuquis National Park – Also known as the Bolivian Pantanal, is the wetlands of Bolivia southwest of Santa Cruz, that borders Paraguay and Brazil. Excellent place for seeing anacondas and capybara!
Where to go next?
- Santiago de Chiquitos – A jesuit mission town five hours from Santa Cruz. From this base there are excellent treks, waterfalls, lookouts, thermal rivers and more in the surrounding countryside.
- Sucre – The constitutional capital of Bolivia with its colonial past, whitewashed churches and cobbled streets.
- Cochabamba – A university and party town with great food and a prehistoric dinosaur park on its doorstep!
Researched by Nicholas Mcphee