With 1.5 million people, Santa Cruz de la Sierra (commonly referred to as Santa Cruz) is the largest city in Bolivia. Blessed with resources and infrastructure that are responsible for approximately 30 percent of the national GDP, it is also the richest.
First founded in 1561, the city originally served as a supplier of rice, cotton, sugar and fruit for the rest Spain's South American colony. During this time it also was an important staging point for Jesuit and Christian missionaries, who imposed their religious beliefs upon the ethnic groups in the area. The city maintained relative autonomy until well after Bolivia won independence in 1809, but wars in the 20th century with Brazil and Paraguay forced the Bolivian government to pay more attention to the frontier town. Transportation to and communication with the area soon improved, opening trade opportunities that brought economic prosperity.
That prosperity has continued thanks in large part to large oil reserves in the eastern part of Bolivia. Home to glitzy headquarters for multinational corporations, Santa Cruz has seen an influx of money and development in the region. Developing in unison, wealthy middle and upper classes have sprung up unlike any found in other parts of Bolivia.
Residents of Santa Cruz have grown increasingly unhappy with La Paz in recent years, with many of Santa Cruz's wealthier residents expressing opposition to President Evo Morales, whose desire to redistribute wealth to Boliviaâ€™s highland Indians in the west runs contrary to the regionâ€™s conservative values. Though not violent by deed, Santa Cruz's elite have on many occasions taken to the streets in a call for autonomy, and it is not uncommon to hear them pass derogatory jokes about Morales. Much of the ire stems from heavy-handed governance by Morales, including exerting more control over Santa Cruz's energy industry, but it also has roots in the cultural and social differences between La Paz and Santa Cruz. Whereas the former is home to a fair share of indigenous populations, the latter is decidedly more mestizo.
Political and social discussions aside, Santa Cruz benefits from a wealth of international influences (the town has notable German, Italian, Arabic, Indian Sikh and Japanese communities and had an important historical role along the Oriente trade route). As a result, the area has a wide array of quality food offerings and a wealth of available ingredients. Though sparse on sights, Santa Cruz still offers some worthwhile things to see, including Plaza 24 de Septiembre, San Lorenzo Cathedral, the Museum of Natural History and one of the best zoos in all of Bolivia.
Other places nearby Santa Cruz: Samaipata, Camiri, Buena Vista, The Bolivian Pantanal, San Javier, Amboro National Park, San JosĂ© de Chiquitos, ConcepciĂłn, San Ignacio De Velasco and RoborĂ©, Santiago de Chiquitos and ChochĂs.