|Population||6,349,000 (2009 est.)|
|Electricity||220V/50Hz (European plug)|
Paraguay is a landlocked country in South America bordering Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil. Paraguay is rich in natural resources: the world's largest drinking water reservoir (Guarani Aquifer) is beneath its soil and the biggest hydroelectric producer (the Itaipú Dam) is on its border with Brazil. It's also the world's fifth largest exporter of soya beans, as well as a renowned producer of beef. Despite this, it is South America's second poorest country in cash terms and it is just as common to see beggars asking for money on Asunción's corners as it is in many other capitals.
Colonized for three centuries by the Spanish, since the 1500s, Paraguay has managed to keep a lot of its indigenous character and identity. Nowadays, the mestizos (Spanish + Amerindian) account for more than 80% of the country's 6 million inhabitants and Guarani is, side by side with Spanish, the country's official language.
In the past, Franciscan and Jesuit missions mingled with the Guaranis' dream of Yvy maraë´y, a land without evil, and produced singular societies. The ruins of the Jesuit Missions of La Santisima Trinidad de Parana and Jesus de Tavarangue, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and several villages throughout the country, are witnesses to that peaceful past. On 15 May 1811 a revolution ended the Spanish colonial rule and this day is celebrated as Paraguay's independence day.
But Paraguay also has a history of blood and tears. It was one of the richest countries in the 19th century (and the only one in America to have railways at that time) before the disastrous 1865-70 War of the Triple Alliance. Paraguay was attacked by the allied forces of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay and lost two-thirds of all adult males and much of its territory including their seacoast. It was also the scene of the first ever attempt at Communism when 700 people sailed from Balmain, Sydney Australia in 1893 to found "New Australia." A split occurred soon after arrival when some of the arrivals started mingling with the local ladies who were suffering a lack of men due to the War of the Triple Aliance. Two-thirds of the immigrants eventually returned to Australia but around 2.000 Paraguayans can trace their heritage to Australia. In the Chaco War of 1932-35, large and economically important areas were won from Bolivia.
After World War II Paraguay received many immigrants, who felt in love with the hospitality and decided to stay and call Paraguay their home. It's common to find colonies of Germans, Russians, Italians, French and Spanish people in the country areas of Paraguay. The 35-year military dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner was overthrown in 1989 and, despite a marked increase in political infighting in recent years, democratic governments have been in power since then. Modern Paraguay is largely based upon political uncertainty and economic hardship. Since the early 1980s, Paraguay is making the difficult decision to move to a more modern market economy. In recent years, the economy has grown and democratic elections have taken place. While Asuncion is filled with new economic prospects and construction, much of the country remains underdeveloped, consisting of deficient infrastructure. Corruption here is ubiquitous compared to neighbouring Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina.
With an area of about 406,000 km², Paraguay is divided into two regions: Oriental and Occidental by the Paraguay River. Despite being landlocked, the country is bordered and criss-crossed by navigable rivers. Overall Paraguay is a quite flat country; while its western neighbours Argentina and Bolivia include mountains higher than 6,000 m above sea level, the highest point in Paraguay is Cerro Peró with a height of 842 m.
Paraguay is located on the Tropic of Capricorn. The climate in the northern parts of the country is tropical and while the southern parts are subtropical to temperate. January is the warmest month.
| Gran Chaco |
The large, wild, semi-arid plains in the northwest of the country.
| Paraná Plateau |
The forested highlands in Paraguay's east, along the Paraná River, home to the second largest city of Ciudad del Este, just over the river from Iguaçu Falls.
| Northern Paraneña |
| Southern Paraneña |
Home to the population center of the country, in and around Asunción.
- Asunción - the capital
- Ciudad del Este - this busy border city is also Paraguay's gateway to the Iguazu Falls
- Encarnación and its Jesuit Missions of La Santisima Trinidad de Parana and Jesus de Tavarangue
- Filadelfia - the departmental seat of Boquerón, founded as a Mennonite colony
- San Bernardino - the liveliest resort town of Paraguay, east of the capital.
- New Australia - a late 19th century Australian settlement in the southern part of the country.
- Trinidad - a small village near Encarnación famous for the Jesuit ruins Santísima of Trinidad de Paraná, the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Paraguay.
