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The Guembe Biocenter in Santa Cruz, Bolivia (Biocentro Güembe, in Spanish) is home to the world's largest butterfly sanctuary and is a spectacular place to spend some time while you're in Bolivia's beautiful tropical region. Located just 20 minutes from downtown Santa Cruz, it is open 365 days a year from sunrise to sundown. But this beautiful 24-hectare (46-acre) paradise also has a surprising number of unexpected amenities!
Known primarily for its immense netted butterfly dome, cruceños have come to refer to this adventure park as the "Mariposario Güembe" (pronounced goo-em-BEH). The park also houses a diverse collection of orchids in its "orquideario" (Bolivia has more orchid varieties than anywhere else in the world) and an aviary where you can see scarlet macaws, toucans, parrots, peacocks and other colorful tropical birds.
This is about as much information as most locals will give you about this park. But wait! What you might not know is that it comes complete with a full resort hotel, bungalows, tent camping facilities, picnic and barbecue areas, numerous restaurants and bars, several large lagoons where you can go kayaking or fishing, 16 natural mineral water pools with natural sand bottoms, an enormous children's playground with shallow wading pools, indoor and outdoor event planning, horseback riding, mountain bikes, hiking trails, biolabs where you can learn about the different species you've seen live and conservation efforts that are underway, a gift shop, ample parking and coming soon, a convention center!
You could literally spend anywhere between one afternoon to an entire week at Güembe and not run out of things to do. Your visit will begin with the drive out to the park. If you take a taxi from downtown, you'll be charged about Bs. 50 each way. Although it is only a 20-minute drive, part of it is on a gravel road so if you decide to drive yourself, plan accordingly. The park is located on Kilometer 7, on the road to Porongo (passing through the luxurious Colinas del Urubó neighborhood, just north of Avenida San Martín in Equipetrol, one of the city's two nightlife hotspots).
You can request a shuttle (called a "transfer" here) directly from Viru Viru airport for Bs. 100, from Equipetrol for Bs. 50 or from the Santa Cruz central plaza for Bs. 70.
Upon arriving you'll pay an entrance fee. Adults pay Bs. 70 and children pay Bs. 30. Visitors over 65 years of age also pay Bs. 30. There are also several packages you can purchase that include tours, meals, overnight stays, or teatime snacks. A monthly pass is also available that allows you unlimited entrance for one person for 30 days. There are three annual-pass options. The first, at $60 allows one person to enter the park an unlimited number of times per year. The second, at $100 allows two people unlimited entry for a year. The third, at $140 (called the Business Year Pass) allows you unlimited entry per year AND you can share your pass with guests, allowing others to use it in your stead.
Once you've paid your entry fee you can spend the day on your own or take the tours, visit the Evoluseum, bike ride, kayak, and more (and stay the hotel if you choose to stay). MasterCard and Visa are accepted. You will also be charged if you choose to ride horseback (Bs. 10 per person) or take a horse and carriage ride (Bs. 5 per person), which must be paid in cash directly to the horse and buggy driver.
A buffet lunch is served at the Las Palmas Restaurant on Saturday, Sunday and holidays for Bs. 80 per adult and Bs. 50 per child. Monday through Friday you may order a la carte for the same price. This lunch price includes one entrée, one main dish and two desserts. To see the full menu in Spanish, click on the link at the top of the page that says "Baje el tríptico de Güembe aquí" to download the Güembé brochure in Spanish.
You may also choose to rent camping equipment, kayaks and life jackets, mountain bikes and other equipment, which do cost a nominal fee, but you're welcome to bring your own. You can also rent baby carriages (Bs. 40 for 1/2 day or Bs. 80 full day), lockers (Bs. 10 per day), bamboo fishing rods (Bs. 30), or fishing reels (Bs. 50). Güembé also has a gift boutique where you can purchase t-shirts, shorts, swimsuits and towels, in addition to assorted souvenirs. Be sure to visit the Evoluseum! Entrance is only Bs. 10.
Upon entering you should take the guided tour first, if you paid for it. Your guide will lead you down several paths while explaining several varieties of insects, plants and birds as you walk toward the first of two butterfly domes. This first dome, which is the smaller of the two, houses hundreds of butterflies that flit about you constantly. Just past this dome and across a small bridge is the immense 80-foot L-shaped dome that houses many species of birds, hundreds of butterflies, and even a curious monkey or two. Please do climb the spiral stairs to the top - the view is spectacular!! (Not for you if you are afraid of heights).
From here you'll take a trail that leads you to a giant rock-clustered construction in the forest. This is the "orquideario" (orchid garden) where you can see a collection of numerous species of Bolivian orchids. The guide will explain to you why it is surrounded by seven pillars on each side, and the meaning of the circular quartz-encrusted floor beneath the round opening (I'm not going to tell you - it's interesting - go yourself!)
Once your tour is done, you can enjoy lunch at the main restaurant (buffet on weekends) or smaller snacks at any one of several snack bars. Dip in the pool (lifeguards on duty), kayak on the lagoon, play beach volleyball, take in some quiet fishing, or let the kids run around the "Mini Club". This playground has shallow wading pools, a jump house, a trampoline, a climbing area, a "castle" complete with a mirror room, and the cutest BEST children's bathrooms / showers / changing areas I have ever seen! There is even a small movie room up in the castle - kids parties are a blast here - complete with a small kitchen and dining area. The best part - it's fenced all around for their safety.
Past the kayak lagoon you'll see several cabanas in the forest - these are bungalows and are for rent as part of the hotel. The first, to your right has a sign that says "Recepción" - that's the lobby area where you'll sign in, find the hotel manager (who is fully bilingual in English and Spanish), and get settled in. Take a peek through the reception area out onto the lagoon. To your right you'll see a palm-frond covered open ...surprise...WORKOUT GYM... at the edge of the lake! Hammocks abound as do outdoor picnic areas. Click below for Guembe Hotel Reservations.
Additional activities include: Fishing: you pay per weight of the fish you catch Horseback riding: Bs. 10 per person Horse and buggy rides: Bs. 5 per person Biking (bike rental fee): Bs. 20 per hour, Bs. 15 per 1/2 hour
BIOCENTRO GUEMBE Open 365 days a year from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Kilometer 7, Road to Porongo Zona Los Batos Santa Cruz, Bolivia Tel: (591-3) 370-0700 Website: www.biocentroguembe.com Make a reservation at the Biocentro Güembé Resort online.