5 things to do in Santa Cruz, Bolivia
When people think about Bolivia, most imagine the highlands of La Paz, with its soaring altitude, cold weather and Inca ruins, but there is more to this complex beautiful country than the altiplano. Santa Cruz de la Sierra is the second most populated department in Bolivia, and seems almost to be a totally different country in its culture, people and natural beauty. Located on the Eastern side of Bolivia, bordering Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, it has tropical and sub-tropical climates, with the average temperature ranging around 73F and in the summer months it can reach over 100C. During the winter months (December through February), it can be a bit chilly with the famous “surazos”, southern winds from the South Pole dropping the temperatures to 10F. With a population now surpassing two million, the “cruceños” (nickname for people originating from Santa Cruz), are a mixture of European, mostly Spanish and native “guarani”. A happy party loving people as befits anyone from the tropics, the cruceños are friendly and welcoming to tourists and will welcome you into their circles when you befriend them, so be prepared to party when you go to Santa Cruz!
With the weather always being so hot and humid, cruceños love to be outdoors, so the 5 best things to do while in the city of Santa Cruz are:
- Have a coffee! Yes, cruceños love their coffee, whether it be during the day, or just as night falls. On a budget? During the day you can walk to the main plaza, 24 de Septiembre, and just sit on a bench while the ambulatory coffee providers walk by with their little carts, very smartly dressed and serve you a delicious café while you people watch. This can take all day! Santa Cruz is known for its beautiful women. Later on at night you can mosey on down to “Monseñor Rivero”, a street lined with pricier cafés , that serve local pastries that are a must have to try, like the cuñapes, masaco (fried plantain, cheese and beef jerky), sonso (yucca and cheese), and continue your people watching.
- You must have the famous salteñas. These are like empanadas, but not really, being uniquely bolivian. Salteñas are usually eaten at 10 a.m., although they are delicious at any time, filled with chicken or meat, extremely juicy, so have a napkin on hand, and learn the special way to eat them! There are many places that make salteñas, but the best ones are from “Salteñeria Santa Cruz”, just a few blocks from the main square.
- 3. Eating is not the only thing to do in Santa Cruz, there are several interesting museums around town. The Cathedral museum in the main square houses sacred art from the Spanish conquest and Jesuit era. The “Manzana Uno”, run by local artists, hosts a variety of art exhibits of local artists, and you can actually buy their work. There are about 10 art galleries that are worth exploring in the city, all within walking distance of each other.
- Obviously the night life is just as boisterous as the “cruceños”. The many bars located around the main square provide music for all tastes. “Centrosfera”, frequented by the younger crowd, grungy style, you will see and meet many of the young cruceñian elite here. On the corner of the plaza, Café Lorca also offers live music, for a bit older crowd. It is always crowded. My favorite, Tapekua bistro, live latin music, with delicious French food run by a French expat. Beware, Santa Cruz night life starts late, after 11 pm, and lasts long past 2 a.m.!
- Last but not least, Shopping! Beautiful people love their beautiful clothes. A haven for shoppers, Santa Cruz has styles for all tastes, American, European and Latin American designers are featured in many of the chic boutiques around town. Walk 5 blocks around the main square and you can find many a fun store to browse through, whether you want handicrafts made by local artisans, or chic designer clothing and wonderful shoes, you will not be disappointed!! And the prices are very affordable by American standards.
So, this is all urban but you are the outdoorsy type? Not to worry, Santa Cruz has wonderful natural and archeological sites to choose from, but that is on my next article… stay tuned!
Santa Cruz can be reached from the U.S. by American Airlines, and from Europe by BOA, (Bolivian Airlines). Are you looking for a travel guide, my favorite is the Lonely Planet guide to Santa Cruz, although you might not need it if you befriend a “cruceño”, they are so friendly, their other nickname is “camba”, a Guaraní word for friend! Happy travels!
Town Square 24 de Septiembre
With the Cathedral in the background, the main plaza, 24 de Septiembre looks wonderful at night.