Before you try to enter Paraguay, you need to check the visa requirements for your country. Only citizens of these countries can enter Paraguay with just a passport: Andorra, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Cyprus,Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Peru, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Venezuela while the rest, including US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand citizens do need a visa.
Flights go out from other South American airports to Asunción on a fairly regular basis. There are also two daily flights from São Paulo to Ciudad del Este. There is a direct flight from Miami to Asunción. Unlike most other South American capitals there aren't currently any direct flights from Europe to Asunción; you need to transfer in for instance Buenos Aires, São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro.
Currently, there is no train service available to and from Paraguay. In the past, Paraguay was connected by a train service to Argentina, but it has been discontinued.
Bus service is available to and from a wide range of South American cities. You can take a bus from Santiago, Chile; São Paulo, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Cordoba, Argentina; Santa Cruz, Bolivia; Montevideo, Uruguay; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Buses are very modern and some buses have seats that fully recline into beds. In Spanish they are called cama. Semi-cama recline most of the way.
The bus to and from Bolivia crosses the Chaco. Only one bus company does the trip, from Santa Cruz to Asunción, with possible stops at Villamontes (Bolivia) or a few kilometers of Filadelfia (Paraguay) but typically for the same price. Beware that tourists should bargain, with minimum prices of USD45 (payable in local currency or in USD). The trip takes at least a full day, and easily more. Note that the bus coming from Santa Cruz passes Villamontes at about 02:00.
The bus from Ciudad Del Este (Paraguay) at the border with Brazil is typically cheaper for going to Rio or São Paulo than the bus going from Iguasu (Brazil). To go to Puerto Iguasu (Argentina) many busses cross Brazil (without Brazilian border control) into Argentina for only ARS10 or PYG10,000. Best visit the border in advance to get an exit stamp for Paraguay because not all buses make a stop, otherwise ask before jumping on a bus.
A boat travels up the Paraguay River from Asunción stopping at many ports to the north of the border with Brazil. Most of these boats weren't designed to carry passengers so expect a sticky crowded experience, but you can buy just about anything on board, even cold beer. Bring something comfortable to sleep on!
Taxis are the most efficient and reliable form of transportation, even though you can probably get there also by bus, or colectivo, as Paraguayans call it. Taxis are expensive compared to other prices in Paraguay, and in Asunción the fares are determined by the meter. Tipping in taxis is not customary among locals (although drivers do appreciate it). Expect to pay a small surcharge on top of the fare if you are taking a taxi late in the evening, or on a Sunday.
Outside Asunción there are no meters so make sure you decide on a price before you get in. Bargaining on a price may be useful, as tourists have been asked for US$10 for a five minute ride. To prevent any disputes, always ask your hotel concierge how much the real cost of the fare should be.
Currently there is no scheduled passenger rail traffic in Paraguay.
There are highways connecting all the major regions of Paraguay, but most of them are one lane each way. You may hit toll booths along the way. Police may pull you over for any reason and will expect bribes. Locals may say that the most common way to avoid giving away too much money on the bribes requested by the 'polícia caminera' (road police) is by giving them a small guarani bill while shaking their hands when they stop your car. Also, it is advised that, when they ask you, play dumb until they let you go with a warning and DO NOT admit travelling through Paraguay for the first time. Refrain from handing out bribes (known as coimas in Paraguay) since it is only harmful for the country. Tell them that you don´t carry money and that you weren´t aware that was not allowed. If you have actually committed something wrong, you should pay the fine and always ask for a receipt.
Please note that you will probably only face this kind of problem with the police on the country roads. These problems do not generally occur in any of the wealthier areas of the major cities where you can keep a somewhat 'nicer' relationship with the police.
Buses are the most common public transport. There are many companies running different lines. You must check which one serves your destination. When leaving from Asunción, the web pages of the bus terminal has information about ticket prices for all destinations and bus companies as well as departure times. The site is in Spanish only and there's no information about travel times nor schedules for trips towards Asuncion.
Some intercity bus companies include:
Some basic greetings in Guarani include:
Both Spanish and Guaraní are official. Most people in Paraguay speak Spanish and use of English is very limited. Outside of Asunción and big cities Guarani is all you will hear. Due to the extensive use of Guarani, even those who have managed to learn Spanish do not always speak it very well.
In Paraguay, Guarani is almost always spoken as a mix of Guarani and Spanish, known as Jopara, meaning "mixed" in Guarani. The number system in Guarani is rarely used, and is almost always replaced with the Spanish number system.
