Santa Cruz may surprise you with its small-town feeling, colonial buildings 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 greatest population diversity in the country – from the overall-wearing Mennonites strolling the streets past local Goth kids, to a Japanese community, altiplano immigrants, Cuban doctors, Brazilian settlers, bearded Russians and fashionable cruceños (Santa Cruz locals) cruising the tight streets in their SUVs.

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.