The Rio Pirai (Pirai River) runs through the western section of the city of Santa Cruz. After being moved three times, this city was finally founded permanently on the banks of this river. Today, you can visit the Cabañas del Río Pirai, a long row of thatch-roofed restaurants where cambas (cruceños) go throughout the week (and mostly on weekends) to have fun.
The Cabañas are a very popular spot among locals young and old in Santa Cruz. They are located at the end of Avenida Roca y Coronado, just past the 4th ring.
This was previously the location of the Jardín Botánico (Santa Cruz Botanical gardens) founded many years ago by botanist Noel Kempff (after whom the Noel Kempff National Park and the Santa Cruz Zoo are named). However, in 1984 there was a great flood and the river completely destroyed the botanical gardens and many neighborhoods in the area, such as Sirari and Equipetrol were flooded and covered in mud. The botanical garden has since been moved to the highway that runs due East from Santa Cruz to Cotoca.
Today you can visit the Cabañans del Piraí any day of the week. However, during the week it's best if you go with a city tour. Unfortunately, young people like to go there to get drunk and drugged during the week. It's pretty disgusting.
However, on weekends, it's a great place to go if you want to sample some traditional camba teatime foods like zonzo, masaco de yuca, masaco de platano, empanadas de arroz, and all kinds of traditional foods like wild boar (jochi), armadillo (tatu), fish and other tasty meals.
The cabañas get VERY busy on Sundays. This is when it's crowded and safe to go. I always suggest going in the morning and staying for lunch. Leave by 3-4 p.m. before it gets rowdy. Cruceños love to dance and by the afternoon there is steady stream of cars going in and out. At about that time people start to drink and the drinking goes on into the wee hours of the night. After 3 pm it's not a great place for kids.
However, if you go on a Sunday morning you can have a great time. During the rainy season the river is high but beginning in September the waters are low. So low, in fact, that although the river is very wide, you can walk all the way across it and it is usually only about ankle deep. Because there are sand bars, it will be up to knee-deep in some places.
The row of cabañas in endless - and they are huge. All of them are covered in typical jataja roofing (dried palm fronds woven together). The food is interesting and all cooked on open coals and flames. You can have a great cup of coffee with zonzo on a stick (my favorite). Zonzo is very typically camba. It's mashed yucca mixed with cheese and wrapped around a stick. It is then place over hot coals until the cheese melts and toasts. Delicious!
It's a great place to get pictures, see how typical homes are built, and have a little fun at the river. Plan on walking a lot and getting dusty. Take care of your personal belongings at all times. There are horses to ride (sort of saggy old nags but they're tame) and also a small playground for kids.