Santa Cruz - A Not So Bolivian Bolivia

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

It might come as a surprise to you that Santa Cruz de la Sierra (translating to ‘The Holy Cross of the Mountains’) is actually Bolivia’s largest city and in fact the only city in Bolivia with over 1 million inhabitants. It may therefore seem weird to say that it feels somewhat un-Bolivian, but with an altitude of only 416m and a tropical climate all year round it’s hard to think about this city in the same way as La Paz and other popular tourist spots in the West. We came to Santa Cruz for a few reasons - the first and probably the biggest attraction to us being the weather. Having put up with 2 weeks of unpredictable cloud, rain and surprisingly cold weather in Sucre we longed for some guaranteed sun and a decent temperature. The second was to use Santa Cruz as a jump off point to later travel to Samaipata, a small towns about 3 hours South West of the city. Although it is possible to travel straight from Sucre to Samaipata when looking into it, it seemed a little complicated, with only certain buses travelling on that route and likely having to request specifically to the driver to stop in the town. So, we made the decision to come here first and, we’ve been pleased with our decision. Here’s what we got up to exploring Santa Cruz de la Sierra...

We were a bit apprehensive about the bus journey from Sucre to Santa Cruz, with everything online describing the road to be horrific and that companies put forward their oldest buses to drive the 13 hour overnight journey, to avoid damage to the new buses. Despite this, we actually had a pretty positive experience. The bus was full cama (meaning the seats fully reclined) and although there wasn’t a toilet, it did stop twice along the way which was enough. We’d recommend the company Mexicano as they seemed very professional and we we’re never concerned for our bags or about the state of the driver!

Anyway, we arrived in the city at ‘la nueva terminal de buses’ and took a taxi to our hostel ‘Jodanga’. 

Across our 3 nights here, we were pleased with the hostel as the facilities were always clean, the kitchen well equipped and there was a pool which we made good use out of!

The temperature was high as promised but it was raining a lot, so we decided to walk into the centre and aim to find a cafe. Not much was open because it was a Sunday but towards the centre we found a great place called Cafe Patrimonio. They do really good coffee and the staff were really nice, asking all about our travels to practise their English.

Just opposite the road there’s an Açai bar. Açai is a superfood and is supposed to be really good for you, although not sure whether that’s really the case for the Açai brownies they were serving up. It was really cheap considering the size of the portions and how much you’d pay for that kind of thing in Europe.

The next day started veryyyy slowleyyyy, both of us not realising how much we’d needed to catch up on sleep since the night bus, but around lunchtime we headed out back into the centre of town in order to explore a bit more and see what else there was to do. 

The main square, Plaza 24 de Septiembre has a pretty impressive cathedral which you can climb up for 3bs to get an alright view (but to be honest it wasn’t really high enough). We’d still say it’s worth it, for the exercise if nothing else!

We then headed across the square where we found a modern art museum, with some interesting temporary exhibits. It was free and so we spent around 20 minutes going round discussing which we think we could easily recreate despite not possessing any artistic skill at all.

Afterwards we headed to Vacafria for some much needed ice-cream to combat the humidity, which we weren’t quite used to yet. They’ve got a few stores around the city and an impressive choice of flavours, the most exciting being Dulce de Leche (the insanely delicious filling in alfajores!)

Finally, before heading back to the hostel, we had the idea of seeing whether Santa Cruz had a big shopping centre, as we liked the possibility of shopping in more western looking shops with Bolivian prices. There was one, called ‘Ventura Mall’, which lived up to expectations, having all the shops you expect back home, although unfortunately with similar prices to the UK. Clearly there’s some rich Bolivians in Santa Cruz. Nonetheless the food court was great and we probably spent about half an hour just deceiving what to eat! We’d recommend giving his place a visit if you want a little break from your average Bolivian tourist stuff!

The next day was our final day in the city and we decided to head out to the botanical gardens, just a little outside the main city. We took a taxi there which car us 60bs although we probably could’ve got it cheaper if we understood his Spanish better or much cheaper by taking a bus. Anyway we got there easy enough and spent a couple of hours walking around the trails through he gardens. Apparently there are wild sloths in the trees somewhere but unfortunately we didn’t see any. Despite that, the gardens were pretty and it was a nice place to wonder around and have the lunch we’d brought with us. On our way out of the park we realised that we were supposed to pay an entrance fee of about 10bs but we’d somehow missed it on the way in!

On the whole in our opinion Santa Cruz is a pleasant city and worth visiting if you’ve got around a month in the country. If you’ve only got a couple of weeks then I wouldn’t recommend making the journey out this far East for Santa Cruz as it’d make more sense to stick to the more popular Western areas of La Paz, Lake Titicaca and the salt flats in the South, then if you wanted to still visit somewhere more tropical in the country the Yungus rainforest near La Paz might be a better option. For us though, we’re pleased we’ve come, as it wouldn’t feel like we’ve properly seen Bolivia as a whole if we had only been to places on one side of the country and had avoided its biggest city.

Thanks for reading, 

Next stop... Samaipata!

Will & Melissa

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