The truth about Paraguay – is it worth the visit?October 16, 2018
Are there any cool places in Paraguay?
Say you never heard of Paraguay? Don't worry, you didn’t miss much. Paraguay is a country in the heart of South America and after Bolivia, it is the poorest one. Paraguay doesn’t have amazing natural or cultural landmarks to attract tourist, it has no seaside, no mountains and no specific culture like its bigger neighbours. So what exactly are the things to do in Paraguay and how could we spend the whole month here? Let me tell you all about it…
All online articles, be it from bloggers or travel portals, are singing glory about how amazing country Paraguay is, and that everybody is missing out big not going here. Well, to be honest, that’s not exactly the truth. The fact that there are no tourist has its rightful reason – there are not many interesting places to visit in Paraguay. Trust me, I’ve seen them all. My fear of missing out couldn’t let me go to another country and I had to finish what I’ve planned. So before you get excited about an online article from a travel blogger, promising you amazing beauty of this country, begging you to visit, read this one first, I’ll set it straight for you.
What to do in Paraguay – all you need to know
If you’ve been reading my articles for some time now, you know I’m passionate mountain lover and adventurous soul. None of these things can be found in Paraguay, but not everybody is like me, so if you like lying around and doing nothing, Paraguay is the best country for you to visit. Relaxation, quiet and peaceful place to connect with nature, these are the main marketing points all of the tourist spots in Paraguay will promise you. And they sure will keep their promise.
There are though few tourist sites in Paraguay I was completely excited about, so let’s start the list – from north to south, these are the best places to visit in Paraguay
Concepcion – the pearl of the north
When you look at the map of Paraguay, the most population is found on its south-east part and there are 4 main cities forming a cross, Concepcion being the northern point of that cross. There really isn’t much to do in this city. It’s a sleepy small town, which is hot during most of the year. In travel guides you will find several recommendation – to visit the Mennonites around 3 hours’ west, to visit caves and old fortress 2h north or to go to explore the interesting rock formations 2h east of this city.
None of the above is a must do, it will include long dusty ride, then walking under very hot sun when all you will want to do is to go inside a room with an AC. I would say, if you are nearby and have time to spare, go for it. But really, the best thing to do in Concepcion if you happen to be there is to get drunk in the evening and sing some karaoke – that’s what we did…
Peaceful green paradise in Cerro Cora National Park
Another place which is great to relax and our friends actually spend a whole week here (no idea what they did, really). It lies on the borders with Bolivia and Brazil, and it's a place of the last battle in Paraguayan war, in which they lost most of the male population (Guerra de la Triple Alianza). It’s also one of the rare places with free camping, but nothing really comes for free, in this case, there are no toilets, no shower or anything remotely reminding civilization. If you want a piece of quiet for your soul to wake up with bird singing and greenery around you, cook on fire, bath in the river, and lie in the shadow the whole day while sipping tereré and thinking about meaning of life, this is the place to be.
Paraguayan beaches of Laguna Blanca
No, Paraguay doesn’t have a seaside, but that doesn’t stop it from having beaches or a navy as a mater of fact. Laguna Blanca is one of the most beautiful places we visited in Paraguay and it's located between Park Cerro Corra on the north and San Rafael National Park on the south. It was completely empty, with only few people coming every afternoon to look at the water and sip their tereré (not lying, this happened).
Water in the lagoon was cold, air was hot and most of the mosquitos were still winter sleeping. We lived in a small bungalow with kitchen without dishes and bathroom with a frog. I cooked all meals in our small camping pot and talked to the frog while showering - you never know if it's a prince, right? We’ve spend 4 nights in this beautiful place trying to get some work done, which is not easy when all you want to do is lying in the hammock building your castles in the clouds – yes, Paraguay made me extremely lazy.
Asuncion, the hip center of Paraguay
Asuncion was actually our last stop in Paraguay and we spend almost 2 weeks here. That was a bit forced as we were waiting for our car insurance to arrive, so that we could enter Argentina. But that time gave us great opportunity to explore this city very well. This is also the place, where we finally met some international tourists and it’s also great place to go to party.
Now what to do in Asuncion? If therre is a chance, I always take the Free walking tour, which always provides loads of great tips where to go next. The museum of forgotten memories is a great place to learn a bit about the Stroessner dictatorship and the railway museum is also very interesting place to visit (they are expecting an old train from Czechoslovakia next year and will build a short tourist circuit). The best place though is definitely the Loma San Jeronimo – very colorful hip neighbourhood, with small bars and nice street art. Some people might recommend you the city of strawberries Aregua and its lagoon and ceramic market, I honestly think it’s not worth it. The lagoon is dirty, strawberries are not good and the ceramic is too heavy to carry in the backpack.
