Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitania (Chiquitos)

Jesuit Missions in the Chiquitania, Bolivia

The Chiquitania received its name from the native inhabitants of this area, the chiquitos or chiquitanos. This is the place where the Jesuit reductions settled in the second half of the XVII century (from 1691 until 1760). They remain in time as an extraordinary legacy because they are the only Jesuit missions in South America which were not destroyed after the Jesuits were expulsed from the Spanish colonies. They are not ruins but villages full of life, with people who still go to mass in the same majestic churches or to enjoy the same baroque music concerts, in the same way they used to do when the Jesuit ruled these missions three centuries ago.

The following are the Missions we visit in our Jesuit route:

San Javier
The baroque style church (built between 1749 y 1752, and restored between 1987 and 1993) is part of the first Jesuit mission in Chiquitos founded in 1691. The edification invites you to enjoy the artistic beauty of its architecture with carved ornaments in the columns and drawings in wood with yellow brown and black colors.

Concepción
It has a Jesuit baroque style church built between 1752 and 1753, restored and reopened in1982. It is built with 3 main structures, row of columns carved in wood, altars and paintings made by the local native people. This church is considered as the jewel of the region, watching it at sunset is an unforgettable view.

San Ignacio
The baroque style church (built between 1749 y 1752, and restored between1987 and 1993) is part of the first Jesuit mission in Chiquitos founded in 1691. The edification invites to enjoy the artistic beauty of its architecture with carved ornaments in the columns and drawings in wood with yellow brown and black colors.

San Ana
Santa Ana de Velasco, founded in 1755, was founded by one individual, the Jesuit missionary Fr. Julián Nogler. It is also the only settlement that has its complete original church still intact. The church was built after the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767. Santa Ana is a quiet little town with barely 280 souls and with a timeless feel to it.

San Miguel
San Miguel was founded in 1721 and is a small town, with less than 5,000 inhabitants. Like its sister communities of Santa Ana and San Rafael, San Miguel is a quiet spot where time seems to have stood still for the past three centuries. Its church is considered the most historically accurate of all the restored Jesuit churches.

San Rafael
San Rafael, the second oldest mission settlement, was established in 1696. Translated once in 1701 and again in 1750, it shares many of the same characteristics that nearby Santa Ana de Velasco and San Miguel de Velasco possess: a timeless charm, tranquil lifestyle, and fidelity to its Jesuit-inspired traditions.

San José
San José de Chiquitos, the third-oldest Jesuit mission in the Chiquitania, was founded in 1696. It is one of only four missions that has retained its original location. The town is quite peaceful, much like what Santa Cruz was many years ago: wide, dusty streets straight out of a Hollywood western movie, complete with cowboys, ranchers, and a dusty but charming main square with a beautiful church.

Ruta Verde offers you this route combining art, architecture, culture, music and nature. A unique outing by places where history has been conserved for more than 3 centuries, an opportunity to know and admire the ¨mestizo¨ baroque style, product of the European influence mixed with the artisan and artistic work of the indigenous people.

The majestic churches designed by the Swiss architect, musician and Jesuit Martin Schmidt have been declared Cultural Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO

REFERENCE PROGRAM

1 Day

ONE DAY PROGRAM

Early in the morning we will pick you up from your hotel in Santa Cruz with private transport to take you to San Javier (225 km/140miles).

Visit to the first and oldest mission in the region of Chiquitos, founded by the Jesuits in 1691. Visit to the Jesuit church. Lunch. Visit to the museum of the Mission and the music school. We will visit the Mirador “Piedra del Bibosi” (natural lookout point) and the place known as “Piedras de los Apóstoles”, where the “pinocas” (native people) used to dance in honor of their god Nupayaré.
Return to Santa Cruz. (Approximately 4 hours)

2 Days

TWO DAYS PROGRAM

DAY 1
Early in the morning we will pick you up from your hotel in Santa Cruz with private transport to take you to San Javier (225 km/140miles).
Visit to the first and oldest mission in the region of Chiquitos, founded by the Jesuits in 1691. Visit to the Jesuit church. Lunch. Visit to the museum of the Mission and the music school. We will visit the Mirador “Piedra del Bibosi” (natural lookout point) and the place known as “Piedras de los Apóstoles”, where the “pinocas” (native people) used to dance in honor of their god Ñupayaré.

