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The Chiquitania region is home to several old Jesuit missions, and they're well worth a visit. The Jesuits worked in the region for almost a hundred years, from 1690 or so until 1767. Much more enlightened than most of their fellow Europeans, these Jesuits went to remote regions and set up missions and schools, and did not allow their charges to be enslaved. Because the missions were so remote, the Jesuits were able to operate without a lot of interference from other Spaniards, and the communities they created were peaceful.

The areas granted to the Jesuits was known as “reducciones” and usually included anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000 natives. Two Jesuits were generally in charge of any given reduccion: one to look after the spiritual well-being of the flock, and another to take care of more worldly matters. Other foreigners were never allowed to stay at a reduccion for more than a few days.

When the Jesuits were expelled from Spanish territories in 1767, the missions began an immediate and severe decline. It is only recently that there has been any interest in restoring them. An increase in tourism and history sparked their renaissance, and the 1986 Robert DeNiro movie The Mission also sparked a lot of international interest. There were a total of thirteen missions established in Chiquitania during the time of the Jesuits. Of these, six have been named UNESCO World Heritage sites.

They are:

San Xavier

San Rafael de Velasco

San José de Chiquitos Concepción

San Miguel de Velasco

Santa Ana de Velasco

Along with San Ignacio de Velasco (which did not qualify for UNESCO but is still regarded as an important historical mission), these missions are today an important visitor attraction. The best way to see them is from the city of Santa Cruz: the missions make up a sort of circuit and it's possible to see all seven in a week if you move quickly.

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
02 Feb 2012

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