In Paraguay vos is used instead of tu. There is a slight change in conjugation but not big enough that you won't be understood using tu. This vos is NOT the same as vosotros. Stems do not change in verbs when using "vos", and the ending is always stressed. For example "tienes" changes to "tenés", "puedes" changes to "podés", "vienes" changes to "venís" etc.
In the northern, and eastern parts of Paraguay, Portuguese is spoken widely. In some places, Nueva Esperanza (80% Portuguese speaking), Katuetè (60%) the majority speak Portuguese, almost always the result of Paraguayan born, or first generation Brazilian immigrants. There are many cases of Paraguayans, who were born during the era of Brazilian immigration who speak only Portuguese at home, although also fluent Guarani, but very little or no Spanish.
There are also a number of Mennonite communities throughout Paraguay which speak Low German and regular High German.
- The capital Asunción hosts a large part of the country's sights.
- In Trinidad you can see the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Paraguay; the Jesuit Missions of La Santisima Trinidad de Paraná and Jesus de Tavarangue.
- There is a well in the city of Santani (San Pedro) that does not go dry. The town's museum also contains a large snakeskin.
- The Itaipu dam near Ciudad del Este which is the largest hydroelectric dam in the world, measured by generated power.
- Cruise on the Paraguay River. Cruise on a luxury wooden boat from Asunción ports to the Pantanal and Chaco area. NOTE: Due to maintenance work on the ship cruises have been suspended since March 2013.
- Walk through the historic Asunción city center. Many former grand buildings are suffering from great decay, but if you look past graffiti walls, you can imagine Asunción's past splendour. At nights, you can take a cab ride and enjoy it fully illuminated. There are many bars, restaurantes in this area.
- Paraguay Safari. Safaris expeditions in Paraguay for people who want to know and live a wildlife experience. Trained guides in the biology area, with knowledge of the fauna and flora contained in each ecoregion of the country.
Paraguay has a very rich and diverse craftmanship, everything from silver filigree (Luque) to cotton fine lace in the form of Ñanduti (Itaugua) is available. Also leather goods with local “repujado” embellishments (Atyra) and ao poi, encaje yu embroidery. Clay ceramic (Ita) and weavery is also very popular, cheap and beautiful. Leather soccer balls are sold and hand made in the town of Quindy.
The currency is the guarani (ISO 4217 code: PYG). As of Aug 2013 it is the least valued currency in the Americas at USD1 = PYG4,370 and €1= 5,781.
Banknotes in denominations of PYG2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000 circulate.
The currency sign is ₲. Always check the exchange rate quotations on the internet or several major newspapers before exchanging money.
Paraguay has been recently ranked by several research studies as the cheapest country in the world, measured through Purchasing Power Parity. Prices in Paraguay are very low and a budget traveller will be able to get by on as little as USD7-14 a day and even less if camping. A clean, single hotel room out of Asunción should not cost more than USD10
Paraguayan food is one of the most diverse in South America. Paraguayans usually enjoy typical food several times a week all year round. You'll find much of the standard South American cuisine here with some Brazilian influence as well. Paraguayan food isn't particularly spicy, so those who can't tolerate spices won't have problems here.
Paraguay has a tradition for beef which is normally good quality and cheap. Grilled meat (asado) is the thing to eat. Pasta is also popular as are the street stalls selling panchos (hot-dogs), hamburgers, empanadas and similar fast-food. Vegetables, salad and other types of meat are not that common but available. In restaurants you normally get manioc as a side dish for free (similar to bread in other countries).
You must try the Paraguayan traditional food, which includes dishes like the following:
- Chipa-a bread baked in an outdoor oven or "tatacua", usually made out of mandioca (manioc) flour. Mandioca is often substituted for potatoes. Mandioca, or Mandi´o in Guarani is similar to a potato, and is normally eaten boiled but can be fried. It is eaten almost everyday by Paraguayans, and many have it growing on their land.
- Mbeju is a mandioca starch and Paraguayan cheese based flatbread.
- Pastel madi'o is a manioc pastry stuffed with "So'o ku'í" or minced meat.
- Sopa Paraguaya is a form of corn bread are two of the most well known. Sopa means soup, so it is an unusual experience to be actually eating a solid soup, probably the only one in the world.
