The Paraguay Jesuit missions at Trinidad, Paraguay
With my writings of Paraguay, there seems to have been a bit of a theme to many of the stories. Quite often it’s been about people coming to the country as an escape from the sufferings of home or with aspirations to create a better world.
The communist colonialists of New Australia did it, East German Peter at Granja Roble did it, and the native Paraguayan tribes experienced the missionaries doing it.
None of those people was the first, though. Much earlier (and undoubtedly still not the first), the Jesuits came to South America to spread the word of the religion.
The Paraguayans were in their targets as much as any others in the continent. After all, this was the 1600s and borders meant very little.
In fact, borders and land ownership were much less important than faith to many people – and so the Jesuits set up their communities where the indigenous tribes once lived alone.
This was in the period when Spain was still fighting for control of South American soil. The fight then was against the natives and by the time the Jesuits arrived many of the physical battles were in the past but the battle for ideological power was still at its peak.
What the Jesuits gave the locals was a new system of living that actually saw an improvement in their conditions. They built self-sufficient towns, or ‘missions’, across the countryside and used these as the focus for the education of the tribes.
There was education about culture, society, literacy and agriculture. And, of course, a fair bit of evangelicalism thrown in as well for healthy measure.
In the end, though, the Jesuits were expelled from Paraguay in the mid eighteenth century when Spain, Portugal and the Catholic church believed they were becoming too powerful. Their villages were abandoned and, in many cases, attacked.
The ruins at Trinidad and Jesus: Paraguay
Nowadays, in some parts of Paraguay, it’s possible to see the ruins of the missions and in 1993 two of them were named as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
In my research, I was informed that the Jesuit ruins at Trinidad and Jesus were the least visited UNESCO site in the world. I thought I would check that fact with fellow travel blogger, Gary Arndt, and he pointed out that there are tiny islands in the middle of oceans that are world heritage sites and must surely have fewer visitors.
A good point, but there was no doubt that there were not many people at all when I went there.
At the ruins of both communities, which are about 12 kilometres apart, you can get a sense of how life must once have been. The focus of both is the church, in each case a huge imposing building that dominates the area.
The natives and the Europeans lived separately and their accommodation was on either side of this church… although I’m sure they didn’t let their god come between them.
Walking around the Jesuit ruins as a tourist was a strange experience. At both places there were only a handful of other visitors.
There were no tour groups, no guides, no information signs and no sound. Far from highways and the local villages, you can explore these ruins by yourself in peace.
They are beautiful places – partly for the architecture, partly for the way the colours of the buildings mix with the sky and the forests surround them, and partly for the way that you are able to visit them.
These are the only places in Paraguay that UNESCO believes are worthy of inclusion of its heritage list. They may not be worth a visit to the country on their own, but I’m glad I’ve been able to see them.
The nitty gritty travel details
The ruins are about 30 minutes by bus out of Encarnacion towards Ciudad del Este. You’ll see the road to the Trinidad ruins from the road. The Jesus ruins are about 12 kilometres up a side road (there’s an hourly bus or you can jump on the back of a motorbike for about US$5 return). I stayed at the Hotel a las Ruinas which has a view of the ruins from the restaurant. Rooms started at US$20 a night.
20 thoughts on “The least-visited UNESCO World Heritage site?”
You know, I was once in Fathepur Sikri, a UNESCO site in India – and I was just about the only one there. Almost unfathomable, being alone anywhere in India.
The Paraguayan missions would be interesting to visit… history, architecture, nature…
That must have been really strange to have been in India without the crowds! It’s a weird feeling, isn’t it? It’s especially strange when you’re around ruins and there’s such a sense of history.
I’m surprised there are so many of the ruins still standing, the catholic church were not exactly known for their leniet views of other faiths.
Good point! Lucky for us travellers that they left something for us to see 🙂
Very beautiful place! I get a sense of inner peace when I watch the photos…of course, probably can’t bear comparison with what you feel when you’re actually there.
Photos never do places like this justice but I hope the photos help.
I’d love to get there some day. Bookmarked this post 😉
Good luck getting there. It’ll be an adventure!
They’re very well-preserved. I love exploring sites like this.
Yeah, it’s surprising what good condition they are in, considering everything. Let me know if you ever get to these ones!
The ruins look fascinating, and so solitary without anyone else there to view them. It sounds very peaceful 🙂 Without any tour guides or signs, did you learn about the history of the ruins solely from the UNESCO website?
I just had to do some research before hand on the UNESCO website and a few other places. A tour would have been nice, though.
Amazing shots! I would love to visit this someday 🙂
Thanks Laura. You should check out Paraguay sometime. It’s great!
Those are some really beautiful photos! I love visiting historic sites.
Yeah, it was perfect light for the photos. And with hardly any people around easy to get some good shots without other tourists. It always annoys me when there are a heap of people standing in front of the thing you want to snap!
To the extent there is a road connecting this to the rest of the world and there is a bus that goes there, there is no way this is even close to being the least visited site.
I visited East Rennell in 2007 which claimed to only get 10 tourists per year.
Surtsey in Iceland is off limits to all humans, except for one science team that can go once per decade.
Australia and New Zealand all have sub-Antarctic island UNESCO sites which have no regular ships which visit.
Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands had no regular service there and now only have live-aboard dive ships which visit.
Also, the site you mentioned has 10 reviews and 44 ratings on Trip Advisor, which is again, far from the worst I’ve seen.
I’m sure it isn’t the most popular site in Paraguay, but I’ve been to many sites like that which are just very slow.
Thanks for all of that, Gary. What you say makes perfect sense. For some reason this site just picked up the nickname “the least-visited UNESCO site” and it seems to get repeated like a mantra in the area. Time to set the records straight!!
Thanks for sharing. I am trying to collect some sites to see in Paraguay and Uruguay. It seems that so much is written about Brazil and Argentina but very little is written about the two countries snuggled between them.
Excellent, I’m glad the Paraguay and Uruguay stories helped. They are fun little countries to visit. They don’t have as many of the ‘sites’ as some of the bigger neighbours, but they’re worth checking out if you’ve got time.