Your Travel Guide To Santa Cruz

One of the fastest growing cities in the world, Santa Cruz is a true example of Bolivia’s ability to combine a modern lifestyle with traditional values.

Differentiating itself from other parts of the country, Santa Cruz shines due to its tropical savanna climate, low-lying altitude, gorgeous wildlife, vibrant night-life and unique culture.

While unassuming at first, given time, the bustling metropolis unveils itself to be a vivacious city of contrasts. Up-scale restaurants operate alongside local street-vendors, colonial architecture blends with native art, traditional outfits stand out among urban street wear and time-honored customs hold strong against latest trends.

Located at the foothills of the Andes, Santa Cruz is not only the main hub for flights in and out of the country, but the gateway to some of Bolivia’s most adventurous outdoor activities. From wildlife watching and sand boarding to river rafting and hiking, there’s something to suit every travel-taste.

Santa Cruz, while still developing is by far the country’s most contemporary city. Not only is it an ideal starting point for those looking to ease themselves into the Bolivian way of life, but a great place to get off the beaten track – exploring parts of the country often not featured in magazines and guidebooks.

Top Things to See and Do in Santa Cruz

Parque El Arenal: one of the city’s oldest parks and a favorite among locals, the green oasis is a wonderful setting to take a stroll, enjoy a snooze under the bulbous toborochi trees and paddle by boat around the scenic lagoon. Other things to do include visiting the promenade’s island which features a mural by famous Santa Cruz artist Carlo Lorgio Vaca as well as checking out the Museo Etnofolklórico Municipal which displays artifacts from Eastern Bolivia’s various ethnic groups.
Gúembé Biocentro & Resort: a relaxing day trip from Santa Cruz, this stunning nature park features 3 lagoons perfect for kayaking, swimming and fishing, an immense butterfly dome, a large orchid exhibition, a huge soccer field and kiddy playground and several fun activities including horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking and buggy rides. Also on site is a restaurant serving international cuisine, a resort hotel, bungalows and camping facilities for those who wish to stay the night.
Plaza 24 de Septiembre: a social gathering place for both locals and tourists, the city’s main plaza is a hive of activity. There are park benches, small chess tables, street-vendors peddling fresh juices and camba bands playing oriente beats. Surrounding the square you will also find Santa Cruz’s Cathedral, beautifully restored historic buildings and a handful of cafes/restaurants.
Catedral de Santa Cruz: An ornate 400 year old cathedral with panoramic views of Santa Cruz from the top of its clock tower. Located inside the cathedral is the Museo de Arte Sacro featuring ancient gold and silver relics as well as one of the world’s smallest books, a thumbnail-sized volume containing the Lord’s Prayer in several languages.
Jardin Botanico: 186 hectares of stunning gardens featuring a nature trail where you can encounter anything from large groups of monkeys to lazy sloths sleeping in the overhead trees.
Museo Guaraní: contains about 150 pieces collected from various Guaraní indigenous sites throughout the Department of Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz Cultural Center: run by the city tourism office and municipal government, it features art exhibits, theater, music, and cultural events.
Modern Art Museum: features permanent and temporary exhibitions of modern art from foreign and local artists, both paintings and sculptures.
La Rinconada: a beautifully designed Eco Resort and restaurant featuring swimming pools, gardens and a river filled with the world’s largest water lily, the Victoria Amazonica .
Playland Water Park: a fun day out for all the family. Opened from September through to May, the water park features large wave pools, water slides, restaurants, playgrounds and more.
Equipetrol: one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Here you’ll find up-scale speciality shops, spas, salons and health food stores as well as a mix of traditional and modern restaurants, ice-cream parlors and luxurious hotels. The main street, Avenida San Martin, is lined with bars and clubs, making it one of the best places in Santa Cruz to party.
Monseñor Rivero: a hip street full of the city’s fanciest cafés and restaurants. It’s also one of the most popular night spots in Santa Cruz for partying. Keep your eye out for Cristo – a large cement statue depicting Christ with outstretched arms.
Tahuichi Soccer Stadium: a multi-purpose venue which hosts local soccer matches and the occasional high-profile game or concert. A popular time to catch a soccer match is during the Clasico when Santa Cruz’s two main football teams, Oriente Petrolero and Blooming, play against each other.
CineCenter: the newest and largest cinema complex in Santa Cruz offering a wide variety 2D and 3D films. Accompanying the cinema is a food court, video arcade, indoor playground for small children, shopping mall and up-scale restaurants.

