Samaipata (which means “resting in the heights” in the Quechua language) is a small town near Santa Cruz, Bolivia. It's top tour attraction is El Fuerte (the Fort), the largest carved rock face in the world, believed by some to be an ancient Chané (pre-Incan) ritual or sacred site, while others believe it was once a UFO landing spot used by aliens. Legends abound. Located in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, it is a very cozy town and very popular among tourists and foreign residents alike. Because of its mountainous landscape and European-style cabins, it has gained the name of “Little Switzerland” and lies at 1648 meters above sea level.
El Fuerte is located just 9 kilometers before reaching the town. The Samaipata fort was declared a Heritage of Humanity site by UNESCO in 1998. The Fort dates back to at least the pre-Columbian period in Bolivia and reaches a height of 1.949 meters above sea level. To date the origin and meaning of this site is still the subject of study and the Samaipata Fort is the region's top tour attraction.
The town has almost a mystical air and also offers visits to nurseries, vegetable gardens, including herb gardens, and local artwork including ceramic and ironwork. In addition, many Samaipata Tours include visits to nearby waterfalls, Laguna Volcán, Amboro National Park, hiking and trekking, and other places for which Samaipata serves as a gateway.
Foreigners especially love Samaipata. Its temperate climate, cooler than Santa Cruz, offers the best of both worlds: a small town feel, yet near enough to Santa Cruz de la Sierra to enjoy the heat of the tropics and urban life whenever one pleases. Samaipata is quickly becoming a favorite place to retire in Bolivia and foreigners have set up tour agencies, vacation cabins, Hotels and Hostels, and many restaurants featuring international foods. In Samaipata you'll hear English, German and Dutch almost as often as Spanish. It is a popular weekend spot among locals as well. Many Santa Cruz families own weekend homes or rent them out to tourists. On holidays and weekends Samaipata and El Fuerte are especially busy.
The Drive to Samaipata itself is beautiful. As you enter the foothills and the altitude increases, the temperature cools and is a welcome respite from the humid heat of Santa Cruz. You'll see quaint villages, and can stop to take a picture near "El Portal" (a rock formation), buy fruit from a wayside stand, or cross the river on a hanging bridge. It is paved the entire way.
Because of its proximity to Amboro National Park, its lovely forests and hillsides, and the abundance of wildlife and flora in the region, Samaipata is considered an ecological tour, meaning you are required to be very responsible and caring of nature when you visit.
Photo: By Madereugeneandrew - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48997236