Jesuit Missions of Bolivia: San Javier

Charisma Handmade Bolivian Jewelry

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San Javier is actually called San Francisco Javier de los Piñocas and is the first mission town established by the Jesuits (in 1691). Friars José de Arce and Brother Antonio de Rivas supervised its settlement through 1708. Here there was an important music school and workshop where musical instruments of the era were handcrafted. Today the town has kept these traditions alive and its church is considered Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The town is best known for its missions settlement which is still completely intact. The church is open on Sunday at 9:30 am and at 7:30 pm for mass. At other times, you may enter to tour the church through the museum (Bs. 5 per adult, children don't pay). You can also purchase hand crafts, booklets, postcards, and CDs or DVDs from past International Baroque Music Festivals.

The church is large with thick pillars and beams, and amazing woodwork throughout the complex. You may first notice the intricately and very detailed hand-painted interior of the church, as well as the spectacular altar in the front, but keep an eye out for other details that aren't immediately noticeable like ancient incense holders and candelabras, or the very new light fixtures that offer a complete contrast to the history of the building.

The bell tower stands in the inner courtyard in San Javier, unlike the one at Concepción which is located outside the church walls. You can (carefully) climb the stairs to the top (notice the amazing wood work on the banisters and railings). From there you can look out across the town and toward the sierras.

Like most colonial towns, it's church occupies one side of the central plaza. Around the plaza you'll find small stores where you can purchase basic groceries and personal items, several inns and various small and very basic restaurants. There is only one gas station and you'll find a pay phone on the corner of the plaza (shaped like an armadillo).

The Posada Tiluchi (Phone: 963-5220) and Alojamiento (Inn) Ame Tauna (Phone: 963-5018) are next to each other and directly across from the church (by the water tower). Both cost between Bs. 30 and Bs. 100 per night per person, depending on the size of room you request. Rooms have . Most inns in this town (there are several others see my Jesuit Missions hotels page) offer very basic rooms, some which have shared baths, and some which do have private baths. Bring your own everything: towels, soap, shampoo, etc. They also do not serve lunch or dinner, only continental breakfast.

The Restaurant Ganadero and Restaurant La Pascana are on the sidewalk to the left of the church. Both serve good hot food, but don't expect a varied menu. You can, however enjoy hot soup and a hardy lunch for under $5. My friend Geoff Groesbeck (see below) tells me Luigis Restaurant (near the entrance of the town) is a very good option as well, and several tourists mentioned Restaurante El Turista (on the corner of the church) has excellent coffee. I haven't tried either one of these last two options myself.

You can take a day trip to Las Piedras de Paquió, about 30 kilometers from town. The area has been developed and there are several very pretty cabanas (Cabañas Las Piedras - phone: 313-7183) where you can stay for the night (full facilities, more like small houses with full kitchens and all other facilities). They are built for 4, 6, or 12 guests and cost between $60 and $80 per night per cabana (not per person) depending on the size. There is also a small lake there. You'll notice Cabañas Las Piedras as you drive toward Concepción when you see several huge boulders stacked one on top of the other and across the highway a group of totem poles. The two largest boulders have been painted, one with the Bolivian flag, and the other with the flag of the department of Santa Cruz.

The cost by bus from Santa Cruz to San Javier is Bs. 35 from the Terminal Bimodal (Bus/Train Station). It takes 3-4 hours to get there depending on what happens in Pailas. Pailas is a tiny town at the edge of a river where there is a bridge you have to cross. The problem is, the bridge is for trains and only so wide, so vehicles must line up at the beginning of the bridge to take turns crossing. The wait can range from 10 minutes to a hour. This will soon be solved however, as a new 2-lane bridge for cars is under construction just a few meters away. From San Javier to Concepción the price is Bs. 10 (less than $2 dollars) for the 1 hour trip.

Or take one of several ecological excursions offered, including one to the La Dolorida hacienda between here and Concepción. In this town, in 1730 the first school of music was founded and inhabitants learned to make violins, harps and other instruments. Although it is a very small town and you can visit it in one day, much of its infrastructure is original (it hasn't been as extensively renovated as Concepción) and if you appreciate history or architecture, you'll probably spend more time here than you expected. Don't rush through - give it a day.

If you enjoy art, you'll want to visit the Buho Blanco. Bolivian sculptor Juan Bustillos has built an interesting underground art gallery a few blocks from the central plaza heading toward Concepción. It blends in with the enormous granite stones present in the area. Juan Bustillos also has converted his home into an art gallery in the city of Santa Cruz, which is also called the Buho Blanco. For more info see my page on art galleries.

Another really nice place to spend a day or weekend, just one hour before reaching San Javier is Santa Rosa de la Mina. Slated to (soon) be South America's largest golf resort, it also has three lagoons with weekend cabins, pools and lot of other activities like kayaking, jet skiing, horseback riding and more. Many people also stop for lunch on their way to or back from touring the Jesuit Missions.

Many thanks to Geoffrey A.P. Groesbeck, who dedicated many years, clearly much love, and an entire website to this unique region of Bolivia, for contributing this page on Bolivia's Jesuit Missions.

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