Fuerte De Samaipata - A Site of Ceremonial Carvings and Sacrifice

Fuerte De Samaipata - A Site of Ceremonial Carvings and Sacrifice

The Andean nation of Bolivia has been home to a number of remarkable cultures, and as a result many archaeological sites remain in the country. The Fuerte de Samaipata site has been recognized as crucial to the understanding of Andean cultures and has been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

The History of Fuerte De Samaipata, Bolivia

This site was originally built by a group who belonged to the Mojocoyas culture, the southern-most branch of the great Arawak speaking people. They used the site as a ceremonial and administrative center from at least 300 AD. The area was later incorporated into the Inca Empire in the fourteenth century.

The inhabitants of the area voluntarily submitted to the rule of the Inca, who later made it a regional capital and gave the area its name. Because it was strategically beneficial and one of the most remote outposts of the Andean Empire, the Inca rebuilt much of the original settlement.

Fuerte de Samaipata was often attacked by the fierce Chiriguanos of the Chaco region who were part of the large Guarani group. And when the Spanish Conquistadors occupied the site and settled the area, and it later became a key staging post in the transportation of silver from the famous mine of Potosí. The Chiriguanos, however, continued to raid the remote urban center.

The colonizers later developed the new town of Samaipata in the Valle de la Purificación, partly because they believed that their former settlement was too vulnerable to attack. It was ultimately abandoned which ironically helped to preserve the many ruins at the site.

The Samaipata Archaeological Site

The archaeological site covers an area of 20 hectares and has traditionally been divided into two parts. There is a ceremonial/religious center as well as an administrative and residential area. While the Inca rebuilt many of the original buildings, they retained the layout of the original urban settlement.

The ceremonial area in the northern section of the site is roughly 700 by 200 feet (213 by 60 meters). A large red sandstone outcrop dominates the entire area and the many carvings engraved into the rock face date from before and after the time of Incan occupation. The figures include animals, distinctive linear engravings - referred to as the serpent by the locals - as well as a great many geometric figures.

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Detail of one of the carving on the massive rock of Fuerte de Samaipata (CC BY SA 2.0 )

There are also a number of niches carved into the rock and those at the highest point of the eminence are known as ‘the choir of the priest’. Some of the alcoves may have been dwellings for priests or may have held idols. They may also once have been part of a number of temples and shrines which were later destroyed by the Spanish.

The other main section of the site is the administrative area, which also served as a residential district for the local elite. This massive triangular plaza is about 300 by 300 feet (91 by 91 meters) with remains of a market and a Spanish era hacienda. The plaza is surrounded by ruined Inca buildings known as Kallanka. These buildings, trapezoid in shape with many entrances, were once the center of public life. Public meetings were held, and esteemed visitors were housed here, although often they were used as military barracks. It appears that one Kallanka was being repaired when it was abandoned.

Niches carved into the great rock, Samaipata (Public Domain )

One of the most fascinating residential remains is the Acllahuasi, or ‘house of the chosen’ where Inca women were sequestered, spending their time weaving cloth for the Inca Emperor until they were married to local nobles. Many women also took part in religious ceremonies and were often selected to be sacrificed to appease the deities.

Experience Fuerte De Samaipata For Yourself

Fuerte de Samaipata is located in Florida Province, Santa Cruz Department, Bolivia. There are guided tours of the area and a bus which is organized by tour operators, runs from Samaipata. The historic location is supervised by a non-profit group and there is a small entrance fee. Sadly, the site has been damaged in recent years by careless tourists who have not respected the site and engravings on the rocks.


Fuerte De Samaipata - A Site of Ceremonial Carvings and Sacrifice - History

Tours and Attractions in and around Samaipata

Cuevas and Waterfalls. About half way to Samaipata you’ll come to Cuevas (The Caves) where you can park your car and take a short hike to a series of 3 beautiful tropical waterfalls. It’s a nice place to picnic along the way and enjoy the gradually cooling weather. Further down the road and closer to town, the road crosses over another plunging waterfall with a sparkling natural pool right on the side of the road. About 1 hour past Samaipata there is another beautiful waterfall and lagoon called Pajcha.

El Fuerte de Samaipata. Of course, Samaipata tours also include a visit to El Fuerte de Samaipata, the town’s primary attraction. The origins of this enormous carved rock (the largest in the world) are not fully known however, it appears to have been an ancient ceremonial site carved initially by the Chané and occupied later on by the Incas, the Chiriguanos (Guaraní) and Spanish colonists.