Side Trips From Santa Cruz de la Sierra

San Miguelito Jaguar Conservation ReserveOne of Bolivia’s best kept secrets, San Miguelito is a working cattle ranch located just 3 hours drive from Santa Cruz boasting some of the highest densities of jaguars found anywhere on the planet. Thanks to its wide variety of habitat types, San Miguelito is also one of the most species-rich in Bolivia, making it an ideal destination for wildlife viewing.
Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos: an impressive collection of six UNESCO World Heritage listed settlements which over the years have managed to survive largely intact. Founded in the 17th and 18th centuries to convert local tribes to Christianity, the Missions of Chiquitos are the last of the Jesuit Missions in Latin America.
Amboró National Park: This well preserved nature reserve boasts over 912 species of birds and over 177 mammalian species including the puma and the rare spectacled bear. Featuring beautiful walks, cascading waterfalls, dense vegetation, spectacular landscapes, fascinating archaeology and a great diversity of flora and fauna, it is no wonder that Amboró is one of Bolivia’s greatest natural treasures.
Kaa-Iya National Park: Ever wanted to see a jaguar in the wild? Those desperate to catch a glimpse of this beautiful yet elusive creature are best trying their luck at Bolivia’s Kaa Iya National Park, home to an estimated 1000 spotted cats.
Samaipata: Veering slightly off Bolivia’s tourist trail is an enchanting town located in the foothills of Santa Cruz. Quechua for “Rest in the Highlands”, Samaipata is not only a unique tourist destination but a popular weekend retreat for Bolivia’s wealthier residents. Surrounded by stunning landscapes, stylish hangouts, mysterious pre-Incan ruins and peaceful nature walks, the town is a relaxing hideaway for those looking to kick off their boots and enjoy the tranquil surrounds.
Chiquitania Region: Differentiating itself from other parts of the country, this stunning region shines for its unique wildlife, tropical vegitation and natural history. With sights such as the mysterious rock formations of the the Santiago de Chiquitos Mirador and the hot thermal springs of Aguas Calientes as well as the incredible biodiversity of Noel Kempff National Park, it’s difficult to understand why the area is so delightfully devoid of tourists.
Lomas de Arena: features 3000 hectares of soaring dunes perfect for sand boarding. The protected park also provides nature lovers with great opportunities for birding and wildlife watching.
Buena Vista: set amidst beautiful colonial coffee plantations and tropical jungle surrounds of Amboro National Park, Buena Vista is a great place to relax while enjoying a cup of the region’s finest brew.
Cotoca: a lovely little town 45km from Santa Cruz, famous for its pottery shops, ceramic artisans and for its honey which is similar to molasses.
Porongo: Less than 20 kilometers to the west of Santa Cruz and next to the Piraí river is the small town perfect for experiencing the Camba culture.

Where to Eat & Drink in Santa Cruz

Bolivia’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, Santa Cruz de la Sierra has no shortage of places to wine and dine. The following are some of the best areas in the city to grab a drink and a bite to eat:

Plaza 24 de Septiembre: a gathering point for musicians, artists, friends and families, the plaza is a great place to enjoy a meal while watching the hustle and bustle of city life.

Monseñor Rivero: a hip street full of fancy cafés, bars and restaurants. For a fun and festive dining experience, ask to be seated at one of the outdoor tables.

Equipetrol: an affluent neighbourhood in the north western side of the city where you’ll find a mix of traditional and modern restaurants, fast-food joints, health food stores, bakeries and ice-cream parlors. The main street, Avenida San Martin, is lined with bars and clubs, making it the best spot in Santa Cruz to drink, dance and party the night away.

Street-food: Looking for more budget-friendly options? Santa Cruz is full of street-side vendors selling tasty, affordable dishes such as salteñas, anticuchos, majaochicharrón, cuerillo de chancho, choclo con quesillo and achachairú.

Where to Stay in Santa Cruz

Accommodation options in Santa Cruz range from cheap and cheerful hostels to beautiful tropical hotels.

Hostels and B&Bs are a great option for shorter stays and are generally priced based on quality and location. If you’re looking to stay long-term in Santa Cruz, there are a number of lovely and well equipped apartments to choose from.

You can find a bed in Santa Cruz for as little as $7 a night and, if you plan on staying for more than a week, the hostel or B&B will usually be open to negotiating a better price.

Shopping in La Paz

From bustling markets and family-run vendors to large modern malls and high-end boutiques, Santa Cruz is one of the best places in Bolivia to shop til’ you drop.

