Jesuit Missions Ruins in Paraguay: How to Visit from Encarnacion
Are you looking for a travel guide on how to visit the only UNESCO-listed sites in Paraguay, Jesuit Missions Ruins called Trinidad and Tavarangue independently from Encarnacion? Keep on reading as we share tips on how to get there, how much things cost, what to pack, and where to stay.
Although you can read on many travel blogs out there that Paraguay is a hugely underrated country in South America which deserves more attention, the truth is there are not many spectacular sights, and it is also the reason why the country is usually visited by long-term travelers who do not want to skip Paraguay on their ultimate journey across the continent, or by true explorers.
We are not saying Paraguay does not have must-see places or tourist attractions, but there are only a few of them, and they can hardly compete with some of the most popular highlights South America has to offer.
But there is at least one exception which draws travelers attention to Paraguay.
We visited Paraguay only for one week, as we were traveling from Argentina to Brazil, and our restless souls did not let us not to see at least a bit of this country.
During this short period of time, we wanted to see the best places the landlocked country possess, and as the first destination we visited in Paraguay was the city of Encarnacion, it was pretty clear we cannot miss nearby Jesuit Missions Ruins, the only UNESCO-listed places in the country.
There are two former Jesuit Missions near Encarnacion worth mentioning, the more popular and larger La Santisima Trinidad de Parana, simply called Trinidad, and the second one, less visited, Jesus de Tavarangue.
In this post, we will share our knowledge on how to get to Trinidad and Tavarangue ruins from Encarnacion independently, how much things cost, where to stay and what to pack to enjoy this one-day trip the best.
Encarnacion, your base for visiting Jesuit Missions Ruins is a classic border city, although it is for sure not that crazy like Ciudad del Este, a place where we crossed borders from Paraguay to Brazil.
There are not many must-see tourist attractions, but people (mostly Argentinians) travel to Encarnacion because of cheap shopping, you can find here several notable churches, quite pretty main square, cheap and tasty empanadas, and when time allows, do not hesitate to chill on a sandy beach on a shore of Parana river.
It is possible, you are still not sure whether it is worth it to visit Trinidad and Tavarangue ruins, and except for sharing our photos, we will go ahead and tell you a bit more about Jesuit Missions, so you can at least imagine what are the places about, and according to your priorities you can figure out whether it is the type of activity you like doing.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF JESUIT MISSIONS IN PARAGUAY
Paraguay is not the only country in South America where it is possible to find remnants of Jesuit Missions who arrived on the continent mostly during the 16th century.
For a brief moment, we also considered visiting Jesuit Missions in Bolivia but decided to leave it for later, because the ruins in Paraguay were much easier to access, and we knew seeing the architecture on a one-day trip will be enough for you.
After Spaniards arrived in Paraguay, they found a land of indigenous Guarani people, who lived a much simpler life than they did at that time in Europe, and they found very difficult to communicate and understand the nomad way of life of local people.
Until today it is not clear whether Spaniards invited Jesuit Missions as they needed to educate local people so they would be a better workforce or whether the main reason for inviting the missions was only turning Guarani people to Christianity (which of course, also goes hand in hand with education).
Nevertheless, Jesuits arrived to South America at the end of the 16th century, and started their mission in Paraguay later, at the beginning of the 18th century. During a quite short period of time they built tens of self-sufficient towns in hard accessible places, constructed amazing architecture gems, educated local people and also set rules for the future society when it comes to culture or public order.
The influence of Jesuits in Paraguay (but also in other areas) grew which both indigenous people but also leaders in Europe eventually did not like, and Jesuit Missions were expelled from Paraguay in 1767.
Towns like Trinidad and Tavarangue were abandoned, but luckily the architecture with many beautiful details remained.
HOW TO GET TO JESUIT MISSIONS TRINIDAD AND TAVARANGUE FROM ENCARNACION
Getting to both Trinidad and Tavarangue is pretty easy no matter whether you decide on visiting those places independently by bus, with a tour or by rental car. The more popular are the ruins of Trinidad, and Tavarangue is usually not visited that often as it is a bit away from the main road, but we will share tips on traveling to both places.
Public Transport | To get to the ruins independently on a budget, head to the bus terminal in Encarnacion.
It is not necessary to buy a ticket in advance. We came in the morning, as we had a suspicion the bus should leave around 8 AM, which turned out to be true. Ask around which bus should you board, and buy a ticket for 8000 Guarani.
Although buses to bigger cities such as Ciudad del Este pass around Trinidad ruins, we were told nowadays drivers of big buses are not allowed to stop, therefore it is necessary to take one of several local buses heading in the direction.
We checked our route all the time on Maps.me, so we knew where to get off, but tell the driver when getting on the bus where are you heading. The bus stops on the main road near a crossroad, and from there you must walk approximately 15 minutes to the entrance of Trinidad ruins.
