Senses Boutique Hotel was a major reprieve for us after two and a half weeks in Bolivia. We had stayed at "5-star hotels" previously in other cities which were only 5-stars in someone's fantasy, so we had low expectations going in. However, we were pleasantly surprised. Senses wasn't perfect, but it blew away any other hotel we'd stayed in or even seen in any city in Bolivia. By Bolivian standards, I can say this was definitely a 5-star hotel. Now, that doesn't mean you can compare it to any Orient Express or Mandarin Oriental in the world, but comparing it to other hotels in Bolivia we were overjoyed.
LOCATION - For a nice stay in Santa Cruz proper, the location can't be beat. It's right on the main square. We had a massive close-up view of the cathedral right across the street, and the beautiful main square is right across the street. You don't have to walk far to find something to eat, and in the same building as the hotel, there is a Sky Bar that has very good quesadillas and fajitas (that are more like enchiladas but good anyway) and a panoramic view overlooking the square and cathedral. There is shopping nearby, a laundromat is about 3 blocks away (15 Bs/kg), everything you need. Not a ton of great restaurants around, but taxis are only about $1.50 anywhere you want to go so no problem. The location on the square and in a shopping mall has a downside though - noise. There are concerts and/or protests inside the mall and/or at the square nightly (we were there for 3 nights and there was music and things going on until about 11:00 PM each night). We had to turn the TV up loud to try to drown it out, but forget about sleeping until it stopped.
HOTEL - The hotel is unusually laid out for a boutique hotel - in fact, I'm not sure I really found much boutique about it. It is a 5-star hotel located in a shopping mall. It has all the amenities you'd expect - a small swimming pool on the roof, a spa, free wireless internet (we had some problems with this, but they worked hard to fix it for us), room service, a restaurant and bar (well, the restaurant seemed to be only open for breakfast, while they used a restaurant located in the shopping mall as their other "restaurant"), and even a concierge (who was rarely there, but was helpful when he was). The staff speaks very little English except the manager and concierge who are rarely to be seen. They are all very nice though, especially the young guy that works nights - he'll do anything for you with a smile. The hotel is nearly brand new and feels fresh throughout.
ROOMS - We booked the penthouse suite for $200/night. A great deal by American standards, and really by Bolivian standards too. We had a similar room at another hotel for about $130/night that was really poor. The room was very large, huge flat screen tv, free wireless internet, a table where we could work and use the internet, a separate sitting room, a huge balcony (but no chairs on it - that was ok though, it was often really hot or really windy), and a great view of the cathedral. The bathroom was huge and very nice, the shower was wonderful after some really bad ones in Boliiva, the only thing weird was no doors on the bathroom or even the toilet. The bed was really nice, but unfortunately the A/C vent was located right next to the bed so it was really loud and kept us awake. You couldn't turn it off though, too hot. Strange placement. Overall, a great room for a great price.
FOOD - The restaurant is only open for breakfast, which is average. Egg cooking station, fruit, bread, and cereal. But it was enough. The restaurant is nice with a view over the square. The other "restaurant" is really an independent restaurant inside the shopping mall, but it is right there so why not. Downstairs is more of a juice bar (good jugo con leche and helado), while upstairs you have the bar and restaurant which has a panoramic view over the square and cathedral. Good Mexican dishes, the other dishes tasted more like a food court. There are a few other restaurants within walking distance, or you can take a cab for about $1.50 to anywhere in the city. Room service was available, same menu as the other restaurant.
SERVICE - The staff was very helpful throughout our stay - the lack of English was difficult sometimes, but it worked out with a few calls to the front desk and some patience. No worries. They try to help. The young guy who was there in the afternoons and evenings was wonderful, so nice and eager to please. The manager and concierge were rarely seen, but they had good English and were helpful when they were there. Housekeeping was sketchy at best - there was a dead grasshopper next to our bed that remained there all through our three night stay. They do not do turn-down service and we had to lower and raise all our many blinds every day, which was strange for a 5-star hotel. Some days we returned in the afternoon to find our rooms still not cleaned.
Overall, Senses was outstanding compared to the other hotels we'd stayed in throughout Bolivia, and far better than the hotel that our travel agent recommended to us. We were very happy we stayed there, and can recommend it - as long as you bring your earplugs! It isn't on a par with top international hotels, but it is good, clean, and well-located, a real prize in a country that has a long way to go in the upscale hotel category.
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