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This is a complete guide to all of the best things to do in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. It includes lots of info on activities and tours as well as some extra info including where to stay in Santa Cruz.
Ahh Santa Cruz, Bolivia. What a warm welcome after traveling the rest of Bolivia’s highlands and being exposed to harsh winds, high altitudes, and cold conditions. We arrived just in the nick of time to give our lungs a rest and were ready to enjoy warm weather again.
On arrival, we were really keen to explore this rather off-the-beaten-path city and the best things to do in Santa Cruz. In fact, we got up to more than most other travelers and had a fantastic time!
But what exactly is there to do in Santa Cruz? We asked ourselves the same question before we arrived. But after some exploring, it turns out there are a ton of great activities and tours in Santa Cruz!
Here’s our list of the 10 BEST things to do in Santa Cruz and a little extra info to help you prepare for your visit!
About Santa Cruz, Bolivia
Santa Cruz De La Sierra (as it’s formally called) is the largest city in Bolivia. It’s known as the economic hub of the country and the city barely resembles other Bolivian cities such as Sucre or La Paz. For one, Santa Cruz sits at an elevation of only 400 meters (1,300 ft) above sea level. When compared to La Paz (3,650 meters) it’s a welcome relief for those who enjoy warmer weather.
The next biggest thing you’ll notice is the landscape. Santa Cruz borders the Amazon Rainforest and the city’s surroundings are lush and green. This change in scenery makes Santa Cruz a great place to visit in Bolivia for those wanting to experience Bolivia’s biodiversity.
But arguably the biggest difference in Santa Cruz is the culture. This brings new foods and experiences. These differences intrigued me and made my visit to Santa Cruz, Bolivia worth the extra travel.
Overall, Santa Cruz is an interesting place to visit, and when given a proper chance, it can be an awesome destination on your Bolivia itinerary!
Related Read: Have you ever heard about the world’s most dangerous mine called Potosí in Boliva?
Things to do in Santa Cruz, Bolivia
1. Climb the Cathedral of Santa Cruz
Located in the center of Santa Cruz at the Plaza 24 de Septiembre is the Cathedral of Santa Cruz. This beautiful cathedral is one of the best places to visit in the city. However, you don’t just have to enjoy the church from the outside in fact, visitors can climb the bell tower to enjoy the magnificent views of Santa Cruz.
It only costs 3 BOB (less than 0.50 cents USD) to enter the Cathedral of Santa Cruz and you can do so between 8 am to 12 pm and 3 pm to 6 pm every day of the week.
Apart from the cathedral, it’s worth noting that a visit to Plaza 24 de Septiembre is also a great place to visit when in Santa Cruz. So, enjoy the views, get a bite to eat, and relax in the square!
2. Take a tour to Amboro National Park
Amboro National Park is a wildlife lover’s paradise and a visit is easily one of the best things to do in Santa Cruz!
This unique national park is made up of 3 distinct ecosystems, the foothills of the Andes, the Amazon Basin, and the northern Chaco. This mix of climates is seen nowhere else in the world in such close proximity making Amboro National Park a once-in-a-lifetime place to visit.
Amboro National Park is located only 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Santa Cruz. So, tours to the national park are very convenient from Santa Cruz. Highlights throughout the park include nature walks, stunning waterfalls, and bird-watching tours. In fact, Amboro National park is home to 812 species of birds!
I personally chose to do the tour of the Jardin de las Delicias Waterfalls with Nicks’s Adventure Tours. On the tour, we traveled deep into the park crossing over 15 river streams before arriving at the waterfall for a short hike and, of course, a swim. Overall, it was a really good tour.
As Amboro is a national park, tourists must visit with a registered guide. You can do day tours or overnight tours from Santa Cruz depending on how much time you have. The only tour you can book in advance is this top-rated 2-day 1 night tour which includes all food, accommodation, and transport.
However for day tours just visit one of the tour operators in Santa Cruz and choose a tour that catches your eye. Nicks Adventure Tours is a great choice and is owned by an Australian Guy. We aren’t affiliated with him, it’s just the company we went with.
Related Read: Visiting Amboro National Park is also one of the best things to do in Bolivia!
3. See sloths on a nature and wildlife tour
Sloths in Bolivia are common even in urban areas but if you don’t have a trained eye it will be difficult to spot them on your own.
If you want to see these amazing creatures in their natural habitat the best way is to join a nature wildlife tour like this Sloth and Wildlife Tour that will pick you up from your accommodation in Santa Cruz.
Now, while you are not guaranteed to see sloths you will do a bunch of other fun things on this 4-hour tour including looking for monkeys and caimans and visiting the town of Cotoca. You can even customize the tour to include stops like the sand dunes.
