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Bus route from Santa Cruz to Trinidad

Too often I hear of travelers not even thinking there is a Bolivia east of La Paz, or a Bolivia that has a jungle. Bolivia is a HUGE country with many different climates and histories and cultures, and this route will treat you to some rich and exotic experiences that are very different from the routes of the high Andes.

This route I'm recommending is also a bit unusual in that it's neither the most straight or efficient way to get from A to B, and there are many different ways to get to Trinidad. I'm going to wind you to Trinidad in a serpentine manner, going east from Santa Cruz, then back west past where you started, toward but not all the way to Cochabamba and then north through a smaller jungle highway that will take you to the western gate of Trinidad. Trust me, it will be fun!

Starting in Santa Cruz, the large modern metropolis of Bolivia generously studded with museums and galleries, there is a remarkably beautiful and historically important loop that goes east of and then back to the city. This loop, called Chiquitos, will take you to the several small Jesuit missions of the colonial era, and are the only ones in South America that are still standing where they were founded over 300 years ago. The missions include San Jose, Santa Ana, San Rafael, San Miguel, San Ignacio, Concepcion and San Xavier (pictured here), and they all were declared UNESCO heritage sites.

When you round back to Santa Cruz, there are a couple of small villages just outside the western side of the city worth relaxing in as day trip extensions. The first is Porongo, peaceful and picturesque surrounding an 18th century church; and the second is Espejillos, where bathing in the crystal clear rivers and waterfalls is sought after by visitors and locals alike.

Then you take the bus west to Samaipata, an important destination brimming with foreign-run, stylish hostels and restaurants who accommodate travelers principally wanting to see El Fuerte, a pre-Inca ruin that many claim, and I agree with them, has this bizarre mystical energy that is different from other ruins. From Samaipata you can also go hiking in the nearby Parque Nacional Amboró.

Now, I told you this would be serpentine, because it's easier to get to Trinidad by going back to Santa Cruz than continue west toward Cochabamba because there are no roads to cut through the huge national forests of Amboro and Carrasco. So from Santa Cruz, you want to go on the highway to Cochabamba on the NORTH side of the forests and get off at Villa Tunari. There you will catch a smaller bus going up I-24 to the beautiful lake Isereri alongside the pueblo San Igacio. This way is so much more memorable and authentically Bolivian than the super highway from Santa Cruz to the eastern side of Trinidad. Many tourists also take the I-24 route to ride up the river Ichilo by boat, by instead of going to San Ignacio, they just take a bus from Tunari to Puerto Villaroel, where they catch the boat. This, however, is even more serpentine a river than my bus route, so just include several more hours in your plan if you want to go by river to Trinidad.

Trinidad has even more little mission towns around it that are equally, if not more intriguing than the ones around Santa Cruze. These include San Ignacio de Moxos (that's the one one the lake Isereri), Loreto, San Javier, Santa Ana, Baures, San Joaquín, San Ramón, Magdalena, and San Pedro.

The Trinidad area thrives on river culture and economies and is essentially the gateway to the southern Amazon basin. For this reason it is often is subject to flooding, but also why so many come here to go on river tours and fishing. Inside the city you should definitely visit the fascinating Museo Itícola, one of the largest in the world for collection of fish, as well as the Kenneth Lee archaeological museum that does a very good job of telling the story and presenting the evidence of the Moxos culture.


San Xavier Mission, near Trinidad
  • On this route:
  • Pailon |
  • San Jose de Chiquitos |
  • San Miguel |
  • San Ignacio de Velasco |
  • Concepcion |
  • San Javier |
  • Okinawa |
  • Montero |
  • Porongo |
  • Espejillos |
  • Samaipata |
  • Portachuelo |
  • Yapacani |
  • Chimoré |
  • Villa Tunari |
  • San Ignacio de Moxos |
  • Trinidad!

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