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
Side Trips From Santa Cruz de la Sierra
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, majao, chicharrón, 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.
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
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.
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
Getting To, From & Around Santa Cruz
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 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.
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:
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
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.
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.