Samaipata - Eastern Bolivia's Hidden Secret

An overnight bus journey from Sucre, or just three hours from Santa Cruz, Samaipata lies in a green valley, surrounded by organic farms and steep forested hills, with narrow unpaved trails leading to expensive spanish-style houses, owned by wealthy Cruceno`s who pack the tiny village out on weekends. The climate is cool and fresh compared to the humid lowlands of the east, and visitors arriving from the west will find the warm evenings far more pleasant than the chill of the altiplano. With no factories for over 100km, the air is free from pollution and the night stars are picture perfect. Samaipata rivals Coroico in the north as the perfect backpacker chillout place, great for recharging those tired batteries and experiencing laidback Bolivian Time at its best.

Samaipata Village and Tours

The villageis small – just a few unpaved streets clustering around the Plaza Principal, and located just off the quiet Sucre – Santa Cruz highway. Buses drop off at the gasolina on the north-east edge of town, from where the plaza is just a 10 minute walk. There´s a handful of hotels near the plaza, but the best are on the outskirts – book ahead to be picked up from the bus stop.

Calle Bolivar is home to several tour agencies, each offering similar trips at similar prices. Ben Verhoef Tours on Campero is a Dutch-run, english-speaking agency, and a great place to get local information. Tours on offer from Samaipata include one-day treks to see giant ferns or condors with three-metre wing spans, as well as all-inclusive tours into nearby Parque Nacional Amboro. Road Runners agency can rent bicycles for 30 bolivianos a day, although be warned Samaipata is surrounded by steep hills on all sides. Posada del Sol, at the top of town, have two 100cc scooters for hire. At a bargain 100 bolivianos for 4 hours, they have enough power to get 2 gringo-sized riders up the local hills.

El Fuerte

The second most important archaeological site in Bolivia (after Tiwanaku, near La Paz), El Fuerte dates back to 1000BC and is believed to have been an important ceremonial site for the Chiriguanos people from the Eastern Chaco. The site is centered on a huge red sandstone rock, which is covered with ritual carvings of geometric and animal shapes, including serpents, pumas and birds – the traditional representations of the underworld, the earth and heaven in South American ancient cultures. Surrounding the rock are the remains of pre-hispanic and colonial era buildings, and some small fields which are now being cultivated. Even for those visitors who have had their fill of ancient ruins, the views from the top of the stunning hillside location are worth the trip here, providing unbroken views of Samaipata, the valleys below and the distant sandstone cliffs of Amboro National Park. Taxis can be arranged (with waiting time) from town or visitors can hike, bike or scooter their way here. Entry is 50 Bolivianos for foreign visitors and the walking route around the ruins is 2km – allow at least an hour.

Eating out in Samaipata

For such a little place, Samaipata offers outstanding gourmet delights. Cafe Latina is the popular French-run cafe-bar hangout, with Happy Hour 6pm to 7pm, and a short but tasty evening menu. The chocolate brownie is mouth-watering. Tierra Libre is known as the best food in town, with a romantic garden setting. Try the tapas-style Tablitas – great for sharing. The Oveja Negro, run by Ben of Ben Verhoef Tours, offers a good pasta menu and has board games and a book exchange. For an afternoon snack, head out to La Vispera guesthouse and organic cafe. Their extensive gardens overflowing with fruit and vegetables are great for roaming around, and a small hill behind the cafe offers a good mirador of the village. Just 1km from the plaza, their fruit teas and scones are delicious.

Samaipata is fast becoming a place where travellers plan to spend a night and end up staying six. With friendly hostels offering beautiful gardens and late breakfasts, tranquil walking paths and wonderful food in relaxed restaurants, there´s really no reason to leave!