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Samaipata. Travel Guide of Samaipata City, Bolivia

Welcome to our Travel Guide of Samaipata City. You will find here a comprehensive information over Samaipata, including Samaipata hotels, Samaipata history, Samaipata climate, around Samaipata, activities in Samaipata, festivals and events, travel companies and hostels.

Samaipata Travel Guide.

1. History of Samaipata.

Samaipata Travel Guide, Bolivia

Samaipata has developed into one of the top gringo-trail spots over the last few years. This sleepy village in the foothills of the Cordillera Oriental is brimming with foreign-run, stylish hostels and restaurants.

Visitors flock to see the pre-Inca site of El Fuerte, some in search of a dose of the supposed mystical energy of the ancient site, whilst increasingly it is the main jumpingoff point for forays to Parque Nacional Amboró. But it is not just foreigners who come up here; Samaipata is a popular weekend destination for cruceños too. The Quechua name, meaning Rest in the Highlands, could hardly be more appropriate.

2. Basic Information About Samaipata.

Emergency Police at main plaza.

Immigration No immigration office at town, visa extensions on Santa Cruz or Sucre.

Internet Access The best internet connection is at Anyi (Campero), one block east of the plaza.

Laundry Large hotes offers laundry service.

Medical Services Small medical centre in town, for other service on Santa Cruz.

Money There are no banks or ATMs in Samaipata so it is best to bring cash. Alternatively you can draw cash on a credit card with your passport from the Co-operativa Merced just off the main plaza on Calle Sucre.

Post and Telephone Post and telephone over main road to Santa Cruz-Sucre.

Tourist Information There is no official tourist office, though many of the tour companies and hostels can help you with information about the local sites.

Electricity 220V.

3. Weather in Samaipata.

The climate of the Oriente is tropical, but because it occupies the transition zone between the Amazon rainforest, the highlands and the dry Chaco plains, Santa Cruz enjoys more sun and less stifling temperatures than the humid Amazon Basin. Winter rainfalls mean little more than 10-minute downpours, but a single summer deluge can last for days. At times during winter, surazos (chilly winds) blow in from Patagonia and the Argentine pampas and the temperature plummets.

Temperature in Samaipata, Bolivia Rainfall in Samaipata, Bolivia

4. The City of Samaipata.

a) El Fuerte.

Samaipata Travel Guide, Bolivia

The mystical site of El Fuerte exudes such pulling power that visitors from all over the world make their way to Samaipata just to climb the hill and see the remains of this pre-Inca site.

Designated in 1998 as a Unesco World Heritage site, El Fuerte (9:00-17:00) occupies a hilltop about 10km from the village and offers breathtaking views across the rugged transition zone between the Andes and low-lying areas further east. There are two observation towers that allow visitors to view the ruins from above. Allow at least two hours to fully explore the complex, and take sunscreen and a hat with you. There is a kiosk with food and water next to the ticket office.

First occupied by diverse ethnic groups as early as 2000BC, it was not until 1470 that the Incas, the most famous tenants, first arrived. By the time the Spanish arrived and looted the site in the 1600s it was already deserted. The purpose of El Fuerte has long been debated, and there are several theories.

The conquistadors, in a distinctly combative frame of mind, assumed the site had been used for defense, hence its Spanish name, the fort. In 1832 French naturalist Alcides dOrbigny proclaimed that the pools and parallel canals had been used for washing gold. In 1936 German anthropologist Leo Pucher described it as an ancient temple to the serpent and the jaguar; his theory, incorporating worship of the sun and moon, is now the most accepted. Recently the place has gained a New Age following; some have claimed that it was a take-off and landing ramp for ancient spacecraft.

There are no standing buildings, but the remains of 500 dwellings have been discovered in the immediate vicinity and ongoing excavation reveals more every day.

The main site, which is almost certainly of religious significance, is a 100m-long stone slab with a variety of sculpted features: seats, tables, a conference circle, troughs, tanks, conduits and hornecinos (niches), which are believed to have held idols. A total of seven steps leading up to the main temple represent the seven phases of the moon. Zoomorphic designs on the slab include raised reliefs of pumas and jaguars (representing power) and numerous serpents (representing fertility). Chicha and blood were poured into the snake designs as an offering to Pachamama. Sadly, these designs are unprotected from the elements and erosion is making them harder to discern with every passing year.

About 300m down an obscure track behind the main ruin is Chincana, a sinister hole in the ground that appears all the more menacing by the concealing vegetation and sloping ground around it. It is almost certainly natural, but three theories have emerged about how it might have been used: that it served as a water-storage cistern; that it functioned as an escape-proof prison; and that it was part of a subterranean communication system between the main ruin and its immediate surroundings.