Samaipata Village. The town of Samaipata itself is small (but growing) and you can spend some time at it’s central plaza surrounded by a church, a school, cafés and restaurants, an internet café and international calling center, and a tourist information office. You can also enter the Catholic Church for a visit (the town also has two evangelical churches). You can also walk and hike around to view the rest of the town, visit different local and foreign-owned restaurants and hostels, or visit the colorful market.

Museo Arqueológico. Samaipata has an Archeological Museum that houses artifacts uncovered during the excavation of the Samaipata fort and other findings. It’s a small but interesting place to learn more about the history of this area. It’s located on Calle Bolivar #37. Phone: (591-3) 944 6065. Email: [email protected] and it's open every day 10:00 am to 12:00 noon and again at 2:30 a 6:00 pm.

Horseback riding. You can also enjoy exploring the town and its surroundings on horseback. Michael Blendinger Nature Tours offers tours on horseback. Their website is www.discoveringbolivia.com.

La Ruta del Vino. The Santa Cruz state government recently initiated a 3-vineyard wine tasting tour to increase tourism to the area of Samaipata. The vineyards are all near the town and include Uvairenda, LandSua and Viña de Vargas. You can tour all 3 or choose just one. The vineyards are all within 6 kilometers of the town. You can contact a local tour operator or go on your own in a taxi.

Bird watching and wildlife observation. Samaipata is one of the gateways to Amboro National Park and because of the area’s privileged location between the tropics and the mountains, there is an abundance of fauna and flora to see. Most tour operators offer this type of tour.

Camping. If you’d rather do some camping, several of the hostels and hotels have small camp grounds where you can pitch a tent.

Samaipata Zoo and Refuge. If you’d rather not trek or hike, bike or ride a horse, but still want to see some of the region’s wildlife, you can visit the small Samaipata Zoo, which actually functions as an animal refuge. Unfortunately Bolivia has a major problem with people extracting birds and animals from their natural homes. It is not uncommon to find endangered macaws, toucans, and even reptiles, monkeys and other wildlife being sold on city streets. When people figure out they will be unable to care for them, they often abandon them or take them to a local refuge. Most animal refuges in Bolivia are privately owned and operated and are always in serious need of donations and/or volunteers to help out. If you are interested, visit the Zoológico El Refugio, located just 2 kilometers from town. Phone: (591-3) 944 6169.

Tours and Attractions a Little Farther Out

Pajcha waterfall. About one hour from Samaipata by road, and with a small amount of hiking, you'll reach the Cascada Pajcha. You'll need to go by car or taxi and from the road it's not a difficult hike. It's a lovely place to have a picnic and swim in the pool at the bottom of the falls (pictured above). If you can spot me on a ledge to the left of the falls, you'll see how high they actually are. But the water below the falls is quite calm.

Andean Condor nesting grounds. About 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Samaipata, near San Juan del Rosario and Sivingalito, you'll find what is thought to be the world's largest Andean condor nesting ground. Tour operators normally offer this as a 2-3 day trip and include other activities such as rappeling, and a stop at the Pajcha waterfall. It requires hiking and camping. The Andean condor is the national bird of Bolivia.

Amboro National Park is one of Bolivia’s best known and cared-for national reserves. It is home to an amazing array of flora and fauna species, butterflies, orchids, monkeys, and birds. Samaipata is one of the gateways to Amboro National Park. Another, located several hours to the North of Santa Cruz, is Buena Vista. If nature is your thing, trips to and through Amboro are available through almost any operator that offers Samaipata tours. It requires hiking and camping.

La Ruta del Ché. A popular tour in Bolivia is the Che Guevara Trail (Ruta del Che). You’ll spend several days walking and hiking, retracing the steps this Argentine guerilla leader took until you reach the place where he was shot to death by the Bolivian military. Read more about Che Guevara and the Che Guevara Tour here.

Refugio Volcanes is an area of gorgeous mountain views with deep valleys and steep rounded plateaus. Refugio Volcanes is a part of Amboro National Park and offers beautiful panoramic views, hikes, treks and even nighttime moonlit walks. Bolivia is home to 35% of the Earth’s plant and wildlife, and these tours are especially wonderful for those who are interested in bird watching and wildlife observation.

