Ciudad del Este is a travel destination in Paraguay with the unique feature that its main attraction for visitors is shopping. In the city center, a myriad of shopping malls, arcades and department stores offer imported goods of luxury brands at unbeatable prices, making thousands of tourist-buyers coming during the day while the shops are open only to return home in the afternoon with the shopping bags full of bought merchandize.
This place is one of the access points to a great natural wonder of the world, the Iguaçu Falls, a few kilometers nearby in the neighboring cities of Foz do Iguaçu and Puerto Iguazu. Also very close is a unique feature rarely seen around the world, a tri-nation viewpoint where the borders of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet at the mouth of the Iguazú river into the Paraná river. Other interesting sights to see around Ciudad del Este are the Itaipú hydroelectric dam, the second largest in the world, the Monday river waterfall, as well as some interesting museums and nature reserves of the Atlantic Forest of South America.
The second largest city of Paraguay, Ciudad del Este metro area has a population of 575,000 inhabitants which includes the districts of Presidente Franco, Hernandarias and Minga Guazú. It is the capital of Alto Paraná Department and is known as ciudad jardín (garden city) for its numerous parks and green areas.
Ciudad del Este was founded in the mid 20th century, in 1957, with the name Ciudad Presidente Stroessner as a tribute to the dictator ruling Paraguay at the time, General Alfredo Stroessner. The city name was changed in 1989 after the fall of the Stroessner regime by the current Ciudad del Este (city of the east) because of its location at the eastern border of Paraguay with Brazil.
In the beginnings there were only an airstrip, two main avenues and the foundation stone for the church. Subsequently, the city started to grow steadily, first with the opening in 1968 of an international bridge to Brazil over the Paraná river, then since 1973 with the construction of the Itaipú hydroelectric dam, which meant that thousands of engineers and construction workers moved with their families to live over here. Large subdivisions and new neighbourhoods were built and the city became a mecca for anyone in Paraguay with entrepreneurship.
But the most significant key element in the transformation of Ciudad del Este to a major city has been the inter-border commercial trade with Brazil, a giant economy with a huge internal consumer market heavily tax burdened. Local businessmen, mostly from the Middle East and China, saw this as an opportunity and convinced Paraguayan authorities to tax-free almost all of the imported goods so creating a significant price difference between Paraguay and Brazil. This situation has made Ciudad del Este the main shopping destination for thousands of Brazilians who come lured by the chance to buy low-priced electronics, clothing, household appliances and many other items that can get to cost up to 80% cheaper than if they were bought in Brazil. The development of this kind of commercial activity has been of such magnitude that Forbes magazine once mentioned Ciudad del Este as the third most important shopping destination in the world after Hong Kong and Miami. This phenomena has caused that the largest shopping malls and department stores of Paraguay are found in the downtown of Ciudad del Este.
Local economy depends to a large extent on the border trade between Paraguay and Brazil, although a large part of it is considered smuggling by the Brazilian government. This is due to the activity of sacoleiros (Brazilian tourist shoppers) who cross the border to buy products in Ciudad del Este that then are resold in Sao Paulo and all along southern Brazil. The issue is that according to Brazilian import regulations the purchase of items by Brazilians travelling abroad must be "for personal use only" and up to a monthly limit of US$ 300 per person. However, the sacoleiros, from the Portuguese word sacola (bag), do this every day, so creating a very lucrative business of buying low-priced products in Paraguay and then reselling them in Brazil (up to 50%-80% more expensive). This business flow produces hundreds of millions of dollars and has allowed large stores and shopping centers in Ciudad del Este to be built very close to the border so that tourists do not have to walk more than 500 meters in Paraguayan territory to buy products and take them back to Brazil.
Another significant aspect of Ciudad del Este's economy is the agribusiness sector, with soya in particular. The soil in the Alto Paraná region is one of the most fertile in the world, so it has fostered the establishment of large soya plantations throughout the Eastern region of Paraguay which has led to a large economic development with the sale of agricultural machinery, fertilizers, the construction of large grain storage silos, as well as all the logistics of hundreds of trucks for the transport of soybeans to exporting ports in the Brazilian Atlantic coast.
Ciudad del Este is a bilingual community. Spanish and Portuguese are spoken side by side. Also there is a large Arab and Asian community, which run most of the local shops, so Arabic and Chinese is normally heard when you walk along the shopping arcades throughout the downtown area. English is apoken only in hotels and travel agencies.
