Sidronio Henrique Gomes de Araujo BrazilMax’s Bill Hinchberger in Argentina with Paraguay and Brazil in the background
Editor’s note: We usually stick to Brazil on BrazilMax, but since many visitors to the Iguassu Falls region also visit the Argentinean side, we’re going over the border ourselves – in two parts. This section deals mainly with the historic Jesuit missions. Another section deals with Iguazú Falls and the town of Puerto Iguazú. Both are excerpted from Moon Handbooks Argentina, published in 2004. Veteran guidebook author Wayne Bernhardson is a leading expert on Argentina. The prices listed have probably changed and are for reference only.
Almost surrounded by Brazil and Paraguay, mountainous Misiones has the highest-profile sights of any Mesopotamian province. In the upper Paraná drainage, shared with Brazil, the Cataratas del Iguazú (Iguazú Falls) draw visitors from around the world. The Jesuit-mission ruins of San Ignacio and across the border in Paraguay are a strong additional reason to visit the region.
Averaging about 500 meters above sea level, once covered with subtropical forest, the mountains of Misiones are fast giving way to plantations of tea, yerba mate and northern-hemisphere pines. In a few areas, coniferous native Araucaria forest still dominates the natural vegetation.
Along with its diverse ecology, Misiones has an epically rich history, thanks to its dense Guaraní population and the Jesuits who proselytized among them. In the early 17th century, the Jesuits abandoned their efforts among the nomadic hunter-gatherers of the Chaco for the Guaraní, shifting cultivators who were better candidates for missionization. In all, they founded 30 reducciones, populated with perhaps 100,000 Guaraní, in a territory that now comprises parts of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.
Hollywood rarely depicts history with any accuracy, but director Roland Joffe got it mostly right in his 1986 film The Mission, starring Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons. Joffe made an admirable effort at portraying the Jesuit experiment in organizing indigenous peoples and educating them not just as farmers but also as skilled craftsmen and even performing artists. He also deftly explained the political and economic intrigues of the time, as Portuguese malocas (slavers) and other Spanish settlers coveted the Jesuits’ productive yerba mate plantations and indigenous labor monopoly.
Eventually, under pressure from these interests, the Spanish king Carlos III expelled the Jesuits from the Americas in 1767. After the Jesuits’ expulsion, many of the indigenes fled to the forest and the missions fell into ruins, their walls pried apart by strangler figs and their Guaraní-carved sandstone statuary toppled.
After the South American states gained independence in the early 19th century, Misiones was the object of contention among various countries in an area where it took some time to fix international borders. After the megalomaniacal Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano López led his country into the hopeless War of the Triple Alliance (1865–1870) against Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, his catastrophic loss left Misiones in Argentine hands.
Administratively, Misiones became part of Corrientes Province, but as agricultural colonization proceeded from the west, Misiones broke off as a separate territory with Posadas as its capital. The arrival in 1912 of the Urquiza railway at Posadas provided a way for farmers to get their products to market.
Yerba mate remained the major product of enormous properties acquired under questionable circumstances. By the early 20th century, the federal government expropriated many of these lands and turned them over to agricultural colonists from many countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Paraguay, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Ukraine, the United States, and countries in Asia and the Middle East. The city of Oberá, in particular, celebrates its immigrant heritage in a major annual festival.
After the war against Paraguay, the growing city of Posadas became the territorial capital when Buenos Aires separated Misiones from Corrientes Province. Today, as the main commercial center for farming communities of the provincial interior, it’s also a major border crossing. For travelers, it’s important as an access point to the historic Jesuit missions of the upper Paraná, on both the Argentine and Paraguayan sides, and to Parque Nacional Iguazú.
Now capital of its province, Posadas is reclaiming part of its waterfront above the slowly encroaching waters of the downstream Yacyretá hydroelectric project, called “a monument to corruption” by former President Carlos Menem (who should know one when he sees one). In the downtown area, densely planted street trees help offset the summer heat and humidity.
On the south bank of the Río Paraná, opposite the smaller Paraguayan city of Encarnación, Posadas (population 280,454) is 1,007 kilometers north of Buenos Aires via RN 14 and RN 105, 324 kilometers east of Corrientes via RN 12, and 302 kilometers southwest of Puerto Iguazú, also via RN 12.
