Heading northeast from Posadas along the RN-12, the first mission site you come to, after approximately 40km, is Santa Ana (daily 7am–7pm). A signposted, unsealed road just south of Santa Ana village leads to the mission entrance and a small visitors’ centre. Originally founded in the Tapé region in 1633, Santa Ana was refounded, with a population of two thousand Guaraní, on its present site after the bandeirante attacks of 1660. Like all the reducciones, Santa Ana is centred on a large square, to the south of which stand the crumbling walls of what was once one of the finest of all Jesuit churches, built by the Italian architect Brazanelli, whose body was buried underneath the high altar. A lot of work has been carried out on the site, yet the roots and branches of trees are still entangled in the reddish sandstone of the buildings around the plaza, offering a glimpse of the way the ruins must have appeared when they were rediscovered in the late nineteenth century. North of the church, on the site of the original orchard, you can still make out the channels from the reducción’s sophisticated irrigation system.
Around 12km north of Santa Ana, the ruins of Loreto (daily 7am–7pm) are even wilder than those of Santa Ana. This site, founded in 1632, was one of the most important of all the Jesuit missions, housing six thousand Guaraní by 1733 and noted not only for its production of cloth and yerba mate but also for having the missions’ first printing press. Like Santa Ana, Loreto has a small visitors’ centre at its entrance, reached via a six-kilometre stretch of unsealed road (impassable after heavy rain), which branches off the RN-12. Restoration work is being carried out with the assistance of the Spanish government. When you head out from the visitors’ centre to the reducción itself, it’s actually difficult at first to work out where the buildings are. After a while, though, you begin to see the walls and foundations of the settlement, heavily camouflaged by vegetation and lichen, on which tall palms have managed, fantastically, to root themselves.