Samaipata, El Fuerte and Amboro National Park
Just a couple of hours’ scenic drive up a forested valley into the cool mountains above sultry Santa Cruz, you’ll reach the pretty little colonial-style town of Samaipata, popular among Cruceños as a retreat from the heat of the big city as well as adventurous international visitors. It has a completely different vibe, with a covered market bulging with the kaleidoscopic colours of tropical fruit and vegetables, literary cafés, congenial bars and streets lines with red-tiled houses with wooden doors featuring street art.
Spend a couple of days here, during which you can choose from a selection of relaxed guided excursions into the delightful surrounding countryside. Visit el Fuerte, a hilltop archaeological site where pre Inca peoples carved animals and birds in the sandstone, subsequently occupied by the Inca and Spanish Empires: vestiges of all eras remain.
Don’t miss Amboró National Park, accessible by a bumpy dirt road. This park extends over a range of altitudes, from 300m to 3,300m, and embraces habitats for a huge variety of highland and lowland plants, over 700 species of birds and many mammals, including jaguar, puma and spectacled bear though you are unlikely to spot these on your short incursion into the cloud forest section park. You will see, however, giant fern trees some of which are hundreds of years old.