The town of Samaipata (Lat 18:10:44S Long 63:52:30W) (2,926 inhabitants in 2001) is located in the department of Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Samaipata is a Quechua word that means: The Height to Rest. With its delightful subtropical climate and an altitude of 1600–1800 m it tempts foreigners to settle. The little village is kind of a Micromundo where now about 25 nationalities live together in harmony and peace. It lies about 120 kilometers to the southwest of the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra in the foothills of the Andes on the way to Sucre. It is a popular resort for inhabitants of Santa Cruz due to its much cooler climate. As such, there is regular bus and taxi service to Santa Cruz. The town is small with numerous colonial buildings and narrow cobbled streets. There is a good range of hotels and restaurants to suit all budgets. There are numerous tour agencies and guided tours operators. International as well as local tourism makes this into one of the few "boom" towns of the area. It is strategically located near several tourist attractions such as El Fuerte de Samaipata, the Amboro National Park, El Codo de los Andes, several waterfalls, rapids and lagoons, as well as well-preserved colonial towns such as Vallegrande, Pampagrande, Postrervalle, Santiago del Valle, Pucara, and others. It is also the first stop in the several tourist trails to Sucre and Potosi, and the Che Guevara route.
The valley was originally populated by people of the Chane culture dedicated to agriculture, hunting and gathering. The Chanes are famous for their densely populated villages, their ceramics and graphic designs, and most importantly the construction of the temple at El Fuerte de Samaipata. They cultivated mainly corn and peanuts, and were rather peaceful. There are several Chane burial sites all through the valleys and pampas of Santa Cruz between the Siberia mountain ridge and the Guapay river.
The Guarani warrior tribes coming from the south invaded the valley and defeated both Incas and Chanes. The Guarani hordes kept raiding the valley and the nearby region well into the Spanish colonial times.
In 1618, Pedro de Escalante y Mendoza founded Samaipata, as point of contact between Santa Cruz and Vallegrande. The town moved from its original location in a place known as Castilla to its current location a few kilometers west.
Samaipata is quite cosmopolitan and diverse for being such a small town. Local Samaipateños from old families are descendants of Spanish colonists from Vallegrande and Santa Cruz (many of whom were of Sephardic origin) and the local Guarani natives that had invaded the valley prior to the arrival of the Spaniards. Beginning in the 1880s, some Arab families settled in Samaipata, they were follow by a few Croatians and Italians, all of which mixed and assimilated to the local population.
After the road that passes by the town was paved in the 1960s, many migrants from all over Bolivia (mainly from nearby Santa Cruz, but also Cochabamba and Sucre) settled in this charming little town. Since the 1970s, several Germans, Dutch, French, Argentines and a few Japanese also moved to Samaipata and made it their home.
The local economy is mainly dedicated to tourism, agriculture and crafts. Local farmers produce organic vegetables such as tomatoes, artichokes, lettuces and green beans. The region is also famous for its production of fruits such as peaches, grapes, plums, chirimoyas, guapurus, strawberries, blackberries and figs. There is also a significant production of honey, marmalades, cold cuts, wines, singani, herbal infusions, lavender, art pieces and artisan crafts.
The climate is temperate, semi-dry and mild with an average annual temperature of approximate 19.5 °C. During the winter months cold fronts called Surazos come from the Argentine Pampas and enter the plains and valleys of Santa Cruz, this cold winds combined with the altitude can reach temperatures below freezing. In the summer, the days are warm and the nights cool.
El Fuerte de Samaipata
Nearby is the pre-Inca ruin of El Fuerte de Samaipata. It is not actually a fort, but a temple. This is Bolivia's largest pre-Inca site. Declared a world heritage sites by UNESCO in 1998, this archaeological complex presents pre-Inca (Chane), Inca, and colonial Spanish ruins. The temple was originally built by Arawak people most likely belonging to the Chane culture that inhabited the surrounding valleys and the pampas to the East. The temple was carved on an enormous rock. The Incas also built a city adjacent to the temple and established trade and alliances with the Chanes to protect the territories from the constant invasions of warrior Guarani tribes that raided the region from time to time. It is believed that both Chanes and Incas were eventually defeated by the Guarani warriors, and by the time the Spaniards colonized the region, it was already dominated by Guarani tribes, and El Fuerte was already destroyed. The Spanish colonizers also built a town next to the temple, but it was later abandoned when the inhabitants moved to base of the valley. There are several interesting features including a sloping ramp, pronounced by flying saucer enthusiast Erich von Däniken in his book "Chariots of the Gods" to be a launch platform for spaceships. Some of the site is now cordoned off due to damage caused by visitors walking on the rock carvings.
A perfectly circular lake in the crater of an extinct volcano in the village of Bermejo (42 km. on the way back to S. Cruz.) There is vehicular access through a cleft in the crater wall. A footpath encircles the lake. Beautiful.
Also of interest nearby, Las Cuevas , a pleasant walk by streams and waterfalls. There a several pools and beaches where the locals swim and disport themselves. A small charge is made for entrance.
The nearby village of Vallegrande is famed as the place where Argentinian revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara was buried in local airport grounds. After he was executed in La Higuera, by the Bolivian army and the CIA, his corpse was transported to Vallegrande and lied in state in the hospital, thus exposed to the world. Here there are various memorials and museums. Tours of his travels and activities in the region can be arranged in Samaipata
- Tras las Huellas de los Chané, June 1, 2003. http://www.eldeber.com.bo/anteriores/20030601/escenas_5.html
- Belleza y Misterio de los Valles Cruceños, by Julio César Gamboa R. 2003