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- 12 May 2021, 3 nights
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Built on the lush tropical lowlands at the foot of the Andes, Santa Cruz has a different feel to the rest of Bolivia, which is dominated by areas of high altitude. Grand Spanish architecture remains from the city's colonial days yet there's a charming small-town ambiance in the narrow streets filled with homemade stalls. Restaurants and shops close for siestas so embrace the pace and spend the early afternoon watching locals play boules. Or venture outside of the city to cool off in the nearby Los Espejillos waterfalls.
Go for a Santa Cruz hostel with an outdoor pool and a bar, or one that has a roof terrace with 360-degree city views. You can take a siesta relaxing in a garden of fruit trees or in the airy interior of a hostel steps away from the main plaza. Many hostels in Santa Cruz have free breakfast and a choice of dorms or private rooms, as well as free Wi-Fi so you can connect with family and friends.
The central neighbourhood, Casco Viejo (old town), is full of colonial buildings, museums and galleries. Plaza 24 de Septiembre is the main square, crowned by the cathedral's 400-year-old clock tower that you can climb for panoramas of the city. Monseñor Rivero is a buzzing avenue of cafés and nightlife just north of the centre, while Urubo is on the northwestern edge of the city. This is a wealthy area home to Hollywood-style mansions and the modern Ventura Mall.
If you fancy trying tango, head to Casa Melchor Pinto. This former residence of the famous doctor turned cultural centre and exhibition space runs regular classes and events. Get your adrenaline pumping by spending a day at Parque Lomas de Arena, a 45-minute drive away. Here, you can sand board on the dunes or kayak on the lagoons of Güembé Biocentro and Resort across the Piray River. To blend in with the locals, café hop in the hillside village of Samaipata, 3 hours from the city.
Fly to Viru Viru International Airport and take the 30-minute minibus ride from the airport to Santa Cruz city centre. Estación Bimodal Terrestre y Ferroviaria – which is the region's combined bus and train station – is a 30-minute walk from the centre and has local and long-distance buses connecting to cities throughout Bolivia. To get around Santa Cruz use micros (collective minibuses) or taxis, which are plentiful and affordable.