Laguna Volcán Eco Resort near Bermejo, offers spectacular views of the red clay canyons. Here you can hike, swim, and play tennis or golf. The hotel is located right on the shores of a large lagoon formed by water that filled the crater of an inactive volcano. It is located about 38 kilometers from Samaipata.


Samaipata

Samaipata is a small town in the Santa Cruz Department Bolivia at an altitude of 1,600 m.

Samaipata is popular with tourists for its mild climate, its diverse landscapes, the pretty houses and small town atmosphere, and for its vicinity to the 'Fuerte de Samaipata' world heritage site. While there are some great hiking opportunities around Samaipata, almost all of them require a guide, either as part of a larger tour, or with a private guide.

By road Edit

  • From Santa Cruz it takes 2.5-3 hr. Shared taxis at : Bs. 30 per person, whole taxi will cost Bs. 120 or 130 with pick up, taking private option is recommended as Bolivians can fit an incredible number of people into the small car.
  • Expresso Samaipata (Av. Omar Chavez Ortiz 1147 esquina Soliz de Olguin - Telf. 333-5067). From the terminal, take bus number 8 for Bs. 1.5 to get there, or a taxi for Bs. 10B. They leave with at least 4 passengers. Takes between 2 hours in most cases, but can be as much as 4 with a landslide or some road works.
  • Cooperativa de Transporte "El Fuerte" (2do Anillo Av. Grgota esq. Aruma - Telf. 359-8958), Mini-Buses for Bs. 30 per passenger, you can get there from the Nuevo Terminal in Santa Cruz taking the bus (Bs. 2) to El Torno / La Guardia at the other end of the tunel under the terminal.

On foot Edit

The easiest way to get around the pueblo is on foot.

By taxi Edit

Most day excursions require a taxi. Agree fare before departing, local ride costs Bs. 10, Cuevas return with 2 wait will set you back for Bs. 80.

By moto rental Edit

Martin, a Dutch guy, rents motorbikes, he lives in direction of Zoo, ask around for his number or pay him a visit. Easy to drive and fun for a day trip to Cuevas or El Fuerte.

  • -18.175 -63.819444 1El Fuerte de Samaipata. This UNESCO World Heritage site was a holy place and ceremonial site of the local pre-Inca and Inca civilizations, and was used further by the Spanish until the new town of Samaipata was built. There are ruins of all three eras here. The centerpiece, however, is the huge, carved ceremonial rock. There's not too much to see in terms of buildings or statues, but if you're interested in the ancient cultures and read all the signs on the site or hire a guide, then it makes for a good day trip (on foot) or half-day trip (by car/taxi) from Samaipata. To go there on foot, head east along the highway (direction Santa Cruz) for 3 km until the road going uphill to the right, where a sign points you to 'El Fuerte de Samaipata'. Follow this road (with almost no traffic) for about 6 km uphill, and you end up directly at the entrance. Bs. 50 . ( updated Oct 2018 )
  • Animal refugio ( Walk 2 km out of town from near the mercado municipal—signposted along the way ). There are some birds and monkeys and other animals which like to play and say hello. Bs. 20 . ( updated Oct 2018 )
  • Other destinations are Vallegrande, Pucará and La Higuera (where Che Guevara was killed), as well as Laguna Quirusillas. The highway from Santa Cruz city to Samaipata is very scenic.
  • Amboro Park . Offering hikes in the cloud forest. You can hire a guide from one of the agencies downtown. This is more of a must, because there are no trails and you won't be able to hike by yourself. Bs. 210 pp for a group of 4, Bs. 320 pp for a group of 2 .
  • Cuevas, easy to visit waterfalls with a beautiful area to discover on your own.
  • Condor Mountain, best to visit on clear days. The hike will take a long day with 4 hr car driving and 4 to 6 hr of hiking. It's considered an alternative to the Colca Canyon in Peru, though the probability to see condors is slightly lower here. Condors often appear around midday, but don't bet on seeing more than some black dots in the sky.
  • La Pajcha waterfall, close to the condor mountain, great for camping. Is often combined with the condor hike on the same day.
  • There´s some great but simple canyoning through spectacular canyons. It's possible as self guided hikes, if you know what you're doing and where you're going, but not in the rainy season December-February.
  • Museo Arqueologico de Samaipata (Calle Bolivar, near Caff'e Art): small museum, Bs. 5
  • Descanso en las Alturas-Pizzeria , Calle Bolivar Final , ☏ +591 944-6072 .
  • Tierra Libre ( by the main square, just ask ). Great, delicious and original bolivian dishes with a twist. Massive portions. Really friendly owner. Also has a beer garden. Perfect! Chicken Teriaki av. Bs. 40 .
  • La Oveja Negra ( two blocks from main square ). From 18:00 . Dutch owned gringo favourite bar/rest. Substantial portions of chicken/veg curry, chilli con carne, goulash. Plus sumptuous apple crumble. Kind owners. Board games and darts too av. Bs. 30 .
  • Ranita ( one block on the corner from the main square ). Daily 08:00-12:00, 16:00-18:00 . Ridiculously good bread and pastries (everything else poor, esp the coffee!) at this French bakers. A must.
  • Posada del Sol restobar . Try newly open Restobar at Posada del Sol! Food is great and drinks are first class!
  • 1900 , Main Square . After your big meal you could retreat to this cafe with a WiFi Connection (through 3G). Has some nice pasteles and hot chocolate.

