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Bolivia: Santa Cruz and the Oriente

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Eastern Bolivia is little visited by tourists but it is brimming with variety, vitality and living history. Prosperous Santa Cruz, the dynamic, rapidly expanding capital of the region, can seem a bit more like Brazil (just a few hours away by road) than the Bolivia of the altiplano. Riches have been accrued from oil, cattle farming, agriculture, logging and, historically  drugs. You may see the wealthy élite's SUVs with darkened windows cruising round the sultry streets.

Outside the city, highlights are legion: the ecosystems of multi-altitude Amboró and Noel Kempff Mercado National Parks are among the most biodiverse on the planet. In the rugged hills, unspoilt, red-roofed Spanish colonial-style villages abound. The the Ruta del Che (Che Guevara Trail) takes you through wild mountain ranges and canyons to the places which feature in the narrative of the last days of the revolutionary's campaign.

Aside from Che's exploits, the region has been the theatre for other huge chapters of human drama, the vestiges of which remain. Wild tribes – fabled to have founded a sophisticated civilisation - repelled the conquistadores only to be subdued by Jesuit missionaries; there's a circuit of stupendously ornate restored Jesuit churches deep in the countryside. The rubber boom brought immense riches and sophisticated towns. Following the decline in the rubber industry abandoned missions, railways, mansions and mills lie alongside vast cattle ranches; but now eco-tourism has spurred a revival.

Our holidays to Santa Cruz and the Oriente

View all holidays
Laguna Colorada

Zampullin: Vistas of Bolivia

Group tour

13 days from £3,067pp

Market life in Bolivia

Signature Bolivia: The final frontier

Private journey

14 days from £3,854pp

Things to do in Santa Cruz and the Oriente

La Higuera

Follow the Ruta del Che: Guevara Trail

Visit the historic Jesuit missions

Bolivian orchid

Samaipata, El Fuerte and Amboro National Park

Our insider tips for Santa Cruz and the Oriente


Isabelle Mazille

Explore the vast Mercado los Pozos street market in Santa Cruz, just a few blocks from the plaza. Crammed with pawn shops, jewellers, electrical retailers, fruit and vegetable stalls and rails heaving with clothing, it is an authentic Bolivian sales experience.

Mary Anne

Mary Anne Nelson

Keep an eye out for Mennonites as you drive through the eastern lowlands. This conservative  Russo-German community of religious and political refugees keeps itself to itself but individuals appear in market towns to trade, identified by their clothing: dungarees and straw hats for men, voluminous skirts aprons and bonnets for women. 

Claire Milner

Claire Milner

Don't be put off by the hours of travelling on the route from Santa Cruz to Sucre via the Ruta del Che (Che (Guevara) Trail). The mountain scenery is so varied and stunning the time just slips away. You realise you are somewhere remote and special.  If making an overnight stop in the mountain town of Samaipata, include a visit to Amboró National Park, with its ancient giant palms.     

What our experts say

Visiting churches has never been one of my greatest enthusiasms, in spite of the glorious baroque architecture of the religious buildings peppering Latin America. But in over 28 years of travel on the continent, discovering the Jesuit missions one of the most intriguing, touching, and unexpectedly fascinating of trips I have made. See my article: Magical Missions in our online Papagaio magazine. 

Claire Milner

Claire Milner

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