I almost skipped Santa Cruz completely, having heard from three different people that it wasn´t worth bothering with. But I´m so glad I decided to stay (not really a decision, actually, the bus from Brazil was really late).
Because I had a few of the best days I´ve had out here, and got to see some amazing stuff. Marcello showed us around, and staying in the centre of a city again was fantastic. Shops! That are actually open!
And you could see all the quirks of the city….at night, Santa Cruzians go out to eat ice cream, as a social event. It was delicious, although slightly surreal to be eating some at midnight.
The first night I stayed in the cheapest (and scuzziest) hostel I´ve ever seen. But it was late, and it was a place to stay. The second night was far nicer, and still for just over a tenner in sterling.
Anyway, the thing to do in Santa Cruz is to see the butterfly park, or Mariposaria. I expected this to be a small room full of butterflies, but it was so much better. Imagine a tropical Centre Parcs, where you can actually learn things, with wild animals.
We saw housands of beautiful butterflies, exotic birds up so close you could reach out and touch them, a toucan which looked completely fake (anyone else seen a toucan? They honestly look like they are plastic robots. Or a plain old crow wearing a disguise), tortoises and orchids. There were lakes where you could kayak – here the difference in health & safety really becomes clear, in Bolivia you just pick a kayak and get in, no forms or queues or anything! – and the guide spoke excellent English.
There was information everywhere about the lifecycle of butterflies, evolution, the universe and how humans can live more in sync with nature.
I really, really loved it.
PS. the name of the park was Guembe, which is the Spanish name for a leaf which looks like an elephant´s ear.