Discovering the Ruins of Jesuit Missions in Paraguay with Kids

Two young boys running towards the ruins of a Jesuit Mission in Paraguay

We are suckers for historical ruins. The more remote and character-filled, the more we love them. In Portugal, the Moorish Castle in Sintracaptured our heart. While in Guatemala, it was the ruins of Tikal that had us lost in a time long since past. In South America, it was the Jesuit Missions in Paraguay that took us on a journey through time.

We were based in San Ignacio, Argentina for a few days and, being so close to the border, we got in touch with Michael, a San Ignacio tourism operator regarding getting into Paraguay to see the ruins. We can’t resist an opportunity to get another stamp in our passports!

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Getting to the ruins of Jesuit Missions in Paraguay with Kids

In the morning, the incredible Jimmy the Aussie picked us up. He is an Australian expat of Argentinian roots. He built up an instant rapport with the boys and our group chatted amiably during the drive to the border. Jimmy regaled us with stories of his adventures and as we pulled up to the border station for the ferry to Paraguay, he hopped out to take care of the paperwork for us.

We boarded a small 18-car ferry and sat on the open upper deck to take in the views. The boys watched excitedly as we made the short crossing of the Parana river towards the border of Paraguay. Once we docked, the cars were unloaded and the paperwork handled for the visas on the Paraguay side. The ferry runs almost hourly.

Small ferry ready for cars to be loaded at the Argentina/Paraguay border on the Parana river

Pro-Tip: There are regular bus services from Posadas in Argentina to the Misiones Department in Paraguay. Just request to stop within walking distance of the ruins.

Visiting the Mission de Jesus de Tavarrangue

After just under an hour on the road, passing through small towns and beautiful countryside, we pulled up to the first of the Jesuit Missions in Paraguay, Mission de Jesus de Tavarrangue.

The Mission of Jesus got its name as it was to be the largest of all the missions in the Misiones Department. Designed to be a replica of the Sanctuary of Loyola, in Spain. The mission is accessed by walking from the main entrance near a small museum with a miniature replica of the completed buildings.

Drone aerial photo of the ruins of Jesuit missions in Paraguay. This one is the mission of Jesus de Tavarangue

Getting a taste of Matte

Jimmy and I had chatted about my fascination with the local custom of drinking Jerba Matte and spoke with one of the staff at the entrance who was kind enough to share his drink with me before we made our way onto the grounds. As we crossed through a small grove of trees, the entrance to the missions church came into view and the boys took off running, excited to explore the grounds.

two young boys run across a field towards the ruins of a Jesuit mission in Paraguay

Pro-Tip: The missions in Paraguay sit in wide open fields with very little shade. Make sure to lather up with sunscreen and bring plenty of water to keep hydrated.

The History of Mission de Jesus de Tavarrangue

The Reduccion de Jesus was founded back in 1685, but the current location was settled in 1760. The mission was never completed, and the Jesuits were expelled from Paraguay in 1767 by Brazilian invasions leading up to the Paraguayan War.

During the active time of the mission, a unique balance formed between the natives and the Jesuits. Whether that balance was of greater benefit to the natives is up for debate, but there is no doubt that a loyalty existed between the two factions, with two Jesuits leading a village of thousands of natives.

A young boy strolls through doorways in the ruins of Jesuit missions in Paraguay
A young boy jumps from the ledge of a window at Jesuit missions in Paraguay

Exploring Mission de Jesus de Tavarrangue with Kids

The mission itself is incredibly easy to explore. With wide-open expanses and well-trimmed grass to roll around on, they are a perfect playground for kids. The boys slalomed around the pillars of the Reduccion de Jesus (Jesus’ Mission).

Aerial view showing the church and pillars of the Jesuit ruins of Jesus de Tavarrangue in Paraguay

The church would have been one of the biggest churches of the time at over 70M long and 24M wide! We also took the chance to let the boys scratch their photography itch. We love to let them take control of the cameras to see what kind of wild and fun angles they’ll come up with.

Woman wandering through the ruins of the Jesuit ruins of Jesus de Tavarrangue in Paraguay

Exploring the Missions of La Santísima Trinidad de Paraná

While the ruins of Jesus de Tavarrangue were pristine due to their relatively young age, the ruins La Santisima Trinidad de Parana were a treasure chest of discovery. These ruins were far more complete, and the grounds far more expansive.

La Santisima Trinidad de Parana offered a complete picture that these missions were designed to be self-contained societies, existing with their own rules outside of normal colonial life.

Ruins of schools and workships at the Jesuit mission of la Santisima Trinidad de Parana in Paraguay

The history of Missions of La Santísima Trinidad de Paraná

Originally built in 1706, the mission has a meeting plaza, two churches, a school, workshops and more. It is the more established of the two ruins, but, like Jesus de Tavarrangue, the Jesuits were expelled from the area in 1768.

