We arrived in Santa Cruz before we expected to, so going into the city we had no idea what to expect. At 5am in the bus station we looked up a cheap hostel in the guidebook and then a map to see how far away it was. It was a little over 2km to central Santa Cruz, a walk we were getting used to after swearing off taxis to save money.
The first thing we noticed was the heat and humidity-very tropical-feeling. Sweat poured off our bodies but we made the walk fine with help from the extra near-sea-level oxygen. After checking in and leaving our bags, we went exploring. There were very few backpackers compared to what we had gotten used to in the rest of Bolivia. This was a nice change since sometimes the places that have to deal with less gringos treat the ones they do meet a little bit better. We found a lady selling soft-serve ice cream, the best soft-serve we have had in South America. At first it was super hard to even understand what people were saying because of their super-strange accents. So many words that were supposed to end in ‘s’ somehow had the ‘s’ omitted. But, as in every new place, we got the hang of it eventually and their speech started to make some sense.
For being the largest city in Bolivia, Santa Cruz had the feel of a sleepy jungle town. Everyone moved at a slowish pace that was refreshing after places like La Paz where there is so much pushing and shoving. All the buildings were also only a few stories high with only a couple of skyrise apartments breaking the overall flatness of the city. We kept on the lookout for sloths in the trees, as supposedly there are a few left in the city despite the relocation of most. Our last day we spent hanging out in the central plaza, Plaza 24 de Septiembre, watching old men play chess and shoeshiners on their knees polishing already-shiny shoes. About once per hour there would be a blast of rain that would last just long enough to clear the park and then the sun would quickly return, sometimes bringing perfect rainbows.
Santa Cruz is definitely different than other Bolivian cities and we can see why it is said to be “more Brazilian than Bolivian”. More tropical, less hurried, and in general easy to get around in, we were glad to have raveled the extra distance to check out Bolivia’s most-populated city.