El Fuerte (meaning “The Fort”), near the picturesque town of Samaipata in Santa Cruz, Bolivia is an ancient pre-Colombian ritual site and is the largest carved rock in the world. It was declared a Heritage of Humanity site by UNESCO. Mystery and legends surround this fortress, as no one isn't quite sure who carved it. It is the largest single rock carving in the world.
Located about 2 hours West of the city of Santa Cruz, the site was first discovered by Spanish colonists who had settled in the area in the 16th century, and established the town of Samaipata. They called it "El Fuerte" (the Fort) because of its shape. But they abandoned Samaipata and left the area soon after, and the town and ruins were covered with vegetation until scholars took notice of it again in the late 1700's. Excavation began in the early 1900's.
This archeological site is believed to be originally of Mojocoyan origin, a culture that began sculpting the rock around 300 AD, although many attribute it to the Incas. The rock contains carvings of jaguars, cats, snakes and other animals as well as several deep pits and long grooves and channels presumably used to circulate and store water. At the top of the stone there is a circle of 12 seats with a set of 3 seats in the middle. Locals call this the "Coro de los Sacerdotes" or "Choir of Priests".
El Fuerte de Samaipata is located a few miles prior to arriving to the town of Samaipata. You can either stop there on your way to town or take a tour from town once you've settled in to a hotel or hostel. Vehicles will take you up to a flat area at the base of the carved rock and you have to hike a little from there. You'll be able to see how small huts were built around the base of the stone, and view excavated portions of an adjoining village nearby. You'll pay a small entrance fee and this helps with upkeep of El Fuerte and its associated museum. As this is a UNESCO site, and has suffered damage from tourism already, it's important to take good care of it. Climbing onto the fuerte is not allowed.
The Incas occupied the site during the 1300's as well, adding several buildings, and carving out the hillsides with their traditional land terracing system of agriculture. There is also a series of niches they cut into the entire length of the right side of the rock. These would have had roofs at one time, as would the remains of several houses found about a hundred meters further on. These are all very similar to temple niches and houses found at Machu Picchu, the great Incan Ruins in Peru.
You can walk all the way around the rock, but do not cross the rope barriers. In the past visitors climbed up onto the rock but this was causing damage. To the right of the rock is a short path that leads to what appears to have been a small village with ruins of several small houses and huts. You’ll also see some very, very deep holes here which may have been wells long ago. Today they are so deep, that if you throw a stone inside them, you will never hear it hit the bottom.
El Fuerte at Samaipata is located high atop a hill in the “sierra” (Andes foothills) and from here the view is spectacular. The highway to the fort is completely paved and offers visitors a fantastic panorama, making the
Drive to Samaipata
a colorful adventure in itself.
About 10 miles prior to arriving in the town of
you must take a dirt road that veers off to the left. It is very steep and you will have to drive in low gear. Once you reach the top, there is ample parking and a small visitor’s center where you pay your admission to the site.
The Samaipata Fort is the main tourist attraction in the Samaipata area, but there are many other sites to see during Samaipata Tours. See our Tourist Info page for more details on getting there, when to go, what to take, and where to stay. Use the links above and below to learn more about El Fuerte de Samaipata and Contact Ruta Verde Bolivia for more information on this and many other amazing ecotours and
tours in Bolivia.