La Oveja Negra Owned by a Dutch couple and run by friendly youngsters, this bar has a pub feel to it.

Che Wilson Populated by teenagers and open only on the weekends, this place is still one of the only spots in the sleepy village for 'nightlife'.

  • La Boheme , Central Plaza . Just in the corner of the central plaza, you can't miss it. It's the only real bar in Samaipata, and one of the few in Bolivia. Just check tripadvisor if you doubt it!

Budget Edit

  • Residencial Vargas - simple rooms from Bs. 20, Lovely owners.
  • Andoriña Hostal, Art & Culture, Calle Campero ( 2 1/2 blocks before main square ), ☏ +591 3 944 6333 , ✉ [email protected] . Check-in: 24 hr , check-out: 24 hr . Great views from balconies and rooms, fresh breakfast included. Here you can meet other travelers. The owners focus on more sustainable tourism and have lots of tips for hiking and other activities. Bs. 40 inc breakfast .
  • El Jardin, Calle Arenales final s/n ( 2 cuadras del mercado ), ☏ +591 73119461 , ✉ [email protected] . With oven and barbecue. Also some clay igloos for Bs. 35 per person. Independent shared kitchen. Cafe, library. You can sleep for free if you work in the garden. Hippies love the place, the owners are a friendly young couple. In the sunshine all day long. Rooms for Bs. 30 per person. Camping for Bs. 15 .

Mid-range to splurge Edit

  • Vivero Sarita , 2 blocks from the Village Plaza , ☏ +591 7-368-4035 . Check-in: 11:00 , check-out: noon . For a truly cultural experience, stay with Dona Sarita in her rustic beautiful and peaceful guesthouse which is closest to the Village Plaza, Market and Restaurants. Her lush garden showcases over 400 species of plants, flowers and ferns. The fresh coffee made from the coffee beans in her garden, her delicious dishes and welcoming warmth gives a feeling as a home away from home for a very affordable price. Hot water showers, dorm or private rooms are available and fresh breakfast is included. She also has a local contact named "Don Gilberto" who is the original hiker tour guide of the village. Call for reservations or just arrive.
  • -18.1842021 -63.8836527 1Quinta Piray, Road to Valle Abajo ( Taxis charge Bs. 10-15 or through a short 10 minute (1 km) walk from central square ), ☏ +591 721 91292 (WhatsApp) . Check-out: 12:00 . Offers more than 20 cabins. Also, you will find ample green spaces of flowers and gardens. US$40-90 . ( updated Jun 2018 )
  • El Pueblito Resort Hotel and Restaurant, ☏ +591-7-214-7994 , ✉ [email protected] .
  • Finca "La Víspera" An Unsurpassed Paradisiacal Retreat, where the owners welcome those visitors who long for silence and nature. [1] Guesthouses, Horses, Camping, Garden Café.
  • La Posada del Sol. Three blocks from the main plaza on a hill with spectacular views. Boasts a great breakfast, and includes a made-to-order menu for guests available all day.

There is a Banco Union on Campero with an ATM.

The Cooperativa la Merced will give cash advance on Visa or Mastercard during working hours, you can also get cash advance in nearby Mairana.


