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Paraguay

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Travel Guide South America Paraguay

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Introduction

Rural road

Rural road

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While Paraguay may not boast all the recognition and acclaim its South American neighbours receive, this inconspicuous nation has plenty to charm its visitors with. The graceful capital, Asuncion, nestles itself alongside the intersection of the Rio Paraguay and Rio Pilcomayo. In the north, the Gran Chaco stretches across the nation, offering the traveller a perfect opportunity to enjoy the vast, relatively untouched wilderness area. Due to its large variety of flora and fauna, the Gran Chaco is a hot spot for eco-tourism.

Unlike many of its South American neighbours, Paraguay is a fairly safe destination and has remained a comparatively stable nation over the last decade.

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Brief History

Almost no archaeological research has been done in Paraguay, and the pre-Columbian history of the country is poorly documented. What is certain is that the eastern part of the country was occupied by Guaraní Indians for at least 1,000 years before the Spanish conquest. Evidence indicates that those indigenous inhabitants developed a fairly sophisticated level of political autonomy, with quasi-sedentary, multivillage chiefdoms.

Europeans first arrived in the area in the early sixteenth century, and the settlement of Asunción was founded on August 15, 1537, by the Spanish explorer Juan de Salazar y Espinoza. The city eventually became the center of a Spanish colonial province, as well as a primary site of the Jesuit missions and settlements in South America in the eighteenth century. The colony was economically unimportant to the Spanish crown, and the distance of its capital from other new cities on the continent virtually ensured the territory’s isolation.
Paraguay declared its independence after overthrowing the local Spanish administration on May 14, 1811.

Paraguay's history has been characterized by long periods of political instability and infighting, and devastating wars with its neighbors. Paraguay fought the War of the Triple Alliance against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, and was defeated in 1870 after five years of the bloodiest war in South America.
Following political turmoil during the first three decades of the 20th century, Paraguay went to war again, this time with Bolivia. From 1932 to 1935, approximately 30,000 Paraguayans and 65,000 Bolivians died in fighting over possession of the Chaco region.
Between 1904 and 1954, Paraguay had thirty-one presidents, most of whom were removed from office by force. In 1954, General Alfredo Stroessner took advantage of the strong link between the armed forces and the Colorado Party to overthrow the government; he ruled until 1989.

Although dictatorschip is over, there is social conflict caused by underemployment and the enormous gap between the rich and the poor. Positive steps to correct these inequities have occurred since the 1989 ousting of the last dictator, and the country is moving toward a fully functioning democracy. Leftist former bishop Fernando Lugo achieved a historic victory in Paraguay's presidential election in April 2008, defeating the ruling party candidate and ending 61 years of conservative rule.

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Geography

Paraguay shares international borders with Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina. The country lies between latitudes 19° and 28°S, and longitudes 54° and 63°W. The (south)eastern parts of the country mainly contains of (sub)tropical forests while the (north)western parts are actually quite dry, including the famous Gran Chaco. The Paraguay River splits the country into these regions. Both the eastern region and the western region are drained into the Paraguay River. With the Paraneña region reaching southward and the Chaco extending to the north, Paraguay straddles the Tropic of Capricorn and experiences both subtropical and tropical climates.

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Regions

  • Gran Chaco - The large, wild, semi-arid plains in the northwest of the country.
  • Paraná Plateau - The forested highlands in Paraguay's east, along the Paraná River, home to the second largest city of Ciudad del Este, just over the river from Iguaçu Falls.
  • Northern Paraneña
  • Southern Paraneña - Home to the population center of the country, in and around Asunción.

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Cities

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Sights and Activities

Jesuit Missions

Jesuit Missions

Jesuit Missions

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The Paraguayan Jesuit Missions of La Santísima Trinidad de Paraná and Jesús de Tavarangue are located near the city of Encarnacion in the extreme south of the country near the border with Argentina. These missions are a reminder of the Jesuit's Christianization of the Rio de la Plata basin in the 17th and 18th centuries. On top of that they are of artistic value as well. For this reason they are placed on the Unesco World Heritage List.

Gran Chaco

The Gran Chaco is sometimes called "the last South American frontier" as it is a huge and sparsely populated, hot and semi-arid lowland region which, although locted in four countries (including Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia) is a major part of Paraguay itself as well. The most impressive and empty parts are in the west and north of the country and getting there requires lots of time and patience.

Tree in Filadelfia, Paraguay

Tree in Filadelfia, Paraguay

© All Rights Reserved Rraven


The main gateway is Filadelfia, but other than that there is not much here. There are however some parks created and with some luck you might be able to see some elusive wildlife. Birds are abundant though.

Itaipu Dam

Most people visit the Itaipu Dam from the Brazilian side but in fact the hydroelectric dam on the Paraná River is located on the border between Brazil and Paraguay and you can easily visit it from the latter country as well. This is the largest operational hydroelectric power plant in the Americas and visiting it is possible from Ciudad del Este, which is about 15 kilometres south. Either go on a tour or travel their by public transport. Visiting the site itself is always on scheduled tours with multi language guides.

