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A musical journey through Bolivia: the Music Route

The Bolivian Music Route is an unprecedented touristic and spiritual journey promoted by the Franciscans in Bolivia. This route explores the legacy of the Jesuits and Franciscans who evangelized two indigenous peoples, the Guarayos and the Chiquitos, overcoming the natural barriers of language through music.

Almost every town in the region has at least one school of music. Among them, Urubichá stands out with the “Urubichá Choir and Orchestra”, with more than 700 students enrolled and 130 alumni who work as music teachers in different places in the Bolivian east.

The orchestra’s musical trajectory is significant, making it an authentic cultural ambassador of Bolivian culture around world, performing in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland, Norway, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Chile and Argentina. The orchestra has been awarded the Bartolomé de las Casas and Hans Roth prizes, among others.

Missions in the Guarayo Territory

To get to know this unique route, the best starting point is the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. From there, pilgrims can go to Ascensión de Guarayos by any means of transportation, covering at least 300 kilometers. Once in Ascención, a legendary road begins. This route has everything to do with the history of the South American continent, as told through the Franciscan missions of Guarayos and Chiquitos.

As with any other route, pilgrims who want to discover the Music Route should wear comfortable clothes and make sure they have the essentials with them –especially water. But for this particular route, one must also make a series of decisions regarding the places one wants to cover.

The towns making up the Guarayos Missions are Ascensión de Guarayos, Yaguarú, Urubichá, Yotaú, San Pablo, and Salvatierra. Pilgrims can reach these missions in different ways: by bus, by car, and even on foot. The distances separating one mission from another can go from 20 to 40 kilometers.

The legacy of the Jesuits

The road continues through the old Jesuit missions in the Chiquito area. Early in the 1900s, the Franciscans took care of the missions abandoned in the previous century. They rebuilt most of these churches and worked in the preservation of the immense Baroque musical patrimony preserved in these churches, undertaking the reconstruction of the missions of San Rafael, San Miguel, Concepción, San Javier and San José de Chiquitos.

These churches, declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1990, are a source of pride for Bolivia, and one of the most important tourist destinations in South America. Although not a World Heritage Site, the Mission of Santiago de Chiquitos is equally impressive. It is the perfect place to end the Music Route.

How to walk this Route

The Music Route does not have a set beginning or end. The pilgrim can design his or her own itinerary, considering that many of the routes cannot be walked through in their entirety, due to the enormous distances involved: South America is indeed a huge continent.

The routes can be designed in many different ways. For example, pilgrims can walk from Ascensión to Yaguarú and then to Urubichá. Afterwards, they can visit Salvatierra, back to Urubichá and then back to Ascensión. The missions of San Miguel, Santa Ana and San Rafael are also found in this area. These missions are very close to each other and can be included in the route if desired.

Similarly, pilgrims traveling the Music Route can begin their trip with the missions in Chiquitos and end in Guarayos. In this case, it is best to start from San José de Chiquitos until reaching San Ramón. Once there, the bus ride to Guarayos will take the pilgrim to the second half of the journey.

Bolivian Music Route

This post is also available in: Español Italiano

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