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Baroque Music in the Bolivian Missions - Santa Cruz, La Paz and a jungle journey

Attend the International Festival of American Renaissance and Baroque Music held in the Jesuit Mission churches of north-east Bolivia.

World-renowned musicians perform alongside local school and university groups; repertoire is from Bolivia and beyond.

Exquisite colonial architecture in remote locations. 

Further exploration of native instruments and Bolivian dance in La Paz.

Option to add on a 6-night tour extension.

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The six UNESCO world heritage-site Chiquitos Indian mission stations are one of Bolivia’s great cultural riches. Located north-east of Santa Cruz in Bolivia’s lowlands, part of the Amazon basin, these remote colonial churches are simple, barn-like constructions of wood and adobe, gloriously painted inside and out with swirling floral patterns, angels and saints in modest shades of ochre and tan. Spiralling columns are crafted from entire tree trunks, and exquisitely carved retables and confessionals abound. Every two years they provide an extraordinary backdrop and context for the performance of Baroque music.

The biennial festival of American Renaissance and Baroque Music is based in Santa Cruz but spreads through this precious chain of enchanting jungle churches and attracts performers and scholars from the Americas, Europe and the Far-East. All are eager to join the proud and friendly local musicians and communities who are passionate about their musical heritage, a legacy from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which saw the fusion of European and Indian cultures. The inspiration flows in both directions, with concerts in these vast cathedrals full to capacity (the locals leave just a few rows at the front free for visitors such as ourselves) creating a magical and unique atmosphere, seemingly frozen in time and yet flourishing and alive.

Musical traditions in these settlements go back over four hundred years but much of the distinctive local Baroque sacred music was found in the 1990s during a restoration process which uncovered over twelve thousand manuscripts. The music, mostly anonymous, but written by European - notably Dominico Zipoli - and indigenous composers, is lively, energetic and colourful with the joy and freshness of a young Vivaldi. Instrumental accompaniments appear simple on the page but inventories show a lavish musical resource was available including many harps, woodwind of various kinds, harpsichord, organ and strings including tromba marinas. Texts are mostly liturgical and in Latin but also feature native languages.

Further evidence of the inherent rich musicality of Bolivians throughout the ages, as well as their great dance traditions that dominate regular festivals, can be witnessed in the museums of La Paz. Pre-hispanic instruments such as giant pan-pipes and bamboo violins sit alongside colourful masks and vivid textiles, brought to life with dramatic displays.


Optional tour extension: Uyuni, Sucre

2–9 May 2020 (6 extra nights)
Led by a Bolivian national guide


In the hands of a trusted national guide, and our tour manager should numbers permit, we offer the opportunity to remain in Bolivia and discover more than its musical history.

The imposing Cerro Rico, (‘rich mountain’), that overlooks Potosí is a constant reminder of the prosperity of the seventeenth-century silver rush. These fortunes endowed Sucre with a beautifully preserved historic centre and rich museum collections. Seat of an important university, it was here that liberal thinking sparked ideas of independence, eventually declared in 1825, establishing Sucre as the nation’s capital.

Some would say a visit to Bolivia would not be complete without glimpsing the vast, bleached expanse of the Uyuni salt flats. Formerly a series of huge lakes, water still exists deep beneath the surface, causing honeycomb-shaped cracks to form as liquid continuously saturates the crust and dries. With a surface are of around ten thousand square kilometres it is easy to escape the crowds and feel very far from the jungles of the north-east.   


Day 1 (23 April)

Fly at c. 5.30pm from London Gatwick to Santa Cruz, travelling overnight via Madrid (Air Europa; Madrid–Santa Cruz c. 12 hours in the air). If you are not travelling with the group from London your room is available from 2.00pm today.


Day 2 (24 April)

Santa Cruz. Land in Santa Cruz at c. 5.30am and transfer to the hotel for a free day to recover. There is an introductory lecture to prepare for the journey ahead. First of two nights in Santa Cruz.


