Equipetrol is one of the best places to see the vibrant spirit of Santa Cruz in action. What was once one of the city’s “old wealth” neighborhoods has, over the past 10 years, rapidly transformed into a pulsating playground for tourists and cruceños alike. It’s main avenue, San Martín, and many cross streets, are lined with a mix of traditional and ultra-modern cafés, bars, ice creams shops, restaurants and discos, as well as up-scale specialty shops, spas, salons, health food stores, banks, and some of the city’s top 4 and 5-star hotels. Several private schools and universities, car dealerships, grocery stores, and numerous office and apartment buildings complete this picture of a city where zoning laws are understood as more of a suggestion than a rule.
Until just 10 years ago, Equipetrol was an almost purely residential neighborhood with large, walled-in houses and pretty, paved streets, two well-established private schools (the Deutsche Schule and the Colegio Franco), a Catholic church and one or two small stores. Equipetrol was also known as the luxury hotel zone, home to the Los Tajibos, Caparuch, and Yotaú, hotels.
For nearly 25 years teens cruised its main avenue, San Martín, parking their cars along the sides and blasting their music while they drank on the roadside, much to the chagrin of residents. This was, however, limited to weekends and during the week Equipetrol was a very quiet, tree-lined neighborhood.
In 2000, when several oil companies joined forces to build the Centro Empresarial Equipetrol, a large office complex, other businesses began to spring up. Up-scale gyms, a few restaurants and cafés, and various daycare centers followed. As Avenida San Martín began to become more commercial, nightclubs and discos moved in. That’s when residents began to rent out the houses near the main avenue to businesses and restaurants only, choosing to move either to the interior side streets or other areas of town to avoid the noise.
Little by little all the houses disappeared on Avenida San Martin and now it’s one long, commercial strip, busy both day and night, and gradually as commerce advances, the houses along the side streets are being rented or sold as office space, restaurants, and stores. Two large new grocery stores have also moved in, numerous high-end apartment buildings have added to this neighborhood’s skyline, and several additional nice hotels have been built (the Royal Inn, the Camino Real, and the Casablanca, for example).
Equipetrol is now filled with places to eat, shop, and stay during your visit to Santa Cruz, and remains the top nightlife spot of the city, although this is changing as the city expands. On weekend evenings teens cruise the length of the avenue, choking traffic and playing their music loudly while the adult crowd looks on in tolerant amusement from the many sidewalk cafés, restaurants, and ice cream parlors. Sometimes the main avenue is blocked to cars. Many residential and company buildings have turned this into the corporate center of Santa Cruz.
Equipetrol is also the home of a huge mall called Ventura mall, a large concert hall, movie theaters, and numerous discos. During the day it's a nice place to spend some time walking, shopping, or people-watching at a café. At night Equipetrol becomes one long block party and everyone’s invited.