Slothing About in Santa Cruz

Having grown up in the UK, there is something about stepping off a plane in a tropical location that never ceases to thrill me.

The wave of heat and humidity that strikes me on the runway, the enchanting smell of rotting vegetation and the palm trees waving in the air all make my heart skip a beat. The good news is that this is exactly the tropical welcome that awaits you in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

This is apparently one of the fast growing cities in the world and it feels nothing like anywhere else in the country. The city is set out in a weird system of concentric circles, with the streets within them veering away from the simple grid plan used in most of Latin America. This means that you can expect to get lost a lot here. I know I did.

Just Chilling Out


When the temperature rises, chilling out in one of Santa Cruz’s many ice cream parlours is one of the great pleasures of being here. I can recommend ordering a giant jug of lime juice with crushed ice. It might look too big to finish but you’ll see the bottom of that jug in no time.

Because it’s a relatively new city there are few of the typical colonial tourist attractions that you will find elsewhere in the continent. The relaxing main plaza has a lovely cathedral, though. This plaza is where locals like to spend time on balmy evenings and you will see an army of coffee vendors wheeling about their products in the evenings and might even catch some live music or a mime artist.

I saw a museum dedicated to the tragic Guerra del Chaco war but I decided to give it a miss on the basis that I was all museumed out after La Paz. More interesting was the chance to visit the zoo, as a fellow traveller had advised me that it is one of the best places to see a sloth. I love those little fellows and had longed to see one up close ever since I had spent a few months in the jungle without seeing even one.

Where’s the Sloth?

The zoo in Santa Cruz is a decent size, with birds and monkeys taking pride of place. Sadly, there are no cages with sloths in them so I was about to go home disappointed. As I was heading for the exit something caught my eye on the tree next to me. A lovely sloth was climbing down it right next to me, presumably to make his weekly trip to do what every sloth needs to do.

I expected a crowd of other people to gather round and see this special sight but no one else appeared, making me think that sloths are slightly more common here than I had thought. I must have stood there for about 15 minutes, watching the old boy slowly and elegantly make his way back up to his home in the tree.

This city is located in a good place for starting your South American adventure. Flights arrive here direct from Europe and the low altitude and nice climate make it easier to get started than in cold, high altitude places like La Paz. It is relatively close to the border with Brazil, although the train journey to get there on the brilliantly named Death Train isn’t the easiest in the world. Possibly a more exciting and easier trip is to head down to Argentina from here.

Overall, Santa Cruz perhaps won’t give you the Bolivian experience you were expecting. The North American style malls, giant water parks and relaxed lifestyle here make it feel far from La Paz and Potosi. However, as a comfortable starting point for a trip around the region there is a lot to recommend it.

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