If you’ve ever studied a map of South America, you probably have seen the landlocked country of Paraguay. Unlike neighboring countries Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia, Paraguay is still yet to be discovered by most tourists, making it one of the best-kept secrets in the travel world.
Gaining independence on May 14, 1811, after almost 300 years of Spanish rule, Paraguay is home to seven million people, 95% of whom are mestizo (people with Spanish and local Guarani ancestry). The other five percent consist of people who are racially Korean, German, Lebanese, Chinese and Mennonite (from Canada, Mexico and Russia).
There are no direct flights to Paraguay from the United States at this time. Only around 10 airlines fly into Asuncion, the capital city of Paraguay. However, you can easily fly from Miami to Panama City then onto Asuncion, Paraguay on Copa Airlines. The best ways to see Paraguay are by combining it with a tour of Brazil, Argentina or Bolivia.
Here are 5 best places to visit in Paraguay:
Iguazu Falls and the Atlantic Forest
You can’t see the Iguazu Falls from Paraguay. But you can visit the Argentinian side and Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls from eastern Paraguay. Eastern Paraguay is home to 13% of the original Atlantic Forest of South America. Most parts of this forest were cleared for development in Argentina and Brazil. Read more about it on UNESCO’s official website.
Around 2000 plant species, including some 80 tree species, have been suggested to occur in the property along with around 400 bird species, including the elusive Harpy Eagle. The parks are also home to several wild cat species and rare species such as the broad-snouted Caiman.
Hiking, camping and horseback riding tours are available to Refugio Tati Yupi, a wilderness reserve in Eastern Paraguay.
Paraguay’s Atlantic Forest is one of the best birding destinations in the world, according to Audubon organization. Of course, a tour of this area is for the adventurous tourists and for those who are birding enthusiasts.
Cuidad del Este
Cuidad del Este is a busy border town in Eastern Paraguay. Not only is it the gateway to Iguazu Falls, it is also a tax-free shopping destination for tourists from Brazil and Argentina. It is a bargain shoppers’ paradise, especially for those looking for electronics. Some tourists prefer to stay in this city instead of Foz de Iguacu in Brazil because of the cheaper accommodation and better shopping options.
Besides shopping, check out the small Museo de Tierra Guarani showcasing the history and culture of Paraguay and the local Guarani people.
Palaces, plazas, colonial mansions and cobblestone streets are part of the attraction in Asuncion, the capital city of Paraguay. Asuncion is one of the oldest cities in South America. Here is a list of sites to visit: the National Pantheon of Heroes, Presidential Palace, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, Museo del Barro and Casa de la Independencia Museum.
Take a walk along Calle Palma, the main street of Asuncion’s historical district. Check out the terere cups (cup for Paraguayan popular tea served cold similar to yerba mate of Argentina and Uruguay) and vacuum flasks sold in the souvenir shops and on the street’s sidewalks.
The city of Encarnacion is located in the southeast region of Paraguay, 239 miles from Asuncion and only three miles from Posadas, Argentina. Encarnacion and Posadas are separated by the Parana River and are connected by the San Roque Gonzalez de Santa Cruz bridge.
Encarnacion is the gateway to the Jesuit ruins of Trinidad. Some of the attractions in and around the city include the beaches, viewing the production of yerba mate tea and taking a river cruise. The city also has large German and Ukrainian populations.
When the Spanish started settling in Paraguay in the mid-1500s, they brought in their culture and religion. The Jesuit missionaries came and started building schools and churches to evangelize to the locals. One such center was the Jesuit Trinidad Missions of the Holy Trinity of Parana.
This is a quiet UNESCO Heritage site with few visitors. Learn about the 150 years of Jesuit missionary work with the locals and how the Spanish government kicked them out because of their work.
Note: A tourist visa is required when traveling to Paraguay. It is issued at the airport for $160 (cash). If you are not traveling by air, you’ll need to obtain a tourist visa prior to traveling to Paraguay.
Have you been to Paraguay? What were your favorite things to do there?