Santa Cruz may surprise you with its small-town feeling, colonial buildings and 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 businesspeople sipping chicha (a fermented-corn drink) at street stalls. Locals still lounge on benches in 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 it is the place with the greatest population diversity in the country – from the overall-wearing Mennonites strolling past Goth kids, to the Japanese community, altiplano immigrants, Cuban doctors, Brazilian settlers and fashionable cruceños (Santa Cruz locals) cruising the tight streets in their SUVs. It’s worth spending a few days here, eating at the international restaurants and checking out the nightlife.