 

Markets

Known for its large array of clothing and shoe stalls, Siete Calles Market is where you go to have your garments repaired, purchase beautiful fabrics or even have an outfit tailor-made. There is also a small food area to grab a bite to eat. The market is located 6 blocks from the plaza, and is open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 6pm. Address: Calle Vallegrande / Suárez de Figueroa

A one stop shop for all your household needs, Mercado Barrio Lindo is a great place to purchase cheap furniture, clothing, electronics, fabrics and much, much more. Spread over several blocks, the huge market is located just behind Sant Cruz’s main bus/train station. Note that the market only operates on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9am to 6pm. Address: Av Carmelo Ortiz

 

Shopping Malls

The first large shopping centre of its kind in Bolivia, Ventura Mall not only features a number of trendy boutiques and international retailers, but it is also equipped with everything from a bowling alley and multi screen cinema to a TGIF and Hard Rock Café. Address: Cuarto Anillo. 

 

Souvenirs

Most of the stores selling souvenirs in Santa Cruz can be found within a 6-block radius of the central plaza. The most popular of these is Arte Campo, an association of 12 artisan cooperatives from villages throughout the Santa Cruz department. Here you will find a wonderful selection of high quality works including paintings, tapestries, jewellery, hammocks, wall hangings, pottery, furniture, table top trinkets, carved boxes, etc. Address: Corner of  Monseñor Salvatierra & Vallegrande

Events & Festivals in Santa Cruz

Achachairú Festival (January) – held in the charming town of Porongo, this festival honours the harvest of the region’s beloved achachairú; a small orange fruit native to the tropics of Bolivia. A wonderful place to sample achachairú flavoured jams, honey, wine and other products.
Carnaval del Oriente (February/March) – Each year on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, Santa Cruz comes alive for Carnival. The unique festival features spectacular folk dances, extravagant costumes, beautiful crafts, lively music, and up to 20 hours of continuous partying.
Semana Santa (March/April) – Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is the week leading up to, but not including, Easter Sunday. Celebrated with  processions through the city, this is one of Bolivia’s most important religious festivals.
Theater International Festival (April) – organised by APAC Asociación Pro Arte y Cultura, this festival involves groups from all over the world performing plays and shows at various venues across the city and surrounding towns.
Fiesta de la Cruz (May) – taking place on the third of the month, parishioners go to the cemeteries to participate in a community wake in commemoration of the cross on which Christ was crucified.
San Juan Festival (June) – celebrated to coincide with Bolivia’s winter solstice and harvest season, the Catholic festival of San Juan Batista is known for its large bon-fires, copious drinking and fearsome fire-walking.
Festival Internacional de Vinos y Quesos (July/August) – Manufacturers and distributors of cheeses, meats and wine in Bolivia come together yearly to showcase their products to both professionals from the sector and foodie enthusiasts.
Día de la Tradición Cruceña (August) – held on the last Sunday in August, this vibrant festival features traditional games, crafts, food, dances and music of the camba culture.
Alasitas Festival (September/October) – Alasitas Fair, or Feria de las Alasitas in Spanish, is a unique festival, where locals purchase miniature items to give to Ekeko, the Aymara god of abundance, in the hope he will bring fortunate and happiness to their lives.
Expocruz (September/October) – An event that brings in 500,000 visitors each year, the ten-day long trade fair was established to help increase the business potentials of both the exhibitors and the attendees. Expocruz represents various sectors like agriculture, household appliances, construction, art and culture and many more.
Todos Santos (November) – a combination of indigenous tradition and Catholic beliefs, November 1st marks Todos Santos, or All Saints’ Day, a day in which Bolivian families gather to welcome the returning dead.
Christmas (December) – Christmas, or Navidad, in Santa Cruz combines the best of traditional religious celebrations and Western festivities to produce a holiday which is both deeply meaningful and outrageously fun. It’s a unique blend, the likes of which you’ve probably never experienced before.

Getting To, From & Around Santa Cruz

By Bus

While it’s possible to travel to and from Santa Cruz via bus, it’s important to note that the roads connecting the city to other parts of Bolivia are notoriously bad. Long distance bus routes to and from Santa Cruz are windy and bumpy thus are generally served by older busses as companies want to avoid damage to their better vehicles.

Most long distance connections to and from Santa Cruz operate from Terminal Bimodal, the city’s main bus and train station. Located on Av. Interadial between 3 Pasos al Frente and Av. Brasila, the terminal is a 20 minute walk from Parque Urbano and a 30 minute walk from the central plaza.

If you’re traveling to Santa Cruz by bus, it takes 18 hours from La Paz, 10 hours from Cochabamba, 15 hours from Sucre, 10 hours from Yacuiba (border town into Argentina), 12 hours from Quijarro (border town to Brazil), 10 hours from Trinidad and 22 hours from Copacabana. International busses also run between Santa Cruz and Brazil, Argentina and Peru.