Day 3

Santa Cruz. A morning excursion to Biocentro Güembé provides an insight into Bolivia’s flora and fauna with 24 hectares of exotic plants and animals, a butterfly dome and an aviary. Afternoon visits in the centre of the city include the folklore museum and cathedral. Evening concert in either the chapel of the former school of arts or the 19th cent. church of San Roque.


Day 4

San José. Drive from Santa Cruz to San José (c. 4½ hours), founded in 1696. Dominating one side of the huge and dusty main square is the mission complex, a defensive compound that housed the Jesuit college behind the elegant Baroque stone façades of the church, chapel and bell tower. Evening concert in the church. Overnight San José.


Day 5

San Rafael, Santa Ana, San Ignacio. Drive to San Rafael (c. 3 hours) where the wooden church was completed in 1749 by Swiss missionary Fr. Martin Schmid, whose music usually features on festival programmes. The church at Santa Ana was probably constructed entirely by the indigenous population after the expulsion of the Jesuits between 1770 and 1780 and overlooks a grassy square where donkeys and chickens roam. Evening concert in the cathedral of San Ignacio, a reconstruction of the original mission church but still home to the original Baroque altarpieces. Overnight San Ignacio.


Day 6

San Miguel, Concepción. A morning excursion to San Miguel where, once more, the 1721 mission church shines in its humble surroundings. Visit a workshop producing elaborate cedar carvings in the Baroque style. Continue to Concepción (3½ hours) whose church is the most lavishly decorated with much gold leaf. A substantial musical archive was uncovered here and a museum documents its discovery, along with the restoration of the mission churches. Evening concert and overnight in Concepción.


Day 7

San Javier, Santa Cruz, La Paz. Drive back to Santa Cruz via San Javier, the first mission town to be established in the region. The carved retable of the church depicts the Jesuit missionaries at work. Fly from Santa Cruz to La Paz in the late afternoon (Boliviana de Aviación, BOA), arriving in time for dinner. First of three nights in La Paz.


Day 8

La Paz. The sprawling city of La Paz overflows from its mountainous basin 3,500m above sea level and is best traversed and viewed from an excellent network of cable cars. Morning visit to the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore with its fascinating collection of carnival masks as well as ceramics and textiles. An afternoon walk through the historic centre takes in the Witches’ Market, a hub of herbal medicine and magical cures, and the main square with cathedral and presidential palace. A demonstration at the Museum of Musical Instruments is followed by a private show of Bolivian dance (subject to confirmation).


Day 9

La Paz. San Francisco is the city’s finest colonial church and houses an interesting exhibition of religious art and furniture. The National Museum of Art, housed in an elegant baroque palace, contains an extensive collection of sacred, colonial works. Free afternoon. Dinner is at Gustu, ranked number 28 on San Pellegrino’s list of 50 best restaurants in Latin America – and the only entry for Bolivia.


Day 10

Tiwanaku, Santa Cruz. Morning visit to the archaeological site of Tiwanaku, once home to an impressive civilisation, established around 1200 BC, that by 400 AD controlled the entire Titicaca basin. Excellent museums display ceramics and monoliths excavated from the site. If taking the tour only, continue to La Paz airport for a late afternoon flight back to Santa Cruz. Overnight Santa Cruz. If taking the optional extension, fly in the early evening to Uyuni (3,656m above sea level). First of two nights at a salt hotel on the edge of the flats.


Day 11

Fly at c. 11.45am from Santa Cruz to Madrid, arriving at c. 5.00am the following day.


Day 12

Fly from Madrid to London Gatwick arriving c. 8.45am.


Optional tour extension: Uyuni, Sucre

2–9 May 2020 (6 extra nights)
Led by a Bolivian national guide


Day 10 (Saturday 2 May)

La Paz, Uyuni. As above, but fly in the early evening to Uyuni (3,656m above sea level). First of three nights at a salt hotel on the edge of the flats.


Day 11

Salar de Uyuni. All day excursion by jeep on Bolivia’s dramatic salt flats. See abandoned steam trains that once carried ore from the mines here, and visit one of the few families permitted to extract and process the salt. Lunch is on the flats, while a short uphill walk (and then downhill: c. 1 hour total) on the cactus-studded Incahuasi island provides more panoramic views.


