Tourism at the Jesuit Missions, Santa Cruz

The Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos

UNESCO designated Chiquitos as Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Unlike other Jesuit villages that are in ruins, Chiquitos still preserves its beautiful churches, musical scores, traditions, costumes, festivals, ceremonies, instrument manufacturing, and musical tradition.

These villages are San Xavier (240 km from Santa Cruz de la Sierra), Concepción (290 km), Santa Ana, San Rafael, San Miguel and San José de Chiquitos as well as San Ignacio de Velasco (460 km), Santiago de Chiquitos and Santa Corazón. Even though they were not included in the UNESCO declaration, they equally have attractions and patrimonial richness.


During the Spanish colonial era, the evangelization was undertaken by priests of various religious orders, including Jesuits and Franciscans - the first of the religious order of the Society of Jesus - as the most prominent ones. The Jesuit Missions decided to found "reductions" and evangelize in America since 1540.

They started in Bolivia at the end of the seventeenth century in the regions of Chiquitos belonging to the department of Santa Cruz de la Sierra and in Moxos, located in the department of Beni. Their work was stopped in 1767 when the King of Spain ordered that the Jesuit missionaries had to be expelled from their territories in America. This expulsion left the communities at the mercy of the Spaniards and Portuguese, leaving the Jesuit work incomplete and abandoned. In Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, the Jesuit work significantly disappeared. However, their work remained in Bolivia and has been developed for generations until now.


One of the most important ethnic groups in the Amazonian area is the Chiquitano that used to practice subsistence agriculture, hunting and fishing. His group was mainly settled in San Javier, Concepción, San Ignacio and San José. The Missions were characterized by being organization from these ethnic groups that depended on the ‘principle of the land¿ practicing the community property. Working was compulsory for everyone and a portion of the production was devoted to support orphans, widows, old and disabled people.

The architectural features and the spatial distribution of the missions followed a pattern that was repeated with some variations in the rest. The mission of San Xavier was the basis of this organization style, a modular structure and a large square where the church, the cemetery, the schools, workshops and houses were distributed.

Evangelization in these missions had a great reception through the use of renaissance and baroque music. One thing that makes this region unique is that the local dwellers preserve the musical skills until now, leaving a legacy not only in terms of music, but also in architecture. The Jesuit Missions are a cultural legacy, an artistic and architectural expression shown especially in their temples as the first settlers were trained in the woodwork techniques and, subsequently, enriching the art with their own visions. A clear example of this is the successful International Festival of American Renaissance and Baroque Music "Missions of Chiquitos" that takes place every two years in its international version.

Priest, architect and musician Martin Schmidt along with the Chiquitos dwellers built the churches with a mestizo-baroque local style. They are characterized by use of natural materials from this place such as wood carved columns, pulpits, chest of drawers and golden altars. The carving of the images was a mestizo work which continues until today. These majestic churches have been declared Cultural Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO; they are located are in the villages of San Jose, Santa Ana, San Rafael, San Miguel, San Ignacio, Concepcion and San Javier.

Evangelization in these missions had great success using the Renaissance and Baroque music, evident proof of this is the successful International Festival of American Renaissance and Baroque Music "Misiones de Chiquitos", which takes place on a biennial basis in the international version.



The route through the heart of the missions and the Chiquitano Dry Forests are characterized by cultural and natural riches, like in the areas where the Spanish Jesuits left their imprint in the native indigenous Guarayo and Chiquitano population who have preserved the colonial-period architecture and the wood carvings put together in the dry forest. The area has been catalogued as one of the last relics of this type to survive in Latin America.

A diversity of orchids ornament the indigenous towns that through Baroque music, handicrafts and dances hare their ancestral wisdom with their visitors, a mixture of ancient knowledge synchronized with the mission culture.

The Chiquitano Dry Forests has been catalogued as unique in the world as it shows Amazonian forest and the Chaco and dry-valley desert vegetation typical of southern Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay.

Santa Cruz de la Sierra and its surroundings tourist attractions:

Metropolitan Cathedral. Built during Andrés de Santa Cruz presidency, replacing the old church that occupied the place, built in colonial times, the church today has an eclectic style and was designed by French architect Philippe Bestres. Inside is the Cathedral Museum, which contains pieces of historical and artistic wealth.

24 de Septiembre Square. Observed around colonial style buildings and major public buildings such as the prefecture, the municipality and Casa de la Cultura.

Noel Kempff Mercado Zoo. Where you can see several species of tropical fauna, is the largest Bolivia´s zoo.

Lomas de Arena. White sand dunes around lagoons where water sports are practiced.

Güembé Biocentre. Theme park with swimming pools, and a butterfly orchid, it´s also possible to rent cabins and halls for business presentations.

Cotoca. It is a small town 16 km from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, is home to the Shrine of Our Lady of Cotoca "Patron of Eastern Bolivia," is also important for its handicrafts and typical restaurants.

The department of Santa Cruz has major natural attractions such as the Bolivian Pantanal, Park Noel Kempff Mercado National Park Amboró, near the archaeological site of Samaipata. 

Location: The city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra is located southeast of Bolivia, in the province of Andrés Ibáñez department of Santa Cruz, is also the capital of the department.

Elevation: 428 masl

Average temperature in winter to 14 º C in summer and 31 º C.

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