Crossing the borders can be a bit tricky. Sometimes, buses do not stop at the border. In this case, you need to go there first and get the entry stamp before taking the bus out. If you get in, you just get off at the border and walk the rest. Otherwise, you can always walk back to the border and do the immigration work. Nowadays, many nationalities do not need a visa and just receive a 90 days free to stay stamp. This considerably lowers the hassle in case you miss it, because generally you are allowed in. Visas on the other hand can be denied, and if you get in without proper permission, this can be a huge problem. Either way, as long as you have a valid entry stamp, everything should be fine. Do not bother so much about the exit stamp, no one will search your passport for the other country's exit stamp. Also, not having the exit stamp you can jump between countries, especially Brazil and Paraguay as long as you are in the region.
Locals can cross the border and stay for up to 24 hr on either side without reporting to immigration or even carrying a passport (an ID card is sufficient). This is however not the case for citizens from elsewhere.
To visit Ciudad del Este from Puerto Iguazu proceed as following:
- Leaving Argentina is straight forward. You will get stamped out of the country automatically.
- When entering Brazil, you need to report to immigration to get your passport stamped, Since locals don't have to, taxi drivers and buses will often by-pass immigration, leaving you without proof of legal entry. Even when you report to immigration, border guards may try to tell you that no stamp is necessary, mainly because entering all your detail into the computer takes quite a while and they don't want to be bothered. However the large signs next to the immigration hall are rather clear about what you need to do, and if you do get stopped without a stamp for any reason later on, you'll very likely have to pay a bribe.
- When leaving Brazil, you need to get stamped out, which won't be a problem if you were stamped in.
- When entering Paraguay, you will need to get stamped in by immigration. Beware: Paraguay immigration will not stamp your passport if you haven't legally left Brazil (i.e. been stamped out). While most locals just bypass immigration - and doing the same it is probably not all that difficult - if you do get caught, you'll face large fines/bribe requests. Paraguayan border guards are obviously aware that many tourists do not get stamped in and thus stop unsuspecting tourists trying to leave the country. The option then is to pay a large bribe or be arrested and deported straight back to your home country - which is obviously a major hassle - both financially (paying for a new flight) and due to the fact that your luggage will be left at the hotel in Argentina/Brazil.
It is also possible to take a bus from the Puerto Iguazú bus terminal through Brazil (Foz do Iguaçu), across the "Friendship Bridge" and into Ciudad del Este. The bus is specially marked "Foz, Puerto Iguazú, Ciudad del Este" or simply "Paraguay" and leaves from Puerto Iguazú bus terminal at platform 7 every hour and costs AR$5. The ride to the Friendship Bridge will take approximately 45 min and you will be required to disembark at the Argentine border crossing to obtain an exit stamp before re-embarking the bus for the rest of the journey. If you're required to have a visa to enter Brazil and don't have one, make sure that the bus will take you all the way across the Friendship Bridge and into Ciudad del Este before boarding the bus. If it does not then it will drop you off right before the bridge and you will have to walk through immigration (exiting Brazil) and run the risk of being stopped and questioned by the Brazilian Federal Police about how you got into Brazil without a visa. Explain to them that you only wanted to visit Ciudad del Este and were unaware that the bus would not take you all the way. Also add that you will be returning straight to Puerto Iguazú (Argentina) at the end of the day.
The 1 Terminal de Omnibus (bus terminal) is 1,5 km south of the city centre near Avenida Bernardino Caballero and next to the 3 de Febrero football stadium.
- There are frequent buses from Asunción (5 hr) and Encarnación (4 hr) in the south.
- There are international connections to São Paulo (with Pluma for example).
From nearby Brazil and Argentina
- The most common way to arrive is across the Puente de la Amistad (Friendship Bridge) which connects Ciudad del Este in Paraguay and Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil. There are frequent bus connections, also to and from Puerto Iguazú in Argentina. Taxis sometimes do the trans-border trip as well.
- A couple of km south of Ciudad del Este, where Rio Paraná and Rio Iguaçu join, is a ferry crossing to Puerto Iguazú in Argentina without crossing Brazilian territory. The ferry runs hourly during daylight hours for AR$5. There's a bus to Ciudad del Este passing close-by. From the centre (Av. General Bernardino Caballero), take a bus labeled Tres Fronteras (destination, not the company name) and ask to be dropped at la balsa (the ferry). Both countries have immigration facilities on their respective side of the river, so the ferry can be used not only for day tours but also for official border crossings.
- There are two direct buses from Florianopolis (Brazil) into Ciudad del Este, 14-15 hr. The same buses in the opposite direction go from Ciudad del Este at 15:30 and 17:00 for GS.270,000.
