Santa Cruz is a fast-growing city in Bolivia The city is an excellent example of traditional values combined with a modern lifestyle. Santa Cruz is a paradise with a tropical savanna climate, exciting nightlife, amazing wildlife, and unique culture.
You will experience local vendors, traditional clothing, time-honored customs, colonial architecture and upscale restaurants. Santa Cruz is the gateway to amazing outdoor activities in Bolivia including hiking, watching wildlife, river rafting, and sandboarding. Although the city is still developing, it is one of the most contemporary cities in the country.
This is an exceptional place to begin if you are interested in learning about Bolivian life and culture. You will not find many of the most sensational sights in any guidebook or magazine. Some of the most exceptional places to visit are described below.
The Museums and Churches
The Cathedral de Santa Cruz is an exquisite, ornate cathedral dating back 400 years. From the top of the clock tower, you have a panoramic view of Santa Cruz. The Museo de Arte Sacro is located inside of the cathedral. You will discover ancient relics of silver and gold and one of the smallest books in the world. The volume is the size of a thumbnail. The Lord’s Prayer is inside in several different languages.
The Modern Art Museum offers both temporary and permanent modern art exhibits. The works of both local and foreign artists are featured including sculptures and paintings.
The Museo Etno-Folklórico has an amazing collection of artifacts including weapons, masks from different ethnic groups of Eastern Bolivia, musical instruments and clothing.
You will find approximately 150 pieces at Museo Guaraní. They were obtained from a variety of Guaraní indigenous sites in Santa Cruz. The municipal government and the city tourism office runs the Santa Cruz Cultural Center. You will enjoy the cultural events, music, theater, and art exhibits.
The Fabulous Entertainment
One of the largest assortments of shoe and clothing stalls is the 7 Calles Market. You can purchase gorgeous fabrics, have your clothing repaired or have an outfit custom made. There is even a charming little area where you can relax and have something tasty to eat.
The first big shopping center ever constructed in Bolivia is the Ventura Mall. The sensational entertainment includes the Hard Rock Cafe, a multi-screen cinema, a bowling alley and a TGIF.
If you are a soccer fan, you do not want to miss Tahuichi Soccer Stadium. Not only does the multi-purpose venue occasionally host a concert or high-profile game, but this is also where you can see the local soccer matches. During the Clasico, the two main football teams of Santa Cruz play against one another. These are Blooming and Oriente Petrolero.
The largest and newest cinema complex is the CineCener. You can choose from a nice selection of both 2D and 3D films. There is also a video arcade, shopping mall, delicious food court, up-scale restaurants and an indoor playground for the kids.
Moonsenor Rivero is a street filled with the fanciest restaurants and cafes in Santa Cruz. The street is extremely popular for partying once the sun has set. There is also an extraordinary status of Christ made of cement with his arms outstretched.
One of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Santa Cruz is Equipetrol. You could spend months enjoying the luxurious hotels, modern and traditional restaurants, salons, spas, specialty shops, health food stores, and ice-cream parlors and never have enough.
Avenida San Martin is the main street. All of the clubs and bars make this an exceptional place to party in Santa Cruz. You can see extravagant Hollywood style homes in Urubo. These new estates are the norm in this area and definitely worth a look.
The Cultural Landmarks and Historical Figures
There are a lot of fascinating cultural landmarks and historical monuments in Santa Cruz. Visiting the ruins of El Fuerte feels like a trip back in time. The Chane people built the pre-Columbian fortress which the Inca later inhabited. This religious site was once believed to have a connection to aliens.
Santa Cruz once belonged to the Gran Chiquitania. This was an area of Jesuit Missions and remote Spanish settlements in the Orient’s steamy lowlands. The name Chiquitos was introduced by Nuflo de Chaves, the Spanish conquistador from the sixteenth century. This was at approximately the same time he established Santa Cruz la Vieja, the original capital.
As time passed, the Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos became a frequently visited tourist destination. Six of these missions are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites. If you want to know what Santa Cruz felt like in the past, these are the places to visit.
You can follow in the footsteps of Ernesto Che Guevara and his guerilla fighters near the town of Vallegrande. This was the headquarters of the Che guerrilleros and where Ernesto was buried after being executed in 1967 in La Higuera. The classroom where he was killed contains some interesting relics including a small shrine.