El Fuerte de Samaipata

El Fuerte de Samaipata or Fort Samaipata, also known simply as "El Fuerte", is a Pre-Columbian archaeological site and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Florida Province, Santa Cruz Department, Bolivia. [1] It is situated in the eastern foothills of the Bolivian Andes and is a popular tourist destination for Bolivians and foreigners alike. It is served by the nearby town of Samaipata. The archaeological site at El Fuerte is unique as it encompasses buildings of three different cultures: Chanè, Inca, and Spanish. [2]

Although called a fort, Samaipata had also a religious, ceremonial, and residential function. Its construction was probably begun by the Chané, a pre-Inca people of Arawak origin. There are also ruins of an Inca plaza and residences, dating from the late 15th and early 16th centuries as the Inca empire expanded eastward from the Andes highlands into the sub-tropical foothills. Chané, Inca, and Spanish all suffered raids from Guarani (Chiriguano) warriors who also settled in the region. The Guarani conquered the plains and valleys of Santa Cruz and occupied the Samaipata area. The Guaranis dominated the region well into the Spanish colonial period. [3]

The Spaniards built a settlement at Samaipata fort, and there are remains of buildings of typical Arab Andalusian architecture. The Spaniards soon abandoned the fort and moved to a nearby valley, establishing the town of Samaipata in 1618. [4]


The Mysterious Megalithic Site Of Samaipata High in The Bolivian Jungle

Located in the Province of Florida, Department of Santa Cruz, the archaeological site of Fuerte de Samaipata consists of two clearly identified parts: the hill with its many carvings, believed to have been the Ceremonial Centre and area to the south of the hill, which formed the administrative and residential district and the political administration.

The site is known to have been occupied and used as a ritual and residential centre by people belonging to the Mojocoyas culture as early as AD 300, and it was at this time that work began on the shaping of this great rock. It was occupied in the 14th century by the Inca, who made it a provincial capital. The walls in the foreground were created by the Inca.

Our local guide (not the guy in the above photo, which is me) told that the sculpting of this huge red sandstone surface occurred around 1500 BC, and was done by Amazonian people, which I find very hard to believe since they most likely had stone age tools. The amount of weathering of the stone could indicate great age, but the technology used would have to have been advanced.

Perhaps the most famous feature of this little known enigmatic site are the two parallel grooves seen in the photo above. Our guide stated that they were for ritual purposes whereby chicha corn beer was poured into them for divination purposes. More fringe concepts include the use of them as runways for ancient spacecraft…

The large niches, of which there are at least 15 are big enough that a human body can easily fit in them, and they are very similar to features found at such sites as Ollantaytambo and Amaru Machay which most archaeologists believe are Inca works, yet could be thousands of years older.

Thankfully the local authorities allowed me to fly my quadcopter “Pachacutec” over the site, and this allowed unparalleled views of the massive stone surface. Videos made by the quadcopter will be available at my Youtube Channel. Also, Samaipata will definitely be included in future Hidden Inca Tours.

Above is a sample shot of what “Pachacutec” is capable of. We will be taking it to Mexico in February, and Egypt as well as Baalbek in Lebanon in March…the possibilities of this technology are immense.

Join us as we explore the Lost Ancient High Technology of Egypt in this exclusive tour HERE after which we will explore Baalbek in Lebanon HERE.

Explore the strange phenomenon of the Elongated Skulls of Peru and Bolivia in this one of a kind tour in May 2015 details HERE.

Join Hugh Newman, Andrew Collins and me as we study the megaliths and Elongated Skulls of Peru and Bolivia in this unique tour in June HERE.


Samaipata: El Fuerte Ruins and Las Cuevas Waterfalls

&ldquoThe echo in the valley is our mountain wifi,&rdquo said Cecilio, the guide we hired.

We took turns to shout, and the verdant mountains shouted back at us. Echoes always make me smile.

Or maybe, it was the clear blue skies and stunning mountain views that accompanied us as we walked the easy mountain trail to the ruins of El Fuerte, located just 9km from the tranquil town of Samaipata.

The Town of Samaipata

With a name that sounds more Japanese than Latin American, Samaipata is a town that is off the gringo trail. In fact, the whole eastern part of Bolivia is often skipped in favour of the more famous Uyuni and La Paz regions.

Having spent 10 days learning Spanish in the hectic capital Sucre, I was eager to have a change in environment. Samaipata &ndash being nestled in the mountains, surrounded by ruins, waterfalls and national parks - seemed like the best option.

&lsquoFresh&rsquo felt like the perfect word to describe my experience here. The temperate climate was a warm welcome and change from the high altitudes of Uyuni and Potosi, while the closeness of the small town gave a homey feeling.

