Recommended day trips in the department of Santa Cruz include the ancient site of Samaipata and Amboro National Park—both are close to the city itself, and they can be combined. You can also stay overnight at Amboro and venture a bit deeper into this excellent park to see its cloud forests and birds. Noel Kempf Mercado Park, on the northeastern border with Brazil, offers a great opportunity to stay in real Amazon jungle, and has a good range of services for tourists. It’s best to take five or six days for this and camp in the park. The Jesuit Missions are another highlight of this area, but their distance from the city of Santa Cruz means it’s a good idea to have a few days free to visit the churches.
There are numerous tour operators for this area. When looking, make sure the agency you choose is legitimate and worth the money by checking with the municipal tourism authority (03/378 – 493) or the tourist office at the airport.
Forest Tours. This company covers all the main destinations, but with a clear ecotourism focus. Calle Junín, top floor, office 115, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz. 03/337--2042. From $215 USD.
Magri Turismo. This well-established company covers all of Bolivia and has offices in La Paz and Santa Cruz. Av. Ejército Nacional No. 248., Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz. 03/334--4559; www.magriturismo.com. From $430 USD.
Rosario Tours. This well-regarded tour company offers trips to all the main attractions of central Bolivia, including Torotoro National Park. Calle Arenales 146., Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz. 03/336--9977; www.rosariotours.com. From $285 USD.
Ruta Verde. This operator covers all of the main tourist destinations in Bolivia, including the big-three national parks and a trip retracing Che Guevara's last steps—mostly focussed around Samaipata. Dutch owner Gijs Dijkshoorn is passionate and knowledgeable and has built a solid reputation as one of the best choices for private tours in the region, if not the whole country. Calle 21 de Mayo 318, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz. 03/339--6470; www.rutaverdebolivia.com. From $445 USD.