For $83 USD this tour is more expensive than most activities on San Andres Island but it will definitely be money and time well spent.
The company that runs this tour is Nick’s Adventures which is also the same company that we took our tour to Amboro National Park with as I mentioned above. The team’s energy and passion for showing tourists around won’t go unnoticed!
4. Learn the history of Santa Cruz on a walking tour
If you are a history buff or just like learning some history about the places you visit then you really can’t go wrong by going on a historical walking tour.
At the moment there is no other city tour in Santa Cruz (as of February 2023). The guide who runs this tour is a local individual who started this effort all on his own and is not associated with a big company so he will really make this tour feel personal!
This History of Santa Cruz Tour is super affordable at just $13 USD per person and lasts for 1.5 hours. You will be shown around the main square and walk around to look and learn about key buildings and areas that shaped the early history of Santa Cruz.
The first stop of the day is at the Santa Cruz History Museum, secondly the Independence Museum, next up the Melchor Pinto House Cultural Center, and finally the Chacho War Museum.
As you can see booking this tour is really great value for money!
5. Explore Guembe Biopark
Guembe Biopark is a great place to visit in Santa Cruz to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Located only 15 minutes from Santa Cruz, the park is easy to get to and the perfect place to visit on a hot day.
Guembe Biopark is home to the largest aviary in Bolivia, the largest butterfly enclosure, as well as lots of different pools and lagoons. You can enjoy activities such as volleyball, kayaking, and swimming. With that said, the coolest attractions to me were the bird aviary and butterfly enclosure. Here you can get up close to some of Bolivia’s bird species and thousands of native butterflies.
A visit to the park isn’t cheap by Bolivian standards and the entrance is 140 BOB ($20 USD) per person. You can’t bring outside food or drink either and they will search your bags at the gates. However, if you aren’t visiting Amboro National Park this is a great way to see wildlife in the city.
Gates open at 10:30 am and close at 6:30 pm every day except Monday.
6. Go skydiving
Okay, so this next activity isn’t for everyone but as a skydiver, I’m always on the lookout for drop zones (skydive clubs) around the world to jump at. In Bolivia there aren’t many, in fact, Skydive Bolivia in Santa Cruz may be the only place to jump in the country.
However, what a fun time it was getting to know a bunch of locals and a family-run drop zone. The club does lots of solo jumps if you have your licenses but also runs courses and tandem jumps. The drop zone is located outside of Santa Cruz so it’s best to contact them to arrange transport with one of the skydivers or pilot (as I did.)
Prices for a skydive are in USD and you can expect to pay around the same as you would elsewhere (as they use all the same equipment and follow the American Skydiving Safety Standard.)
7. Take a day trip to Samaipata
Samaipata is a small town located a few hours from Santa Cruz. The town is famously known as “Bolivia’s little Switzerland” and after a short wander of the beautiful streets with a mountain backdrop, you’ll be able to see why.
It’s not only the town that’s beautiful though, surrounding Samaipata are lots of stunning waterfalls and cloud forests. Las Cuevas Waterfalls are the most famous in the area and one of the best things to do in Samaipata. Despite the cooler temperatures that make swimming somewhat difficult, the place is stunning.
Also nearby are the Pre-Incan El Fuerte de Samaipata ruins. Although not the most spectacular ruin I’ve ever seen, they are some of the most impressive in Bolivia and you’ll often find condors flying high above them.
Although I highly recommend getting a hotel in Samaipata and visiting for a few days, you can take a day or overnight tour from Santa Cruz if you’re short on time. On these tours, you’ll visit all the places I mentioned above with a local guide.
I never did the tour as I went to Samaipata for two nights myself, but they have good reviews and Nicks Adventures Bolivia runs tours.
Related Read: If you want to visit Samaipata, be sure to read our blog which is a detailed guide about visiting Samaipata, Bolivia!
8. Wander the Botanical Garden
One of the things to do in Santa Cruz, Bolivia that surprised me the most was the botanical gardens. To be honest, I had low expectations but after visiting I can say it’s totally worth it – the place is huge!
In the park, there are over 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) of hiking trails to enjoy as well as lots of chances to see wildlife including sloths and monkeys. If your budget or time doesn’t allow for a tour of a national park then the botanical gardens are the next best thing!
Getting to the gardens is easy via taxi but you can also take public transport (just ask your hotel what bus to catch near you.) The entrance to the gardens is only 3 BOB (less than 0.50 cents USD) so it’s super cheap!
