After having spent some month living in the mountain village of Samaipata and exploring the region and the surrounding valleys in the Yungas, we decided that we had enough of the humid cold nights and the too strong sunshine during the day there and moved to the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra.
Btina has previously written an article about Santa Cruz in German here.
Image: Plaza 24 de Septiembre is the center of Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia
The city’s main cathedral is at the Plaza 24 de Septiembre. During the day you can pay to enter and climb to the top of the cathedral belltower, where you can get a nice view of the plaza from above.
Santa Cruz Department
Samaipata is part of the Santa Cruz Department which is the biggest of all the departments in Bolivia with a size of 370,621 km²!!! So think about it the department is bigger than the entire country of Cuba, Finland and even Germany!
The city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra
Santa Cruz de la Sierra is not to be mixed up with all the other Santa Cruz around the World. Currently Santa Cruz is the fastest economic and population growing city within Bolivia. The official population is over 2 millions and not so long ago Santa Cruz was just a small village with maybe 40000 inhabitants.
From every mountain village people go to Santa Cruz de la Sierra because they have heard from others that there is plenty of work there and that it’s possible to earn more money than in any other place in Bolivia. This explains the population mix in Santa Cruz. It’s not what an average tourist will expect from Bolivia. Not even the climate is what your average tourist will expect. Santa Cruz is tropical I would rather call it sub tropical but whatever :-) it’s situated at about 410 meters above sea level compared to the Capital of Paraguay Asuncion which is at an altitude of about 80 meters above sea level it’s quite high. For Bolivian circumstances it’s kind of the lowest city. Compare it to La Paz the world’s highest administrative capital and Bolivia’s third most-populous city with an elevation of 3650 meters above sea level!!!
Image: February 2015 after heavy rain the old road to Cochabamba lost a few pieces of road again.
Actually Santa Cruz is not located far away from Samaipata. It’s only about 120km but the road was build over 50 years ago and the condition of the road is not good. After every heavy rain another piece of the roads just vanishes further down or big pieces of rock from above land on the road and they try to fix the road so that the entire traffic from the mountain city of Cochabamba can continue to transport goods from and to the city of Santa Cruz.
Bolivia a landlocked country
Bolivia has been called one of the most “remote” countries of the western hemisphere. It could be also because it’s landlocked since 1874.
Bolivia has no Sea access which they lost to Chile during the War of the Pacific long time ago. IMHO I believe they had an absolute terrible President back then. Now they are trying to regain Sea access.
There are lots of goods which come from and go to the port city of Iquique in Chile from Bolivia. So all the heavy machines and goods etc. have to be shipped to Iquique in Chile and then driven via truck via Iquique, Oruro Cochabamba and then finally to Santa Cruz. Now yes there is another more modern road but they have tunnels and depending on the size of the Truck they can t use the modern road. Also they have a bridge witch has already collapsed twice since the road was build, last time just a few month ago. An alternative is by airplane but this is much more expensive or by the road over Argentina but this is further and less often an option.
Hotel, Hostel and Residencias
We have been staying in different places during our visits to Santa Cruz in the last 5 month related to our VISA requirements which change all the time here. Following Hostals we can recommend. We did visit many others Hotels which we cannot recommend.
- Hostal la Jara | Calle Otuquis 161, (cerca del cementerio general)
- Hostel Jodanga | Barrio los Choferes Calle, el Fuerte # 1380, (Parque Urbano)
- Loro Loco Hostel (Popular) Ave Suarez Arana 134, Santa Cruz
- Santa Cruz Backpacker’s | 267 Yapacani Street
- Tango y Punto Residencial (mas economico) C/La Guardia No. 45 ( entre Isabel La Catolica y Av. Grigota)
Finally we decided to rent an apartment for a few month so we have our own place.
Eat and Drink
So far we can really recommend a few locations for eating and drinking. Alexander Cafe and the Republica Restaurant. Alexander has reliable and good working WIFI but most of the food and the coffee will not really be something you will ever miss. The Republica Restaurant has a terrible WIFI but the ambiance is good and the some of the food is really not bad there as well as the fresh fruit juices. We also discovered 3 Japanese Restaurants there called Restaurant KEN. The food they serve is authentic Japanese fare consisting of a lot of vegetables, seafood and rice, as well as sushi. They also have some fish from the Titicaca lake which is less far away than the seafood.
We continue to use the prepaid internet with TiGo and ENTEL. VIVA is terrible in Santa Cruz too I have no idea how they do any business having such a bad network service.
