Santa Cruz is the perfect hub for exploring eastern Bolivia, a land rife with quaint villages, UNESCO-protected Jesuit churches and an abundance of natural beauty. The city itself is also worthy of attention for its distinct lowland culture and cosmopolitan vibe.
Bus: Destinations served from the large and chaotic bus terminal include La Paz (18 hours, 100–200 BOB/US$15–30), Cochabamba (10 hours, 70–140 BOB/US$10–20), and Sucre (14 hours, 131 BOB/US$19).
Trufis: Shared taxis head to Samaipata when full and cost 30 BOB/US$4 each way for the scenic three-hour trip.
Train: The “death train” (it used to transport yellow fever victims – it’s not dangerous) travels from Santa Cruz to Puerto Quijarro on the Bolivia border with stops along the way. Places of interest include Robore (8 hours, 100 BOB/US$15) for Chiquitos and Puerto Quijarro (13 hours, 250 BOB/US$35) for Brazil.
Most overland tickets can be purchased online through ticketsbolivia.com.
Budget: An oldie but a goody, Jodanga has been hosting backpackers for over 10 years. Boasting a swimming pool, spotless rooms and a better-than-average breakfast buffet, this fun and sociable hostel is great value at 70 BOB/US$10.
Mid range: Right in the heart of the city, Hotel La Siesta is a great mid-range option. The rooms are a little cramped, but there is plenty of common space, including a huge pool to relax in.
High end: For something a little different, check in to the Inboccalupo Apart Boutique, a funky new place that is one of Bolivia’s most chic boutiques. Travelers rave about the modern stylish decor of these individually decorated apartments.
Sach’a Rest: This upscale Nikkei Mediterranean fusion restaurant has become a hit in Santa Cruz and is earning recognition as being among the best fine dining offerings in the country. Seafood lovers will rejoice upon sampling their exquisite ceviche, sushi and fish chicharrón.
La Casa del Camba: For the true camba (lowland) experience, try the excellent local dishes at Casa del Camba, our favorite of which is majadito. Thanks to its authentic atmosphere, friendly service and excellent home-style cuisine, Casa del Camba is the best bet for local food in the city.
Chalet La Suisse: La Suisse is a superb fine-dining option that whips up the tastiest European fare in Santa Cruz. Admittedly it’s pricey, but their chateaubriand steak with béarnaise sauce is to die for.
Manzana Uno: Artsy types won’t want to miss Manzana Uno, one of Bolivia’s most important exhibition spaces. Its halls are filled with wonderful contemporary Bolivian art, and best of all, entry is free.
Plaza 24 de Septiembre: Santa Cruz’ main plaza is a pleasant to spot to hang out and watch the world go by. There isn’t much to do here, though, other than lose to the locals in a game of chess, or the climb the bell tower of the adjacent cathedral for excellent views of the city center.
Jardin Botanico: The best way to get close to nature without leaving the city is by paying a visit to the Botanical Gardens. These extensive and immaculately maintained grounds host a variety of plant and animal life, such as birds, sloths, turtles, and caimans. Entry is a bargain at just 10 BOB/US$1.50.
Biocentro Guembe: A cross between a water park and a wildlife reserve, Guembe is quiet during the week but packed on hot summer weekends. The places has dozens of swimming pools nestled between shady palm trees, and artificial waterfalls that offer the perfect respite from the summer heat. The highlight, however, is their huge atrium, which is home to a wealth of colorful native bird life.
Jardin de las Delicias: Those looking to escape the heat should consider a day trip to Jardin de las Delicias, a series of canyons centered around a stunning waterfall and lagoon. Private transport is required, as it’s a good two and a half hours from the city over some rough and bumpy roads.
Cascadas Espejillos: Similar to Jardin de las Delicias, Espejillos is a great place to go for a swim and to escape from the city on a hot day. It’s much closer to the city, so understandably much more popular with the locals. Private transport or a tour is required.
Parque Lomas de Arena: About 45 minutes from the city is a small desert with some massive sand dunes that look completely out of place in this humid tropical region. Something of a geological oddity, the dunes are the perfect place to try your hand at sand boarding, and there is plenty of interesting wildlife in the surrounding region too. It’s possible to reach by public transport, but it’s much easier to take a tour.
Amboro National Park: As one of Bolivia’s most impressive national parks, Amboro is a must for nature lovers exploring the region, thanks to its abundant bird life and incredible flora. From Santa Cruz, the park takes at least two days to visit, and tourists must be accompanied by a certified guide.
Samaipata: A cool little village nestled in the hills some three hours’ drive from Santa Cruz, Samaipata is popular with expats and locals alike for its gorgeous surroundings and excellent hotels, restaurants, and bars.
Vallegrande: Follow the Che Trail to see where this famous revolutionary met his maker and learn a little about the history of the man who changed the face of Latin American politics forever.
Kaa Iya National Park: Go searching for jaguars in the country’s most remote national park, located deep in the arid Chaco region.
San Miguelito Jaguar Reserve: The best bet for spotting big cats without traveling too far from the city, San Miguelito is a former cattle ranch that has been converted into a nature reserve to protect these majestic felines.
The Chiquitos Circuit: This group of charming little towns to the east of Santa Cruz is home to some incredible Jesuit churches.
For the best tours around Santa Cruz, get in touch with Nick’s Adventures Bolivia, who are the experts in the region.