by A. Bennett Hennessey
The city of Santa Cruz is quiet intelligently designed with many roads running North-south or West-east and almost all roads being straight. These roads are connected by round road rings that center on the central plaza of the city and enlarge outwards to the 8th ring; the last few rings are only partial. There are three main roads out of the city; the old road to Cochabamba (called the Grigota in the city), leaving from the South-west to Los Volcanes, Semaipata, and the Red-fronted Macaw lodge; the new road to Cochabamba, leaving from the north to Buena Vista and Amboro National Park, and eventually Villa Tunari, Carrasco and Cochabamba; and Carretera a Cotoca, leaving from the north-east, will take you to the Santa Cruz Botanical Gardens and Concepcion, San Jose de Chiquitos and Noel Kempff Mercado National Park. As you exit Santa Cruz on one of these roads, near the outskirts you will encounter a combination toll booth (peaje) and police checkpoint (tranca).
The young city of Santa Cruz is Bolivia's wealthiest city, containing many of the conveniences of cities in wealthy countries. It is found in an elevated area of tropical lowlands (450 m) and therefore enjoys a slightly less penetrating heat as other Bolivian lowland cities, such as Trinidad. Santa Cruz is in the transition zone of the Amazonian tropical forest that follows the higher precipitation down the eastern side of the Andes with the northern limit of a dry Chaco tongue. Consequently, the city is usually windy, especially during the dry season and the peak birding season. The winds create a pleasant cool breeze during the night, but can also be torture to any midday, and -unfortunately often- early morning birding. One must keep in mind two things for this climate, 1) Bird more open areas in the stiller morning air and leave water bodies and forest trails for the windy late morning. A very windy day may have a still morning to at the latest 10 am. 2) Don't compare birding difficulty to your home standard. A windy day that seems like the beginning of a tropical storm can still be a productive birding experience in Santa Cruz. Keep in mind that birding during the heat of day and in strong winds will be very unrewarding. Much better to wait out the heat and hit the trails around 3 pm.
For many birdwatchers, the Santa Cruz area will be the only time they will encounter many Chaco specialized birds, unless they are specifically planning a trip to the Chaco of Southern Santa Cruz department. The Santa Cruz area also holds the best diversity of Austral Migrants in all of Bolivia, Lomas de Arena being the best spot for its diversity of habitats. Austral Migrants peak in July and almost disappear by mid-October. The text is written for Bolivia's winter, North America's summer, when most birdwatchers visit, so depending on the time of year, many of the species mentioned might not be present or might be in higher or lower numbers.
City Specifics: In the city we recommend you stay at the very accomodating Hotel Cortez. For tourist shopping visit Arte Campo for a great store selling lowland tropical handicrafts- some very original items there. We suggest a great steak lowland Bolivian style at Los Lomitos, and cheap and fresh Japanese food at Yorimichi. You should visit the steet Monsenor Rivero for the outdoor cafe/bar scene. If you are stuck in the city during a rainy day, you can visit Cine Centre with 10 movie theatres and an american mall style food court (Segundo anillo y Santos Dumont).