 

By Plane

By far the most convenient way to get to and from Santa Cruz is via plane. Located 15 km north of the city centre, Viru Viru International Airport is the city’s main airport offering domestic, regional and international flights to and from Bolivia, North America, South America and Europe. Open 24 hours, the mid-sized airport has clean facilities as well as a few shops and restaurants to pass time waiting for your flight. There are also ATMs, car rentals, currency exchange, information desk, luggage storage and free wifi available.

The price of a taxi to and from Viru Viru airport is approximately Bs 80 ($12 US). A cheaper albeit less comfortable option is to take one of the minibuses (micros) which eave frequently from outside the front doors of the airport starting at 6.30am. A one way ticket is around 6 bs ($1 US) and the journey to the city centre takes around 30 minutes. Be aware that during peak hours busses fill up fast, so factor in plenty of time in order to secure a seat.

 

By Train

An alternate way to travel between Santa Cruz and the Bolivia/Brazil border is via the “death train”, named because of its history in transporting Yellow Fever victims.

Operated by the FCA, there are two trains serving the Santa Cruz –  Quijarro route:

Ferrobús – faster and more comfortable of the trains. The train to Quijarro leaves from Santa Cruz at 6pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays and returns at the same hour to Santa Cruz on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The journey takes approximately 13 hours and costs around 235 bs ($35 US) for a one way ticket. 

Expreso Oriental: slightly slower, but considerably cheaper. The train to Quijarro leaves from Santa Cruz at 1.20pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and returns at 1pm to Santa Cruz on Tuesdays Thursdays and Sundays. The journey takes approximately 17 hours and costs around 100 bs ($15 US) for a one way ticket. 

Those wanting to travel to the Bolivia/Argentina border can also do so via train:

Mixto: Only train running the Yacuiba/Santa Cruz route. The train leaves from Santa Cruz at 3.30pm on Thursdays and returns to Santa Cruz at 5pm on Fridays. The journey takes approximately 17 hours and costs around 47 bs ($7 US) for a one way ticket.

Train tickets can be purchased days in advance at Terminal Bimodal or online from Ticketsbolivia.com

 

Around Town

Transport within Santa Cruz is safe and reliable. Traveling anywhere by taxi within the city center will cost around 10 bs ($1.50 US) per person and local busses – Micros or Trufis (shared taxis) – are even cheaper again at around 2 bs ($0.60 US) per trip.

The best way to navigate Santa Cruz by bus is to pick up a map of all the bus routes from any of the “librerias (bookstores) around the city. Alternatively you can use Cruzero, a website and app dedicated to providing people with info on bus and taxi routes, travel distances, approximate travel time and rates as well as places of interest around the city.

As in any city, make sure to only take marked taxis and avoid walking by yourself at night.

 

More Info

Traveling Between La Paz And Santa Cruz

Traveling Between Sucre and Santa Cruz

How To Get Around Bolivia On Public Transport

A Guide To Surviving Bus Travel In Bolivia

 

Useful Information

Situated at around 400m (1.312ft), flying into Santa Cruz de la Sierra before traveling onto La Paz or Uyuni can help limit your chances of developing altitude sickness.

Santa Cruz has a humid tropical climate with clear-cut wet and dry seasons and an average temperature of 30 °C (86 °F). One of the wettest regions in Bolivia, the rainy season extending from late September to May, sees an annual rainfall average between 1000 and 4000 mm (40 – 150″). From the month of May there is less rain and more blue skies due to drier winds. December and January are the hottest months of the year with humid days and warm nights.

While payment in Santa Cruz is usually in bolivianos, it is also common for touristic establishments such as hotels, tour companies and restaurants to accept US dollars. The best way to access funds while in Santa Cruz is via a Visa or MasterCard using one of the city’s many ATMs or banks. It is advisable to bring some cash (either in bolivianos or US dollars) in case of lost / stolen credit cards, out of order ATMs, etc. There are also plenty of Casas de Cambios, or currency exchange houses located throughout the city, including several at Plaza Principal on the opposite corner of the Cathedral. Make sure you only accept cash in good condition as most businesses throughout Bolivia will not except damaged bills

Santa Cruz is wifi friendly and growing more so every day. Many cafes and hostels have WiFi, and while not boasting the fastest speeds in the word, it does the job for those looking to get some work done or even Skype home.

Further Reading

Booking Resources

Photo Credit: Pietro Ferreira