- There is a daily direct bus from São Paulo (Brazil) into Ciudad del Este, 15 hr. The same bus in the opposite direction goes from Ciudad del Este at 13:30 for GS.300,000. Furthermore, there are two cheaper weekend connections from São Paulo into Ciudad del Este. They go from Ciudad del Este to São Paulo Fridays and Saturdays at 14:30 for just GS.250,000.
- The latter two-days-a-week connections also serve Rio de Janeiro, GS.400,000 from Ciudad del Este.
- Alternatively, take one of the more frequent connections (at least 6 a day) into Foz do Iguaçu and take the border bus (R$5.50) from there—see there for more details. These connection include considerably cheaper daily bus connections using the so called "freight buses" into Foz do Iguaçu—they are just half price the regular buses, around R$130.
The 2 Guaraní International Airport (AGT IATA) has direct connections to Asunción operated by Amaszonas. It is located in the neighbouring city of Minga Guazú, 32 km (20 mi) from Ciudad del Este and 40 km from Foz do Iguaçu. To get from the airport to the city center you can take a taxi for about GS.140,000 or the Minga Guazú bus, which leaves from the airport toward Ciudad del Este once a day at 13:00. The bus fare is GS.3,000.
If you arrive with your own car, make sure you find a parking lot. Usually the local touts will lead you to one. However, if you do not feel comfortable with the situation you still can research a parking lot in advance as some of them have websites on the Internet.
There are many local city buses available, typically charging GS.2,500. It is common and advisable to sit down without paying due to the number of people boarding and disembarking as well as the fast pace of traffic. The driver's assistant will come by eventually to collect your payment and make change.
The trip between the centre and Hernandarias for the Itaipu attractions is GS.3,000-3,500.
Taxis are available, but are unmetered. Always agree on a price before getting inside. If possible, contact your hotel in advance to find out what the normal fares should be (20000-30000 Gs from the bus station to Hotel Austria or Hotel Munich for example). Taxi drivers commonly attempt to overcharge foreigners either by quoting an unreasonable fare up front, or claiming they had quoted a higher fare at the end of the trip. Paying with exact change or close to it will provide leverage in case the driver attempts to increase the fare at the end of the trip. At the bus station, there is a sign that lists prices to typical destinations.
For the adventurous, motorcycles taxis are common and a fast way to move through the heavy traffic near the Puente de la Amistad (bridge). Drivers are generally easy to spot due to their reflective shirts and should provide you with a helmet.
- 1 Itaipú (The visitor centre is on the road to Hernandarias. Any bus to Hernandarias can drop you 500 m from the entrance (GS.3,000-3,500). Get off when the bus makes a left turn off the highway or when you see prominent signs indicating the turns for Itaipu and Hernandarias.), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. In summer, the below listed times are probably more extensive.. The Itaipú dam operator also provides a number of tourist attractions and tours, including the Tati Yupi Biological Reserve, some of which require registration. And you will mostly always need some form of identification, so bring your passport. And for registrations require ahead of the tour, they will need names, ages and number of people.
The most convenient option is the simple Panoramic tour of the dam. However, it is worth booking a scheduled tour ahead, for a more interesting and different experience. You can still always do the regular tour. Free.
- Panoramic tour of the dam, ☎ , , e-mail: email@example.com. M-F 07:30, 08:10, 09:00, 10:00, 10:45, 12:10, 13:00, 14:00, 14:45; Sa Su Holidays 08:00, 09:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 14:45. This is the most convenient option. A free, short and underwhelming 30 minute tour, often in Spanish only, that involves driving around the dam on a bus preceded by a fifteen-minute video on the history and importance of the dam. A short lookout over the spillway provides the only photo opportunity. Free.
- Special visit to the dam, ☎ , , , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. M-F 08:00-13:00. A tour with more information and different sites in a smaller group. Enquiry required at least one week ahead.
- Technical visit to the dam, ☎ , , , e-mail: email@example.com. M-F 08:00-13:00. An in-depth technical tour, which allow visitors to see the inside of the dam, power generation facilities, and turbines. Enquiry required at least one week ahead.
- Monumental Light Show, ☎ , , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. F, Sa 18:30 (winter), 19:30 (summer). An audio-visual show illuminating the dam. Prior registration necessary until the Thursday before.
- 2 Scale model of the dam (Modelo Reducido de la Represa de Itaipú) (about 2 km before the Itaipú visitor center, so you need to get off the bus earlier), ☎ , , e-mail: email@example.com. F-M 07:30-15:30, Sa Su Holidays 08:00-15:30. A model of 1:100 of the dam.