On the approach to the site look out for La Cabeza del Inca, apparently a natural rock formation that bears a startling resemblance to the head of an Inca Warrior, so much so that many insist it is a manmade project that was abandoned halfway through. Watch too for condors soaring on thermals overhead.

b) Museo Arquelogico

Samaipata Travel Guide, Bolivia

The small archaeological museum of Samaipata (Bolívar, 8:30-12:30 and 14:30-18:30) makes an interesting visit, but offers little explanation of El Fuerte. It does have a few Tiwanaku artifacts and some local pottery.

c) Zoo El Refugio

Samaipata Travel Guide, Bolivia

Samaipata Travel Guide, Bolivia

This charming and responsible little zoo (T. 9446169, 8:00-18:00) is actually a refuge for rescued animals. The zoo accepts volunteers who can lodge for free in exchange for their labor, and there is an attractive wooded camping area if you fancy spending a night among the animals.

5. Around Samaipata.

a) La Pajcha and Nido de Condores

Samaipata Travel Guide, Bolivia

La Pajcha and El Nido de los Condores, A series of three beautiful waterfalls on a turbid mountain river, which plunge 45m into a dreamy tropical lagoon. La Pajcha has a sandy beach for swimming and some inviting campsites. It is 42km (one to two hours by car) south of Samaipata, toward San Juan where there is a turn-off that leads 7km to the falls.

El Nido de los Condores (Condor Nest) is the end point of a hugely popular eighthour hike that begins from the trailhead near La Pajcha. Here, as you might expect, you will find more than 25 condor nests perched precariously on the hillside and have the opportunity to admire these glorious birds at close quarters as they soar on thermals over the valley below. The site has been dubbed the best condor-watching place in South America.

b) Los Espejillos

Samaipata Travel Guide, Bolivia

Los Espejillos Community Project has several waterfalls and natural swimming pools, with lovely, clean and refreshing water sparkling over the polished black rock that characterizes the area. It stands across the Río Pirai 18km north of the highway. Get off just beyond San José and walk or hitch north along the 4WD track, following the signposts.

c) Bermejo

Samaipata Travel Guide, Bolivia

Bermejo, 85km southwest of Santa Cruz, is marked by a hulking slab of red rock known as Cueva de los Monos, which is flaking and chipping into nascent natural arches.

d) Laguna Volcan

Samaipata Travel Guide, Bolivia

Laguna Volcán is an intriguing crater lake 6km up the hill north of Bermejo. A lovely walking track climbs from the lake to the crater rim; it begins at the point directly across the lake from the end of the road. The beautiful nearby region known as Los Volcánes features an otherworldly landscape of tropical sugarloaf hills.

e) Las Cuevas

Samaipata Travel Guide, Bolivia

Just 20km short of Samaipata lies Las Cuevas. If you walk upstream on a clear path away from the road, you will reach two lovely waterfalls that spill into eminently swimmable lagoons bordered by sandy beaches. About 100m beyond here is a third waterfall, the biggest of the set. You can also camp here for a small fee.

f) Vallegrande

Samaipata Travel Guide, Bolivia

The claim to fame of Vallegrande is that it was the spot where Ché Guevara’s emaciated corpse was exhibited before its burial, and it is the main base for the Ché Trail, a community-based tourism project.

The route traces final movements of the Che on foot, mule, bicycle and boat, with basic, rustic accommodations at encampments and with local families.

Visit the Ché museum (9:00-12:00 and 15:00-17:00 Mon-Fri), which features objects and artifacts that belonged to guerrilla group of the Che on the 2nd floor and a small archaeological museum on the ground floor.

Most visitors to the town are passing through on a Ché pilgrimage, but Vallegrande is also a nice spot to relax and walk in the hills. It’s a quiet little town set in the Andean foothills and enjoys a lovely temperate climate.

In 1997, nearly 30 years after death of the Che, one of the soldiers who carried out the burial revealed that his body lay beneath airstrip of Vallegrande. The Bolivian and Cuban governments called for his exhumation and Ché was officially reburied in Santa Clara, Cuba on October 17, 1997.

