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Visiting the Village of San Ignacio in Misiones Province

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 Iguazú’s famous falls. 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 (pop. about 7,000) 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.

San Ignacio Miní

In terms of preservation, including the architectural and sculptural details that typify “Guaraní baroque,” San Ignacio Miní is one of the best surviving examples of the 30 Jesuit missions in the region. It’s a tourist favorite for its accessibility in the midst of 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 thick and ceramic tile floors. Overlooking the 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 inhabitants numbered 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 it declined rapidly with the Jesuits’ expulsion in 1767. In 1817, Paraguayan troops under paranoid dictator Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia razed what remained.

Rediscovered in 1897, San Ignacio gained some notoriety after poet Leopoldo Lugones led an expedition here in 1903, but restoration had to wait until the 1940s. Parts of the ruins are still precarious, supported by sorethumb scaffolding that obscures the complex’s essential harmony 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$7, valid for other Jesuit sites in the province). A nightly light-and-sound show, lasting 50 minutes, costs an additional US$7. Outside the exit, on Rivadavia, eyesore souvenir stands 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 the prime of life in his self-built house overlooking the Paraná just southwest of downtown San Ignacio. While he made writing his career, Quiroga also worked as a cotton farmer and charcoal maker. He took notable photographs of San Ignacio’s Jesuit ruins, incorporating his outside interests into his writing.

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 is now a museum with 1930s furniture, photographs of his life, and personal belongings. This was not Quiroga’s first house; a replica of that, 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$0.50) are open 7 a.m.–dusk daily.

Other Practicalities

At the junction of RN 12 and Avenida Sarmiento, the helpful Oficina de Información Turística is open 7:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m.–6 p.m. daily. Banco Macro (San Martín and Sarmiento) has an ATM.

Buses arrive and leave from the new Terminal de Ómnibus across the highway from the tourist office. The main destinations are Posadas (1 hour, US$3) and Puerto Iguazú (3 hours, US$9). Milk-run buses are considerably slower than express services.

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