Bus Transport and Taxi
The only guarantee you have to get where you want is if you carry a GPS or a map with you in case of having a driver who does not know your address destination. It happened a few times to us so now we are prepared for almost everything here :-)
Taxi is normally not expensive unless you drive from the Airport to the city center then its about 70 Bolivianos. The most economic public transportation option are the micro buses which only cost 2 to 3 Bolivianos.
Image: One of the small buses in Santa Cruz called Micro. Many of the drivers have a young women on the first seat of the right side and heavy front windows decoration. You will note the doors have Japanese writing on it. Most of the vehicles have been previously imported from Japan. With the new president and Vice president this has now changed and only vehicles which are not older than 1 year are legally allowed to be imported into Bolivia … It’s a great business for the owner of the biggest vehicle importing company in Bolivia … Politics and Business is like Religion and Business they should never marry.
Image: Candid capture of a young woman on the phone in the bus driving by
Image: This heavy decorated window is the bus driver in Santa Cruz with his girl friend on the right side
Image: One of our many taxis drivers we had in Santa Cruz. Most of them love to talk to foreign people and the time just flies by then. Some of them even speak a few words of English and today one of them even spoke a few words of French! Many of them have worked and lived in Spain and came back because of the Economic decrease in Spain.
Image: Street vendor pressing fresh orange juice for 8 Bolivianos
Image: Colonial style architecture with palm tree near the center of Santa Cruz de la Sierra
People in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia
Happy people, friendly people, unhappy people, stressed people, worried people, tired people, proud people, suspicious people and working people. This is how authentic people are in Santa Cruz de la Serra in Bolivia South America.
Image: Wandering trough the street market I discovered this lady working on the price of her vegetables
Image: This happy looking gal was selling all kind of school material in the street market
Image: Lunch food delivery is a very common thing in Santa Cruz de la Sierra
Image: Cholita woman with typical hat in on of the Santa Cruz markets. The word cholita comes from the Spanish word “cholo” (chola for females) – meaning mixed-race or, “halfbreed” or “civilised Indian”. But in this case it’s been appropriated as a badge of honour. The diminutive “ita”, frequently used in Spanish, is affectionate and means small.
Image: Security guard wandering trough the street market in Santa Cruz de la Sierra
Image: This older Cholita with the colorful “backpack” was selling big wooden spoons on the street
Image: Even the youngest have very modern hair cuts here it seems to be something important
Image: The markets of the city are great sports for authentic street photography
Image: This friendly guy just visited the hair dresser not so long ago
Image: This chap didn’t really seem to enjoy pushing goods trough the market or being taken a photo
Image: They almost begged to be taken in photo and I liked the authentic situation because it’s this or the other extreme where they don’t want any photo at all…
Image: This lady seems to be reading here To-Do shopping list
Image: Tattoos are extremely popular here in Santa Cruz a lot of people have and show them
Markets in Santa Cruz
There are many big markets in Santa Cruz the biggest one is the Abasto Mercado, the mercado la Ramada, mercado mutualista, mercado 7 calles, mercado los pozos, mercado 4 de noviembre and the mercado Florida for fresh tropical salads and healthy juices. The Abasto mercado is the biggest and is open 24/7 the quality and the price is just amazing compared to the “modern” supermarket which do not even sell all the available fruits and if they sell them they are much more expense and not really the same quality than directly on the market.
The Abasto market in Santa Cruz is our Nr. 1 source for fresh Coconuts, Avocados, Potatoes, Pineapples, Papaya, Cacao and of course the Bananas!
Image: Btina and our two neighbors from Samaipata at the market
Image: The big difference from the mountain people in Santa Cruz is that they are much more open and happy and just smile more :-)
Image: They sell Apples in Santa Cruz too but guess where they come from. Chile and Argentina! So they are prepared like in EU and the US and stay “fresh” for 6 to 12 month or longer… isn’t that great? This is the last fruit I would purchase anywhere. If you have a own Apple tree in your own garden it’s not an issue of course. Great article about this here: Your average supermarket apple is 14 months old! And a few month ago we gave our dog Asterix a few slices of Apple and just 15 minutes later hes mouth was 50% bigger on one side than the other for the next 4 hours before it decreased again..
Image: Until today (2015) you can see many Cholitas that have managed to maintain their traditional dress with the Hat, Shawl and Skirt
Mobile street vendors in Santa Cruz
There are so many street vendors and also mobile street vendors that sometimes an entire market might be just many mobile street vendors.
Image: This street vendor with child is also selling Caña dulce as fast food
Image: Papayas in all shapes and sizes are available every day in Santa Cruz