- 3 Itaipu Museum Guarani Land (Museo Tierra Guaraní (Itaipú) / Museo de la Tierra Guaraní and Zoológico Regional) (about 2 km before the Itaipú visitor center, so you need to get off the bus earlier), ☎ , , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. F-M 07:00-15:30, Sa Su Holidays 08:00-15:30. A small museum mainly on the Guarani culture and the local wildlife. Descriptions in English and Spanish.
- 4 Salto del Monday (Cataratas del Monday), Presidente Franco (south of Ciudad del Este). With a height of 45 m, 2 drops and 120 m width, the most impressive and beautiful waterfall in Paraguay. There are actually two (private) operators that grant access to the waterfall—compare prices! With the one further down the road you have a great view from above, but the elevator to the bottom costs a steep extra. On the other hand, the other operator (the one that comes first along the road from Ciudad del Este) has a platform at the bottom of the water, which can be reached by staircase. However, its top view is further apart from the waterfall and maybe not that spectacular. GS.12,000 (plus GS.23,000 for the elevator to the bottom).
- 1 Refugio Biológico Tati Yupi (Tati Yupi Biological Reserve), 3km north of Hernandarias on the Supercarratera to Saltos del Guairá (There is no direct public transit to the reserve, and the facilities are approximately 10-15 km inside the gates. 1.) To access the reserve without renting a vehicle, take a bus to Hernandarias. (It must have a sign in the windows that says "Sin Area". Other buses to Hernandarias take different routes.) Get off the bus at a roundabout with Copetrol and Petrosur gas stations on the far corners and a Diske taxi stand on the near right corner. From here, a taxi to the visitors center inside the reserve should cost about GS.50,000. The guards may be reluctant to allow a taxi inside, but with your permits and some persuasion they will relent and allow the driver to leave you at the facilities 10 km inside. Make an appointment to be picked up or take down the taxi dispatch phone number for park staff to call when you're ready to leave. 2.) Otherwise, just get dropped along the highway and hike the distance through the beautiful park.), ☎ , , e-mail: email@example.com. M-F 07:30-15:30, Sa Su Holidays 08:00-15:30. One of several areas of Atlantic Forest not flooded by the Itaipu reservoir, now preserved by the Itaipu Binacional organization. Refugio Tati Yupi is the most accessible and has facilities for camping, picnicking, outdoor grills, horseback riding, and a small hospedaje with male and female dorms and a kitchen. The reserve has many small trails available for walking and wildlife includes birds, capuchin monkeys, armadillos, capibara and more.
To obtain authorization for a visit (self-guided), submit passport information and passengers online or at the Itaipu Visitor Center. Permission must be requested at least 1 day in advance of arrival and you will need to collect the set of papers to present to the guards for admittance. If visiting the dam before going to the reserve, permits can be requested in person in the office to the left of the zoo entrance. By stopping by in advance of touring the dam, zoo, and Guaraní museum permits can likely be collected before returning to Ciudad del Este at the end of the day. Entrance, camping, hospedaje, and horse riding are free. A cantina sells souvenirs and a very limited assortment of snacks and beverages.
- 1 Paraguay Border Market. (the border markets close very early at around 16:00 in local winter and 17:00 in local summer, right before sunset). Shopping is the main business of the visitors. The main shopping streets are San Blas and Camilo Recalde, where you can buy almost anything. Many people come for electronics. If you want to buy electronics such as cellphones or cameras, always ask to test the device to make sure that it works. Never give it back to the shopkeeper/assistant as that person might exchange the device with faulty versions or hand the box back filled with paper but not with what you just bought.
When walking close to the Paraguay border or around shopping malls, ignore people holding printed images of electronic brands inviting you to buy from them. If they insist, politely say "No, gracias" and carry on.
- 2 China Shopping. One of the larger shopping centers and very popular with people that come here for the shopping.
Do all your 3 money exchange along the western half of Avenida Adrian Jara and Avenida Monseñor Rodríguez in Ciudad del Este. Even getting Brazilian Real for US dollars is considerably better than on the Brazilian side (Calculate the effective rate: Dolares Compra / Real Venta, if not even they are able to provide you with a direct rate). In June 2018, they were giving very competitive direct Brazilian Real for US dollars rates. But of course, they also do guaranis for dollars and reais. Shop around for the best deal, there are about a dozen places. But be aware, do not exchange with the unreliable street vendors. Most exchange bureaus are open until 16:00.