- Tortillas in Paraguay are different than in other places in Latin America. It is more like a fried dough (made with Paraguayan cheese).
- Payagua mascada (Guarani for chewing gum for dogs but has nothing to do with that) is a tortilla also made with manioc and beef (high in proteins and calories).
- Try Sopa So'o if you get the chance--it is Paraguayan cornbread with bits of pieces of meat often marinated with garlic and lime.
- Pira caldo is a soup consisting of catfish, tomatoes, fat and spices
- Asado (BBQ) is great, and prices are quite reasonable - PYG20,000 Guaranis (USD4) will get you an all-you-can-eat buffet at many nice places. PYG5,000 is enough to pay for a hamburger.
- Also highly popular are empanadas (meat/egg stuffed in a pastry and baked) and milanesa (breaded and fried chicken/beef/fish) - these are considered fast food, and are also found in other countries in the region. If you order a hamburger at a restaurant, expect it to come topped with a fried egg.
Tap water in Asunción, and possibly Ciudad del Este, is potable. Tap water in the rest of Paraguay should be treated to make it safe for drinking. There have been efforts by PLAN International to bring safe, potable water to communities in rural areas (if there is such water available, it is safe to drink). Ask before drinking water in rural areas however--many Paraguayans will claim their water is safe to drink even if it's not purified.
The most common drink in Paraguay is Mate made of Yerba Mate (Mate herbs) that is similar in style to tea but the preparation is distinct. To add sugar is not common in Paraguay. The infusion is prepared by pouring dry yerba into the cup, then adding water: hot water version is known as mate (preferred in Argentina and Uruguay) while the cold water version is known as tereré and is a local favourite. When it is hot, it is more common to drink it as terere, served in guampas, which can be made out of wood or of hallow bull horns, and is drunk through a metal straw called a bombilla.
Mate is usually enjoyed in the early mornings and late evenings especially during cold days in winter. Terere is enjoyed year-round, though not during lunch time and past sunset, as many recommend. Still, you can see every type of Paraguayan (from construction workers to business executives) carry their terere set during all times. It is a social activity so the cup is passed around - with in between a refill for each person. If you are offered either you should accept at least one cup. If you can get used to the taste and participate, locals will be appreciative.Often, herbs are added to the tereré water (locally called 'remedios' or 'yuyos', which cure different ailments). For example, adding coconut to one's mate is supposed to help with headaches. The taste is best described as earthy, like a bitter green tea, and it will take getting used to before you can enjoy it.
Drinking mate or tereré is most definitely one of the social customs of Paraguay. Shops will close around noon for a siesta and for a round of mate/tereré with friends.
Another variation of preparation is to boil the yerba on the stove with sugar then strain it before serving it with milk. It tastes a bit like smoked tea. In this form it is called Cocido, which simply means "cooked".
Other non-alcoholic beverages
- Coffee is mostly of an Italian variety.
- Gaseosa means fizzy drinks of any description. All the usual brands are available. Try the local Guarana.
- Pulp is a very popular Paraguayan soft drink. You can buy it a supermarkets or order it in various restaurantes and bars. The original is Pulp Naranja, made with real orange juice.
- Mosto helado is extracted from the sugar cane and very sweet,sometimes mixed with lime juice to make an 'aloja'. You can find street carts selling mosto near the centro area and in the countryside.
- In Paraguay, orange juice and other fruit juices, unless squeezed fresh, are almost always reconstituted from dehydrated concentrate. This applies to all unrefrigerated Tetra-Pak juices. Note that the dehydration process destroys vitamin C, and unlike in the West, ascorbic acid may not be added back after reconstitution, thus these fruit juices may not contain any appreciable amount of vitamin C. Either check the packaging, buy fresh juice (freshly squeezed from a street vendor, or Purifru brand in the refrigerator cabinet), or enjoy the wide variety of fresh fruit available on many street corners.
- Beer is widely available, as are many liquors. The local beer is Brahma or Pilsen.
- Paraguayan hard liquor is similar to rum and is known locally as caña. It is made out of sugar cane.
Good accommodation will certainly not be hard to find in major towns, and will seem reasonably cheap if the parameter is the dollar or the euro. The exception, however, is Ciudad del Este. In Ciuded del Este the cheapest accommodation is near the bus station with doubles for less than €10, in an area that is also pleasant in the evening. Cheap accommodation is easy to find, but if you're after something of higher quality and have the money to back it up, then you'll have a better chance in the Argentinian Puerto Iguazu or the Brazilian Foz do Iguaçu.