Most of the commemorative landmarks of the guerrillero are in a photo gallery at the Museo Municipal in Vallegrande, the site of his grave at Che’s Mausoleum and at the Hospital Señor de Malta. You can actually visit the laundry room where Che’s death was available for public display along with the exhibit prior to his burial.
You can hike to important local sites through the tour operators. Every October, there is a festival and pilgrimage held in his honor. If you plan to visit in October, do not miss this magnificent festival.
Nature and Wildlife
Take a day trip to Guembe Biocentro Resort. This is a phenomenal nature park with an enormous butterfly dome, a huge soccer field, three lagoons ideal for fishing, swimming and kayaking, a gorgeous orchid exhibition and an extremely large butterfly dome.
There are special activities for the kids including a playground, buggy rides, mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding. Amazing international cuisine is served at the on-site restaurant and there are camping facilities, bungalows and a resort hotel if you want to stay for a night or two.
Lomas de Arena encompasses 3000 hectares of dunes ideal for sandboarding. The park is protected to offer nature lovers an excellent opportunity for watching the wildlife and the birds.
Spend an afternoon at Jardin Botanico and enjoy the 186 hectares of lovely gardens. There is a natural trail where you may see everything from sloths as they sleep in the trees overhead to a big group of monkeys.
The Chiquitania region is different than anywhere else in the country. This area is a stunning display of natural history, tropical vegetation and unique wildlife. The Santiago de Chiquitos Mirador is a mysterious rock formation, the Aquas Calienta offers hot thermal springs and the Noel Kempff National park provides amazing biodiversity.
Amboro National Park is an extremely well-preserved nature reserve. There are more than 912 species of birds and 177 mammals including the rare spectacled bear and the puma. The cascading waterfalls, magnificent landscapes, diversity of flora and fauna, lovely walks, dense vegetation, and fascinating archeology are ideal for the entire family. This is one of the national treasures of Bolivia.
If you have ever dreamed of seeing a jaguar in the wild, you need to visit Kaa-Iya National Park. You may catch a glimpse of this elusive and gorgeous creature. Approximately 1000 spotted cats make their home in this park.
Plazas and Parks
The tourists and locals both gather at Plaza 24 de Septiembre. This hive of activity is the main plaza in Santa Cruz. The camba bands play catchy Oriente beats, the street vendors sell fresh juices and there are little chess tables and park benches. Santa Cruz’s Cathedral surrounds the square with a few restaurants and cafes and restored historic buildings.
La Rinconada is an Eco Resort and restaurant with a beautiful design, gardens, shimmering swimming pools and a river containing the largest water lily in the world, the Victoria Amazonica. Your family will always remember their time at Playland Water Park. From September until May, you can enjoy large wave pools, tasty restaurants, water slides, playgrounds and so much more.
One of the oldest parks in the city and a favorite for the locals is Parque El Arenal. This oasis of greenery is ideal for taking a stroll, paddling around the beautiful lagoon by boat or enjoying a rest beneath the toborochi trees. You can visit the island where Carlo Lorgio Vaca painted a breathtaking mural or stop by the Museo Etnofolklorico Municipal to see the artifacts from the ethnic groups of East Bolivia.
The Side Trips
Buena Vista is a charming little town you will find right off the main highway leading to Cochabamba. The town is surrounded by the tropical jungle of Amboro National Park and lovely colonial coffee plantations. Fewer than twenty kilometers to the west of Sana Cruz is Porong. This small town is right next to the Piral river and ideal for experiencing the culture of Camba.
If you veer slightly off the tourist trail of Bolivia, you will discover Samaipata. This enchanting town can be found in the foothills of Santa Cruz. Quechua means to rest in the highlands. Not only is this a unique destination for tourists, but this is where the wealthier residents of Bolivia head to as a popular weekend retreat.
Samaipata is surrounded by peaceful nature walks, mysterious pre-Incan ruins, trendy hangouts, and amazing landscapes. This is the ideal relaxing hideaway if you want to take off your shoes and enjoy the tranquil sounds of nature.