Formerly major avenues mark the limits of Posadas’s compact center: Avenida Corrientes to the west, Avenida Guacurarí to the north, Avenida Roque Sáenz Peña to the east, and Avenida Mitre to the south. Most services and points of interest, including the central Plaza 9 de Julio, lie within this area. An attractive new riverfront road, the Avenida Monseñor Kemerer, extends northwest from Avenida Roque Sáenz Peña. Avenida Mitre leads east to the graceful suspension bridge that links Posadas to Encarnación.
Posadas’s awkward street numeration continues to confuse nonresidents, as locals continue to prefer the old numbers to the new. Addresses below use the new system but in some cases they indicate the old numbers as well, and occasionally refer to precise locations, as some buildings lack numbers from either system.
Posadas Sights and Entertainment
On the east side of Plaza 9 de Julio, the Francophile (1883) was actually the work of an Italian, engineer Juan Col. On the north side of the plaza, the famed architect Alejandro Bustillo designed the twin-towered catedral (1937).
Ten blocks north of Plaza 9 de Julio, bounded by the riverfront, Parque República de Paraguay is home to the Museo Regional de Posadas Aníbal Cambas (Alberdi 600), which focuses on regional history including the Jesuit mission frontier. Hours are 7:30 a.m.- noon and 3-7 p.m. weekdays except Monday, 9 a.m.-noon and 5-8 p.m. Saturday, and 5-8 p.m. only Sunday and holidays.
Posadas’s newest attraction is the Museo Ferrobarcos, on the waterfront at the east end of Avenida Guacurarí, where trains between Buenos Aires and Asunción once shuttled across the river. Built in Glasgow in 1911, this rail ferry transported up to four passenger cars or eight cargo units at a time across the river from 1913 until 1990, when train service between the two countries ceased. Now staffed by retired railroad workers, it’s open 6 p.m.-midnight weekdays, 6 p.m.-2 a.m. weekends and holidays.
The Cine Sarmiento, (Córdoba between San Lorenzo and Ayacucho) shows recent movies. Teatro El Desván, (Sarmiento between Colón and San Lorenzo) is a well-established theater company.
For shoestring travelers, the Residencial Misiones (Avenida Azara 1960, tel. 03752/430133; US$5.50/9 s/d) is OK for a night. There’s much better value, though, at Hotel Colonial (Barrufaldi 2419, tel. 03752/436149; US$9/14 s/d).
Its maritime kitsch decor is, well, distinctive, but rooms on the upper floors at the high-rise Hotel de Turismo Posadas (Bolívar and Junín, tel. 03752/437104 US$9/14 s/d) enjoy river views from their prominent balconies. Rates are more than reasonable.
The rooms are a little makeshift but the mattresses are firm at friendly Le Petit Hotel (Santiago del Estero 1630, tel. 03752/436031, fax 03752/441101, firstname.lastname@example.org; US$11/16 s/d). The rates fit the service, though parking is two blocks away.
For US$16/19 s/d, the well-worn Hotel Libertador (San Lorenzo 2208, tel. 03752/436901, fax 03752/439448) has spacious rooms with a/c, and responsive personnel.
Overlooking Plaza 9 de Julio, the high-rise Hotel Continental (Bolívar 1879, tel. 03752/440990; US$19/27 s/d) is a good alternative. Posadas Hotel (Bolívar 1949, tel. 03752/440888; US$23/27 s/d) also deserves consideration.
The four-star Hotel Julio César (Entre Ríos 1951, tel. 03752/427930 US$27/34 s/d) is the city’s best.
Nouvelle Vitrage, on Plaza 9 de Julio at the corner of Bolívar and Colón, is the place for breakfast, coffee, and snacks, including desserts. Los Pinos (San Lorenzo and Buenos Aires, tel. 03752/427252) is the place to go for pizza and cold beer on tap. For river fish, try the simple takeaway El Doradito (Avenida Corrientes and La Rioja), which has only a couple of sit-down tables amidst the simplest of decor.
Posadas’s finest dining is at Diletto (Bolívar 1729, tel. 03752/449784); most entrees, such as their excellent gnocchi, fall into the US$2–5 range. Try the chocolate mousse for dessert. The parrilla La Querencia (Bolívar between Colón and Avenida Azara, tel. 03752/437117) is an outstanding backup choice.
The provincial Secretaría de Turismo (Colón 1985, tel. 03752/441539) offers a selection of simple maps and brochures for Posadas and the entire province. It’s open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m.-noon and 4-8 p.m. weekends and holidays.
For motorists, ACA is at Córdoba and Colón (tel. 03752/436955).
