Santa Cruz de la Sierra - Abbey Travel, Ireland

Santa Cruz de la Sierra

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Welcome to Santa Cruz de la Sierra

Santa Cruz de la Sierra

Commonly known as Santa Cruz, the largest city in Bolivia was founded in 1560 by Spanish conquistador Ñuflo de Chávez. In contrast to many cities in Bolivia, Santa Cruz is a mere 1,365 feet (416m) above sea level and enjoys a tropical environment that makes it an ideal break from the often harsh conditions of the Andes. Many travellers visit Santa Cruz only as a transit destination, as flights to Bolivia have an easier time landing there than navigating the mountains around La Paz. Santa Cruz is a fascinating travel destination in its own right, however.

A traditionally wealthy city through railroads and oil refining, downtown Santa Cruz is a pretty area with many shops, restaurants and museums. Strolling through town is a great way to take in the beautiful colonial architecture, evident in the numerous cathedrals; and both locals and tourists take advantage of the idyllic climate to gather in the Plaza 24 de Septiembre to play chess, feed the pigeons, or sip a glass of wine at an outdoor cafe.

The city is known as the fashion capital of Bolivia, and locally-made clothing is a popular Santa Cruz souvenir. Its cosmopolitan ambience extends to art galleries, museums, discos and restaurants, which offer the widest selection in Bolivia.

The convenience and comfort of Santa Cruz makes it an ideal base to explore some of the most popular attractions in Bolivia, including Park Amboro, and the historical Jesuit missions. There are also daily flights to La Paz, or (decidedly less comfortable) buses available.

Information & Facts

Spanish is the official language, but only 60 to 70% of the people actually speak it, and then often only as a second language. The other main languages are Quechua and Aymar.

The official currency is the Boliviano (BOB), which is divided into 100 centavos, and is tied to the US Dollar. Money can be exchanged at exchange bureaux called casio de cambiosin the main centres, at banks and hotels. Banking facilities are good in the main cities and ATMs cater for Visa, Cirrus and MasterCard. Many hotels and other tourist-oriented institutions accept US Dollars. Major credit cards, including MasterCard, Diners, Visa and American Express, are accepted in the bigger hotels, restaurants and shops. Travellers cheques can be exchanged in casio de cambiosin the major cities and are best taken in US Dollars to avoid additional charges.

GMT -4.

Amboro National Park is a nature reserve in central Bolivia that is home to more than 800 species of birds, and many endangered animals such as the puma, jaguar and Spectacled Bear. The diverse terrains offer seemingly neverending vistas and spectacular scenery filled with rivers, waterfalls, forests, canyons and mountains. Visitors can pass the time birdwatching at La Chonta outlook, sunning themselves on the beaches of the Surutu River, or hiking the Yunga Mountains.

The Jesuit Church sent missionaries to many rural areas of Bolivia in the 16th century in order to 'civilise' and convert indigenous tribes, but by the 18th century they had been expelled by the Spanish government. The churches have remained active and today many of the vibrant villages are centred around beautiful colonial churches. Some of the most popular mission towns include San Ignacio, Concepción, San Rafael, San Javier, and San José, which are in the Chiquitania region near Santa Cruz. Many local tour operators offer packages that include several villages.

Two hours southwest of Santa Cruz lies the tiny village of Samaipata, home to a diverse array of local tribes and some beautiful examples of Spanish colonial architecture. Samaipata has several important attractions, more so than one would expect from a town of its size; including El Fuerte, a set of pre-Incan ruins designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and the waterfalls of Las Cuevas. Samaipata is also conveniently located near stunning natural attractions like the diverse flora and fauna of Amboro Park; the 3.5 mile (5,700m) tall Condor Mountain, considered the Matterhorn of the Andes; and the stunning 262-foot (80m) La Pajcha Waterfall. Samaipata is also home to the former grave of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, and is the start and finish point of the Che Guevara Trail, which visits sites of interest including his guerrilla camp and school.

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