In fact, Samaipata means &lsquoRest in the Highlands&rsquo in Quechua.

But I wasn&rsquot here for the weather or being cosy, I was here for the ruins and nature.

El Fuerte de Sampaipata

At the main square of town are many taxi drivers offering a ride to the main attraction of the area: the ruins of El Fuerte.

For BOB $100 (USD $14), the taxi driver brings you there, waits 2 hours, and brings you back to town. Joe, an American I met at my hostel, and I shared the 15min taxi ride there.

It wasn&rsquot necessary to hire a guide but the history lover in me wanted to know what I was seeing and not blindly walking through majestic ruins without knowing the significance of it.

Immediately, Cecilio drew on the sand with his trusty stick and provided us with background information and the history of the region.

He showed us that El Fuerte is located right in the middle of 4 distinct regions the Amazonian Plains, the Grand Chaco, the Morocoya, and the Andes. He told stories about the Incas travelling from the Andes to the Grand Chaco, and farther into Argentina.

I was fascinated even before we began. But more importantly, we started the hike with a better understanding of the region in mind.

We went up the breath-taking mountain peaks, and Cecilio pointed out the differences in landscapes between the plentiful Amazonian forests and the treeless Chaco plains. He plucked blackberries and let us try them.

The 220m massive dark-granite monolith appeared right in front of us. A giant rock, one of its kind, carved with all sorts of designs with significant meanings.

This piece of rock &ndash and its surrounding buildings &ndash was given UNESCO title in 1998. In the words of UNESCO:

"The huge sculptured rock, dominating the town below, is a unique testimony to pre-Hispanic and beliefs, and has no parallel anywhere in the Americas."

The archaeological site of El Fuerte consist of two areas: a ceremonial area and an administrative district. And right in front of us was the main ceremonial feature.

One of the more interesting carvings is the shape of felines - particularly pumas and jaguars - on circular bases in the stone. The puma is one of the three sacred animals of the Incas.

We also saw two parallel, double-zigzag-shaped carvings, which the locals named The Snake&rsquos Back (the snake is another sacred animal). Some theorized that The Snake&rsquos Back was used for rituals, with water (or blood?) flowing through them, like a channelling system.

As we walked along the ruins (you can&rsquot go inside the ruins), Cecilio explained that the people also performed human and animal sacrifices, astrological rituals, idol worshipping of animals, gods and goddesses.

At the top of the monolith is a circle of rectangular and triangular niches or seats, probably for the leaders or priests, as it is called &ldquoThe Chorus of the Priests&rdquo.

Mystical stuff always fascinates me. But what really interests me here was the three different generations and culture that influenced the site.

The site is thought to be built by the Chané people, a pre-Incan culture, with the first engravings during the Mojocoyas period (AD 200 &ndash 800).

Then, the Inca occupied it in the 14 th century and added their own constructions on another culture&rsquos religious site, like the blatantly obvious wall that stood out on the rock. They also built doors and windows and a temple for their priests, and made the site their provincial capital. Next to the ceremonial area were Inca settlements and hillside terraces for agriculture.

inca settlements

Like most Inca territories, the Spanish came around 1540 and took it as their own. They renamed the site &lsquoEl Fuerte&rsquo (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&rsquos &lsquohidden&rsquo 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&rsquod 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&rsquot 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&rsquod rather not bet on it.

Samaipata is a 2-3 hours&rsquo 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&rsquore 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.


Fuerte de Samaipata Tours

On a Bolivia tour, visit the unparalleled archeological site, Fuerte de Samaipata. Samaipata is divided into two distinct parts and is dominated by an enormous carved rock that is an homage to the pre-Hispanic culture, traditions, and beliefs of the people that once thrived here. The ancient city is separated into the hill, believed to have been the ceremonial center, and to the south, the residential area. Fuerte de Samaipata is a Bolivian national treasure and pride and attests to the extraordinary urban planning, architectural, and artistic skills that the pre-Columbian civilizations possessed. The nearby town of Samaipata, in the Santa Cruz region, is within walking distance of the ruins. You can also take taxis or even ride motorbikes in the area. The town offers some pleasant cafes, which even have WiFi, despite the remoteness of the area. The hike to the Samaipata pueblo is about a 16 km round-trip. There also are hikes in Amboro Park, where guides are recommended.

