The vast eastern lowlands of Bolivia, bordered by Brazil to the east and Paraguay to the south, are mainly in the enormous department of Santa Cruz. This department accounts for almost 34% of Bolivia's territory and is larger than all of Uruguay or Germany. It is also the most productive and progressive corner of the country, and one of the richest in natural resources.
The capital of the department, Santa Cruz de la Sierra is a booming modern city, Bolivia's largest, and more in tune with neighbouring Brazil than with the distant Altiplano. It is a world away from most people's image of Bolivia and therefore often ignored by travellers. That's their loss, for it stands on the threshold of one of the most fascinating parts of the country.
To the northeast are the Jesuit missions, a string of seven dusty little towns, each boasting a colonial church more beautiful than the last. Only three hours from Santa Cruz are the natural wonders of Parque Nacional Amboró, accessed from either of the very pleasant towns of Samaipata or Buena Vista, both of which are well worth a visit in their own right.
In the far north of the department is the remote and stunningly beautiful Parque Nacional Noel Kempff Mercado; to the east along the Brazilian border lies the largely undeveloped Pantanal Boliviano; and to the southwest on route to Paraguay is the Gran Chaco - one of South America's last and greatest hinterlands.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF