Bolivia Destinations Latin America

Santa Cruz vs Samaipata

Few things contrast more starkly than the chaotic, sweltering city of Santa Cruz and the tranquil rural village of Samaipata.

Santa Cruz

If it weren’t for the cars, the streets of Santa Cruz would seem strangely quiet. On my first day there I found the inhabitants, the crucenos, a rather sombre lot until a downpour soaked the streets, blurring the starkness of life, at which point there wasn’t a drenched rat in that city without a smile.

There is a huge indigenous population there which means that unlike in Argentina, I can’t quite pass myself off as a local.

And it seems an odd thing to me that the school children all wear immaculate white uniforms when I can barely step outside without covering myself in dust, mud, and rain.

It was in Santa Cruz that I heard about this little haven of a place called Samaipata, a village close to some pre-Incan ruins


I cut my stay in the hectic city short and headed to the taxi stand. The best way to get to Samaipata is in a shared taxi, where you simply wait until enough people want to go to the same destination before you depart. For me this happened fairly quickly.

I shared the back seat of the taxi with two lads my age, Federico from Argentina and Lio from Belgium. And fate (and the beautiful openness of travel) decreed we should spend the weekend together.

The Fort

Samaipata’s little piece of gold is El Fuerte (The Fort). This is a 220 metre rock embedded on top of a hillside surrounded by the most stunning hilly scenery.

samaipata fort

The old Incan ruins of El Fuerte

The entire rock has distinctive engravings on it of pumas and snakes, with channels for water and even seats for Inca nobility to look down upon their subjects. The ruins of Spanish and Incan houses surrounded the site.

El Fuerte is known to have a sort of mystical energy about it that attracts people from around the world. And when you are there you can understand why. It exudes peace and harmony with its surroundings and represents an antiquity I can never wrap my head around.

The Caves

We continued afterwards to Las Cuevas, The Caves, though we never saw any. Instead, it is wilderness with numerous footpaths leading to one set of small waterfalls after another.

There are beaches as well, but it was a little late in the day, there was little water for a swim, and we didn’t bring our bathers anyway.

Instead we explored above and below the falls and marvelled at the some of the most incredible scenery this little globe of ours has to offer. Sure, they couldn’t compare with the Iguazu Falls. But they had a beauty of their own.

samaipata waterfalls

The waterfalls at Las Cuevas

While Fede left in the morning, Lio and I stayed another night and spent the day at Las Cuevas. It had a completely difference ambience this time.

Being a Sunday, when we arrived at the main falls, we found the area crowded with the most colourful sorts of people.

A man with a drum kit at the base of the falls beat out a tune for some shamans above who danced crazily at the very edge of the cascades.

samaipata shaman

A shaman dances atop the Samaipata waterfalls

Sleeping in the sand was out of the question so instead we just took it all in. Even now as I sit in an internet cafe at the edge of Santa Cruz’s main plaza, I think back to that place and the serenity it offered and the people I met and the comfort they provided and I know that this, exactly this, is why travelling can be so damned addictive.

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