Update: Bolivia Covid-19 Travel – Bolivia is open for travel again!
Bolivia has reopened to tourists and we’re delighted to be planning trips again.


Samaipata: El Fuerte Ruins and Las Cuevas Waterfalls

“The echo in the valley is our mountain wifi,” said Cecilio, the guide we hired.

We took turns to shout, and the verdant mountains shouted back at us. Echoes always make me smile.

Or maybe, it was the clear blue skies and stunning mountain views that accompanied us as we walked the easy mountain trail to the ruins of El Fuerte, located just 9km from the tranquil town of Samaipata.

The Town of Samaipata

With a name that sounds more Japanese than Latin American, Samaipata is a town that is off the gringo trail. In fact, the whole eastern part of Bolivia is often skipped in favour of the more famous Uyuni and La Paz regions.

Having spent 10 days learning Spanish in the hectic capital Sucre, I was eager to have a change in environment. Samaipata – being nestled in the mountains, surrounded by ruins, waterfalls and national parks - seemed like the best option.

‘Fresh’ felt like the perfect word to describe my experience here. The temperate climate was a warm welcome and change from the high altitudes of Uyuni and Potosi, while the closeness of the small town gave a homey feeling.

In fact, Samaipata means ‘Rest in the Highlands’ in Quechua.

But I wasn’t here for the weather or being cosy, I was here for the ruins and nature.

El Fuerte de Sampaipata

At the main square of town are many taxi drivers offering a ride to the main attraction of the area: the ruins of El Fuerte.

For BOB $100 (USD $14), the taxi driver brings you there, waits 2 hours, and brings you back to town. Joe, an American I met at my hostel, and I shared the 15min taxi ride there.

The BOB $50 entrance fee includes free entry to the museum in town. We paid another BOB $100 for our English-speaking guide Cecilio.

It wasn’t necessary to hire a guide but the history lover in me wanted to know what I was seeing and not blindly walking through majestic ruins without knowing the significance of it.

Immediately, Cecilio drew on the sand with his trusty stick and provided us with background information and the history of the region.

He showed us that El Fuerte is located right in the middle of 4 distinct regions the Amazonian Plains, the Grand Chaco, the Morocoya, and the Andes. He told stories about the Incas travelling from the Andes to the Grand Chaco, and farther into Argentina.

I was fascinated even before we began. But more importantly, we started the hike with a better understanding of the region in mind.

We went up the breath-taking mountain peaks, and Cecilio pointed out the differences in landscapes between the plentiful Amazonian forests and the treeless Chaco plains. He plucked blackberries and let us try them.

The 220m massive dark-granite monolith appeared right in front of us. A giant rock, one of its kind, carved with all sorts of designs with significant meanings.

This piece of rock – and its surrounding buildings – was given UNESCO title in 1998. In the words of UNESCO:

"The huge sculptured rock, dominating the town below, is a unique testimony to pre-Hispanic and beliefs, and has no parallel anywhere in the Americas."

The archaeological site of El Fuerte consist of two areas: a ceremonial area and an administrative district. And right in front of us was the main ceremonial feature.

One of the more interesting carvings is the shape of felines - particularly pumas and jaguars - on circular bases in the stone. The puma is one of the three sacred animals of the Incas.

We also saw two parallel, double-zigzag-shaped carvings, which the locals named The Snake’s Back (the snake is another sacred animal). Some theorized that The Snake’s Back was used for rituals, with water (or blood?) flowing through them, like a channelling system.

As we walked along the ruins (you can’t go inside the ruins), Cecilio explained that the people also performed human and animal sacrifices, astrological rituals, idol worshipping of animals, gods and goddesses.

At the top of the monolith is a circle of rectangular and triangular niches or seats, probably for the leaders or priests, as it is called “The Chorus of the Priests”.

Mystical stuff always fascinates me. But what really interests me here was the three different generations and culture that influenced the site.

The site is thought to be built by the Chané people, a pre-Incan culture, with the first engravings during the Mojocoyas period (AD 200 – 800).

Then, the Inca occupied it in the 14 th century and added their own constructions on another culture’s religious site, like the blatantly obvious wall that stood out on the rock. They also built doors and windows and a temple for their priests, and made the site their provincial capital. Next to the ceremonial area were Inca settlements and hillside terraces for agriculture.

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.

Entrance fee: BOB $15 (July 2017)

How to Go to Las Cuevas Watefalls

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.