Although there are few Spanish language learning schools, there are however quite a few snake skin peeling courses available in most small towns. For a moderate to high price (depending on the expertise), you train with the snake skinners for one day at their personal ranch while learning the ins and outs of the reptiles local to the area. Most are non-venomous just be on the lookout for two headed ones that might get you while you have your hand around another. Most lessons go into the evening where the skinner or hunter will prepare a dinner featuring the snake meat, while preserving the skin of course. Most commonly cooked on the grill, snake is a common delicacy in Paraguay.
As far as languages go, however, there is a uniquely Paraguayan language called Guaraní. It is an indigenous language spoken widely outside of Asunción. Most Paraguayans can speak both Spanish and Guaraní. The Guaraní that is spoken is not pure - instead Spanish words are used as well (especially when the word in Guaraní is more complicated than the corresponding Spanish word). Classes to learn Guaraní are unheard of for foreigners (though in the big cities, students who speak Spanish as their first language can opt to learn Guaraní as a second language). There are books available in stores, though the best way to learn would be to speak to the locals.
You can learn local artisanry such as ñanduti embroidery and ao poi at the Instituto Paraguayode Artesanía.
Most people who live in the rural areas of Paraguay are subsistence farmers. Other people who live in urban areas are marketeers. They sell fish, fruit and vegetables, and other products.
There are not many large cities and if you use some common sense and street smarts, you are unlikely to run into any trouble. The police are known to be corrupt, and if you are pulled over for any reason, you will almost certainly be expected to pay a bribe. In Asunción most cops are not corrupt. In the cities crime is common, though not as rampant as in other cities such as Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Buenos Aires.
Ciudad del Este is a hotspot for illicit activities, such as money laundering and counterfeiting, but that should not affect your travels. That said, you will want to keep an eye on your bags and wallet here, as you would do in any other large city. Generally, as long as you aren't involved in drug smuggling (inadvertently or otherwise), and are alert to pickpockets, you should be safe most of the time.
- Hospitals in Paraguay range from decent to unsanitary and unequipped. If you get desperately ill, try to get to the best hospital even if it takes a bit longer - you may not find surgical gloves in the worst of them.
- There are many stray dogs running the streets - avoid them. They usually won't bother you.
- You may pick up a foot flea known locally as pique (Tunga penetrans), these will usually collect around your toes. They will lay eggs in your feet if not taken care of - the best way to get rid of them is to pierce the site with a stitching needle and pour hydrogen peroxide over the area, then dig the bug out. If you have picked one up, you may notice itching or tenderness in your feet.
- Paraguay is in the risk zone for the two most common tropical fevers carried by mosquitoes: dengue and yellow fever.
It is always considered courteous for men to shake hands whenever they meet. Between a man and a woman, or two women, it is common to shake hands and to give a kiss on each cheek. Also when meeting, people will ask not how you are, but if everything is all right, ("¿todo bien?"). The response to this is always, yes everything, and you, ("si estoy bien y vos?") Even if you are having a terrible day, when someone asks such as an acquaintance in the street, one always responds with yes, everything.
Also when given food, you are obligated to both eat it, and to say that it is good (rico in Spanish). To say otherwise with a person you are not acquainted with can be considered forward and rude.
In Paraguay, due to the small number of tourists and foreigners, during a first encounter people might make jokes or start making fun of you. This is not meant in an impolite way, it is just the people acknowledging differences between you and them and should be not be interpreted offensively. Paraguayans, just like Argentinians, especially in the cities and among the youth, tend to have a very acid sense of humour.
It is very difficult to find people who speak English in most of the country, but if you are very patient and try to communicate in Spanish or with signs, most Paraguayans will try to help you out. Those who can will often single you out and begin a conversation themselves, eager to try out their English. People are very kind and helpful, and they will be glad to meet with a foreigner.
Punctuality and Perception of Time
Paraguayans have little sense of the value and importance to time. Nothing runs on time, and arriving to a meeting a few minutes late is not uncommon nor considered rude. Flights and buses are almost always expected to be not on schedule.
US, 1776 Avenida Mariscal Lopez, Casilla Postal 402, Asunción, telephone: +595 21 213-715, Fax: +595 21 213-728