If they are open, we will visit the workshop galleries where artisans still work the wood using the same techniques they learned from the Jesuits and enriched with their own versions of art. They create religious images and beautiful music instruments.

In the afternoon we will go to Concepción (founded in 1709), the second mission of our excursion (1 hour from San Javier). On the way we will see palm tree savannahs and we will stop at the Parador Las Piedras, a nice picture spot with big granite rock formations.
Check-in at the hotel in Concepción where we will spend the night.

DAY 2
After breakfast we will visit the church of Concepción and its museums. The most complete museum about the Jesuit Missions is located in Concepción. We will have lunch in Concepción and afterwards drive back to Santa Cruz. (Approximately 5 hours)

3 Days

THREE DAYS PROGRAM

DAY 1
Early in the morning we will pick you up from your hotel in Santa Cruz with private transport to take you to San Javier (225 km/140miles).

The first and oldest Jesuit Mission (1691) was founded with the name “San Francisco Xavier”. After visiting the church and its museum we continue our travel towards the second Mission called “Concepción de La Virgen Maria” (Concepción), founded in 1709. On the way we will see palm tree savannahs and we will stop at the Parador Las Piedras, a nice picture spot with big granite rock formations.

In Concepción we will visit the museum and the church. Check-in at the hotel in Concepción where we will spend the night.

DAY 2
Today we will drive to San Ignacio (171 km from Concepción). Of the 12 originally founded Jesuit Missions, San Ignacio represents the 7th Mission, founded in 1748 (476 km/296miles from Santa Cruz). San Ignacio has the highest number of inhabitants of all the Missions. We will spend the night in San Ignacio.

*Optional is to visit the Missions Santa Ana, San Rafael and San Miguel this day. In order to do so, we must leave Concepción early in the morning because the schedule won’t allow us to spend a lot of time in Santa Ana, San Rafael and San Miguel.

DAY 3
Return to Santa Cruz (Approximately 8 to 9 hours). We will have lunch in Concepción or San Javier.

4 Days

FOUR DAYS PROGRAM

DAY 1
Early in the morning we will pick you up from your hotel in Santa Cruz with private transport to take you to San Javier (225 km/140miles).

The first and oldest Jesuit Mission (1691) was founded with the name “San Francisco Xavier”. After visiting the church and its museum we continue our travel towards the second Mission called “Concepción de La Virgen Maria” (Concepción), founded in 1709. On the way we will see palm tree savannahs and we will stop at the Parador Las Piedras, a nice picture spot with big granite rock formations.

In Concepción we will visit the museum and the church. Check-in at the hotel in Concepción where we will spend the night.

DAY 2
Today we will drive to San Ignacio (171 km from Concepción). Of the 12 originally founded Jesuit Missions, San Ignacio represents the 7th Mission, founded in 1748 (476 km/296miles from Santa Cruz). San Ignacio has the highest number of inhabitants of all the Missions. We will spend the night in San Ignacio.

DAY 3
After breakfast we will take off to the Missions of San Miguel (1721), San Rafael (1695) and Santa Ana (1755). Santa Ana is the penultimate Mission founded before the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767. It is the most native in its art expression. In all these villages (where it seems time stood still for 300 years) you will be able to enjoy the typical scenery of the Chiquitania, the museums and the handicrafts workshop galleries where native artisans still carve the wood using the same techniques they learned from the Jesuits and  enriched them with their own expressions of art. They create religious images and beautiful music instruments.

After lunch we will continue the trip to the last mission of the route: San José de Chiquitos (1797) where we will have dinner and spend the night.

DAY 4
After breakfast we will visit the church. The architecture of this church differs from the others because it is completely made of stone. Lunch and return to Santa Cruz (approximately 4 to 5 hours).

REVIEWS

  • 'Dear Gijs, the tour to the Missions was great! The guide Iver and the driver Franc were great company and we had a good time together. Iver did a terrific job of explaining not only the missions and their history but also, the social history and culture of the indigenous people, the geology of the region, economics and much more. We would have missed so much without having him along to explain everything.The restaurants we visited were great and the hotel in Conception was wonderful. Franc did a great job of safely navigating those treacherous roads. I would recommend the tour to anyone!Thank you for treating us so kindly. When we get to Bolivia again, we hope to do another Ruta Verde tour.'