Broken stone and roof peaks marked by large window in the ruins of Trinidad in Paraguay

Exploring Missions of La Santísima Trinidad de Paraná with Kids

The ruins of Trinidad are a treat to explore. Because the ruins are far more complete than the ruins of Jesus de Tavarrangue, it deserves a lot more time as well. The watchtower that serves as sentry over the village is a great starting point. While you can’t enter it, it is easy to imagine the views from its peak.

The stone watchtower in the ruins of Trinidad in Paraguay

Nearby is the original church that served as the place of worship for the mission until the population grew past its ability to contain them all. The boys loved racing along the length of the building.

Boys run along the ruins of a church in la Santisima Trinidad de la Parana Jesuit ruins in Paraguay

Shops and Statues

As we made our way towards the main cathedral, we strolled through the various workshops where the natives would build and forge the items needed to run the mission, including the massive bells that sat in the towers of the cathedral.

A young boy examines the molds of bells in the workshops of the ruins of Trinidad in Paraguay

There is also a section that contains many of the archaeological finds from the ruins, including statues, facades and the thigh tiles used for the roofs of the structures. We learned that they were called “thigh tiles” because the clay pieces were actually shaped by being bent over the thighs of the workers.

A young boy checks out the archaeological finds of the ruins of Trinidad in Paraguay

Cathedral of Trinidad

The Cathedral in the Missions of La Santísima Trinidad de Paraná is nothing short of breathtaking. While not as large as that in Jesus de Tavarrangue, it has so much more in terms of artistry.

two young boys explore the ruins of the church of Trinidad at the Jesuit ruins in Paraguay

The tall walls still feature delicate arches, and even the remains of some of the statues can be seen mounted near the walls. The statues are all missing their heads, which were decapitated during the expulsion of the Jesuits and the ransacking of the missions.

The crypts of tribal leaders line the centre of the church of Trinidad at the Jesuit ruins of la Santisima Trinidad de la Parana in Paraguay

We had to remind the boys not to walk down the middle of the cathedral. The floors were lined with the crypts of the remains of the village chiefs buried beneath the stone floors. There is also the remains of a crypt beneath the sacristy, however, it has long since been emptied.

A young boy stands at the entrance of a crypt in the Jesuit ruins in Paraguay

Jesuit Missions in Paraguay with Kids as a Day Trip from San Ignacio, Argentina

Visiting the two missions in Paraguay made for an incredible day trip from San Ignacio, Argentina. San Ignacio is known for its own incredible Jesuit Mission, San Ignacio Mini. But it may leave you wanting more, so it’s great that these are so close by.

While the beautiful weather helped, the history and stress-free sight-seeing in Paraguay made for a truly unforgettable experience. The region is largely untouched. The boys were able to explore the ruins exactly how they love to, by touching, climbing, smelling and seeing everything that they wanted to. If you are in the region, it is well worth the time to visit for yourself.

A young family waves to a drone taking the photo in the Jesuit ruins in Paraguay

Heading back to Argentina

As we met back up with Jimmy for our return to Argentina, our conversation drifted back towards Matte and how everyone in the area seems to drink it religiously. We were lucky enough to meet up with a friendly crowd on the ferry ride across the Parana river and before long, the group of us were sharing a drink of this delicious tea and discussing all the incredible things we had seen that day.

A man pours a cup of matte for some travelers on the border ferry between Argentina and Paraguay

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About the Author

Kevin Wagar is a professional traveler and family travel expert living in the Greater Toronto Area. His beautiful wife Christina impressed on him her love of travel and they have made exploring the world an integral part of their life. With the birth of their two boys, Kevin and Christina have made it their mission to show others that traveling with children isn't as scary as it sounds and that kids can benefit from experiencing the world outside of their front door and beyond.

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  1. Great video of the ruins! The grounds are quite large and so well maintained. The red stones are so pretty. The archaeological finds section looks interesting, I would probably spend most of my time in there learning all about the roof tiles.

  2. What interesting ruins. Totally unlike others you’d expect to find. Makes sense with the revolution and such. I love the cool and unusual places you guys explore!

  3. Love to find like minded people! We always travel with the kids, too, and I blog about making it educational. These ruins look like something we would seek out, too! The perfect venue for kids to explore and learn and not worry about ‘being quiet’. LOL!

  4. I never think about visiting paraguay but these Jesuit ruins look super cool. And who knee you could get there from Argentina. Love the info here and I bet I would have as much fun exploring this place as the kids. Thanks!

