Jesuit Missions of Bolivia: Concepcion


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La Inmaculada Concepcion was established and settled between 1699 and 1722 (under the supervision of Friars Francisco Caballero and Francisco Hervas) and is located in a region of great natural beauty and biodiversity. A Jesuit mission town, it houses the Musical Archives where sheets of baroque music brought to the Americas by Jesuit priests are preserved. The indigenous population that lives here has participated in taking great care of this precious ages-old archive.

There is a museum in Concepcion where you can see some of the documents preserved since the 16th and 17th centuries, photos of some of the churches along the mission circuit, and wooden, woven and leather handcrafts.

The church is especially beautiful and is considered one of the jewels of this region. Take special note of its architecture (the belfry and chapel in particular), carved pillars and buttresses as they are very interesting. Six rows of columns support the roof. It has three altars and is adorned with paintings done by natives of the region. It has tower supported on carved wooden pillars from which the overlook is fantastic.

The church is open for mass on Saturday night at 7:30 and also on Sunday at 9:30 am and 7:30 pm. However, you can enter to tour the church through the building on the left during the day. It's amazing altars and intricately decorated interior are very colorful. It's difficult to imagine why such a large church was necessary 300 years ago (or even today) for such a small town in the middle of the jungle; however, stay the night on a weekend and you'll see it fill up!

Concepcion is one of the larger mission towns. As in other towns, life revolves around the central plaza and it is here that you will find some of the better restaurants like the Olla Cantadora and El Buen Gusto. There is also a bar (Bar de Lupe on the same sidewalk).

There are plenty of small stores in Concepcion and a Sunday market where you can buy basic groceries and personal items. The prefecture is also here, as is a national police office, tourist information center and several inns and hotels. About a half block from the plaza is a TELECENTRO COTAS (local telephone and internet company). Most services, however, are closed on weekends so you'll have to rely on the locals for directions and advice. But that's OK. They are very very knowledgeable and hospitable and will make you feel welcome.

The Gran Hotel Concepcion (right on the plaza) is gorgeous and costs between $35 and $50 per person per night. The hotel itself has a lot of local artifacts, such as some very interesting masks and sculptures. Phone: 964-3031 Fax: 964-3032. Email: granhotelconcepcion@hotmail.com

The Apart Hotel Las Misiones, at Bs. 100 per night per person, is next to the police station. It is very nice with 2 pools, TV and air conditioning, a garage if you drive, private bath and breakfast included. Phone: 964-3021 Fax: 357-9150

The Hotel Colonial at Bs. 50 per person per night is super basic (bring your own everything) and you're basically paying for a room with beds and a bath. They also have a couple of rooms called "matrimoniales" that have fans and air conditioning at $25 per night. The owners are really nice. Breakfast is included. One block from the central plaza. Ask for Señora Guindy. Phone: 964-3050.

There are other options like the Hotel Ganadero (Bs. 50 per night per person), and similar small inns. You'll find a sign on the corner of the plaza that lists 17 different options for lodging. Most are very basic and you have to bring your own towels, soap, shampoo, and other toiletries. Most serve breakfast only and do not serve lunch or dinner.

If you plan to visit both San Javier and Concepcion, you might want to check out the Cabañas Las Piedras in between both towns - there is a one-hour drive between San Javier and Concepcion. These fully equipped cabins have full kitchens, living and dining rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms on a lake, and cost about $60-$80 dollars per night (not per person). This complex is located right on the edge of the road by a group of enormous boulders stacked one atop the other. Phone: 313-7183 Fax: 352-5660 or 334-4131.

One block away from the plaza in Concepcion is the Jenecherú bus "station". From the Terminal Bimodal bus station in Santa Cruz to Concepción you'll pay Bs. 35 (a 4-5 hour trip). Take the #102 Transguarayos (Phone: 346-3993), Flotas Guzmar (Phone: 362-5540), or TransBolivia (Phone: 336-3866). The owner of Jenecherú is a very nice lady who also owns a very basic inn (Bs. 25 per person per night) right next door called La Pascana (formerly Salvador) where you'll share a room with several (4-6) beds and no private bath. You can also take buses from Concepción to San Ignacio, San Rafael, San Javier and other small towns here at this corner.

Please visit Geoff Groesbeck's website. Geoff is an expert on the entire area and has dedicated an entire website exclusively to this region of Bolivia. He's so thorough he can tell you where every last little phone booth is. Check it out!

Click here for more information on hotels in the Jesuit Missions. Diagonal to the bus station is a small office that has Western Union services and across the street is the Hospedería España where you can visit a small museum and learn all about Chiquitano culture, clothing, weapons, hand crafts, etc. (the guide speaks Spanish and Guaraní only - cost is Bs. 3 per person).

This area is also well-known for the great variety of orchids and holds an annual International Orchid Festival. To visit the 2008 Orchid Festival (October 10-12) you need to make hotel reservations early (by July usually). Prices at most inns and hotels usually go up for this. More than 2000 varieties of orchids have been identified and registered in Bolivia. See my page on San Javier page for photos and more information. There is plenty for tourists to do and see in and around Concepción, because it is a larger town. Be prepared to do a lot of outdoors activities.

About 5 minutes from Concepcion you can visit the Represa Zapocó which is actually a river where a dam (represa) was built. (You can take a local motorcycle taxi - no helmets). There is a long row of thatched-roof huts near the represa where you can lie in the shade or enjoy a picnic. You can swim here, but don't go out too far. Locals warned me that there are piranhas in deeper water.

About 20 minutes away are the Piedras de Calama (a group of enormous black boulders in the middle of the jungle). Climb the rocks and you have an gorgeous 360º view of the world around you as you stand at about the height of the treetops. There are no services here at all - bring your own water, snacks, and sunscreen. You'll notice a lot of graffiti etched and painted into the rocks. Local youth build bonfires at night and hang out. Please do NOT add your art!

Every other year (even-numbered years) Concepción and the other mission towns host an International Baroque Music Festival in which orchestras and choirs from all over the world participate. It normally takes place during the month of May or June. The last festival took place in 2008 and the next is scheduled for 2010. For more information on this event, view my page on the Baroque Music Festival.



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