“There may be an Inca city, another Machu Picchu, hidden somewhere in the jungles of Bolivia, for all we know,” said the woman we shared a taxi with from Santa Cruz to Samaipata.
“The problem is that the government can't afford to spend the money on all the archaeological work required to find it. Or at least, that's what they say. They don't want to spend the money, if you ask me.”
Juana, an architect with a special interest in historical architecture, was on her way to a conference about some recent discoveries about El Fuerte in Samaipata, just in time for the winter solstice last week, a day historically celebrated as the Inca new year.
El Fuerte, Spanish for The Fortress, as the Spanish colonists who named it believed it to have been built for military purposes, is actually a religious site founded by the Chané, a group of people who migrated to the area from the north of the continent 2,500 years ago. In the 14th century, when the Inca arrived in the area, they built it into what it is today; a series of impressive hilltop temples and places of worship.
So, while it is neither originally Inca nor recently discovered, Bolivians are quite proud of this UNESCO world heritage site in their backyard. Still, the possibility that another site, even more impressive (and potentially very attractive for increasing tourism) remains a possibility, one that fascinates people like Juana who know more than a little about the history of the area and the people that used to inhabit it.
For us, the most interesting and impressive part about visit El Fuerte was its natural setting and the landscape that surrounds it. It is easy to imagine why the first Europeans to visit this place would have thought it was a fortress, perched at 1920m above sea level, watching over the land around it.
The ruins of El Fuerte are about 9km, mostly uphill from Samaipata proper. You can walk the distance in about 2 hours each way, or you can hire a taxi to take you there and back and wait while you walk around the ruins for 1.5 to 2 hours. They should not charge more than 80Bs (£7.50) to do this. To take a taxi one way and walk back should cost between 40 and 50Bs (£3.75-£4.70).
To get to Samaipata from Santa Cruz, there are shared taxis that leave when full (or almost full, and then stop to pick up additional passengers) from the corner of Avenida Omar Chavez Ortiz and Soliz de Olguin, about 10 blocks southwest of the centre of town. The journey costs 30Bs (£2.80) each.
There are plenty of hotels, hostels and guest houses in Samaipata, though around Inti Raymi, they can get very full. We stayed at La Posada del Sol, which also operated a nice restaurant, Luna Verde. A clean and bright double room with a private bathroom cost 150Bs (£14) including a basic breakfast, and slow wifi that was only available in the mornings and evenings.
Apart from Luna Verde, there are also several good places to eat in town, mostly located around the main square. We can recommend La Chakana, directly on the main square, which serves a (usually vegetarian) generous set lunch of soup and main for 25Bs (£2.35), good coffee and lovely hot chocolate, and their wifi was also more reliable than in the hotel. Cafe 1900, also on the square, is a good choice for coffee, cake and wifi if you're lucky.