Santa Cruz & surrounds
For many centuries a modest outpost town, Santa Cruz flourished in the 20th century and is now the country’s largest city, a flourishing metropolis, combining colonial heritage and contemporary energy.
Bolivia's Santa Cruz de la Sierra is an endearing mix of old and new. Narrow streets, horse-drawn carts and elegant colonial buildings exist alongside skyscrapers, fast cars and shopping and entertainment complexes. It’s worth spending a day or two here to soak up the cosmopolitan vibe of this thriving city before exploring sites nearby such as national parks and the Jesuit missions.
- Santa Cruz de la Sierra plaza life: Plaza 24 de Septiembre, the date of the city’s independence, in the centre of the colonial settlement contains the cathedral, government buildings and palace theatre and has been the site of public demonstrations over the years. It’s a popular gathering place for locals, with its tree-lined walkway and benches, where you can rest as take in the scene and listen to camba music.
- Retail therapy: From street markets to glossy malls Santa Cruz has a buzzing retail scene. Rub shoulders with the Crucenos as you hunt for bargains and souvenirs.
- Parks & gardens: Take a break from the crowds and go for a stroll round Parque el Arenal, enjoy a boat ride on the lagoon, explore the island and get a dose of culture in the ethnological museum. In the botanical gardens you follow waymarked trails and boardwalks to admire themed gardens and look for monkeys, sloths, tortoises and birds.
- Jesuit missions: To the east of the city there are six imposing 17th and 18th-century Jesuit missions of Chiquitos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where local people were given lodging, work and religious instruction in return for converting to Catholicism. Each is a self-contained settlement with a central plaza, church, school, workshops and accommodation. The missions continued after the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, unlike those in neighbouring countries, and the churches are in use today.
- Amboro National Park: This is the best known of the national parks in the state, an unspoilt area of rainforest, woodlands, waterfalls, caves and mountains. The park offers opportunities for hiking, horse riding, kayaking and rafting as well as chances to observe monkeys, sloths, spectacled bears, armadillos and an array of birds including macaws, cock of the rock and hummingbirds.