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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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Boats cross into Asuncin and Encarnacin from Argentina, and from Concepcin to Isla Margarita on the Brazilian border is possible as well.
TAM Mercosur is the main carrier with flights between Asuncion and several other cities, including Ciudad del Este.
There are no domestic rail services in Paraguay.
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.
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.
There are passenger boats from Asuncion and Concepcion along the Rio Paraguay to a number of river ports north of here.
Travellers from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA need visas. Others only need a valid passport. Get your visa in advance, either in a neighbouring country or at home. It usually takes a day to proces a visa. You will need two passport photos and two copies of your passport and your ticket (proof of onward travel), and credit card or traveler’s checks (proof of sufficient funds). The cost is US$45 for single entry or US$65 for multiple entry (30 to 90 days).
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.
Related article: Spanish: Grammar, pronunciation and useful phrases
Spanish and Guaraní are the official languages of Paraguay.
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.
See also Travel Safety
See also International Telephone Calls
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