Although I didn’t see a sloth, I was still really surprised at how beautiful the park was. I will warn you though, this place is wild and you will need bug spray, especially in the wet season – the mosquitos are always on the hunt here!
9. Take a day trip to Parque Lomas de Arena
Parque Lomas de Arena is a rarely-visited national park in Bolivia. Despite being rather unknown, it’s a really interesting place to visit in Santa Cruz. The most famous attraction in the park is the sand dunes which cover over 3000 hectares.
Tours to the dunes are jam-packed and offer a variety of activities. Our tour started at the Palmasola Prison to learn about the prison’s dark past. After we headed by 4wd to the forests in the park to spot wildlife such as sloths and monkeys.
Then, we finally visited the sand dunes and took a walk to a lake before we headed into the dunes for some sandboarding! This was my favorite part of the tour and we tried both sit-down and stand-up boards!
The dunes are a unique place to visit and one I didn’t think I’d see in Bolivia. They reminded me a lot of Huacachina in Peru!
10. Get lost in the craziness of the markets
Santa Cruz is a trade city and the markets here are bustling every day. You should get amongst the craziness with this a free activity and pick up some bargains.
I started most of my days in the market in search of a cheap breakfast. My favorite was always fresh Saltenas which are basically baked empanadas (a local favorite.)
My favorite market was the Los Pozos Market near Parque el Arenal. Here you could find just about everything including lots of cheap clothing and fresh food. The market is open every day and is actually just part of the décor these days. It’s also within walking distance from most hostels and hotels so go check it out!
Some other markets to check out include Mercado Nuevo which is perfect for those wanting to try local cuisine at dirt-cheap prices or Market Barrio Lindo. Market Barrio Lindo is 30 minutes outside the city but this place sells lots of clothing and other random bits and pieces.
11. Stand in the center of South America
The most overrated thing to do in Santa Cruz is easily a visit to the center of South America. At Plazuela Callejas there are some signs that mark the center of South America. Although, I am not sure how accurate the point is.
This attraction is mentioned in other blogs and so I decided to check it out. I can confirm it’s overrated, and in my opinion, not worth a visit. It reminded me of visiting the equator which is considered one of the best things to do in Quito, Ecuador.
However, if you need a way to kill time then head to Plazuela Callejas and check it out. The plaza is actually a nice place to enjoy lunch. Your hostel/hotel can show you how to get there.
Where to Stay in Santa Cruz, Bolivia
One of the cheapest options in Santa Cruz is Amaca Host which is located right in the middle of the central district. For as little as $11 USD a night you can score a double room with a private bathroom!
The rooms are basic but have AC and a Smart TV with many streaming platforms. Some rooms even have a fridge and microwave if needed.
You can check reviews and book Amaca Host on Booking.com.
This is a great budget option close to the main square with good reviews. The hostel has simple private single, double, triple, and family rooms, good wifi, and a bar.
A basic twin room starts at $40 USD for two people.
The staff gives attention to their guests and there is a delicious continental breakfast served each morning that you can enjoy out on the terrace. There is free parking on the property.
You can check reviews and book Lili’s Hostel on Booking.com.
This stunning hotel is a great mid-range option close to the center of town. The rooms here feel airy and have modern furnishings with a lot of space to keep your things. It’s a great option for couples.
The breakfast in the morning is made to order and they bring it out to your table. There is a pool with lunch chairs and the wifi at the Cosmopolitano Hotel is also strong and fast!
The staff isn’t laid back, they love to help and will give you personal recommendations of things to do in the area.
You can check reviews and book Cosmopolitano Hotel Bouqitue on Booking.com
This hotel is a stunning classy oasis in the middle of the city right next to Monseñor Rivero Boulevard.
The grounds are beautiful and come with a large pool, spa, wellness center, gym, restaurant, and bar!
The rooms have a more sophisticated feel but are very clean and have super comfortable mattresses. There is also a small rack to hang clothes, a minibar, a TV, and a desk. They start priced at $142 USD for a queen room.
An American-style breakfast buffet is served daily.
Hotel Cortez is perfect for those with a higher budget who want some luxury.
You can check reviews on Booking.com
Related Read: Planning on spending a lot of time in Boliva? Check out our ultimate Boliva travel guide and learn everything you need to know before going.
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Thanks for reading!
Santa Cruz, Bolivia may not be the country’s most popular place to visit but there are still lots of intriguing reasons to visit. In fact, this list of the best things to do in Santa Cruz really gives visitors a great list to make their trip to the city a fun time.
Thanks so much for reading our travel guide! If you have any questions just leave them below and I’ll get back to you!
Also, if you loved this travel guide be sure to check out all of our Bolivia blogs here or these related articles below!