Other sights and activities

One of the stunnings sunsets over Rio Paraguay

One of the stunnings sunsets over Rio Paraguay

© All Rights Reserved snatterand

  • Mennonite villages are located in Nuevo Australia, Cosme and others.
  • Asuncion, although it is not as big and impressive as many other Latin American capitals, there is a certain charm about this place and many travellers love it here. Read more in the Asuncion article.
  • Rivers and river journeys on the Rio Paraguay, Rio Parana, Rio de la Plata

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Weather

Paraguay's climate ranges from tropical in the northeast to sub-tropical in the south. The north generally has warm to hot conditions year-round with temperatures exceeding 40 °C during the hotter months of November to April. Although this also applies to the southwest, this area has lower temperatures during the wintermonths of June to September with Asuncion having highs around 24 °C and lows that can drop below 10 °C during these months. Most of the rain falls in the summermonths, both in the north as well as in the south.

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Getting there

Plane

Silvio Pettirossi International Airport (ASU) receives almost every international flight and TAM Mercosur is the main airline. Destinations are mainly to neighbouring countries and include Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Montevideo Santiago de Chile and Cochabamba and Santa Cruz in Bolivia. Aerolíneas Argentinas and Gol fly there to from a few cities in Argentina and Brazil. Asuncion's local bus line 30-A links the city center with the airport's terminal.

Guarani International Airport (AGT) near Ciudad del Este has flights with TAM Linhas Aéreas and Mercosur to Sao Paulo, Santiago and Buenos Aires as well.

By Car

Crossings from Brazil and Argentina are relatively straightforward. To and from Bolivia is a long journey across very thinly populated area and with generally very hot weather and rough roads. Be prepared and have your documentation and insurance in order, as well as an international driver's licence.

By Bus

There are border crossings from Paraguay to and from Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina. To and from Brazil, the main crossings are between Ciudad del Este and Foz do Iguacu and between Pedro Juan Caballero and Ponta Pora for onward travel to the southern Pantanal.
To and from Bolivia, there are direct buses between Asuncion across the Gran Chaco all the way to Santa Cruz, taking about two days.

By Boat

Boats cross into Asuncin and Encarnacin from Argentina, and from Concepcin to Isla Margarita on the Brazilian border is possible as well.

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Getting Around

By Plane

TAM Mercosur is the main carrier with flights between Asuncion and several other cities, including Ciudad del Este.

By Train

There are no domestic rail services in Paraguay.

By Car

Several of the main roads in Paraguay are in an acceptable condition, but potholes are a main concern and some roads can be impassable after heavy rains. Many other roads are unsurfaced and in a depressing state. Renting a car is possible at Asuncion and several other towns as well as on the international airports. Traffic drives on the right and both a national driver's licence or international driving permit are accepted.

By Bus

Nuestra Señora de la Asunción and La Encarnacena are just a few of the bus companies which have at least daily services to almost all major cities and towns in the country, except the more remote places in the Gran Chaco region.

By Boat

There are passenger boats from Asuncion and Concepcion along the Rio Paraguay to a number of river ports north of here.

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Red Tape

Citizens of Mercosur member countries (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela) as well as of Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia do not need a passport to enter the country, only an identity card (cédula de identidad). All other visitors travelling to Paraguay are required to carry a valid passport. Visas are not required for visitors from European Union countries (including the UK), Central and South American countries, as well as South Korea, Japan, Israel, and South Africa. Visas are required for citizens of Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Canada. Travellers of all other nationalities should check the visa requirements for their country with the nearest Paraguayan Embassy before travelling to Paraguay.

Visas must be obtained in advance through the Paraguayan Embassy or Consulate, as they are not available upon entry to the country. The tourist stamp is valid for 90 days.

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Money

See also Money Matters
The currency is the guaraní (plural guaraníes), indicated by ‘G’. Banknote values are 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 50,000 and 100,000 guaraníes; there are 50, 100 and 500 coins, but they are relatively rare.

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Language

Related article: Spanish: Grammar, pronunciation and useful phrases

Spanish and Guaraní are the official languages of Paraguay.

Most people in Paraguay speak Spanish and use of English is very limited. Outside of Asunción and big cities Guarani is all you will hear. Due to the extensive use of Guarani, even those who have managed to learn Spanish do not always speak it very well.

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Eat

Paraguayan food is one of the most diverse in South America. Paraguayans usually enjoy typical food several times a week all year round. You'll find much of the standard South American cuisine here with some Brazilian influence as well. Paraguayan food isn't particularly spicy, so those who can't tolerate spices won't have problems here.

Paraguay has a tradition for beef which is normally good quality and cheap. Grilled meat (asado) is the thing to eat. Pasta is also popular as are the street stalls selling panchos (hot-dogs), hamburgers, empanadas and similar fast-food. Vegetables, salad and other types of meat are not that common but available. In restaurants you normally get manioc as a side dish for free (similar to bread in other countries).

