858km (532 miles) SE of La Paz; 473km (293 miles) E of Cochabamba; 612km (379 miles) NE of Sucre

Santa Cruz (also known as Santa Cruz de la Sierra) is undergoing a renaissance. Often dismissed as the brash oil capital of Bolivia, the city is asserting itself and increasingly attracting visitors. Traditionally it was a major railroad hub, with oil refining as its main industry. People came to Santa Cruz to make money and to escape their past. Here, SUVs outnumber trufis and the flat roads seem terribly out of place in a country of mountains and peaks. Compared to the cold nights and thin air so characteristic of the high plateau area, the tropical heat and humidity might feel a bit oppressive. Surprisingly for a new city, its streets are lined with low pillared buildings and tiled roofs. A visionary mayor has cleaned up the center and made the plaza one of the prettiest in Bolivia. Tourists are finally coming to Santa Cruz, using it as a base to explore a wealth of attractions -- Inca ruins, historic Jesuit missions, and a unique national park, all only a few hours away from this booming metropolis.