Cambios Mazza (Bolívar 1932) changes travelers checks. There are several ATMs in the vicinity of Plaza 9 de Julio, including the one at Banco Nazionale del Lavoro (Bolívar and Félix de Azara).
Correo Argentino is at Bolívar and Ayacucho; the postal code is 3300. Telecentro Bolívar is at Bolívar and Colón, at the southwestern corner of Plaza 9 de Julio; Posadas’s area code is 0752. Ciber Soft (Rivadavia and Santa Fe) has fast Internet connections.
Express Travel (Félix de Azara 2097, tel. 03752/437687) is the AmEx representative.
Hospital General R. Madariaga (Avenida López Torres 1177, tel. 03752/447775) is about one kilometer south of the downtown area.
Getting to Posadas
Posadas enjoys pretty good air connections to Buenos Aires, it’s a hub for provincial and long-distance buses, and rail service to Buenos Aires has been restored recently. There are also buses and launches across the border to Encarnación.
Less convenient but far better than the old downtown station, Posadas’s new Terminal de Ómnibus is at Avenida Quaranta and Avenida Santa Catalina, 44 blocks south and 14 blocks west of Plaza 9 de Julio (tel. 03752/454888). Buses to San Ignacio Miní (US$1.50, one hour) leave roughly hourly starting around 5:30 a.m.
Sample destinations, fares, and times include Corrientes (US$7, 4.5 hours), Resistencia (US$8, five hours), Puerto Iguazú (US$8, four hours) Buenos Aires (US$21–30, 12 hours) and Salta (US$27, 18 hours). There are also international services to Asunción, Paraguay (US$10, 5.5 hours), and to the Brazilian cities of Porto Alegre (US$24, 12 hours) and São Paulo (US$50, 24 hours).
Between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., international shuttle buses to Encarnación, Paraguay (US$.75), pass along Entre Ríos en route to the international bridge. With border formalities, the crossing can take up to an hour, but is normally faster.
Trenes Especiales Argentinos (TEA, at the east end of Avenida Córdoba) has reopened passenger train services on the Urquiza line to Buenos Aires’s Estación Federico Lacroze. Scheduled departures are 7 p.m. Wednesday and Sunday for the 24–25-hour trip.
Cheap local boats connect Posadas to Encarnación (US$.50) from the corner of Avenida Guacurarí, but they are mostly for locals - foreigners must still pass through immigration, which means trudging back to the international bridge.
Getting Around Posadas
From San Lorenzo between La Rioja and Entre Ríos, city bus No. 8 goes to Aeropuerto Internacional Posadas, 12 kilometers southwest of town via RN 12. A remise will cost about US$4.
City bus Nos. 8, 15, 21, and 24 all go to the long-distance bus terminal.
Near the town of Ituzaingó, in Corrientes Province, the massive Yacyretá-Apipé hydroelectric project has raised the level of the Río Paraná to form a 1,600-square-kilometer reservoir that reaches 80 kilometers east to Posadas and beyond. Plagued with corruption since its inception under Juan Perón in 1973 -the late caudillo’s last-gasp contribution to Argentina’s unsavory public works history - the biggest dam project on the continent has also helped raise Argentina’s foreign-debt burden to unsustainable levels.
It takes two to tango, and it took two countries to create the Argentine-Paraguayan Entidad Binacional Yacyretá (EBY), which in the process has displaced some 40,000 upstream residents, mostly on the Paraguayan side of the border. Despite a reputation for secrecy and authoritarianism, the EBY’s Oficina de Relaciones Públicas in Ituzaingó (Avenida 3 de Abril and Ingeniero Mermoz, tel. 03786/420050) offers free guided tours at 9 and 11 a.m. and 3:15 and 4:30 p.m. During the second Gulf War, though, they suspended tours for supposed security reasons (go figure!).
A museum at the visitors center shows artifacts discovered during construction, as well as a scale model of the project. Bus tours are well-organized, visiting the projects built to house construction workers in what was once a small village, but the guides themselves are on automatic pilot.
Hostería Yacyretá (Buenos Aires s/n, tel. 03786/420577, ; US$14/18 s/d, larger suites US$26) has a restaurant.
There are regular bus services to and from Posadas (US$2, one hour).
Trinidad and Jesús (Paraguay)
Immediately across the Paraná via the international bridge, the Paraguayan city of Encarnación barely merits a visit in its own right (though it’s morbidly fascinating to see the rising waters of Yacyretá dam slowly submerge its historic downtown). It’s well worth crossing the border, though, to see the nearby Paraguayan Jesuit missions of Trinidad and Jesús de Tavarangue. Together, they’re an essential complement to the missions on the Argentine side.
