The Jesuit Missions

The majority of visitors who make the journey to the Chiquitania come to see the astounding church complexes - and the settlements that preceded them - established by Jesuit missionaries between 1691 and 1760. (After that, in order, come the International American Renaissance and Baroque Music Festival "Misiones de Chiquitos" and the national and other parks.)

It may seem odd that someone would travel to such a remote region to see a church, let alone seven of them and the ruins of three more. But.... Stay at home and you'll never know why, or make the journey and you'll never forget. When you're old and hoary and recounting the fondest memories of your life, this will be one of them.

A bell ringer calling the faithful to Mass
Early morning fog in the Chiquitos missions

All but one of these former missions are still active communities in every sense of the word. Even if you're not thunderstruck by the architectural, historical, and spiritual legacies of the Jesuits and their native partners (a unique example of successful integration between Europeans and native Americans), you've still got the cultural angle to explore, along with some of the most astounding natural beauty and wildlife in the entire Western Hemisphere.

What's more, if you like what you see in the way of the art and other items here, you can - and should - buy them direct, thereby supporting the locals who make them, as well as furnishing your crib with the most beautiful, unique items imaginable, all for a pittance. The few dollars (yes, they take them here, but no Euros or pounds) you'll spend will bring much more direct, tangible good to these people than you think. That's more than anything Wal Mart or Wilkinson's ever will do for you.

All of the original twelve Jesuit mission settlements and their church complexes have pages to themselves. (Even the not-technically-a-mission Nuestra Señora del Buen Consejo is included.) Each offers a brief history and overview of the town and its immediate environs, recommended places to see, eat, sleep, and times to visit, along with a list of essential services (e.g., banks, post offices). The first seven of these communities are known collectively as the Jesuit Missions circuit (or Chiquitos Missions), starting with San Xavier and ending with San José de Chiquitos.

Often not included in this group (i.e., the Jesuit Missions Circuit) are the towns of Santiago de Chiquitos and Santo Corazón, as well as the former mission of San Ignacio de Zamucos and the ephemeral Nuestra Señora del Buen Consejo, of which nothing remains. Although also Jesuit endeavours, they are far enough off the beaten track (located in the far eastern reaches of the Sureste Cruceño and the Pantanal) that if they are treated at all by others, they generally merit only the briefest mention. Likewise with the now-abandoned San Juan Bautista. Here, these five are included in the Jesuit Missions section, where they technically belong.

There are also pages that provide general overviews of the Jesuit missions' culture, daily life, history, music, and of course, those remarkable churches, as well as an all-important set of directions.

Note: The Chiquitania may be timeless, but most places on these lists are not. If you know that something is no more or has changed, or have questions on the Jesuit Missions circuit in general, please email me.

The Vine Dance: San José de Chiquitos
A rooftop sentinel in the missions