  5. As a history major, I love ruins. There is so much story behind every piece of brick in that place. But also wanted to shout out your video, it’s fantastic! Must be such fun to travel with your little ones 🙂

  6. Love the post, but I’m just so distracted by the aerial video of the ruins! Wow! It’s funny how much more spectacular things can look from the air. I do love ruins though, no matter what perspective I have of them!

  7. The ruins look really cool especially from above. Its so awesome that your kids are getting to experience this part of history as well ( and do some photography on the side! ) Sure they will be adventurers when they grow up as well.

  8. Wow, these missions are perfect for photography. The clear sky, greenery and coloured buildings. I can imagine how the kids loved running around them. It’s great how you can see all these on a day trip from San Ignacio.

  9. I loved Tikal, too. These ruins look fascinating, and bonus that you got to take a little car ferry. Getting there is half the adventure. 🙂 Cool that the kids could climb and touch and run around outside. For my boys, that makes all the difference. Putting this on our list of places to go.

  10. I can’t resist getting a new stamp in my passport either so when I was visiting Chile this year I had to step into Argentina for a few days to get a new stamp in my passport (and drink some Malbec straight from its home). The ruins of Trinidad are amazing! I love how well the ruins of the entire city have been kept over the passing of the years. The Cathedral is indeed majestic! I also love the fact that you seem to have been almost alone there. This is how I like to explore places myself, when there are no other tourists around.

  11. This looks like a fantastic place to explore! I know my 5 year old wold have a blast. As a photographer, I’d love to go just to photograph everything. What a fun trip!

  12. These ruins are fabulous. I can’t get over how manicured the landscapes are surrounding them. the Paraguay government must truly take pride in their historic sites. I have longed to head to South America and visit these nations. I never would have considered Paraguay other than to visit my dad’s sponsored child, but these ruins show there is quite a lot to see there.

  13. I am a sucker for historical ruins too and am adding this one to my list! It’s just fascinating to me to see something that was built hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of years ago, and many times there is an interesting story behind its creation. Good tip about sunscreen – I don’t get burnt very easily but my boyfriend is extremely fair-skinned and can easily go through a bottle of sunscreen by himself on a weekend trip if there is enough sun! (He was the kid who had to wear a t-shirt in the pool so he wouldn’t burn… poor kid 😀 )

  14. Absolutely amazing views of the ruins. I will be in Paraguay in a couple of months and was wondering about places to visit whilst there. This undoubtedly goes into my list.

  15. Love the ruins. Wonderful to have an exotic place to run, touch and explore for your boys. We are also crazy about ruins and history. It is lovely to learn the history, then sit with the kids and imagine what it would have been like 🙂 Thanks for the great post.

  16. How awesome!

    We considered long and hard about visiting Paraguay, however for Australians there is a ridiculous $160US reciprocity fee (I blame our government, not theirs), so we baulked with that cost.

    The Jesuit missions were one of the things we’d have definitely loved to see!

    Thanks for taking us there!

  17. I’d love to visit Paraguay and the ruins, they look fascinating. Incredible that the roof tiles were made on men’s thighs! It must have been a real adventure for the boys, taking a boat, exploring the ruins and sharing the tea on the bus home – what a fabulous day.

  18. Wow. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know any of these existed. I love wandering around ruins, always so much fun to let the imagination run wild. I’m sure the children could come up with lots of stories. Thanks for teaching me something new today.

  19. This is wonderful, we have been inspired to add it to our list of places to visit later this year with our kids. I especially love how deserted and quiet the ruins appear to be! This is your best drone video yet, in my opinion! Very nicely done 🙂

  20. This place has true scenic beauty. I strongly believe that ruins have a beauty of their own and the same applies here. Every architecture is so unique. Love the history behind this place.

  21. You have captured some wonderful pictures of the ruins. We also like visiting these kind of places a lot. And on top of that, it looks like an offbeat place, can hardly see any crowd in your pictures. I will definitely check it out when I visit this part of the world

  22. I love exploring historical ruins, and they always photograph so well! Your photos look stunning and I hope I can see this for myself in Paraguay someday!

  23. Dear Kevin Wagar!
    I write to you because we are searching for a good oversight picture on the Jesuit missions i Paraguary. I am the editor of a book on Swedish mission history. We also include a shorter overview of international missions and there we also present the Jesuit missions in Paraguay with a short text and a picture. The fourth picture in this presentation above, under the heading “Visiting the Mission de Jesus de Tavarrangue” is just the best illustration we could find, so I would ask you for a permission to use it.
    The book is written in Swedish and has a limited circulation – only 1000 copies will be printed. We also struggle with a limited economy and try to keep the costs as low as possible, so either we ask to get it free or to buy it for a low fee.

    Ref. Discovering the Ruins of Jesuit Missions in Paraguay with Kids, February 19, 2017.

    Klas Lundström
    Ass. professor, Johannelund School of Theology, Uppsala, Sweden.

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