Both Trinidad and Jesús were relative latecomers in the Jesuit empire - Jesús, in fact, was still under construction when Carlos III expelled the Jesuits from the Americas in 1767. Trinidad dates from 1706, but took more than five decades to reach its completion in 1760 - only seven years prior to the Jesuits’ departure.
Trinidad, where more than 4,000 Guaraní once resided, sprawls across a grassy hilltop site, 28 kilometers northeast of Encarnación via Paraguay’s paved Ruta 6. Its pride was Jesuit architect Juan Bautista Prímoli’s well-preserved red sandstone church, with equally well-preserved details like its intricately sculpted pulpit and statuary (the Guaraní of Trinidad were known for their statuary but also for finely made musical instruments including bells, harps, and organs). On a more practical level, the mission supported itself with plantations of yerba mate and sugar (which they milled here), and three cattle estancias.
Jesús occupies a similar hilltop site, 11 kilometers north of Trinidad via a dirt road off Ruta 6 that can become difficult or impassable with heavy rain. While it lacks the architectural details of Trinidad - after all, Jesús was never finished - together with the older mission it makes an ideal half-day-plus excursion from Posadas. Opening times vary seasonally, but both generally stay open during daylight hours; each collects a token admission charge.
Buses from Encarnación’s central terminal, at Avenida Estigarribia and General Cabañas, pass within a kilometer of Trinidad and also go several times daily to Jesús. These are very cheap, but the trip can be done more efficiently (if more expensively) by hiring a taxi at the terminal.
Note that citizens of many countries, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Mexico need visas (US$45 single entry, US$65 multiple entry, three photos required) to enter Paraguay. The website of the Paraguayan Embassy in Canada offers a list of exempt nations and details on visa applications and fees in English. In Posadas, the Paraguayan consulate (San Lorenzo and Sarmiento, tel. 03752/423858, 7 a.m.–2 p.m. weekdays only) provides same-day visa service.
From Posadas, undulating RN 12 climbs and dips northeast over leached red soils past several Jesuit mission ruins, the best-preserved of which is San Ignacio Miní. Santa Ana and Loreto, while less well-preserved, both have their assets; during the 1990s, each was the beneficiary of assistance from the German and Italian governments, but progress in restoration has slowed since the end of European support. Both are national historical monuments.
Founded in 1637, Santa Ana once sustained a Guaraní population of more than 4,000, though more than half departed within two decades after the Jesuits’ expulsion. Only the mission walls remain, some still covered by strangler figs and other profuse tropical vegetation wedged between the cracks. Immediately alongside it, the disconcertingly open crypts and coffins of an abandoned 20th-century cemetery are a reminder that the Jesuit experiment was only the first failed settlement here.
Santa Ana is 43 kilometers east of Posadas and one kilometer southeast of RN 12 via a dirt road that becomes muddy when it rains; the junction is clearly marked, and buses from Posadas will drop passengers here. There is a small admission charge; hours are 7 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.
Work at Loreto, which dates from 1632 but moved here only in 1660, has lagged behind that of Santa Ana, but plaques with descriptive quotations from Jesuit priests help visitors imagine what the site might have been. (The Jesuits brought high culture to the South American wilds - including Martirologio Romano, or Roman Martirology, 1700, the first book ever printed within the territory now known as Argentina. It later appeared in Guaraní.)
The turnoff to Loreto is at Km 48, five kilometers beyond that to Santa Ana, but the site itself is three kilometers farther south of RN 12. Both Santa Ana and Loreto have small museums and cafés, and Loreto even offers decent accommodations for US$7 pp in spacious three-bed apartments with kitchen facilities.
Home to Argentina’s best-kept Jesuit-mission ruins, the village of San Ignacio is an essential stopover on the overland route to or from the famous falls at Iguazú. It also enjoys literary celebrity as the home of writer Horacio Quiroga, who produced some of his finest fiction in a residence that still survives here.
San Ignacio (population 6,286) is 56 kilometers northeast of Posadas via RN 12. From the highway junction, Avenida Sarmiento leads to Calle Rivadavia, which leads six blocks north to the ruins.
In terms of preservation, including the architectural and sculptural details that typify the style known as “Guaraní baroque,” San Ignacio Miní may be the most outstanding surviving example of the 30 missions built by the Jesuits in a territory that now comprises parts of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. It’s also a tourist favorite for its accessibility, surrounded as it is by the present-day village of San Ignacio.
