Santa Cruz (department, Bolivia)
Santa Cruz department is located in eastern Bolivia, and is the largest in the country.
Bolivia's geographical composition can be easily divided in three major terrains or regions: Lowlands; valleys; and high plateau or altiplano. Because of this country´s history, from the times when the first humans arrived up until today, population distribution and land surface is inversely proportional in these three regions. The altiplano is the smallest and has the biggest portion of the population, the lowlands occupy more than 1/2 of the country and have about 1/3 of its population. Original natives in all three areas are also of different ethnic origins. All this is explained simply because since colonial times, Bolivia was a mining country in which the economy was based in the mines that were located high in the mountains and the valleys fed them. The rest was the frontier.
Santa Cruz is in the lowlands at the east of the country and for its first 400 years was very poor and far from potential markets to be able to grow at all. It shares this with the rest of eastern, northern and south eastern Bolivia for most of its history, up until some 50 years ago when a paved road was opened and the possibility of markets opened which summed with some royalties from oil production they also started receiving served as seed to one of the fastest growing cities and economies in the continent. Growth was slow to start but after some 20 years it was spectacular. Today it is difficult to imagine this city and provincial towns of the department for what they really were some 25 or 50 years ago.
One very interesting testimony of this history can be downloaded (in Spanish for free) from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The document is called Informe de Desarrollo Humano de Santa Cruz and the first chapter relates the history of Santa Cruz in this last half of the 20th century.
Santa Cruz de la Sierra or Santa Cruz city is a boomtown whose population has increased tenfold in the last 25 years, it is almost in the center of Bolivia and is the capital city of the department of Santa Cruz. It lies at one end of the Death Train's line.
This department concentrates 27% of the country´s population, several of the major universities of Bolivia and it's responds for over 30% of the country wealth production, forty something percent of the national taxes. It´s population is variate, some 40% of it´s inhabitants were born elsewhere (mainly in the rest of the Bolivian departments). They seek what more of what they cal they call "Autonomia" which means autonomy and intends to separate more functions from the central government in a way similar to Spain government system, more independent and locally managed. In this country like many others of South America, citizens have to support the burden of time and cost of doing most bureaucratic administrative procedures from far away from La Paz in a corrupt and inefficient system.
When the Spaniards originally arrived to these lands, they came from Paraguay and Argentina. The local indigenous peoples came from two lines, or as they are called Tupi-Guarani. The first, the Tupi originally came from the Caribbean through the Amazon jungle down to these latitudes. The Guarani´s came here down the Atlantic coast through what today is Brazil and Argentina, and upriver from there. They were the original humans in this region and they had gone well into the lower Andes. In actual times it is only possible to find possible reminders of the onetime greatness of this two cultures in Moxos (Beni department) or in southern Bolivia or northern Argentina and it requires investigation because little is known and they are not part of touristic routes.
The blend of these three and other latecomers are the local native population, they call themselves "Camba or Cambas". These people are mostly of peasant origin that dedicated itself to farming related activities, this still is the main department´s activity. Today, with the migrations of this last quarter century these people are maybe around one half of the local population. One interesting characteristic of this region is that most of the more recently arrived inhabitants have integrated fairly well. Obviously there are exceptions to this. Being a land with so many bloods, sympathy and tolerance to outsiders is fairly high by any standard.
One interesting characteristic of the "Cruceños" or people from Santa Cruz is that apparently they prefer not having to work in public services (Government, armed forces, police, diplomatic services, church, others) and as some one said, they don´t migrate, they just move around. This probably explains why of some 100 Bolivian presidents in almost two centuries, only three were from Santa Cruz department. And all three were military, which is a factor that changes people through doctrines imbeded into its members during their careers.
The country´s official language and main language is Spanish. However, most places (stores specially) will be able to understand Portuguese and English. If they do not speak those languages, they will probably get someone that does. The people are REALLY friendly, they will try their truly best to talk to you if you are a foreigner.
Direct airplane flights are available to and from Santa Cruz city regularly several times a week and in cases a day to most South American countries, Miami in the USA, and Madrid in Spain. Airlines that fly to this destiny VVI or Viru Viru airport are: Aerosur / American Airlines / GOL / TAM Mercosul / LAN Chile / TACA / Aerolineas Argentinas / Cubana de Aviacion
Some domestic flights operated by Aerocon and TAM (Transporte Aereo Militar) are operated from the downtown airport, El Trompillo.
If you are coming from Brazil, you can take the Tren de la Muerte or Death Train. It's uncertain how it got its name but it's not especially dangerous now.
So, if you are in Corumba, a Brazilian border city, you just have to cross the frontier, take a taxi to the train station in Bolivia (they don't accept Brazilian taxi drivers there) and go to the train station. Depending on the class of train you want to take, it will take a different time to get to Santa Cruz.
If you are coming in from Argentina or Paraguay, you will have to come in by highway (bus or other), information is available in any major city´s bus station. Trains are occasionally available from the Argentine border.
Note: Several countries have consulates in Santa Cruz city in case of necessity.
Get a Taxi. As simple as that. They are cheap and ask them whatever you want, they are friendly as well, they will take you wherever you want to go or you wish to go. Locals usually use radio taxis and some fixed route / collective use taxis called "trufi", because they find them either safer or cheaper or both.
Santa Cruz Virtual / Online street and address finder plus yellow pages
The Jesuit Missions comprise six individual towns in remote locations in the Gran Chaco. Each was founded in the 17th and 18th centuries as Jesuit Missions, and have survived as living monuments to that time and culture.
Depending the time of the year, there are other seasonal activities. Most are concentrated around the capital city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, but many are in the provincial towns, which usually are fairly easy to reach. These include baroque music, theater, orchids, and other festivals, international commercial fairs, music concerts, sports competitions and more. Depending on ones interests some addresses which might be useful to search in are:
APAC - Asociacion Pro Arte y Cultura / Music and theater festivals (In English available)
CEPAD -Centro para la Participación y Desarrollo Humano Sostenible / Orchid festival
FEXPOCRUZ - Feria Exposicion de Santa Cruz / Exposition fairs
Bolivia Bella - Tourism information on Santa Cruz / Places, festivals and others, very detailed and complete (In English available)
Gobierno Municipal de Santa Cruz de la Sierra / City hall - general tourism information
Gobierno Departamental de Santa Cruz / Local government - general tourism information available
SantaCruz-Online.net / Online Guide for Santa Cruz - general tourism information available
Do not go beyond the fourth ring "El Cuarto Anillo" alone with or without a car.
Do not try to be aggrressive with anyone, you will get your ass kicked.
Do not participate in political manifestations before finding out more.
In the case of civic or political struggles or events, locals are usually peaceful and don´t mind foreigners. Peaceful rallies are truly a party and safe, this is how these people are. Violent ones should be avoided, although foreigners normally having fairer skin and/or different clothing than any of the locals are easily identifiable by them and are usually left alone.
These last two comments do not apply to Bolivia as a whole, there are many towns and areas of the country with less mixed and more closed societies that react differently to outsiders or foreigners.