In contrast to La Paz, Santa Cruz lies at the centre of the country in the eastern foothills of the Andes. It is much larger at around 1.5 million people but it doesn’t feel like a big city. It is cosmopolitan and one of the fastest growing cities in the world, but modern and traditional still mix freely here. Although this is not the Bolivia you see on the postcards, there is more than enough here to fill a few days sightseeing. There is an exceptional blend of peoples and you can join the better off residents and tourists in the famous upmarket Equipetrol District or chill with the locals in one of the many relaxed plazas.
The traditional centre is downtown Plaza 24 de Septiembre, where unusually you can climb to the tops of the cathedral towers for an extraordinary view of the city. Take your pick of museums but don’t miss the small but unique Museo Guarani. It is run by the Guarani people, who represent the ancient inhabitants of this part of Bolivia and Paraguay and is dedicated to their culture. Look out for their masks and especially the tinjas, the huge clay pots used to make chicha, their traditional corn based alcoholic drink. They were also used to bury their dead!
The average annual temperature is 23°C, ideal for exploring some of the parks and reserves that abound. The Bicentro Gwembe Mariposario offers a fun day out swimming or relaxing with monkeys, birds, turtles and butterflies - and of course sloths. Santa Cruz is the unofficial sloth capital of the world and these gentle and charming creatures can also be seen in the trees on the outskirts of the city. About a three hours trip from Santa Cruz, the San Miguelito Jaguar Conservation Ranch is the ideal place to see jaguar and a visit here helps to support the conservation work of this eco project.
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