A spectacular three hour drive from Santa Cruz brings you to the large village of Samaipata. Set amidst beautiful rolling wooded hills, Samaipata is a relaxed place that is deservedly popular with tourists and Bolivians alike. For its size it has an excellent range of accommodation and restaurants, it even has vineyards producing a small amount of ‘1750’ (the altitude and brand name) wine.
A kilometre or so out of the village, perched atop a hill providing panoramic views over the village and surrounding valley, is the El Pueblito hotel (www.elpueblitoresort.com), which is like a model village, complete with church and themed houses where guests stay. It’s a beautiful place to while-away a day or two, especially as they have a nice pool overlooking the valley.
One of the main reasons people come to Samaipata is to visit El Fuerte, located about 10km away on top of a mountain that offers views over the surrounding valleys and back to Samaipata. El Fuerte is a magical pre-Incan site dating back to around 2000BC when it was occupied by various indigenous groups. The Incas only arrived at the site in the 1470s, and the Spanish in the 1600s.
Despite some people (read New Age wingnuts) believing the site to be a launch pad for alien spaceships, the more accepted interpretation of El Fuerte’s purpose is as a religious ceremonial site dedicated to the serpent and jaguar, probably involving blood sacrifices, and incorporating worship of the sun and moon. Despite this, little is known about the site, even the name is misleading since the Spanish assumed that it must have had a military purpose (and it may have under the Incas) and called it ‘the fort’.
Although the site is large – it takes a couple of hours to walk around – and incorporates the remains of over five hundred buildings and a large plaza, the main attraction is a huge stone mound, covered in carvings of pumas, jaguars and serpents, and sculpted seats, stairs, tables, niches, troughs and tanks.