The tropical boom town
Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the department (state) capital, was founded in 1560 and is now a center of rapid development. Santa Cruz is considered the economic center of the country thanks to its growing importance in agrobusiness, and its expanding population and high rate of investment. Santa Cruz today has 1.5 million inhabitants.
The department of Santa Cruz is located in eastern Bolivia with a surface of 320,000 km2 (123,552 square miles) of which one third is mountainous. The rest is a tropical paradise with exuberant vegetation, vast expanses of jungle and plains that form in the Amazonian lowlands.
The department of Santa Cruz offers visitors a diversity of tourism destinations such as ecological parks, walks through pre-Incan ruins, and an ethno-tourism route in the Chiquitania. For lovers of nature, adventure, archeology, and history, the department of Santa Cruz has it all.
Top Five places to visit in the city and it's surroundings
The city itself is of little touristy interest but it is the transport hub for all the fascinating natural and cultural sights in the region.
1) Imagine 12 meter high sand dunes rising out of lush jungle vegetation just behind the city gates. In the Regional Park Los Lomas de Arena you can enjoy climbing the dunes, having a bath in the natural pools (rainy season) or go birdwatching!
2) Las Cateratas del Jardin are one of Bolivias most exciting series of waterfalls just recently explored for tourism by the local comunity.
3) Another great escape for a day trip from the city: Enjoy the beautiful cascades and the nice jungle setting of Los Espejillos.
4) You can not leave Santa Cruz without having tried a big and juicy grilled steak in one of the churrasquerias on Primer Anillo, Equipetrol or Av. Monseñor Rivero.
5) If you are stuck in Santa Cruz for a while and like to get out of the bustling city for half or a day, try the pools, gardens, restaurants and leisure activities within the green jungle vegetation of the Biocentro Guembe and La Rinconada, or visit the Ecological Park Yvaga Guazu.
Top Five places to visit in the Santa Cruz department
1) Its not all about churches and barock music when you hit for the Jesuit Missions Circuit in the Chiquitania! It's more it's laid back atmosphere, the people, authentic villages, indigenous culture, natural beauty and of course the well reconstructed jesuit churches what visitors like in this remote part of the country.
2) Don't miss to visit Bolivias biggest cluster of expats in the small but lovely village of Samaipata. Its magic has atracted since more than 20 years foreigners and made them stay, and that for a good reason. Its beautiful location in the green hills bordering the Amboro N.P.. makes it a strategic base to explore the natural diversity of the Park, as well as to visit the pre-inca fortress El Fuerte.
3) You are interested in probably one of the most important revolutionaries of Southamerican history? Join the Ruta del Che and get to know the last places he and his group was hiding from Bolivian military before he was found and killed.
4) One of the regions which only recently appeared on the tourist map, is the South-East Chiquitano. Vast lowland plains covered with try Chiquitano forest, interupted by interesting rock formations like 'El Torre' in Chochis, and impressive 'Mesetas' offering fantastic trekking oportunities to enjoy magnificent views from above, visiting waterfalls, rock paintings, natural swimming pools, or indigenous communities.
5) Community tourism in the bordering zones of Amboro N.P., living on a cattle farm, or enjoying a nice hotel with a pool and fantastic views over the jungle - the tranquil village of Buena Vista has it all. Here you can also learn all about the café production on a Café-Tour at the café plantation of the Buena Vista Café company.
Best time to visit
Santa Cruz and its sights are better be visited in the drier months from April to December. Havy rains from January to March can make travelling more difficult especially in the remote parts of the country due to road conditions. In the dry season from May to September the occasional 'Surazo' - a cold wind blowing up from Patagonia can bring a bit of rain and cold weather conditions that can drop temperatures as low as 10°C!! The phenomenon occurs frequently every 7-10 days, so don't forget to bring a polar sweater and a rain jacket when traveling during this time of the year! Insider Tip: Beside the most rainy months, a visit to the lowland parts of Santa Cruz department can be disturbed by the havy air pollution from August till the first raifall in Octuber, because of the traditional burnings made by cattle farmers in these regions.