Samaipata, Bolivia, offers the kind of untouched wilderness that entices your imagination to run wild. If you're ever looking to escape somewhere to write that novel you've always dreamed of composing, this would be a good spot to do it. But no so fast; in order to get here, you'll need to pass through Santa Cruz.
Plaza 24 de Septiembre, Santa Cruz, Bolivia
Bolivia's most populated city doesn't have a lot to offer in terms of tourist attractions, but it does have one unique feature: the best central plaza that I have experienced in South America. Plaza 24 de Septiembre is a place where its easy to pass the better part of a day relaxing, reading a book, or in pleasant conversation. There are dozens upon dozens of benches under the shade of many tropical trees. A gentle breeze passes through and its easy to forget you're in the middle of a hectic urban jungle. The large plaza is so well-loved that at ten o'clock on a Wednesday night, I observed that nearly every bench was occupied! My hostel was only two blocks away, and needless to say, I spent a lot of time in Plaza 24 de Septiembre.
From Santa Cruz it is a three hour drive to the sleepy town of Samaipata. The journey there offers a glimpse of the breathtaking natural landscapes that are accessible from the village. For all its beauty, the area still sees relatively little tourism, at least compared with the more visited spots around La Paz and Western Bolivia. My small party of adventurous travelers and I undertook two memorable hikes while staying in Samaipata, and we did not run into a single other tourist on either trek.
We had been hiking for several hours when we reached the top of the mountain and the vegetation drastically changed. The fog was so thick that we were unable to see the vast park spread out before us, but in a way this added to the mystique.