The big shopping center Ciudad del Este
Ciudad del Este was the first place we visited in Paraguay. We came from Brazil right from visiting the Iguazu falls and after 3 month in Brazil it was a huge cultural shock. Noisy dirty streets, terrible buses and dirty hostels. This city has its charms but beauty definitely isn’t one of them. It’s though the best place if you want to do some electronics shopping, Paraguay has low import tax and things are incredibly cheap here.
There are few places which are worth visit around Ciudad del Este. The waterfalls Salto del Monday is a nice place to see, though after Iguazu falls it was a bit disappointing – so go here first and you will love it. From the natural parks created as compensation for the Itaipu dam we visited Tati Yupi. I expected walking in the Atlantic forest surrounded by wild life which was a bit naive, it’s basically a big picnic place for people from the city but great to see and realize the value of nature. There is also a free tour to the Itaipu dam, which is the second biggest dam in the world, it lasts 30 minutes and all the time you sit in the bus and look out of the window – worth it? I think you can say for yourself.
Cerro Tres Kandu, the highest peak in Paraguay
Paraguay is definitely the flattest country I've ever seen, but even the flattest country has it's highest peak and in Paraguay it's Cerro Tres Kandu. With 842 m it's rising above the land full of crop and sugar cane fields offering views as far as your eye can see, and you can see really far. The hike is not as easy as it seems though, it's quite steep with difficult terrain, but shouldn't take you more than 2 hours. Well, this was the most exciting thing we have done in Paraguay, so I have a separate article just about it.
San Rafael National Park, another green paradise
San Rafael National Park was one of the places I was really excited about visiting. The website and an online article I found was promising 4 hiking trails in the national park and lots of information about the work of Pro Cosara – a company trying to educate Paraguayan farmers about deforestation and eco farming.
Luckily for me, I was not able to book 4 nights here as planned, because they had a big group visiting on weekend. As soon as I found the internet is not working and once we finished all 4 trails in one afternoon I was very happy we were not staying longer. The trails can be done solo, but then there is no additional information and not much to see either… There really wasn’t anything else to do, but it was an interesting experience, especially trying to speak Spanish-German with the Swiss owners. You can imagine I didn’t get much information about their eco projects either….
Living history of Jesuit missions in Trinidad and Jesus
Trinidad is a small town lying between Encarnacion and Ciudad del Este and you can find here the biggest Jesuit missions in South America (I think). This place really has a special atmosphere. Enormous stone walls placed on a huge grass field are telling the story of an important Jesuit works, how they were forced to leave and what was left afterwards. There is another smaller mission in a nearby town Jesus, which is definitely worth a visit too. I was so excited about this place I have written article just about it and also made a short video:
Encarnacion, the pearl of the south
Encarnacion, also called La Perla del Sur – the pearl of the south, lies right at the border with Argentina, divided just by the river Parana. They call it the most beautiful Paraguayan city and as it was the second city we visited, I got a bit scared what's waiting for us in the other ones. There really isn’t much to see or do in Encarnacion, most people come just because of the Jesuit missions, which are less than hour drive away.
There is a nice beach by the river though, which must be great during most of the year. When we were visiting, it was probably the coldest day in Paraguayan history, it was under 10°C and our hostel owner was heating our room the whole day, being worried we would freeze. The best thing we did here was having coffee and delicious brownie at a place called Kakawapop (yes, I did pronounce it like "cacao poop" and always had a great laugh about it).
Map with interesting tourist spots in Paraguay:
The truth about Paraguay – is it worth the visit?
Maybe you have a feeling I was complaining about Paraguay the whole 5 pages of this article so you expect me to say, it’s not worth to go there. The truth this, I’m never disappointed by any place. Every place I visit and every person I meet leaves a little trace on me.
If I haven’t visited Paraguay, I never would have learned how laidback this country is, how friendly the people are (every tourist they see is very interesting to them), I would never try tereré (cold tea they drink on hourly basis) and I would never realize how good I can speak Spanish (almost all Paraguayanas are bilingual, the second language is a native Guarani, so they speak Spanish very slow).
Paraguay definitely isn’t an attractive destination for a vacation itself, unless you live very close to it. But if you are backpacking South America, the visit to Asuncion or Trinidad should be on your list. And if you have time and want to get to know the country better, or learn a bit more Spanish, stay longer, try volunteering. I'm positive it will be a great experience.
Would you be interested in an article about life in Paraguay? How they prepare tereré, what they eat and interesting facts from their history and demographics? Let me know in comments.
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The truth about Paraguay – is it worth the visit?