Even when you want to see Tavarangue ruins first, get off the bus here as you must transfer to another bus. To get to Tavarangue, cross the street and wait on the road heading to a small village Jesus de Tavarangue (buses are not very frequent though, approximately there is one in an hour, with a longer break around noon - the ticket costs 3000 Guarani).
In case you want to see the ruins badly or like us, you travel on Sunday, when there is no bus to Jesus de Tavarangue you can hire tricycle driver waiting on the crossroad, but we found paying 50 000 Guarani quite a lot, especially when the site of Trinidad is supposedly more beautiful.
To get to Encarnacion, you must wait on the opposite side of the road and flag down a bus heading to the city. We stopped a very crowded bus, but it was quite fun to watch people holding the large thermos with traditional cold drink terere.
Rental Car | The easiest and most flexible way how to visit both ruins which are only 12 kilometers apart, is to rent a car in Encarnacion, and if it seems that renting a car for only a one day trip is a whim, why not to explore even more secluded places in the area? Both archeological sites have a parking lot nearby, where it is possible to safely park your car.
Tour | The last option on how to get to Trinidad and Tavarangue, if we do not consider traveling by taxi, is to take a one day tour from Encarnacion. Traveling by guided tour is a great option for all visitors who do not want to get there by public transport which can be in countries like Paraguay often confusing.
To find a tour, walk around Encarnacion's city center, or visit the tourism office which will recommend you one.
Once you reach the entrance of Trinidad, you will have to pay the admission which is 25 000 Guarani for foreigners, and it is valid for both Trinidad and Tavarangue site.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to get a cheaper ticket when visiting only one place.
The entrance fee includes visiting the grounds, a small museum, and a short film.
VISITING TRINIDAD JESUIT MISSIONS RUINS
The largest Jesuit Missions Ruins in Paraguay were also one of the least visited UNESCO sites we've ever seen, but honestly, we did not mind it at all, as wandering the empty grounds of once a thriving town was an ultimate travel experience which is hard to explain, and we are glad we’ve included Jesuit Missions on our Paraguay itinerary.
First, we were headed to a small museum, and then a lady working in the museum took us to a room with a screen, where we could watch a short film describing the history of Jesuit Missions in Paraguay (you can choose between English and Spanish, which was great).
When the film finished, we finally went out and started the exploration of exceptionally quiet and peaceful grounds.
No tourists around and soft religious music took us centuries back, and we could alone admire beautifully decorated buildings, churches, and columns which were left in Trinidad after Jesuits abandoned the place. The architecture, buildings made of dark red bricks altogether with greenery and blue skies only enhanced the atmosphere and our overall experience from the visit.
We found the place absolutely exceptional, and it was definitely the highlight of our travels in Paraguay.
There are not many information boards inside the ruins, and in case you want to know more about the place and history, hire a guide on-site to learn more.
WHERE TO STAY IN ENCARNACION
Encarnacion is a large city just across the borders with Argentina, and even though the city itself is not somehow beautiful, every weekend Argentinians flood the city because of the cheaper shopping opportunities.
Except for the weekends, Easter, Christmas and carnival, you should not have a problem to find accommodation within your budget. If your main intention to visit Encarnacion is to see Jesuit Missions independently, try to stay close to the bus terminal.
We've handpicked three best hotels for every type of traveler.
Budget | Hostal SV - Simple, but well-appointed rooms offer budget travelers a high standard and tasty breakfast.
Mid-range| Arthur Palace Hotel - Excellent service, great location, friendly staff, and nicely decorated rooms, outdoor pool, and rooftop terrace are the main reasons why this place is so well-rated.
Luxury | Milord Hotel Boutique - The best hotel in Encarnacion is actually not that pricey for what it offers, and you should really consider staying here, in case you can splurge a bit.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
WHEN TO VISIT JESUIT MISSIONS RUINS IN PARAGUAY
We arrived in Encarnacion in January, which is one of the hottest months in the year, and it was really difficult to sleep at night, not mentioning we experienced several overly sweaty days.
The hot season lasts from November to March, the other half of the year brings more pleasant temperatures. The cloud coverage is higher than in other countries throughout the year, but the precipitation is the highest between September and May.
For a one-day trip to Jesuit Missions Ruins from Encarnacion, pack comfortable clothes, and remember you will rarely find a shade on the grounds.
Here are several essential things you should have with you.
HOW TO GET TO ENCARNACION
Encarnacion is a transportation hub, and as the city is only across the river Parana from Posadas city in Argentina, you can be sure there is no problem to travel freely between those two cities.
Regular buses also leave to the capital city of Paraguay, Asuncion, but also to farther destinations such as Ciudad del Este.
We even arrived in Encarnacion by an overnight bus from Buenos Aires in Argentina, so as you can see, getting to Encarnacion is pretty easy when traveling within Paraguay, but also from major cities abroad.
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