Just 30 years ago, oxen pulled carts through the muddy streets of Santa Cruz and cowboys rode in to wash off the dust and raise some more. Now this is the largest city in Bolivia and the most westernized. Exploitation of massive reserves of natural gas and oil has made the department of Santa Cruz the richest in the country. Add the temperatures to the mix (average 30°C, 86°F) and you have a very different proposition
from the altiplano and La Paz. The people are different, too—more Brazilian in spirit and behavior (especially during Carnival)—and the beauty of the women is legendary. Nonetheless, Santa Cruz, with more than 1.3 million inhabitants, hasn’t been completely transformed—you can still find traces of its colonial past in the architecture of the city center. And don’t be put off by the discos, country clubs, and burger joints—there are many good reasons to make the trip down, including the Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos, two exceptional national parks (Amboro and Noel Kempf Mercado), and the ancient fortress of Samaipata.