Paraguay: The Forgotten South American Destination

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When people travel to South America, Paraguay often gets left out of the itinerary. Popular travel guides like to lump this landlocked country together with Argentina or Uruguay; it rarely warrants a guide book of its own. But if you are an adventurous traveller looking for a cheaper-than-average destination, Paraguay offers plenty of rewards – and you won’t be overrun by hordes of other foreign tourists.

Paraguay is full of surprises: it’s extremely rich in wildlife (especially in the rugged Chaco region), steeped in fascinating history and populated by some of friendliest, most down-to-earth people you’ll find anywhere.

Getting to Paraguay 

The easiest way to fly to Asuncion (Paraguay’s capital) is via Buenos Aires, which has connections to major cities all over the world. From Buenos Aires, an alternative option is to grab a bus to Asuncion; the buses in Argentina are modern, comfortable and air conditioned. The only non-stop flights from the US to Paraguay are with American Airlines, which flies from Miami to Asuncion four times a week.

Transport within Paraguay 

Once in Paraguay, there are several ways to get around. In cities and major towns you can hire a taxi or hop onto a colectivo (minibus). Outside Asuncion the taxis don’t have meters, so always agree to a price with your driver beforehand.

There are regular bus services to just about every part of Paraguay from the capital. If you’re on your way to Bolivia, your bus route will go right across the famous Chaco region – a vast area of semi-arid wilderness where, if you’re lucky, you might even glimpse a wild jaguar crossing the road.

Paraguayan money and shopping 

The currency in Paraguay is the guarani, and it goes a long way. If you have just arrived from Argentina, the first thing you’ll notice is how much cheaper everything is here. There are plenty of distinctive products worth buying as souvenirs, too: clay ceramics, leather goods, woven hammocks and handcrafted silver jewellery.

There are plenty of ATMS, banks and official money changing bureaus in Paraguay – even in smaller towns. There is no need to carry around large sums of cash.

Where to stay 

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Accommodation in Paraguay is quite affordable, with options to suit every budget. In Asuncion, the Hotel Westfalenhaus is a simple but well-maintained hotel on a quiet street. The Posada del Cielo is well known for its friendly staff and value for money. Away from the capital, why not enjoy a farm stay in the eastern Chaco, complete with horse riding, nature hikes, fishing and canoeing? For the budget traveller, Paraguay is one the best places in South America to find a clean and comfortable single room for under $15USD.

Eating in Paraguay 

Paraguayan cuisine is largely based around beef, chicken and corn. Agriculture is a major part of Paraguayan life, so you’ll find lots of healthy fruits and vegetables in local markets. Make sure you try a bowl of bori-bori, a hearty chicken soup with cornmeal dumplings, or some delicious locro (corn stew). The most popular drink in this part of the world is Yerba Mate (pronounced ‘mottay’), a tea made from local herbs.

What to see and do 

Away from the capital, Paraguay is sparsely populated. There are vast areas of wilderness just waiting for the adventurous explorer. The vast Chaco region takes up over half the country’s total area, and here you’ll find an amazing diversity of scenery and wildlife. Because of the distances and the ruggedness of the terrain, it’s best to see the Chaco through a guided tour. The town of Filadelfia is a great place to base yourself while checking out the possibilities.

In the east lies the Rio Paraguay, which you can explore upriver on local boats. This region is home to some of the lushest rainforest in the country, and it’s a great spot for keen bird-watchers. Paraguay is blessed with several impressive national parks. Some – like Teniente Enciso near the Bolivian border – are a bit hard to access, but well worth it if you are a wildlife enthusiast. The Chaco is also a terrific place to interact with some of the country’s smaller indigenous communities.

For those who prefer their vacations a little more sedate, there is also plenty to do and see for history buffs, museum-goers and shoppers. In fact, one of the most common comments from people travelling in Paraguay is “I had no idea there was so much to see here!”

The most famous Paraguayan destination of all is Iguazu Falls, located where the borders of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet. Snaking for over a mile and a half across a jungle landscape, Iguazu is certainly a must-see attraction. It puts just about every other waterfall on the planet to shame. You can take a guided tour or make your own way along a series of shady, well-maintained walking tracks. The whole area is an incredible spectacle.

When to go 

Unless you’re a big fan of heat and humidity, the most pleasant time to visit Paraguay is between April and September. You’ll find it cooler, with less chance of monsoonal rains.

Next time you go to South America, don’t forget to include Paraguay in your plans. This inexpensive, hospitable country may be ‘the road less travelled’, but in these days of frenetic mass tourism, that’s a point in its favour.

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