Welcome to Bolivia. Travel doesn't always go as planned!
How did we end up in Bolivia en route to Miami?
We were scheduled to leave Buenos Aires (BA) for Santiago, Chile. We are fully aware Aussies now need a visa to transit, so we applied over one month ago. The authorities confirmed it was received, but that was all we heard! As we were in Chile last month for a few weeks whilst on the cruise, we thought we would try our luck again; we already have the stamps from Chile accepting us and still have plenty of time remaining on our tourist entry of 90 days. Airports have much tighter border control than cruise ships (we have since realised this is not the case upon arriving in Chile on another cruise ship), and we could not check in to our flight!
It was 6 am, and after an hour or so of chatting with the accommodating airline staff, who went above and beyond to help us, they confirmed they would be fined. They would have to fly us back to Buenos Aires if Chile didn't accept us for the two nights to transit to Miami; we had no choice but to skip the flight and lose our money. The flights were about AUD1000; fortunately, our accommodation was fully refundable.
It was now 7 am, and we were packed and ready to leave Argentina, so we were out with the laptops searching for flights from BA to Miami! Boom, we found one; we would fly to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, for a few nights and then bounce to Miami.
Thank you, Chile, you did us a favour! We quickly cancelled the Oneworld flight from Santiago and jumped an Uber to the international airport in BA to wait for the mid-afternoon flight to Bolivia! We both wished we knew Chile would be a pain, and we could have avoided the 4 am wake-up call and hanging out at airports all day!
Fortunately, the flight was on time. We had landed row 1 for our 3-hour flight, boarded, and were in the air bound for Bolivia. Never have we seen or heard so many dogs and cats flying (I am sure I even listened to a bird at one stage); other than the additional pet passengers, we had a very comfortable flight and caught up on some sleep!
Santa Cruz is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world and has grown from being a small outpost town to having a population of over 2 million, mainly due to the expansion of agriculture (notably soybeans, sugarcane, and rice) and petroleum and natural gas mining in the surrounding valleys. The city produces soybean oil, dairy and meat products, refined sugar, wood, leather, and alcohol. Oil refining is also essential.
Unlike La Paz and the other major cities of Bolivia, located high in the Andes, Santa Cruz lies at an altitude of 416 meters, and its climate is distinctly tropical. It is also known for its exciting nightlife and as a base for a wide range of exciting tourist attractions, namely the salt flats.
We safely arrived in Santa Cruz, thankful for the cooler weather, about 10 degrees less than BA, which was welcomed. Upon arriving at the airport, we gambled on the local taxi after converting some cash without asking for a price; 20 minutes later and not being ripped off, we were in the hotel enjoying a cocktail on the rooftop, celebrating country number 63!
We opted to stay in a five-star hotel unfamiliar with the country, as there was no time to research when you book on the morning you arrive. Marriott Santa Cruz de la Sierra Hotel was located just on the edge of the centre, but it was modern, clean and perfect for a short stay. The team was warm and friendly, and the hotel bounced back from the past few years.
On our first night in, we enjoyed a quiet dinner in the hotel's restaurant, and the food was delicious; we were also happy to know we were still in the land of empanadas, as you couldn't get enough of them!
With only three nights to enjoy our new country, it was a fly-by visit as we needed to be in Miami to embark on our next cruise, but we managed to catch up on sleep, visit the city centre, and experience the dining scene, which is very impressive, including the local wine; we even squeezed in a morning of hair cuts at Peluquería Marco Tulio and shopping for new outfits!
Our first day was spent exploring the centre, just roaming around Plaza 24 de Septiembre, the city's central plaza, where locals and tourists alike gather to hang out and observe each other and experience the local vibe; we feel it is a city of two tales, the old and the new.
Parts were relatively poor, and then you would come across a modern and contemporary landscape with many quality restaurants and apartment buildings. We even checked on some pricing of an apartment off the plan, approx USD50k.
After getting lost amongst the local life, we googled and Ubered our way to a steak house, BRÍOS Restaurant, that was highly recommended and enjoyed our afternoon with what we do best: wine and dining! The meat was exceptional and nicely complimented with a favourite Malbec from Mendoza.
The next day, we ticked off the essentials in the nearby shopping mall called Ventura Mall and followed this with another slow lunch. After reading the reviews on Piegari Restaurant, we had to squeeze it in; we don't like to miss out on dining opportunities. It was nice and quiet, with stylish decor, friendly staff, and outstanding food. We were very grateful we chose Italian for our last meal in Santa Cruz and also sampled a Bolivian red wine, which we were super impressed with.
Our stay in Santa Cruz was short and sweet, but our little teaser of Bolivia has won our hearts, and we will find our way back to appreciate you truly! We walked freely; taxis and Ubers were plentiful and cheap, we felt safe, the people were warm and friendly, the food was delicious (and of excellent value), and the little we saw, there was so much more to discover and enjoy!
Fun facts and travel tips:
Card payments were used in most places; we even found it interesting how the keypads were laid out; the numbers were all jumbled and different on each console
Uber was very inexpensive and easy to use to get around Santa Cruz
People are super friendly and kind
The quality of food and restaurants was impressive
Santa Cruz is the unofficial Sloth Capital of the World; these charming and iconic animals can still be seen frequently climbing trees on the city's outskirts today.
Bolivia is home to the most incredible salt flats (the largest in the world); we have heard repeatedly from fellow travellers that the Uyuni Salt Flats are one of their favourite places in the world.