Santa Cruz may surprise you with its small-town feeling, lack of high-rise blocks and a lightly buzzing, relaxed tropical atmosphere. Bolivia’s largest city oozes modernity yet clings stubbornly to tradition. The city center is vibrant and thriving, its narrow streets crowded with suited businessmen sipping chicha (fermented corn drink) at street stalls, while taxis jostle with horses and carts for pole position at traffic lights. Locals still lounge on the main square listening to camba (Eastern Lowlands) music, restaurants close for siesta and little stores line the porch-fronted houses selling cheap, local products.
This is not the Bolivia that you see on postcards, but this is the place with the largest population diversity in the country – from the overall-wearing Mennonites strolling the streets past local Goth kids, to a Japanese community, Altiplano (High Plateau) immigrants, Cuban doctors, Brazilian settlers, bearded Russians and fashionable cruceños (Santa Cruz locals) cruising the tight streets in their SUVs. To help filter the ever increasing traffic away from the center, the city is laid out in a series of concentric circular avenues (anillos) that are joined by spoke-like thoroughfares (radiales).
It’s worth spending a few days here, wandering the streets, eating at the many international restaurants and checking out the rich kids’ play area, Equipetrol, where nightlife is rife with naughtiness. Alternatively, join the locals and chill out on the town square.