Like most Inca territories, the Spanish came around 1540 and took it as their own. They renamed the site ‘El Fuerte’ (The Fortress), built an ugly military watch tower and other Spanish-styled constructions, then abandoned it around 1629.
So, three different cultures influenced this archaeological wonder, the El Fuerte de Samaipata, one of Bolivia’s ‘hidden’ jewel. While the site was not built by the mighty Incas, Bolivians are nevertheless proud of this UNESCO world heritage site in their backyard.
Little is known about the site; some people even say that Samaipata is being used by extraterrestrials to land their spaceship.
I particularly like that theory. In fact, the site only gained fame when Swiss author Erik Von Daniken proposed in the 1960's that it was designed as a landing site for UFO's, however absurd that sounds.
Whatever it is, I suggest visitors to hire a guide. With a good guide like Cecilio, part of the history may just come alive before your eyes. Or, at least visit the museum in town before going. Otherwise you’d be just looking at a piece of big brown rock.
How to Go to El Fuerte de Sampaipata
At 9km from Samaipata, you can walk for 2 hours, mostly uphill, to get there. Do note that in off-season, there might not be any transport back if you do decide to walk there.
Or, you can hire a taxi from the main plaza. The drivers usually wait at one corner and call out to tourists. A two-way trip costs BOB $100 (July 2017) and the driver waits for you for 2 hours.
(You can hire a taxi there and walk back, saving you half the costs and getting to enjoy the mountainous scenery on the way.)
Motorbike taxis also make this trip.
The alternative to doing it yourself is to go on a tour. There are numerous tour agencies in Samaipata all offering the same trips.
Las Cuevas Waterfalls
On the opposite side of town, set in the wilderness amongst green mountains, are the Las Cuevas Waterfalls.
From the entrance, it is a series of footpaths leading to three sets of waterfall. Even though they are named Las Cuevas, there are no actual caves. The place felt like a hidden oasis in the jungle instead.
Local kids were playing in the first waterfall when I visited. The second and third waterfalls are bigger and you are able to get up close by stepping on the rocks.
On weekends, the place gets flooded with people from Santa Cruz looking to beat the heat. Indeed, the cool swimming holes and (very) small sandy beaches make this a great place to hang out for hours.
There are steps made from used tyres leading up to a viewpoint from the third waterfall. There isn’t much to see, just green mountains and valleys.
But still, the Las Cuevas make for a short cooling escape from city life.
Located around 20 km out of town, these waterfalls are best reached by bike or taxi.
Similar to the El Fuerte ruins, the driver will wait 2 hours for you. It costs BOB $100 both ways.
You may also be able to flag down a seat in one of the many buses passing by the entrance on the way to/from Santa Cruz. I’d rather not bet on it.
Samaipata is a 2-3 hours’ drive from Santa Cruz. At the corner of Avenida Omar Chavez Ortiz and Soliz de Olguin are 7-seater shared taxis (called trufis) that leave when full (or almost full, and then stop to pick up additional passengers) and costs BOB $30 (USD $5) each.
Private taxis may be willing to take you to Samipata, but beware: taxi drivers at hotels may try to charge astronomical fees for the three-hour drive.
If you’re going from Sucre, any bus that goes towards Santa Cruz stops in Samaipata, usually around 3am for night buses. The journey takes around 10 hours.
And now, it’s your turn.