    George & Barbara Willock USA
  • 'Dear Gijs, I just wanted to thank you for arranging an excellent tour of the Missions. Jose was delightful company and a very good driver. The visits to the Missions churches were fascinating. I particularly enjoyed looking around the museum and mission complex with Milton, who was a close colleague of Hans Roth. We had a very good guide for San Miguel, San Rafael and Santa Ana. The hotels were all comfortable and the food good. I just hope that these sites receive more visitors in the years to come - they definitely deserve to be at the top of any tourist´s agenda for Bolivia.Many thanks and kind regards, Simon'

    Simon Johnson UK
  • 'Ruta Verde is a Tour Operator based in Santa Cruz , Bolivia , run by a charming Bolivian lady, Maria Eugenia and her very efficient Dutch husband, Gijs Dijkshoom.Last august we (my wife and me), while visiting this beautiful country, called on Ruta Verde as to organize a tour to the Jesuits Missions region, east of Santa Cruz. I knew the Missions for having visited the place in 2002. During that trip I had met a man in Santa Anna who told me that there were some descendants of Alcide d'Orbigny in the area.D'Orbigny (1802-1857) was a very important French scientist, father of the micropaleontology, and had been sent by the Paris Muséeum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Southern America as to make a complete inventory of the natural resources of this continent. He spent 8 years of his life (1826-1833) visiting Brazil , Argentina , Chile and Bolivia where he stayed 3 years, riding his mule from west to east and north to south. During the wet season, the country being impossible to travel, he used to settle his base in the Missions region. He was 28/30 years old, rather handsome and the natives being very pretty he obviously left behind one or more descendants.It happened that A.d'Orbigny was my grand uncle and being short of time in 2002, as to deepen my quest of cousins, I decided to come back this year and proceed with my quest.Ruta Verde, in the person of Gijs, took us in one of their very comfortable 4 WD Toyota to San Javier, San Ignacio, Santa Anna, San Miguel, all jewels of the Missions churches built by the locals under the control of Jesuits during the 18th century. I strongly recommend the visit, even if you have no cousins to meet there, but who knows?Thanks to Gijs, we found a "nest" of d'Orbigny at San Ignacio. It was very exciting and touching to meet these people who were far from thinking meeting one day some cousin from overseas after 176 years. Thank you Gijs for your very efficient help and your smooth driving across the "Chiquitania". I will never recommend strongly enough the readers of these lines to use Ruta Verde's services. These people are great!'

    Michel Villeneau France
  • ´Trip was wonderful, mostly because of the guide Iver! He is so knowledgeable and quite gracious. I felt a special kindred spirit with him because of his love and commitment to the environment, his independent spirit, his knowledge of language, history, culture, and his personal experiences that he shared with discretion and respect. The car was very comfortable, the hotel beautiful and the ride over the train bridge was very fun!! Keep up the good work and may God be with you as you struggle in your country for calm and justice.´

    Nancy Snowden USA
  • ´In May 2007, Ruta Verde organized a wonderful trip for us to visit the missions and Flor de Oro, the lodge in the north of Noel Kempff Mercado national park.The original plan was to visit the missions, Los Fierros and Flor de Oro, but after flooding knocked out a key bridge and various roads near Los Fierros, Gijs efficiently re-organized everything, arranging a week in the north after our mission visit instead, and to our good fortune, accompanied us.A simpatico guide drove us from Santa Cruz up to the mission area, where we stayed in a beautiful hotel (Chiquitanos) in Concepcion. After walking around Concepcion, visiting the church and museum, we headed to San Ignacio, where we stayed two nights, so that we could tour the nearby mission "circuit". The mission churches are very beautiful, interesting and well worth visiting. The relative remoteness of the mission towns, which surprised us, really added to the experience of being there.A small plane picked us up in San Ignacio and took us to Flor de Oro, a journey of about an hour and a half over miles of pristine jungle, ´la Meseta´ and 2 big waterfalls.Flor de Oro is remarkable, and a week was almost not enough! The staff are wonderful and the food fabulous. We spent three days up one of the side rivers hiking to, and swimming in, two enormous, exquisite waterfalls. En route we saw myriads of birds, butterflies, turtles, caiman, monkeys, an anaconda and a tapir. The rest of the time we were based at the main lodge overlooking the Itenez River. Each day, when Roger, our guide, took us walking or by boat, we learned a little more about Amazonian fauna and flora. There were capybaras, various monkey species, extraordinary birds, big and small, huge termite nests, tarantulas, and of course, many pink river dolphins. Giant water lilies were in bloom and orchids poured off the trees.There is always an animal sighting highlight on a trip like this, and ours was when we perched on a small viewing platform and watched 70 peccaries clacking their teeth and rolling about in a salt lick a few feet below´.

