samaipata: a refuge

I knew I was in a different kind of place when I had that burger. It was a top-notch cheeseburger, with a juicy-sweet patty, the right amount of cheese and veggies, and spectacularly perfect bun. Even in Singapore I might be hard pressed to find a burger this good at a moment’s notice. And yet here I was in Samaipata, three hours away from the nearest big city by a winding unpaved road ridden with pot holes, enjoying a burger in a restaurant that wouldn’t look out of place in Brooklyn.

(For the record the burger was in a restaurant called La Cocina and it’s a must-try.)

Samaipata reminds me of Canggu or Ubud in Bali – an isolated paradise discovered by affluent urbanites who then proceed to move there permanently and gentrify with modern amenities and clean-living ideals. Wifi is spotty despite best efforts, careless waste disposal defies good intentions, everyone only takes cash and there appears to be a grand total of one ATM (Banco Union). But you can find quinoa salads on the menus and food costs more than it did in bigger cities like Sucre or Cochabamba. And it’s not just foreigners who settle here seeking a different kind of life. Samaipata is a popular spot for Santa Cruz residents to get away from it all on weekends too, according to the owner of the guesthouse i stayed at (Posada Guasu, lovely place).

I felt comfortable in Samaipata, because for a moment I was among the creature comforts I’d left at home – tasteful decor, good lighting, eating food cooked using local ingredients but prepared in a way that wouldn’t be out of place in a more cosmopolitan environment. Also, TOFU. But I also felt a little abashed, like I’d had travelled halfway around the world only to find that I really enjoy my First World luxuries.

But well, everyone needs a moment to recharge, to indulge a bit. And for me, indulgence is a burger with a kickass bun that didn’t disintegrate in my hand, seriously good fries, a sense of connected to contemporary culture, and attention to details like cute decor. And free drinking water.

Besides, Samaipata has quite a few charms at its doorstep. The Los Volcanes region is gorgeous for hiking – with stunning mountains rising majestically above the lush green forest. Samaipata is also near one of the access points to Amboro Nationak Park, and a guided day trip into the cloud forest section of the park to see huge ferns (species that have existed since the Carboniferous and Jurassic periods) is pretty magical. We experienced insane winds at the Los Volcanes – the kind that made me lose my balance and – and rain cut our Amboro hike short, but I enjoyed every moment. Extreme weather seems to be par for the course in Bolivia anyway.

(For both trips, I went with Michael Blendinger Tours, a reputable agency that was responsive to my queries and did a decent job overall.)

All in all, lush, green Samaipata was a great break from the harsh but gorgeous altiplano landscapes of Bolivia that I had been seeing till then, and worth the effort of getting there. And don’t forget those burgers at La Cocina.

(How do I know I’m not cut out to be a proper travel blogger? One, I didn’t take photos of this amazing burger. Two, I didn’t take any photos of Samaipata proper. So, er, Google it.)

Some tips:

Direct access to Samaipata seems a bit iffy. We took a shared taxi from Santa Cruz, the nearest big city, for 30bs per head. There are buses from the airport that go to the city; the drivers seem to understand where you want to go when you say “taxi to Samaipata”. We were dropped off across the street from the shared taxi office.

When we departed Samaipata, we caught a bus to Cochabamba from a town 20 minutes away from by taxi called Mairana. If you have endless time to spare you can take a shared taxi and wait for it to fill up, but this is risky if you want to catch a bus at a specific time. We took a taxi for 50bs, which isn’t cheap at all for Bolivia but split between two people, it’s all right.

The cloud forest at Amboro National Park
Crossing rivers in the Los Volcanes region
I wish I remembered the name of this but I don’t. Spotted while hiking in the Los Volcanes region
The always-photogenic mountains of the Los Volcanes region. I felt a dinosaur would appear any minute
I’ll identify this eventually
The Los Volcanes region
Laguna Volcanes, in the Los Volcanes region

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