Eastern vs Western Bolivia

One one-hour plane ride took me south to salt flats. Another one-hour plane ride brought me west to a tropical metropolis.

After another weekend traveling within Bolivia, I am again taken back by all this country has to offer. In comparison to my home country, it is incredible how such a small nation like Bolivia can be so diverse.

I spent this past weekend in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, and it could not have been more different than La Paz.

First, I finally was able to catch my breath, thanks to the dip in altitude, and ditch the winter clothes. Although technically it was still the same season here, Santa Cruz has climate like Florida, so it was warm, sunny and humid.

Santa Cruz is located in the west of Bolivia towards Brazil and Paraguay. Being so, it has a

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At a Santa Cruz eco-park, I was able to see plenty of local plants as well as exhibits on other biomes.

more tropical climate with flora and fauna that matches. While landing, I looked out to see the green terrain covered in palm trees and would have guessed I had gotten on the wrong plane to a different country had I not been with the rest of my group.

Another difference I would soon discover would be the change in the most influential indigenous culture. Here, instead of Quechua or Aymara, Guaraní words were mixed into everything from street-art to common conversation.

Santa Cruz is also one of the fastest growing cities in the world, and it showed with tons of construction and urban sprawl. While the city is organized into a series of rings, it is still vastly spread out, a total opposite from the dense, compact structure of La Paz. Santa Cruz certainly did not have skyline, having many more single-story buildings instead of high-rises. Being so spread out, most people have their own vehicles to drive and are not as reliant on public transportation. This reminded me a lot of the United States.

Another reminder of home were all the American chains operating in the city. I spotted Starbucks, KFC, Papa John’s and Burger King, just to name a few. I would not have expected to have seen these chains here, but with Santa Cruz’s growth, it has secured itself as the business and commerce center for Bolivia, and globalization would certainly follow suit with that.

In addition, for my first day in the city, I could not understand anyone because of their thick accents. Locals do not pronounce the “s” sound at the end of words and even replace it with almost a “j” sound. There were also other differences including archaic verb tenses, addition of Guaraní words, and a tone that was much more commanding instead of questioning.

I could go on and on about the differences, but what is most striking is the pride people have for their region. Bolivians, whether cambas or collas, will vehemently defend their part of Bolivia as the superior region and make jokes accordingly. Mixing up someone’s regional identity is about as big a sin as calling a Southerner a Yankee.

While I thoroughly enjoyed my time exploring Santa Cruz, of course, the adventure came to an end.

And sorry Cambas, but I have to say I prefer La Paz.

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3 thoughts on “Eastern vs Western Bolivia

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  1. As a city, I tend to prefer La Paz, too. It’s more cosmopolitan. But that’s an interesting thing to think about. Both La Paz (a capital city, with embassies and NGO offices spread throughout the city) and Santa Cruz are in different ways highly connected to the global economy and global social, political, and cultural trends. But they experience them differently. What might that suggest about globalization?

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  2. ^^^ I agree with Miguel. Santa Cruz is fascinating for lots of reasons – not the least of which is that, as a Bolivian MD said to me recently, what if Santa Cruz isn’t the past, trying to “catch up” to elsewhere, but the future, with increasing inequality and markers of connection or marginalization from the global economy? But for me, La Paz is a more cosmopolitan city and one that is easier to spend more time visiting.

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