Day 12

Salar de Uyuni. Learn more about the salt extraction process by visiting salt hills and salt blocks. Continue to Coquesa where a cave of mummies was discovered on the slopes of Tunupa volcano.


Day 13

Uyuni, Sucre. Early afternoon flight from Uyuni to Sucre, via La Paz (airline: Amaszonas), arriving in time for dinner.


Day 14

Sucre. The cathedral displays a range of architectural styles from Baroque to Neoclassical; see also the adjoining art museum. The Bolivian Act of Independence was signed in the Casa de la Libertad, which now houses a history museum. Continue to the treasury museum with an overview of the different metals, minerals and semi-precious stones and the mining process. The convent of La Recoleta documents the work of Franciscan missionaries with a substantial collection of art and artefacts, while the museum of indigenous art displays beautiful weavings.


Day 15

Sucre, Santa Cruz. Morning flight from Sucre back to Santa Cruz for your final night in Bolivia.


Day 16

Fly at c. 12.15pm from Santa Cruz to Madrid, arriving at c. 5.00am the following day.

Day 17

Fly from Madrid to London Gatwick arriving c. 9.00am.

Price, per person

Two sharing: £6,190 or £5,490 without international flights. Single occupancy: £6,660 or £5,960 without international flights.



International flights (economy class) with Air Europa via Madrid (aircraft: Boeing 737 & Airbus 330); 2 domestic flights with BOA (Boeing 737); travel by private coach or jeep; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 8 lunches (including 1 box lunch) and 9 dinners with wine (where available), water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer, tour manager and local guide.



The full programme is announced in early 2020. We will endeavour to include as many concerts as possible by both international professionals and local amateurs. This may involve adjusting our itinerary for days 4–7.



We book the best available hotels in the mission towns, which are 2–3 star by European standards.

Hotel los Tajibos, Santa Cruz: 5-star resort hotel with comfortable rooms, good restaurants and a pool. Hotel Villa Chiquitana, San José: friendly, family-run with simple rooms. Hotel la Misión, San Ignacio: an attractive hotel on the town’s main square. Gran Hotel Concepción: a converted colonial house, with well kept gardens and simple rooms. Suites Camino Real, La Paz: modern, reliable 5-star chain hotel with large rooms, located in an upscale area of La Paz. Single rooms throughout are doubles for sole use.


How strenuous?

This is a strenuous tour and a good level of fitness and stamina are essential. It begins with an overnight flight and has a number of hotel changes. There are some long drives, often on unpaved, bumpy roads with little opportunity for comfort stops. While there is not a huge amount of walking, uneven ground is standard.

La Paz is 3,500m above sea level. It can take time to aclimatise and anyone with heart or respiratory problems should seek advice from their doctor before booking. Additional travel insurance cover may be required.

Average distance by coach per day: 75 miles.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?


Group size

Between 10 and 22 participants.


Travel advice

Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.



Optional tour extension: Uyuni, Sucre

2–9 May 2020 (6 extra nights)
Led by a Bolivian national guide


Supplement, per person

Two sharing: £1,590.Single occupancy: £1,860.


4 domestic flights with BOA (Boeing 737) and Amaszonas (Embraer 190); travel by private vehicle; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 2 lunches and 4 dinners with wine (where available), water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of a local guide.


Tour leader

This extension is led by a Bolivian national guide. Should numbers reach 10, the tour manager of Baroque Music in the Bolivian Missions will also accompany the group.



Hotel Luna Salada, Uyuni: a hotel constructed entirely from salt. Comfortable rooms and a good restaurant. Hotel Parador Santa María la Real, Sucre: an attractive hotel in a converted 18th century mansion with traditional and antique décor.


How strenuous?

This extension involves a lot of walking in town centres, where coach access is restricted, and a lot of standing in museums and churches. Walking shoes would be appropriate for the visit to the salt flats and Incahuasi island. Altitude remains an issue, particularly in Uyuni at 3700m above sea level.Average distance by coach per day: 80 miles. 

Group size

Between 3 and 22 participants.