San Ignacio’s centerpiece was Italian architect Juan Brasanelli’s monumental church, 74 meters long and 24 meters wide, with red sandstone walls two meters wide and ceramic-tile floors. Overlooking the settlement’s plaza, decorated by Guaraní artisans, it’s arguably the finest remaining structure of its kind; the adjacent compound included a kitchen, dining room, classrooms, and workshops. The priests’ quarters and the cemetery were also here, while more than 200 Guaraní residences - whose numbers reached 4,000 at the mission’s zenith in 1733 - surrounded the plaza.
Founded in 1609 in present-day Paraguay, San Ignacio Guazú moved to the Río Yabebiry in 1632 and to its present location in 1697, but declined rapidly with expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767. In 1817, Paraguayan troops under the paranoid dictator Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia razed what remained of the settlement.
Rediscovered in 1897, San Ignacio gained some notoriety after poet Leopoldo Lugones led an expedition to the area in 1903, but restoration work had to wait until the 1940s. Parts of the ruins are still precarious, supported by sore-thumb scaffolding that obscures the essential harmony of the complex but does not affect individual features.
Visitors enter the grounds through the Centro de Interpretación Regional, a mission museum (Alberdi between Rivadavia and Bolívar, 7 a.m.–7 p.m. daily, US$1). A nightly light-and-sound show lasts 50 minutes. There are small fees for both the museum and the show. Outside the exit, on Rivadavia, there’s a growing number of eyesore souvenir stands that detract from the mission’s impact.
Casa de Horacio Quiroga
One of the first Latin American writers to reject the city for the frontier, novelist, storyteller, and poet Horacio Quiroga (1878–1937) spent his prime of life in his self-built house overlooking the Paraná, only a short distance southeast of downtown San Ignacio. While he made writing his career, Quiroga also worked as a cotton farmer in the Chaco and as a charcoal maker in San Ignacio, and took notable photographs of San Ignacio’s Jesuit ruins, incorporating his outside interests into his literary work.
His life plagued by violence - Quiroga accidentally shot a youthful friend to death, and his stepfather and first wife both committed suicide - the writer lived here from 1910 to 1917, and again from 1931 until his own cyanide-induced death. The home itself is now a museum with furniture from the 1930s, photographs of his life, and personal belongings. This was not Quiroga’s first house, a replica of which (built for director Nemesio Juárez’s film Historias de Amor, de Locura y de Muerte (Stories of Love, Madness and Death, 1996) stands nearby.
The grounds of Quiroga’s house (Avenida Quiroga s/n; US$.75) are open 7 a.m. - dusk daily.
San Ignacio Accommodations
Just north of the bus terminal, Hospedaje Los Salpeterer (Centenario s/n, tel. 03752/470362), is a popular backpackers’ choice, charging US$3 pp for basic rooms with shared bath, US$4 pp with private bath. Camping costs only US$1.50 pp.
Another budget option is Hospedaje El Descanso (Pellegrini 270, tel. 03752/470207; US$3 pp with shared bath, US$7 d with private bath) is some distance south of the ruins, but has earned high marks for cleanliness and basic comforts. It also has camping spaces.
There are no luxury choices here, but Hotel San Ignacio (Sarmiento 823, tel. 03752/470047; US$8/11 s/d) has the most complete range of services.
San Ignacio Food
Three blocks south of the ruins, Pizzería la Aldea (Rivadavia s/n, tel. 03752/470567) serves fine pizza with varied toppings, and has attractive sidewalk seating to boot, but the owner will talk your head off even if you’re not keen to chat.
The restaurants near the ruins may be assembly-line operations geared toward large tour groups, but the standard Argentine menus are by no means bad if you can tolerate the crowds and swarms of urchins who want to wash your car and drag you to their restaurant of choice. Opposite the entrance to the ruins, try Don Valentín (Alberdi and Bolívar). Opposite the exit, there’s Liana Bert (Rivadavia 1133, tel. 03752/470151), or La Carpa Azul (Rivadavia and Azcuénaga) just to the north.
San Ignacio: Other Practicalities
San Ignacio has a new Oficina de Información Turística at the junction of RN 12 and Avenida Sarmiento.
Buses arrive and leave from the Terminal de Ómnibus at the west end of Avenida Sarmiento, but it’s also possible to flag down coaches along RN 12. The main destinations are Posadas (US$1.50, one hour) and Puerto Iguazú (US$7, three hours), but note that milk-run buses are considerably slower than express services.