We started and finished our trip in Santa Cruz since there are direct flights from Panama to this Bolivian city. As we did not have much time we opted to stay in a hotel in Santa Cruz to spend a day exploring the city and the other visiting Samaipata.
Santa Cruz is the most modern city in Bolivia, without a doubt, it is very different from La Paz where poverty is noted. It is full of tall buildings, fenced neighborhoods, shopping centers and restaurants. After spending a few days in precarious accommodation on our tour of the Salar de Uyuni y Potosi, followed by a hot night in bus towards Sucre, we were happy to arrive to the comfort that a city offers.
Our hotel the Marriott Santa Cruz de la Sierra Hotel was barely a year old. It was the most luxurious experience of the trip, finishing in style. What I liked most was the view from the room that overlooked a forest that is the Urubo ecological reserve.
A complicated trip
When we arrived at the Santa Cruz airport we decided to rent a car. The car rental company gave us a Kia Picanto which is a small car despite the fact we told them we were going to visit Samaipata. The road was recently paved so even a car of that size arrives perfectly.
The problem was the police checkpoint in La Angostura where two policemen have the most lucrative work in Bolivia. Their job is to find any reason to get the drivers to give them money that they put quite visible inside the papers of the vehicle that they give them.
They started to annoy us by saying that the car inspection paper did not have both names. Then we needed a triangle, reflective vests and a kit that the car did not have. After calling the car rental and giving us a hard time for half an hour in that place they finally let us move on. If you visit Samaipata make sure you have all these things and that they write in the paper if there is more than one driver driving the car.
The road is beautiful, super green and virgin. Bolivia is a big producer and has a strong campaign to consume local. January was the season for grapes and peaches, so we stopped at a roadside stand to buy some.
On the road to the Fort of Samaipata we passed through a vineyard called Landsua. We decided to enter and to our luck Inés offered us a tour after I told her I was a tourism journalist. Many tour operators include a visit to the vineyard on their tour to Samaipata or you can go on your own. They open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and the tours take 45 minutes.
When we went we were in harvesting which is the best time to go since the plants are full of grapes. They have between 22 to 25 hectares that range from 1,650 to 1,850 meters in height. Because of the conditions, dry red wine is better. They have eight strains of red and four of white. You can taste two types of wines.
We were introduced to Sebastian Parra from Mendoza, Argentina who, besides being the oenologist, was very handsome. He told us that the Landsua vineyard started as a hobby for the owners and was growing. The owners are Spanish. They decided to make a play on words with the name, “land” is a field and “sua” is fire or sun in Basque.
The oldest parts are barely eight years old and a vineyard to be good needs 10 to 15 years. It has very good quality, comparable with wines from California and Europe. Although the cost of labor and land is cheap, wine prices in Bolivia are very expensive. That’s why the country still does not export. Landsua wines at the moment are only found in Santa Cruz and Samaipata but they expect to grow their distribution very soon.
Fort of Samaipata
The main attraction of the area is undoubtedly the Fort of Samaipata that gets its name from its last occupants, the Spanish conquistadors who used the site as a fort. This is one of the first populated places in Bolivia. The Mojocoyas and Chanés lived there between 800-1300 a.C. and they were constantly attacked by the Guaranies. The Inca lived in the area between 1350-1450 and left many houses. There are still 10 hidden hectares that began being excavated in March 2019 and it is estimated that it will take around 10 years. Between 600-700 Inca houses are still buried.
The Spanish conquistadors arrived in Samaipata in 1618 and subjected the Incas to forced labor. The houses of the Incas were made of stone and the Spanish ones of earth. They made an oven to melt the gold that was found on the site. There were also mummies of the priests who embalmed when they died.
I decided to hire a guide named Cecilio to tell us more about this interesting place. The Fort of Samaipata was covered by the jungle until 1974-1975 when the Ministry of Education and Culture sent a group of archaeologists to work on the site. The mountain is 250 meters long and 60 meters wide, being the largest petroglyph in the world. It has many figures in high relief, including channels that go down with symbols of the snakes where chicha, water and blood of animals ran as an offering to the gods.
When it was discovered the figures were very sharp but suffered from erosion due to lack of protection. Cows and horses lived in the area, as well as people who passed over the ruin. In 1988 the site was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and regulations were put in place for its protection.
A mystical place
This mountain is located at an altitude of 1,950 meters and connects in a straight line with La Paz and Tiwanaku in Bolivia as well as Machu Pichu, Cusco and Ollantaytambo in Peru. It is believed that it was a religious place because of the energy and magnetism produced by the mountain that contains minerals such as magnesium, mercury and iron.
The choir of the priests is one of the most remarkable places in the rock of the Fort of Samaipata. 18 seats to the contour and 9 in the center that were interspersed by men and women. On this site they did astronomical and political management. The stone connects the seasons when the sun rises for the equinox and solstice.
There is a lot of speculation about the presence of extraterrestrials on site but when I asked Cecilio he told me that he slept three months on the stone and saw nothing. So he does not believe those stories.
What is striking is the climate and vegetation. The rock in the Fort of Samaipata serves as a division. On the left there is the Amazon rainforest where it almost always rains and has 127 types of mammals including bear, puma, jaguars and capibara. On the right is the Chaco, which is dry and only the condors live there. The area has two additional climates that are valleys and Andes.
Village of Samaipata
The town of Samaipata was founded by the Spaniards. Originally it was called the Valley of Purification but the name Samaipata remained. It comes from the Quechua language; ‘samai’ means rest and ‘pata’ height. Therefore Samaipata is a place to rest in the heights.
After visiting the Fort of Samaipata we continue to the colonial town that is about 15 minutes away. Your ticket gives you access to the Archaeological Museum in Samaipata, which is the main attraction of the town.
There you can see objects such as ceramics, vessels, bones, skulls and utensils excavated by archaeologists. The history on the site is fairly well documented.
It is worthwhile to stay to sleep in a hotel in Samaipata but we had no idea how beautiful the town was. We took the opportunity to have lunch at a restaurant called ‘Tía María’ where they serve typical Bolivian food.
We did not have the opportunity to visit Las Cuevas, a site with waterfalls or the Amboró National Park. We left this beautiful place with regret but we were accompanied by a beautiful rainbow when leaving.