Nestled in the hills above one of Bolivia’s captivating national parks is a quaint little town that has, over the years, evolved into the region’s favorite tourist destination. With a perfect year-round climate, a myriad of stunning nearby attractions, and plenty of chic hotels and restaurants, Samaipata is a must for those exploring Bolivia’s under-appreciated eastern lowlands.
From Santa Cruz: Expresso Samaipata runs trufis (shared taxis) for the three-hour trip between Santa Cruz and Samaipata. Cars leave when they are full and charge 30 BOB (US$3.80) each way. For the return journey, they leave from the highway just outside town.
From Cochabamba: The cheapest way is to take a bus to Santa Cruz via the old road (50 BOB/US$7) which leaves from 7 a.m. and take 13 hours on a bumpy road. Alternatively, going to Santa Cruz on the new road, then taking a trufi is more expensive (90 BOB/US$12) and requires a change, but travels on a newer and safer bitumen road.
From Sucre: Get on a 100 BOB/US$14 bus heading to Santa Cruz, which departs around 5 p.m., and ask the driver to let you off in Samaipata. The journey takes around 10 hours and the road is very bumpy.
Budget: Andoriña Hostal is the best of budget options in Samaipata, boasting clean and well-maintained rooms, balconies with a view and some useful tourist advice for exploring the region. Prices start at 60 BOB (US$8.50) for a shared room.
Mid range: La Vida es Bella is an awesome four-room boutique hotel on the edge of town. Modern, stylish and with a beautiful balcony and garden, it’s a bargain at just 350 BOB (US$50) per double.
High end: Not just Samaipata’s swankiest dig, El Pueblito Resort Hotel is among the best boutiques in the whole of Bolivia. The luxury 11-room eco-resort is designed to resemble a quaint 18th century Bolivian town, complete with houses, a central plaza, a town hall, and chapel. Prices start at 565 BOB (US$80).
La Cocina is among the best budget eateries in the country, thanks to their awesome homemade bread, which is baked fresh daily. The gourmet fast-food restaurant serves up awesome burgers and wraps for just 20 BOB ($US 3), and they have some amazingly authentic shawarmas.
Tierra Libre is an excellent mid-range restaurant specializing in hearty Bolivian dishes with an international twist. Their sunny patio is a great place to spend the afternoon with a coffee and a good book.
Aside from being the town’s best hotel, El Pueblito also boasts the best restaurant. It’s not cheap by Bolivian standards, but it’s well worth the splurge for the quality of food on offer.
Samaipata’s best watering hole is definitely La Boheme, conveniently located right on the main plaza. Kitted out with some refreshingly bohemian decor, the place is a hit for its relaxed atmosphere, expertly crafted cocktails and the occasional live band.
Some destinations can be reached by bike. Bicycles can be hired from Samaipata Tours.
El Fuerte: Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, El Fuerte (the Fort) has been the scene of a number of battles between the Spanish and the indigenous peoples, due to its strategic vantage point on top of a hill. Although only mildly visually impressive, it does have an interesting history and affords breathtaking views of the valley below. Entry costs 50 BOB ($US7) and access is via taxi (100 BOB/$US14 return, including wait time), a two-hour hike or an easy bike ride.
Las Cuevas: Don’t let the name fool you, because there aren’t any caves in sight. Instead, travelers are treated to a series of waterfalls, a refreshingly cool swimming hole and a nice sandy beach, all of which make it the perfect spot to hang out on a hot summer’s afternoon. Get there by taxi (40 BOB/US$5.80 each way) or hire a bike for the 12-mile (20-kilometer) trip. Entry costs 15 BOB (US$2).
Amboro National Park: As one of Bolivia’s most diverse parklands, Amboro hosts a plethora of fascinating wildlife, including jaguars, pumas, and the spectacled bear. There’s plenty of opportunity for birdwatching too, with over 900 species calling it home. Visiting is only possible through a guided tour, which can be organized in town for between 100 and 175 BOB (US$14–25) depending on group size.
Condor Nest: Those looking to get up close and personal with the world’s largest flying bird are in luck in Samaipata. Full-day condor spotting tours start at 6 a.m. and unlike some other tours on the continent (we’re looking at you, Colca Canyon), you’ll be the only tourists there as these majestic birds soar right over your head. Tours include a stop at the impressive La Pacha waterfall on the way back.
Refugio Zoológico: A pleasant half-hour stroll out of town leads to Samaipata’s local animal refuge, a small but pleasant facility run by a team of passionate volunteers. A number of rescued monkeys patrol the grounds and seem to love nothing more than playing with tourists. Entry costs 20 BOB (US$3)
Bella Vista Mountains: Fancy a rigorous day trek through the mountains with plenty of waterfalls and rivers along the way? Full-day Bella Vista Mountain hikes are offered by all local travel agents for as little as 150 BOB (US$21.50) depending on the size of the group.