New Years Eve is celebrated differently depending on where you are in the country.
In the highlands, it tends to be a lot more of a family affair, where relatives get to together in their homes to enjoy a few drinks and a lot of food. Some young adults go out dancing and drinking, but not until at least 1 a.m.
In the lowlands the attitude is a lot more western. Youngsters tend to celebrate with their friends in wild and rowdy fiestas.
NYE in Samaipata
We spent New Years in Samaipata, a small touristy town about three hours drive away from the biggest lowland city of Santa Cruz. Tens of thousands of Cruceños (people from Santa Cruz) descend upon the normally sleepy town, creating a buzzing and festive atmosphere.
In true Latino style, most people didn’t go out until after 11 p.m. Fireworks were the midnight attraction in the main plaza, let off extremely liberally and precariously close to passers-by.
Wealthy Cruceños in rented cabañas (holiday homes) in the surrounding hills had the most impressive displays, ever trying to outdo each other with bigger fireworks and louder explosions.
A lot of people were still partying in the plaza at 10 a.m. when I woke up the next morning and by afternoon it was absolutely packed with revelers. I’m not sure if these people had taken it relatively easy on New Years Eve to save themselves for New Years Day, or if they had some kind of steel lining in their livers.
Young trendy looking Cruceños would suspiciously get in and out of their luxury cars to indulge in illicit substances and we even saw the middle-aged owner of our hotel staggering around, barely able to keep himself upright.
If that’s the kind of scene you’re into, Samaipata on NYE is hard to beat.
On January 2nd it bucketed down rain for hours on end, bad enough for landslides to block off the road to Santa Cruz. Workers refused to clear the road until it stopped raining for fear of another landslide, which was fair enough as one of their bulldozers was later washed off the edge of a cliff.
Thousands of people were desperate to get home for work in the following days, and there were rumors that someone had died trying to cross a precarious section on foot. When the road finally opened three days later, it took us nine hours instead of three to get back due to an epic traffic jam caused by everyone trying to travel at once. .
Samaipata is a great place to spend time over New Years Eve if you are looking for somewhere lively. The cabañas around town are a more peaceful option for those who want to escape the rowdy plaza and work out to be good value for larger groups. Everywhere that takes advanced bookings fills up in advance, so book early to ensure a spot. A number of more basic places accept don’t accept reservations, but expect them to be full by the afternoon of the 30th.
New Years Eve prices (and some surrounding days depending on the policy of the hotel) are typically 3-5 times higher than normal. We paid around US$30 per night during 31st-2nd and US$11 for the other nights for very basic backpacker style accommodation.