Sometimes it’s hard for me to admit, out loud, that my new home in Santa Cruz de la Sierra is not the most inspiring place for me to settle down in all of Bolivia. Call me an idealist, but I like to think the place where one considers planting new roots is somewhere that is exciting and stimulating. Somewhere that motivates and moves you, that’s refreshing and rejuvenates.
In my experience, Santa Cruz has proven to be anything but the aforementioned.
Luckily, though, I don’t have to go far to find the inspiration I crave as such a place exists not more than two hours from where I live, over at the foot of the Bolivian Andes. When the weekends roll around there’s nothing I look forward to more than packing the car for a quick drive south.
Destination: Samaipata . It’s the tourism hub for eastern Bolivia and a melting pot of more than 25 cultures that have settled into the “high resting place,” as is translated from it’s Quechua origin.
Halfway into the 120km journey from Santa Cruz to Samaipata the cluttered roadside markets disappear and fresh mountain air hits you as the road ascends upwards and inwards into the valley. Here I usually thrust my head out the window, tongue flapping in the wind like a dog, overjoyed by adventure and the surrounding beauty of the drive.
This particular drive is also a source of comfort for me with a sense of familiarity in each twist and turn of the road’s switchbacks. For an hour and half I’m brought back to Hawaii where for years I drove the same twists and turns into lush valleys full of roadside waterfalls much like this one.
Every stay in Samaipata has been utterly unique. We’ve bunked in hostels, stayed with friends at their family’s vacation home and rented rooms at various inns. This time around we wanted something different. While restful and relaxing has always been a consistent vibe from everywhere you go in the small town (it really only extends about six blocks in either direction from the main square), we were looking for a more intimate atmosphere. A place that gives you the warm fuzzies amidst the cool air and feels just enough like home that you can kick off your boots and completely settle in.
Which brought us to El Pueblito .
El Pueblito is an exquisite boutique hotel modeled after a colonial village and built as such. It’s quaint and cozy, comprised only of ten rooms designed as town shops that line the hotel’s main square. The resort is further complete with it’s own little chapel, hillside pool, observation tower and friendly parrots eager to greet each guest. I must say, bilingual birds are a serious attraction.
We arrived to El Pueblito at sunset, just in time to soak in the golden hour and watch the sky change colors over panoramic views of the valley below. The evening was absolutely beautiful and even if the weather didn’t hold out all weekend, we were treated to a show from the clouds as you’ll notice throughout the photos that follow.
At 1,750 meters above sea level the evening cooled down quickly and we were hoping for a chance to sit around the large bonfire pit in the center of the plaza (as shown in the second image above, to the left). However, the dinner hour was fast approaching and after a long drive there was only one thing on our mind: comida. And lots of it!
Before heading down the hill to dine at one of our favorite restaurants in town, La Luna Verde,we stopped by to see what was cooking in the “city hall.”
It was a quiet evening with few guests at the restaurant, a rarity considering weekends fill quickly with other local Cruceños fleeing Santa Cruz for a short vacation very much like us. (For this reason, I’m told, reservations in advance are highly recommended for both weekend and weekday visits.) Regardless of the vacancy, the restaurant was still filled with the rich smells of fricasé , a local, spicy stew, and other Bolivian dishes.
By our 5:30 a.m. wake up call the next morning not much had changed. Back at the hill the clouds still hung low as we headed out for a 13-hour hike to observe condors in their natural habitat. (Can you tell this lookout was by far my favorite spot of the entire hotel?!)
To describe the hike in one word: soggy. The trail was muddy, our group soaked, the view obstructed. But I’ll save the details of our experience for another post and skip ahead to the pisco sours. After pulling into town many hours later we grabbed burgers and a quick nightcap at La Boheme, the local bar and hangout, before clambering back into bed.
On Sunday the sun was in our face, shining bright as ever and I’m sure, luring out all of the condors that were hiding the day before. Ni modo , oh well. We spent the morning touring some of the other casitas of the village before bidding our farewell.
Each of the rooms and rustic cabañas of El Pueblito are themed and aptly named after various village establishments, including The Tavern, The Library, The Bakery and The Beekeeper’s. We stayed at The Florist, pictured above, and were blown away by the artisanal details, shown below. Our entire room from floor to ceiling had been touch by an artist’s brush and by far was the most beautifully decorated of the all the rooms we saw. Request the Florist during your stay!
Have I mentioned the details throughout the village?! I just can’t express enough how beautiful the artwork throughout the entire property is. Many of the intricately painted pieces from around the resort are also available for purchase in the artisan’s studio and gift shop. That wine bottle stand you see there, I call it for when we return! My Dutch friend remarked how equally impressed with the intricate detail he was and described how much of the hotel closely resembles the country towns of Holland. I also noticed in the guestbook other visitors have dubbed the hotel “Little Sweden.” To me, it’s a slice of paradise.
Albeit a short stay, it was exactly what we needed to refresh and recharge before getting back to our restless city of Santa Cruz. If you find yourself in eastern Bolivia, this is not a place to miss!