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During the late 16th century, the region north of the Río Paraná was a no-man’s land. Indigenous populations determined to keep the foreign occupiers out and Portuguese slave traders constantly attacked the religious missions established to teach the Guaraní the new European way of life. Thousands of priests and their native mission residents had to flee.

In one such attack, the Franciscans Ciudad Real lost their statue of the Virgin Mary. Carved of walnut and timbó wood, the image shows her praying, a tranquil smile upon her face. Those priests re-established their mission at Tabacué. As luck would have it, some Guaraní found the Virgin atop a pointed rock (itatí in their language) several kilometers upstream, surrounded by light and celestial music. The Catholics brought her back to the new mission, but twice she disappeared only to be found atop the itatí. The Franciscans finally got the hint. In 1615, they moved to Itatí, and built a church especially for the Virgin.

Today, Itatí is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the entire region. Over 2.5 million devotees come every year. The Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Itatí, built 1938-1950, is the seventh in her honor. The temple, of neo-Classic architecture, is styled after Rome’s Pantheon. A distinction to this building are the four square towers on each corner. Atop the 28-meter (92-ft) wide center dome is a replica of the Virgin. Visitors may climb to the dome’s terrace, where are tremendous views of the surrounding countryside and Río Paraná ($0.30). Inside, the large, octagonal space measures 73 meters (240 ft) across. Behind the main altar is the chapel housing the original statue. Masses are held four times daily Monday-Saturday and six times daily on Sundays and holidays.

Next to the basilica is the previous church, Iglesía de Alegría y Obieta, built in 1853. This simple, colonial parish-style church is now the Museo Sacro (Thursday-Sunday 10 a.m.-1 p.m., 2-5 p.m. E-mail: Entry: adults $0.60, children 17 years old and younger free). On display are statues, furniture, chalices and other church fixtures, and a collection of ex votos, or gifts to the Virgin for her intersession. Guaraní artisans carved some of the most notable pieces, such as the 18th century Cruz del Buen Ladrón (Cross of the Good Thief) and a Christ statue with movable limbs.

Across from the churches is a large, shady plaza. Around this square are Itatí’s oldest buildings. Next to the church, down Calle Obispo Niella, is the lively market where souvenirs and every-day wares may be bought. Thrice weekly Paraguayans boat across the river to add flavour to the fair. Along the river are campgrounds and balnearios, or fishing and swimming beaches.

The feast day of the Virgen of Itatí is July 16. Hundreds of thousands of faithful come from all over Argentina and from neighboring countries. The novena begins July 9 with the Caravana de la Fe, a horseback and walking pilgrimage from San Luis del Palmar, 134 kilometers (83 mi) southwest. On September 21, thousands of youth walk from Corrientes city to the Basilica (68 km / 42 mi). Another important mass is held for the Immaculate Conception, December 8.

(Altitude: 44 m / 144 ft, Population: 6,084, Phone Code: 03783)


Itatí has everything ready to receive the millions of pilgrims that come every year to visit the Virgin. On one corner of the plaza is the Dirección de Turismo kiosk (Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-1 p.m., 3-8 p.m., weekends 8 a.m.-noon, holidays 3-9 p.m. Av 25 de Mayo and Obispo Niella, Tel: 49-3048, URL: The village also has a bank (ATM), post office, police, hospital and other necessities.


Cabañas De Allá Itá and Puerto Paraíso Iratí both have fishing guides. Neither have phone numbers and are located downstream from downtown. Ask at the tourism office for instructions of how to arrive to them.


Hotels fill up on feast days. The town has five campsites and over a dozen hotels for every pocketbook.

Hospedaje El Colonial (Sosa 672, Tel: 49-3050)

Hospedaje El Gauchito (Obispo Niella 438, Tel: 49-3250)

Hotel Antártica (Av 25 de Mayo 250, Tel: 49-3060)


Follow Calle Obispo Niella down to the street behind the church. That street is lined with dozens of parrilla joints and ice cream stands. Most close by mid-afternoon. A few hotels near the plaza have restaurants open in the evening.


Other places nearby Itatí: Santa Ana De Los Guácaras, Esteros Del Iberá, Santa Fe, Rosario, Mburucuyá, Corrientes, San Cosme and Paraná.

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

27 Jul 2010

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