UNESCO designated San José de Chiquitos as Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Unlike other Jesuit villages that are in ruins, Chiquitos still preserves its beautiful churches, musical scores, traditions, costumes, festivals, ceremonies, instrument manufacturing, and musical tradition. These villages are San Xavier (240 km from Santa Cruz de la Sierra), Concepción (290 km), Santa Ana, San Rafael, San Miguel and San José de Chiquitos as well as San Ignacio de Velasco (460 km), Santiago de Chiquitos and Santa Corazón. Even though they were not included in the UNESCO declaration, they equally have attractions and patrimonial richness.
During the Spanish colonial era, the evangelization was undertaken by priests of various religious orders, including Jesuits and Franciscans - the first of the religious order of the Society of Jesus - as the most prominent ones. The Jesuit Missions decided to found "reductions" and evangelize in America since 1540. They started in Bolivia at the end of the seventeenth century in the regions of Chiquitos belonging to the department of Santa Cruz de la Sierra and in Moxos, located in the department of Beni. Their work was stopped in 1767 when the King of Spain ordered that the Jesuit missionaries had to be expelled from their territories in America. This expulsion left the communities at the mercy of the Spaniards and Portuguese, leaving the Jesuit work incomplete and abandoned. In Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, the Jesuit work significantly disappeared. However, their work remained in Bolivia and has been developed for generations until now.
One of the most important ethnic groups in the Amazonian area is the Chiquitano that used to practice subsistence agriculture, hunting and fishing. His group was mainly settled in San Javier, Concepción, San Ignacio and San José. The Missions were characterized by being organization from these ethnic groups that depended on the ‘principle of the land¿ practicing the community property. Working was compulsory for everyone and a portion of the production was devoted to support orphans, widows, old and disabled people.
The architectural features and the spatial distribution of the missions followed a pattern that was repeated with some variations in the rest. The mission of San Xavier was the basis of this organization style, a modular structure and a large square where the church, the cemetery, the schools, workshops and houses were distributed.
Evangelization in these missions had a great reception through the use of renaissance and baroque music. One thing that makes this region unique is that the local dwellers preserve the musical skills until now, leaving a legacy not only in terms of music, but also in architecture. The Jesuit Missions are a cultural legacy, an artistic and architectural expression shown especially in their temples as the first settlers were trained in the woodwork techniques and, subsequently, enriching the art with their own visions. A clear example of this is the successful International Festival of American Renaissance and Baroque Music "Missions of Chiquitos" that takes place every two years in its international version.
Priest, architect and musician Martin Schmidt along with the Chiquitos dwellers built the churches with a mestizo-baroque local style. They are characterized by use of natural materials from this place such as wood carved columns, pulpits, chest of drawers and golden altars. The carving of the images was a mestizo work which continues until today. These majestic churches have been declared Cultural Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO; they are located are in the villages of San Jose, Santa Ana, San Rafael, San Miguel, San Ignacio, Concepcion and San Javier.
Santa Cruz de la Sierra and around
One of the city’s major attractions is the Metropolitan Cathedral that houses a museum containing pieces of historical and artistic value.
There are many business centers in this beautiful city of Bolivia. There are also thematic parks like Biocentro Guembé and Aqualand, the best in the country.
In the outskirts of the city, you will wind the traditional Cabañas of Pirai River where typical food from the eastern part of the country is served on the banks of the river. You can also ride on motorcycle or horses. Not far from here, you will find Lomas de Arena that are white sand dunes surrounding lagoons where people practice water sports.
Cotoca is a small population 16 km from Santa Cruz de la Sierra. This is the site of the Sactuary of Virgen de Cotoca ‘Saint Patron of the Bolivian eastern region’. This is also important for its crafts and traditional food restaurants.
The department of Santa Cruz has important natural attractions such as the Bolivian Pantanal, Noel Kempff Mercado Park and the Amboro National Park, which is close to the Samaipata archaeological site. The Laguna Volcán Golf Eco Resort is not far from Samaipata. This is a luxury resting complex at the entrance of Amboro Park. It has a swimming pool and a professional golf court.
- Location: Santa Cruz de la Sierra is located on the southeast of Bolivia, in the Andrés Ibáñez province of the department of Santa Cruz. It is also the capital city of the department.
- Altitude: 428 masl
- Average temperature: 14º C in winter and 31º C in summer
Buses from different parts of the country arrive daily at Santa Cruz bus terminal. This city has an international airport and a domestic airport.
To get to San Jose de Chiquitos, you can take a bus from Santa Cruz bus terminal departing every afternoon. The trip is around 4 hours. The other option is to take a 9h train from Santa Cruz on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.