The spot where he was originally buried is marked by a mausoleum adorned with the typical smiling image of Ché that beams out across the valley. The interior can only be visited by guided tour, but the building is clearly visible from the bus station.

g) Pucara

Samaipata Travel Guide, Bolivia

Pucará features on many of the Ché tours, largely because it helps break up the uncomfortably bumpy journey from Vallegrande. Though it has no direct link to Ché, the town itself is pleasant enough and typical of the Bolivian valley towns that dot the region. From here it is a further 15km along a dusty track to La Higuera. The route is now traversable by ordinary vehicles, but it makes for a pleasant walk if the weather is being kind. Along the route, signposts point out Ché-related sites of historic interest, the most notable being the long cliff, the Quebrada del Churo, where he was captured.

h) La Higuera

Samaipata Travel Guide, Bolivia

The isolated town of La Higuera is where Ché Guevara was held prisoner following his capture. An oversized bust of the revo- lutionary lords over the dusty Plaza del Ché, while the Boina del Ché monument is a replica of the famous star design that once adorned his beret. There is also a mausoleum, with the tombstones of Ché and his revolutionary comrades (though Ché himself was never buried here), which you can visit if you get the key from the caretaker – ask for his whereabouts in the village. The schoolroom – now the local clinic – where Ché was kept before being executed is just off the plaza: it is the yellow building with a solar panel on the roof.

6. Tours and Activities in Samaipata

a) Hiking, Bird Watching and Che Tours

Several agencies organize trips to nearby attractions and almost every hotel runs its own tours. Local taxi syndicates also run transport to many of the local attractions and rates are very reasonable, though not up for negotiation.

7. Festivals and Events.

January 1: New Year 's Day.

February or March (changeable date): Carnival.

If you are in Santa Cruz during Carnaval, you should most certainly head for the paintball-plagued streets and join in the collective chaos. Carnaval occurs annually in February or March, one week before Lent begins.

April (Changeable date): Easter.

Palm Sunday: The Saturday before Easter. People enter temples with branches which the clergy bless.
Holy Thursday: It is a tradition of the people to visit 12 temples of the city, one for each apostle, in this day.
Good Friday: Procession of the Holy Sepulchre.

June (Changeable date):

Corpus Christie: Commemoration of the Body of Christ.

September 21: Day of Spring. Youth and Students of Bolivia.

September 24: Anniversary of Santa Cruz.

November 1: Todos Santos (All Saints Day).

This is a pre-columbian tradition when the people go to visit the Tombs prepared at home by the relatives of the deceased and where the friends are offered the same food and drink liked by him.

November 2: Difuntos (Day of the Deceased)

The tombs are dismantled and the people celebrate in the memory of the deceased.

November 3: Alma Cacharpaya (Soul of the Calypsobreakers)

Those in charge of dismantling the tombs show up in the home of the deceased with an orchestra so that the soul of the deceased will be happy.

December 24 and 25: Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

8. Travel Companies and Tour Operators in Samaipata.

Biologist-run Michael Blendinger Tours (T. 9446227, Bolívar) is best for orchid, birding and full-moon tours in English and German.

Jucumari Tours (T. 72627202, Bolívar) is an excellent locally run agency; in addition to the local attractions it offers packages to the Ruta del Ché and Mission circuits.

Visit Olaf and Frank at German and English-speaking Roadrunners (T. 9446294, Bolívar) for self-guided hikes with GPS, and guided hikes to waterfalls of Amboró, cloud forests and El Fuerte.

9. Hotels and Hostels in Samaipata.

Hotel Timboy (Caserio de Castilla, Website).

La Vispera (1 Km South from town, Website).

10. Restaurants and Bars in Samaipata.

La Vaca Loca (south side of plaza, Wed-Sun) This is where Samaipatans go for ice cream, devoured either on the small porch overlooking the square or in the back garden. It is a popular hangout for lunch and dinner too.

Tierra Libre (T. 76022729, Sucre # 70) Top-notch dishes from around the globe are served in a bohemian setting at this new place that is rapidly gained a following among backpackers for its ample and affordable eats. Veggie meals and exotic Indian concoctions are among the treats on offer and you should not miss the succulent lomito (steak sandwich) or tasty Lake Titicaca trout.

Latina Café (T. 9446153, Bolívar # 3, dinner Mon-Fri, lunch and dinner Sat and Sun) The most popular bar-restaurant of Samaipata (and rightly so), this place serves the best food in town: juicy steaks, saucy pastas, vegetarian delights and gorgeous brownies. The lighting is intimate and the sunsets beautiful. For a real treat try the steak in coca sauce.

11. Getting There and Away.

Taxi-Bus Over old main road Santa Cruz-Cochabamba there is buses and taxis going to Santa Cruz.

  • Santa Cruz-Samaipata-Santa Cruz: (175 Km paved road) Daily departures at from 7:00 to 19:00 from main road to Santa Cruz.
  • Sucre-Samaipata-Sucre: (450 Km paved and unpaved road) Buses from Santa Cruz to Sucre arrives 19:00 into Samaipata, and from Sucre-Santa Cruz arrives 4-5 am into Samaipata.

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