How to Get to Samaipata

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.


Noel Kempff Mercado National Park (2000)

Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, which was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bolivia in 2000, is the only natural site in this list. This national park spans 750,000 hectares of land area. Majority of this area that is protected by UNESCO consists of Serrania de Huanchaca.

This national park sits on a transitional zone from the rainforests of the Amazon to the dry forests and savannas of Cerrado. Hence, there are five distinct habitats that form the property of the national park. These habitats include upland evergreen forest, deciduous forest, savanna wetlands, forest wetlands, and upland cerrado savanna. Due to this diverse habitat, the national park is home to over 4,000 species of plants and over 130 species of mammals, 620 species of birds and 70 reptile species.


UNESCO World Heritage Sites In Bolivia

El Fuerte De Samaipata is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, renowned for its archaeological riches. It is located in the eastern foothills of the Bolivian Andes. The site considered as an ancient religious site which was built by Chane community who practice Arawak culture. It consists of two areas. The include a hill with a great deal of carvings, which is believed to have been the ceremonial center of the old town considering the flat nature of the top, and the residential and administrative district to the south of the hill. The hill is considered to be the site's religious center.

El Fuerte De Samaipata is an attraction center for both local and foreign tourists, most being drawn by the El Cascabel. These are two parallel lines pointing in the eastern sky at the position of azimuth and at an altitude surrounding the structures of three different cultures, namely the Chanes, Incas, and Spaniards. Waterfalls have eroded the stone and damaged by people walking on it, to curb further damages the area has been cordoned off and is now managed by Stonewatch, a nonprofit society, and conservation academy.The rock is a souvenir of the traditional life of the ancient communities in Bolivia and their artifacts.

The City of Potosi

The City of Potosi is an ancient industrial city in the southern highlands of Bolivia, developed for its richness in silver ore starting in the 16 th Century, it was listed as heritage site in 1987. The site has vertical industrial monuments of the Cerro Rico, where water was provided by an intricate system and artificial lakes. The colonial town had Casa De La Moneda, the church of San Lorenzo, several houses and workers dwellings called Barrios Mitayos.

On June 17, 2014, the city of Potosi was listed among the world heritage centers at risk by the UNESCO world heritage committee in a meeting in Doha-Qatar, thus obligating the Bolivian government to further protect it. This move has led to the stoppage of all mining activities in the hill and creation of management committee of Cerro Rico Mountain composed of different actors. This act will save the mountain from collapse which would have resulted in environmental problem and also save the historic town.

Jesuit Missions of Chiquittos

The Jesuit Missions of Chiquittos, located in the Santa Cruz department in eastern Bolivia, are an ancient settlement for former missionaries who lived in the 17 th and 18 th Centuries. Their mission was to convert local communities to Christianity. UNESCO officially gazetted it World Heritage Site in 1990. It is famous for its unique fusion of European and American-Indian cultural artifacts. The churches were built in a unique way combining elements of native and European architecture.

Tourists are drawn by the large houses with double-sloping roofs and porch roofs overhanging their western galleries. Long walls are dividing three interior galleries. The heritage site was declared a monument of Bolivia by Decreto Supremo on January 4, 1950, and is protected by the Bolivian laws. Committees have also been put up to manage the site in conjunction with the Ministry Of Cultures. Protecting the site has helped to cut out the modernization threat to the villages that could have eroded them out. The site has been a source of income to the Bolivian government and has also been a treasure for the ancient culture. It has also benefited scholars in data collection.

Tiwanaku

Located in the Tiwanaku municipality in Bolivia, the Tiwanaku ruins were designated in 2000 during the 24 th session of UNESCO. In ancient times they were occupied by a small agricultural village whose members left no written language, and hence made it hard to identify them. It has attracted tourist due to the presence of Akapana, a cross-shaped pyramidal structure which is 257 meters wide, 197 meters thick, and 16.5 meters tall. The structure is suspected to be a man-made mound with a mixture of large and small stone blocks, Pumapunku a man-made rectangular earthen mound faced with megalithic blocks, 167.36 meters wide, 116.7 meters thick, and 5 meters tall.

The presence of a courtyard, houses, and walls lead to the conclusion that the Tiwanaku ruins once housed an organized community that had rulers who judged the people. The site is protected by the government of Bolivia and has been a source of information to local and foreign scholars and above all a tourist destination to many.


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