Despite its misleading name, Santa Cruz de la Sierra is located in the tropical lowlands at the foot of the Sierra Oriental at only 437m altitude.
The 1.5 million city is considered Bolivia’s largest, most modern, wealthiest and politically most conservative. Its cityscape, laid out in concentric ring roads on the east bank of the Río Paray, is best captured from above. The remains of the colonial city founded in 1592 can be found in the inner ring with the Plaza 24 de Septiembre as its centre. It is lined by the cathedral, the Club Social, the cultural centre Centro Municipal de Cultura and additional restored colonial buildings, with modern, rather faceless buildings in between. From the walkable tower of the cathedral, one has a good panoramic view over the centre of Santa Cruz.
What makes Santa Cruz special are its numerous theme parks and green areas, a distinctive nightlife, good shopping facilities and the cultural and natural attractions of its hinterland. Tourists and expats are drawn to the pubs and restaurants of the Av. Monseñor Rivero or to the expensive Equipetrol district between the second and third ring roads in the northwest of the city centre. Recommended among the parks of the city are the Jardín Botánico, about 8 km west of the city on the road to Cotoca, and the Biocentro Güembé in the west of the city beyond the Río Paray. The 184 hectares of the Botanical Garden are home to the region’s forests, from dry tropical forest to rainforest, which are accessible via a nature trail. In addition to numerous bird species, monkeys and sloths can often be spotted in the treetops. The Biocentro Güembé is a colourful ensemble of artificial and natural bathing landscapes, a resort hotel, playgrounds and an enormous butterfly house as well as a collection of orchids. Unfortunately, the hefty entrance fees of about 20 € per person are hardly affordable for most locals. Zool lovers will not miss the visit of the Zoológico Municipal, which is the largest of its kind in South America.
A scenic curiosity are the Lomas de Arena. It is a more than 100km² large moving dune and lake area about twelve kilometres south of Santa Cruz. These dunes, up to 50m high, are interspersed with small groundwater lakes and traversed by a stream. Those who visit them as part of a tour are invited to go sandboarding, but also a visit on one’s own is highly recommended, especially before / at sunset, due to the best photo motives.