Traveling along in Paraguay

Travelers will find Route 1 is cheaper, calmer and more picturesque than Route 2. Tourist attractions are evenly spread out, making it a good route to travel on over the course of several days. Ita and Yaguaron are easily accessible by bus and make for quick day trips from Asuncion. Day trips to Ybycui are also doable but can be difficult if traveling by public transportation. The large but remote Salto Cristal (near La Colmena) and the wetlands surrounding Lago Ypoa are very difficult to access without private transport. Tourists will find there is very little infrastructure – restaurants and hotels – along Route 1 until one reaches the department of Missions. From here towns are larger and there is more action. These areas have long been popular with tourists, therefore there is more infrastructure. Misiones, about half way to Encarnacion is a good stopping point – either for an afternoon or, if one wants to visit several of the area’s Jesuit towns, one or two days. Those who would prefer to head straight to Encarnacion can expect the trip to take about five hours by car and six by bus.

Recommended bus companies: La Encarnacena, Nuestra Senora de Asuncion. Rysa, and Ciudad de Pilar (turns off in San Ignacio towards Pilar)

Major bus stops along Route 1: Asuncion, San Lorenzo, Carapegua, Villa Florida, San Juan, San Ignacio, Coronel Bogado, Encarnacion

Getting to Routes 1 & 2 by Car

Technically both Route 1 and Route 2 begin in San Lorenzo. From Asuncion you can get to San Lorenzo via either Mariscal Lopez or Eusebio Ayala/Mariscal Estigarribia (if starting off in the Shopping del Sol area head down Espana and take a right on Santa Teresa which will connect with Mariscal Lopez). Once in San Lorenzo take a left on to Mariscal Estigarribia (yes, there are two streets named Mariscal Estigarribia in San Lorenzo). Be careful while driving as this heavily transited road cuts through San Lorenzo’s main market – many stands spill out onto the street, cars park illegally blocking traffic, and pedestrians cross at will. Once past the market, you will see a highway signs indicating that Route 2 is straight ahead and the turn off to Route 1 is to the right.

Jesuit Towns & Ruins

Paraguay’s Jesuit circuit is consists of two types of locations: the Jesuit ruins and Jesuit towns. While most gravitate towards the more impressive ruins, visiting the smaller Jesuit towns is also highly recommended – each has something distinct to offer in helping visitors gain a better appreciation of the Jesuit missions. The ruins are typified by the large red stone remains of the mission churches, photos of which fill tourism pamphlets. These ruins, with their stone sculptures and massive structures provide visitors with a sense of the scale and grandeur of the missions. However, aside from sporadic guided tours, there is very little effort to bring the ruins to life for the visitor. One is left to imagine what the mission might have looked like. Here is where the still-thriving Jesuit towns come in to play. In Jesuit towns, surviving structures such as indigenous dwellings and schools are still in use and woven into the everyday lives of the townspeople. The main churches are gone but their decorative remnants can be found in each town’s Jesuit museum and newly constructed churches. Looking at the evocative sculptures and paintings, one is able to better picture the beauty of the Jesuit missions. Combining a trip to the ruins with a stop in one of the Jesuit towns will give you a good sense of Jesuit art, architecture and the legacy of the missions in Paraguay.

What follows is a brief description of the Jesuit towns in order of distance from Asuncion.

San Ignacio, km 226 This large town, has several well-preserved buildings which now house the town library, a human rights agency, and the town’s two museums (one Jesuit, the other about the Chaco War). The Jesuit museum includes a beautiful collection of large scale sculptures. Santa Maria de Fe, km 237 A small quaint town with a beautiful main plaza, Santa Maria de Fe was once the most important artist workshop of the Jesuit towns. The town museum has an impressive collection of sculptures – the best of all Jesuit towns, hands down.

Santa Rosa, km 250 Santa Rosa offers visitors a true gem – the small Loreto chapel has some of the only remaining frescoes in all of Paraguay’s Jesuit missions. Although in need of restoration, seeing the frescoes alongside the museum’s sculptures gives a great idea of the decorative beauty in Jesuit buildings. In addition, the town also has a large red stone bell tower from the original mission.

Santiago, km 279 Santiago’s museum is set next to the small remains of the original church’s adobe walls. The museum has several sculptures but the most interesting display showcases unique tableaus painted onto wooden tablets.

San Cosme and Damian, km 343 San Cosme y Damian has the distinction of being the only Jesuit town where the original church is still in use. The two story building includes some rooms with painted walls and ceilings as well as an extensive attic from which the river beyond can be glimpsed. San Cosme is also home to a new observatory, built in honor of the mission’s heritage as one of the most important astronomy centers of South America during the Jesuit era.

Trinidad, km 400 Boasting the largest set of remaining structures from the original mission Trinidad is the most visited of all the Jesuit missions. Highly evocative and intricate designs are carved into the stone ruins of the church. Visitors can also experience the ruins in a different light, literally, with the new Sound and Light show set up by the Ministry of Tourism Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and rightly so.

Jesus de Tavarangue, km 410 Just down the road from Trinidad, the Jesus de Tavarangue mission is perhaps the most scenic of all the ruins. The imposing remains of the original church include all four high walls with the remains of several columns running through the middle of the interior, now a grassy courtyard, as well as a large bell tower. Like its sister mission Trinidad, Jesus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

More Information

The Camara Paraguaya de Turismo de las Misiones Jesuiticas (Paraguayan Chamber of Tourism of the Jesuit Missions) is a good source for current events along the Ruta Jesuitica (Jesuit Route). Tel: 021 210 550 x 230, Olga

Fischer 0985 701 642, and on Facebook

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