Santa Cruz department is located in Tropical Lowlands of Bolivia, and is the largest in the country.
- 1 Santa Cruz – The capital.
- 2 Buena Vista – A little and beautiful colonial town, 2.5 hr away from Santa Cruz city with tropical climate and filled with culture. Enjoy the fish there served on a plate, which seems to be popular.
- 3 Bulo Bulo – Start of the river towards Trinidad.
- 4 Cotoca – A little town 40 min away from Santa Cruz, extremely old and filled with culture. Features an interesting sunday market. Also, in the treetops of the plaza you can find a handful of just sitting around and barely moving sloths, if you are able to spot them—if not, ask the locals. (Bring a zoom camera!)
- 5 Montero
- 6 Puerto Suarez / Puerto Quijarro – On the border with Brazil.
- 7 Samaipata – 2.5 hr east of Santa Cruz with heavenly climate, El Fuerte and lots of other things.
- 1 [dead link] Noel Kempff National Park. There are two sides to the park, the north, which is more regarding waterfalls, and the south, which concentrates more on the beautiful mountains ranges.
- 2 Amboró National Park. There are two sides to this park, the north, which is more regarding jungle and monkeys, and the south, which concentrates more on the beautiful volcano mountains.
- 3 Kaa Iya National Park. Just 6 hours from Santa Cruz city, this is one of the world's best places to see jaguars, tapirs and pumas. It's an extremely remote National Park. Use of satellite Phone, 4WD and special permits are required to enter this park.
- 4 Lomas de Arena. A 14,000-hectare protected area which is a spectacular Natural Desert which is surrounded by tropical forests. It's an excellent place for bird watching as well as sand boarding, trekking and photography.
- 5 Pantanal Boliviano. A huge nature reserve that covers parts of Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil. A wide range of land and water animals live here, even deer.
Santa Cruz is in the lowlands at the east of the country. This department concentrates 27% of the country´s population, several of the major universities of Bolivia and is responsible for over 30% of the country wealth production, forty something percent of the national taxes. Its population is variate, some 40% of its inhabitants were born elsewhere (mainly in the rest of the Bolivian departments). They seek what more of what they call "Autonomia" which means autonomy and intends to separate more functions from the central government in a way similar to Spain government system, more independent and locally managed. In this country like many others of South America, citizens have to support the burden of time and cost of doing most bureaucratic administrative procedures from far away from La Paz in a corrupt and inefficient system.
When the Spaniards originally arrived to these lands, they came from Paraguay and Argentina. The local indigenous peoples came from two lines, or as they are called Tupi-Guarani. The first, the Tupi originally came from the Caribbean through the Amazon jungle down to these latitudes. The Guarani´s came here down the Atlantic coast through what today is Brazil and Argentina, and upriver from there. They were the original humans in this region and they had gone well into the lower Andes. Nowadays it is only possible to find possible reminders of the onetime greatness of this two cultures in Moxos (Beni department) or in southern Bolivia or northern Argentina and it requires investigation because little is known and they are not part of touristic routes.
The blend of these three and other latecomers are the local native population, they call themselves "Camba or Cambas". These people are mostly of peasant origin that dedicated itself to farming related activities, this still is the main department´s activity. Today, with the migrations of this last quarter century these people are maybe around one half of the local population. One interesting characteristic of this region is that most of the more recently arrived inhabitants have integrated fairly well. Obviously there are exceptions to this. Being a land with so many bloods, sympathy and tolerance to outsiders is fairly high by any standard.
One interesting characteristic of the "Cruceños" or people from Santa Cruz is that apparently they prefer not having to work in public services (Government, armed forces, police, diplomatic services, church, others) and as someone said, they don´t migrate, they just move around. This probably explains why of some 100 Bolivian presidents in almost two centuries, only three were from Santa Cruz department. And all three were military, which is a factor that changes people through doctrines embedded into its members during their careers.
One very interesting testimony of this history can be downloaded (in Spanish for free) from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The document is called Informe de Desarrollo Humano de Santa Cruz [formerly dead link] and the first chapter relates the history of Santa Cruz in this last half of the 20th century.
Mostly Santa Cruz city will be your transfer hub.
If you are coming in from Argentina or Paraguay, you will have to come in by highway (bus or other), information is available in any major city´s bus station.
If you are coming from Brazil, you can take the Tren de la Muerte or Death Train. (The name does not reflect the degree of safety of the train, but rather how many people died building the railroad along this route.) So, if you are in Corumbá, a Brazilian border city, you just have to cross the frontier, take a taxi to the train station in Bolivia (they don't accept Brazilian taxi drivers there) and go to the train station. Depending on the class of train you want to take, it will take a different time to get to Santa Cruz city.
Also, trains are occasionally available from the Argentine border.
You can get in but slow and authentic cargo boat from the Beni department—read there for more details.
There are numerous minibuses if not buses from Santa Cruz city into all directions. Ask the locals, they will know best where to find the bus stations, especially for the minibuses.
- Rent a boat 1 near Bulo Bulo or in 2 Villa Tunari, or take a cargo ferry in 3 Puerto Villaroel and go down the river 4 near Trinidad or even further into the Amazon region. Stack enough food, and bring chlorine tablets for clean water and mosquito net. See the Beni department for all the details.
- 6 Santiago de Chiquitos. Besides being one of the Jesuit Missions, this place in addition offers spectacular nature and hikes.
Depending the time of the year, there are other seasonal activities. Most are concentrated around the capital city of Santa Cruz, but many are in the provincial towns, which usually are fairly easy to reach. These include baroque music, theatre, orchids, and other festivals, international commercial fairs, music concerts, sports competitions and more. Depending on ones interests some addresses which might be useful to search in are:
- APAC - Asociacion Pro Arte y Cultura / Music and theater festivals (In English available)
- CEPAD -Centro para la Participación y Desarrollo Humano Sostenible / Orchid festival
- Simba. Take advantage of the different kinds of soda flavors you can't get outside of Latin America! The Coca Cola company makes a delicious brand of fruit sodas called Simba. Try the guarana or manzana verde flavors.
Do not participate in political demonstrations before finding out more.
In the case of civic or political struggles or events, locals are usually peaceful and don´t mind foreigners. Peaceful rallies are truly a party and safe, this is how these people are. Violent ones should be avoided, although foreigners normally having fairer skin and/or different clothing than any of the locals are easily identifiable by them and are usually left alone.
These last two comments do not apply to Bolivia as a whole, there are many towns and areas of the country with less mixed and more closed societies that react differently to outsiders or foreigners.