La Guardia is a little town just 15 minutes from the city of Santa Cruz. It’s not really a tourist destination; however, it is along the road you’ll take if you decide to go to Samaipata or anywhere else in the sierras. It’s a small, tranquil little town of about 18,000 and a great place to spend a lazy Sunday.
It flanks both sides of the “nueva carretera a Cochabamba” (the new highway to Cochabamba), also known as the “doble vía a La Guardia” and has a central boulevard that runs down the middle, along the entire length of the town. Lined with over 60 park benches, lots of shady trees, and pretty lantern-shaped streetlights, it's charming and breezy, soothing and quiet on Sundays.
Many people head out of town on Sundays to smaller towns like La Guardia to relax and spend some quiet time with family. The town is surrounded by quintas and weekend homes. Sometimes families just want to enjoy a long outdoor lunch at one of the many rustic restaurants that serve roast duck under the shade, a sort of weekend family tradition.
The road to La Guardia is a busy 4-lane “highway” along which you’ll see many businesses, stores, markets and company office buildings, including many of the oil companies. As you leave the city you’ll drive by the CBN (Cervecería Boliviana Nacional), a huge Bolivian beer factory (you’ll know it by the horrible smell of hops). There are several gas stations and large chain grocery stores where you can stock up on food and drinks if your plan involves a longer trip.
You’ll see several large urbanizations, mostly weekend and country homes as well as country restaurants and “balnearios” (rustic countryside swimming pools and leisure areas). You’ll also drive by the Friends of Nature Foundation (Fundación Amigos de la Naturaleza), a non-profit nature conservation organization that is working throughout Bolivia to ensure endangered plant and animal species don’t go extinct. The sierras will be directly in front of you the entire way.
As you near La Guardia you’ll have to go through a tollbooth (the cost is Bs. 2 per car, more for larger trucks and buses). After the tollbooth you’ll begin to enjoy the beautiful view of the sierras and all the lush, moist vegetation along the way. Breathe the warm tropical air into your lungs. Past La Guardia and on into the sierras the air will cool.
It’s a nice stop along the way to other places like Samaipata or Cochabamba. You can stock up on food and drinks at the local market, make payphone calls, stop for lunch or ice cream along the boulevard, rest in one of its three plazas, go to Catholic mass on Sunday, and if you don’t feel well or just need some basics, visit the Santa Lucia pharmacy and ask for my friend Patricia – you can get pharmaceuticals, toiletries, phone cards, and other travel items. (It’s only open in the morning on Sundays).
La Guardia also has a police station, a mayor’s office, several banks and credit unions, a gas station, a Western Union office, a House of Culture, and a small pool of motorcycle taxis.
Lately, because the cost of housing has risen quite a bit in the city of Santa Cruz, many people are moving near or to La Guardia to live and "commute" to the city to work each day (if you can call a 15-20 minute drive a commute).
The Santa Cruz Christian Learning Center, a private English-language school is located along this road and the American Cooperative School, located in the Las Palmas neighborhood of Santa Cruz, although still in the city, is only 10 minutes from La Guardia and there is a main street entrance to Las Palmas from the highway to La Guardia.
Another popular Sunday lunch "hangout" along this road is a restaurant called Los Patos (The Ducks) where you can eat the specialty (what else - roast duck) while sitting outside in a jungly garden atmosphere.