    Ronda Klevansky South Africa
  • ´Any mention of Ruta Verde brings a smile to my face. Let me say first that I am a university Spanish instructor (Indiana University Southeast) accustomed to roam the world, particularly, although not at all limited to, where Spanish is spoken. So we can say that at 60 yrs, of age, with some 50 countries under my belt, I've been around the block a few times. Gijs and his lovely wife Maria Eugenia are definitely keepers. From where I sit I can not overstate their value. Knowing something of the obstacles of functioning in South America, I can honestly say that the 2 of them have all the right stuff to deliver a wonderful experience. Maria Eugenia is a university educated crucena native to Santa Cruz who has lived in Europe and Gijs is a delightful, big, quality orientated Dutchman. You can't beat his prices. My own time to visit the missions was limited to only 1 day due to my work commitments in Paraguay so we made the longest trip to only one destination. I would definitely recommend at least 3 days and arrange them according to Gijs' suggestion. He knows the route and details very, very well´.

    Marie Cogswell USA
  • ´I had a wonderful experience. The Missions were amazing, especially as have seen the ruins in Paraguay and one Mission in Argentina (in the modern town of Alta Gracia). Your tour was as promised. The car was very comfortable and the guide attentive. The meals were ample. I was able to go to Mass every day.Sucre was the jewel. Lourdes is among the best guides I have ever had and she tailored everything to my interest. Sucre as a city was a destination in itself. The Hotel Glorieta was very comfortable and there were lots of dining options.Potosi was worth seeing and Lourdes saw that I saw every Church which was possible to see. I shortened the Mines part (I'm a little claustrophobic) but am very glad that I saw Cerro Rico.I am glad I followed your advice and did not try to do Sucre/Potosi in one day. Two nights/two days was just perfect (in fact, Lourdes took me a short tour on Monday morning to the City colonial museum).I came home amazed at the Bolivian people. They are much more diverse than I expected, very gentle and warm and easy to speak with. The setting seems much more secure than other places I have been (like Guatemala and parts of Mexico) in that there was little overt police, private guards and bars on all windows, etc. I am very happy to have sampled Bolivia and feel much richer for it.Again, Gijs, I would give Ruta Verde all "As" (or stars or meets and exceeds expectations). May more Americans sample your marvellous (adopted) country. Thanks.´.

    Fr. Mike Knipe USA
  • ´Hi....we absolutely loved the tour, every bit of it...well done..wonderful guides and driver...wonderful all in all...the guide was SENSATIONAL...gracias por todo..mkt´

    Maria Kathalina Thomas USA
  • ´Nos han gustado mucho los dos tours. Los chóferes y guías muy bien en ambos casos. Los hoteles nos gustaron mucho y todo ha salido muy bien. El Salar y Lagunas espectacular. En general muy bien todo. Muchas gracias!'

    Estefania Roig y Jordi Garcia Spain
  • 'Independent travel on our own schedule has always been our preference. Earlier this year we made the wise decision of allowing Gijs and Maria Eugenia of Ruta Verde to make all our travel arrangements for us to Noel Kempff Mercado. Even though we had four weeks in May to explore Eastern Bolivia it was immediately apparent that a trip to the park would require much planning and coordination of services. We were not disappointed. Words cannot describe this national treasure and it is our sincere hope that this unique area will remain protected. Although the animal and plant life are incredible we were also impressed by the dedication of the stewards of the park, the park rangers. The services arranged by Ruta Verde far exceeded our expectations. Our pilot for the two and a half hour flight was superb. Count yourself among the lucky few should you have the good fortune to visit this remote and pristine corner of the earth. Very few places compare.On the spur of the moment we also asked Ruta Verde to make arrangements for a short trip to the Jesuit Missions. Our only regret is that we did not have more time to explore La Gran Chiquitania in more depth. The landscape is breathtaking and the architecture of the missions astounding. Next time we would like to visit all the missions.'

    Nina Lara and Jerry Clark USA
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