Founded on the banks of the River Pirai, Santa Cruz de la Sierra is Bolivia’s largest city, a dynamic metropolis that stands in stark contrast to the cluttered, administrative capital La Paz. Modern tower-blocks sit alongside shopping malls and commercial centres while the streets are filled with a highly diverse population all benefitting from Santa Cruz’s booming economy. Perched at 417m above sea-level, Santa Cruz enjoys a warm, tropical climate which has helped shape a quite distinct culture. In the evenings, locals gather around palm fringed squares to listen to traditional camba music (a far cry from the pan-pipes of the Aymara highlands!). Santa Cruz is Bolivia’s most important business hub but also gateway to several of the country’s least explored attractions.
Several hours' drive from the city, the remains of six Jesuit Missions now UNESCO World Heritage Sites lie shrouded in the lush, tropical vegetation of Chiquitos. During their heyday, the richly carved wooden “reductions” once housed (and “educated”) large populations of the local Guarani tribes and are still renowned today for their mournful baroque music. East of the city, the Amboro National Park protects huge tracts of Amazon jungle, Yungas cloud-forest and scattered pre-Incan sites such as El Fuerte de Samaipata. The park is also home to over 1000 species of birds and mammals including puma, ocelot, and Spectacled Bear. Further afield in the north-east corner of the state, the stunning yet remote Noel Kempff Mercado National Park spills across the border into Brazil, a breathtaking panorama of table top mountains, cascading waterfalls and pristine tropical forest.