Panorama of the Week: The World’s Loneliest UNESCO Site


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Have you ever wondered which UNESCO World Heritage site is the least visited?

When we heard a rumor calling out the Jesuit ruins in the towns of Trinidad and Jesus in Paraguay as the least appreciated UNESCO World Heritage site, we figured they were worth a visit.

UNESCO site of Jesuit Ruins in Trinidad and Jesus, Paraguay
The least-visited United Nations world heritage site – the Jesuit ruins at Trinidad, Paraguay.

The back-story of these ruins is a rather fascinating — and inspiring one: a community founded on the ideals of education, sustainable agriculture and integration — almost 300 years ago.

The Jesuit communities of Trinidad and Jesus attempted to set an example. The European Jesuits learned Guarani, the local language, and they worked with the local indigenous people with a vision of creating a community focused on education and cooperation. Contrast this to the competing tradition of their contemporaries: keeping the local indigenous Guarani people as slaves.

Unsurprisingly, the Jesuit approach to the Guarani didn't sit so well with colonialists and settlers whose businesses depended upon slave labor. Eventually, the Spanish government expelled the Jesuits in 1767.

UNESCO Site and Jesuit ruins in Paraguay
A fisheye shot up into the main catedral on the grounds of the UNESCO Jesuit ruins in Trinidad.

All that remains of their progressive slice of history are the brick skeletons of settlements, churches and courtyards strewn across a green field in the middle of nowhere in Paraguay.

The idealists in us hope that the ideas of education, sustainability and community would be more accepted and successful today.

About Audrey Scott
Audrey Scott is a writer, storyteller, speaker and tourism development consultant. She aims to help turn people's fears into curiosity and connection. She harbors an obsession for artichokes and can bake a devastating pan of brownies. You can keep up with her adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about her on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

14 thoughts on “Panorama of the Week: The World’s Loneliest UNESCO Site”

  1. @Slava: Yes, we created the panorama ourselves. If you click on this link, you’ll see other panoramas we’ve done from other parts of the world.

    We use a fisheye lens (8mm) and stitch together the 4-5 photos using a type of special software. Glad you enjoy it!

    @Andi & Kyle: I think a family showed up before we left, but that was it. It was a bit sad to see so few people. Given our interaction with the ticket office, it doesn’t seem like a lot of travelers make it this way.

    @Jennifer: This part of southern Paraguay and northern Argentina used to have many Jesuit missions like this. Very sad to think that they were driven out because of their mission.

    As for vaccinations, I’d recommend Hepatitis A & B, tetanus (if booster is needed), and typhoid. These are the standard vaccinnations for traveling in tropical or developing countries so if she’s done other travel in Latin America or Asia, she’s probably already covered. We did not take any malaria medication when in Paraguay, but this may also be recommended depending upon the time of year she’s traveling and where she’s going.

  2. What a stark and lonely picture! I have a lot of empathy for the Jesuits – their hearts were in the right place.

    As a side note, what kind of vaccinations did you need to visit Paraguay? I have a friend who is taking a trip there this fall.

  3. @Jennifer: Good question about yellow fever. The vaccination is required for Bolivia and when we were in Argentina there were reports of outbreaks in the northern areas. To be on the safe side, your friend should get the vaccination. But, if she’s going to be in more urban areas she’ll likely be fine without it. We didn’t have any medical problems during our visit to Paraguay.

  4. Thanks Dan and Audrey, my friend is still deciding on vaccinations. I was surprised yellow fever isn’t a problem as I know that in some tropical countries the mosquitos carry it.

  5. Great pano! I love the details in the brickwork. What a shame it’s so unvisited.. The emptiness reminds me of my visit to Tantallon Castle in Scotland in the winter. I literally had it to myself. Tantallon was definitely on the minor end of Scottish ruins, though.

  6. @Mark: Good eye – the brickwork was impressive. What you can’t see in this panorama is the layout of the community – it was strategically and logically planned for agriculture and community involvement. Quite impressive.

    @Jenny: It is impossible to hit everywhere, especially in such a huge continent as South America. Much better to choose a few things than to go crazy running around. Not many people make it to Paraguay, so you won’t find many other travelers at any sight there.

  7. Was not familiar with this site in Paraguay so appreciate your excellent panoramic photograph and the post. A shame that Paraguay does not market this Unesco recognized destination more as it looks beautiful and probably surrounded by lovely nature, farmland and interesting communities where Guarani quite likely is still a common language. Seems to have much to offer to the traveler who makes it there! Thank you for sharing.

  8. @GCG: Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I think Paraguay is really at the very beginning stages of tourism promotion. As a result, Trinidad and Jesus (and their Jesuit history) go relatively untouched and not well understood. To me, the history underlying those ruins is fascinating and indicative of colonial development in Paraguay and in general South America.

    If you’d like to go a bit off the beaten path, then Paraguay is definitely a place to do it.

  9. I’m not surprised so few people go there. I’m currently on assignment in Asunción for two weeks, had hoped to visit the ruins at the weekend. Not enough time to do it by local bus so looked for an organised tour – cheapest I could find, using local contacts, costs >$400! I’ll just have to satisfy myself with the botanical gardens in Asunción instead…

    • Louise, that is crazy. Can’t even fathom how a company could charge that much to see these sites. It’s not like Paraguay is huge and you have to travel overnight to get here. Enjoy yourself at the botanical gardens and don’t worry about missing this site 🙂

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