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 are not the only one... Paraguay is a country in the heart of South America and after Bolivia, it is the poorest one. Paraguay is not known for any natural or cultural landmarks to attract tourist, it has no seaside, no mountains and no specifically known culture like its bigger neighbours. So what exactly are the things to do in Paraguay, how could we spend the whole month there and why should you visit Paraguay? Let me tell you all about it…
All online articles, be it from bloggers or travel portals, are singing glory about how amazing 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 in the usual mass-tourism way. So before you get excited about an online article from a travel blogger, or before you give up completely because you didnt find any relevant tourist info about Paraguay, read about our visit there - without lies or exageration.
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 a passionate mountain lover and adventurous soul. None of these things can be found in Paraguay, so the first days in this country were a bit painfull, disappointing, simply said - I was bored... But if you like taking things slow, lying around not doing much, 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.
From all the tourist sites in Paraguay I really enjoyed most of them. Understand, after the initial shock and after getting used to the slow tempo, I actually enjoyed our stay in Paraguay a lot and still like to browse through the photos from now and then...
From north to south, these are the best places we've visited 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. We didnt find much to do in this city. It’s a sleepy small town, which is hot most of the year. In travel guides you will find several recommendations – 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.
We've only done the third option on our way to Cerro Coro National park. It included a long dusty ride then walking under hot sun when all we wanted to do was hiding inside a room with an AC and drinking a cold beer with empanadas on the side. I would say if you are nearby, can handle high temparature easily and have time to spare, go for it. For us, the best thing we did in Concepcion was getting drunk in the evening and singing karaoke in a dirty local bar.
Peaceful green paradise in Cerro Cora National Park
Another place which is great to relax and our friends actually spend a whole week here (but honestly, no idea what they did there so long). It lies on the borders with Bolivia and Brazil, and it's a place of the last battle in the 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. So if you want a piece of quiet for your soul, waking up with birds singing and greenery around you, cooking on a fire, bathing in the river, and lying in the shadow the whole day while sipping tereré and thinking about the 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 matter 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 a few people coming every afternoon to look at the water and sip their tereré.
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 a kitchen without dishes and a 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 spent 4 nights in this beautiful place trying to get some work done, which is not easy when all you want to do is lie in the hammock and build 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 there. 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 a great opportunity to explore this city very well. This is also the place where we've met some international tourists and it’s also a great place to go to parties.
What to do in Asuncion? If there is a chance, I always take the Free walking tour, which provides loads of great tips on where to go next. The museum of forgotten memories is a great place to learn about the Stroessner dictatorship and the dark times of the 20th century. Also, the railway museum is a 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 – a very colourful 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 idnt like our visit there. The lagoon was dirty and smelled like fish, the ceramic is too heavy to carry in the backpack and strawberries were not very good. But who knows, maybe it was just wrong season to visit (August)...
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 months 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 thought the best place if you want to do some electronics shopping, Paraguay has a low import tax and things are incredibly cheap there.
There are few places which are worth visiting around Ciudad del Este. For example the waterfall Salto del Monday is a nice place to see, though after Iguazu falls it was a bit disappointing, so good idea would be to visit Salto del Monday first, and then the big Iguazu falls.
Ciudad del Este is also very well known for the Itaipu Dam, the second biggest dam in the world. There is a free tour to the Itaipu Dam, it lasts 30 minutes and includes stopping at one view point. The rest of the tour is done by the bus driving through the restricted areas of the dam.
Thanks to the Itaipu dam, there are also many natural parks in this area created as compensation for destroying the natural habitat of many animals. We've visited Tati Yupi, the park closest to the Ciuduad del Este. I expected walking in the Atlantic forest surrounded by the wildlife which was a bit naive as I realize now, it’s basically a big picnic place for people from the city but still a great place to see and realize the value of nature.
Cerro Tres Kandu, the highest peak in Paraguay
Paraguay is definitely the flattest country I've ever seen, but even the flattest country has its 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 didn't take us 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 farm 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 out the internet was not working so we couldn't work 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 there is no additional information about what you can see there… We don't speak good enough Spanish to talk more about what they do on the farm and there wasn’t anything else to do, but it was an interesting experience. I especially enjoyed dinner with the owners of the farm, an older Swiss couple. By mixing German and Spanish we managed to learn a tiny bit more about their work in Paraguay.
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. 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 afterward. 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 an 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 of what's waiting for us in the other ones. Maybe it was the time of the year we came, but I didnt find there much to see or do in Encarnacion. Seems like most people come just because of the Jesuit missions, which are less than hour drive away.
There is a nice beach by the river, which must be great in the hot weather (during most of the year) and there also a small, yet beautiful park in the center of the city. 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 by AC, being worried we would freeze. The best thing we did here was having coffee with fellow french travelers 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 it sounds like I didn't like Paraguay at all, but on contrary. At first, I was disappointed, I couldn't understand why everybody who visited this country was so excited about it. It took a few days adjusting and shifting my mind from a tourist to an explorer to start enjoying this place.
The truth is that 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 and they love to start conversation), 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, their first 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.
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The truth about Paraguay – is it worth the visit?