You must try the Paraguayan traditional food, which includes dishes like the following:

  • Chipa-a bread baked in an outdoor oven or "tatacua", usually made out of mandioca (manioc) flour. Mandioca is often substituted for potatoes. * Mandioca, or Mandi´o in Guarani is similar to a potato, and is normally eaten boiled but can be fried. It is eaten almost everyday by Paraguayans, and many have it growing on their land.
  • Mbeju is a mandioca starch and Paraguayan cheese based flatbread.
  • Pastel madi'o is a manioc pastry stuffed with "So'o ku'í" or minced meat.
  • Sopa Paraguaya is a form of corn bread are two of the most well known. Sopa means soup, so it is an unusual experience to be actually eating a solid soup, probably the only one in the world.
  • Tortillas in Paraguay are different than in other places in Latin America. It is more like a fried dough (made with Paraguayan cheese).
  • Payagua mascada (Guarani for chewing gum for dogs but has nothing to do with that) is a tortilla also made with manioc and beef (high in proteins and calories).
  • Try Sopa So'o if you get the chance--it is Paraguayan cornbread with bits of pieces of meat often marinated with garlic and lime.
  • Pira caldo is a soup consisting of catfish, tomatoes, fat and spices
  • Asado (BBQ) is great, and prices are quite reasonable - PYG20,000 Guaranis (USD4) will get you an all-you-can-eat buffet at many nice places. PYG5,000 is enough to pay for a hamburger.
  • Also highly popular are empanadas (meat/egg stuffed in a pastry and baked) and milanesa (breaded and fried chicken/beef/fish) - these are considered fast food, and are also found in other countries in the region. If you order a hamburger at a restaurant, expect it to come topped with a fried egg.

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Sleep

Good accommodation will certainly not be hard to find in major towns, and will seem reasonably cheap if the parameter is the dollar or the euro. The exception, however, is Ciudad del Este. In Ciuded del Este the cheapest accommodation is near the bus station with doubles for less than €10, in an area that is also pleasant in the evening. Cheap accommodation is easy to find, but if you're after something of higher quality and have the money to back it up, then you'll have a better chance in the Argentinian Puerto Iguazu or the Brazilian Foz do Iguaçu.

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Drink

Tap water in Asunción, and possibly Ciudad del Este, is potable. Tap water in the rest of Paraguay should be treated to make it safe for drinking. There have been efforts by PLAN International to bring safe, potable water to communities in rural areas (if there is such water available, it is safe to drink). Ask before drinking water in rural areas however--many Paraguayans will claim their water is safe to drink even if it's not purified.

Mate/Tereré

The most common drink in Paraguay is Mate made of Yerba Mate (Mate herbs) that is similar in style to tea but the preparation is distinct. To add sugar is not common in Paraguay. The infusion is prepared by pouring dry yerba into the cup, then adding water: hot water version is known as mate (preferred in Argentina and Uruguay) while the cold water version is known as tereré and is a local favourite. When it is hot, it is more common to drink it as tereré, served in guampas, which can be made out of wood or of hallow bull horns, and is drunk through a metal straw called a bombilla.

Drinking mate or tereré is most definitely one of the social customs of Paraguay. Shops will close around noon for a siesta and for a round of mate/tereré with friends.

Other drinks

Gaseosa means fizzy drinks of any description. All the usual brands are available. Try the local Guarana.

Pulp is a very popular Paraguayan soft drink. You can buy it a supermarkets or order it in various restaurantes and bars. The original is Pulp Naranja, made with real orange juice.

Mosto helado is extracted from the sugar cane and very sweet,sometimes mixed with lime juice to make an 'aloja'. You can find street carts selling mosto near the centro area and in the countryside.

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Health

See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Paraguay. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Paraguay) where that disease is widely prevalent. A yellow fever is recommended anyway for travelling in Paraguay.

It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Paraguay. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B, tuberculosis, rabies and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Malaria is prevalent in the country in the border regions with Brazil. It is recommended to take malaria pills and take other normal anti-mosquito precautions as well. Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

There are not many large cities and if you use some common sense and street smarts, you are unlikely to run into any trouble. The police are known to be corrupt, and if you are pulled over for any reason, you will almost certainly be expected to pay a bribe. In Asunción most cops are not corrupt. In the cities crime is common. Ciudad del Este is a hotspot for illicit activities, such as money laundering and counterfeiting, but that should not affect your travels. That said, you will want to keep an eye on your bags and wallet here, as you would do in any other large city. Generally, as long as you aren't involved in drug smuggling (inadvertently or otherwise), and are alert to pickpockets, you should be safe most of the time.

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

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Quick Facts

Paraguay flag

Map of Paraguay

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Capital
Asuncion
Population
5,300,000
Government
Republic
Religions
Christianity (Catholic)
Languages
Guaraní, Spanish
Calling Code
+595
Nationality
Paraguayan
Local name
Paraguay / Paraguái

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This is version 42. Last edited at 10:39 on Jun 1, 15 by Utrecht. 36 articles link to this page.

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