Due to the premium placed on street-front property, Ciudad del Este's eateries and dining establishments are commonly found inside multi-leveled shopping malls and are relatively scarce on the main street of San Blas.
As a consequence of considerable immigrant populations, Ciudad del Este has a diverse variety of ethnic food options that one can take advantage of. Arab food can be found off the main streets and in many shopping centers and typically serve good Shawarma/kebab to go. Chinese and Korean food restaurants can also be found. Your best bet is to ask a local to direct you to the nearest restaurant or eatery. Additionally, because of the large influx of Brazilian nationals that enter Ciudad del Este every day, the most popular restaurants are those which serve typical Brazilian fare and are easy to find.
For some of the better-looking Asian restaurants, try exploring the areas around the corner of Adrian Jara and Av. Boquerón. Not far from the same area are some US style burger houses. Above the "Area Iris" supermarket (corner of Av. Pioneros del Este and Adrian Jara) is a good but relatively expensive Japanese restaurant. In the supermarket various foods and other supplies can be had. Outside the supermarket, cheap hotdogs are available (but ensure that the hotdogs are heated well and not merely warmed - and this heating advice is recommended for foods from all street vendors).
Many street vendors grill delicious and cheap asado at night on Cap. Miranda just north of the main route through town. A plate of asado with manioc is GS.10,000, and salad, bread, and a liter of beer can be had for an additional GS.10,000.
Vegetarians will have to ask around, but outside the city center there are a few vegetarian Chinese restaurants. Friends have reported that an Indian vegetarian restaurant called Gourangas is located behind the Municipalidad, not far from the city centre.
Like most businesses in Ciudad del Este, you can pay for food with Argentine, US, Paraguayan, or Brazilian currency and expect to receive change in the same currency used for payment.
- Hotel Tía Nancy, Garcete & Cruz del Chaco (South South West of the main Bus Terminal). Check-out: 10AM. A friendly and cheap but slightly grubby place very close to the main Bus Terminal. from 12 US$ (fan).
- Hotel Caribe, on Emiliano R. Fernández (between Cap. Miranda and Mongelos), ☎ . Clean, comfortable rooms. The building is new, with air-conditioning, hot water, and cable TV. from 33US$ (aircon).
- Hotel Postillon, Calle Cañadones Chaqueños (Slightly south of the main Bus Terminal), ☎ . Air-conditioning, hot water, television and clean rooms in a building being refurbished. 18 US$.
- Hotel Munich, on Emiliano R. Fernández 71 (between Cap. Miranda and Mongelos), ☎ . from $30 US for a double with aircon.
- Hotel Austria, Emiliano R. Fernández 165 (between Cap. Miranda and Mongelos), ☎ . Also, a very basic room is available in a side area from the parking garage for $25 US. from $30 US for a double with aircon.
- Hotel San Rafael, Av. Adrian Jara y Avay (downtown Ciudad del Este), ☎ . Check-in: 3PM., check-out: 12PM. Good hotel located in downtown. Room with tv-cable, air-conditioning, private bath and telephone with direct calls. 30 US$.
- Hotel Mi Abuela, Av. Adrian Jara (downtown Ciudad del Este, close to the corner with Pioneros del Este), ☎ . Pleasant hotel located downtown. Like many of the mid-range hotels, offers a good breakfast buffet. from 28 US$.
Ciudad del Este might indeed be a little more dangerous than other cities in Paraguay. It has many dark alleys, overly many male tradesman, going forth and back around the border, and it is close to the Brazilian border. However, if you are aware and mind dark places at night, you should be safe.
Free WiFi is available in the park in front and from the 1 Biblioteca Municipal itself.
- Iguaçu Falls – One of the world's most famous waterfalls on the border between Brazil and Argentina, a little over 30 km to the southeast.
- Foz do Iguaçu – A city just across the border in Brazil.
To leave Ciudad del Este back across the Friendship bridge, one has three options: 1) Walk back across the bridge and wait in line at Brazilian immigration along with scores of people returning from shopping. 2) Take a bus from the bus terminal that goes into Brazil or directly to Puerto Iguazú and wait in the long line of cars. 3) Hire a motorcycle to take you across the bridge through the line specifically for motorcycles that is rarely ever stopped by immigration officials. This can be rather dangerous as the driver will weave in and out of incoming traffic. This option is by far the quickest and took the Author 3 minutes to get from one end of the Friendship Bridge on the Paraguayan side, to the other end of the bridge on the Brazilian side - past immigration. Cost: AR$10.
- Puerto Iguazú – A city in Argentina, less than 10 km south from Foz do Iguaçu.
There is a ferry (balsa) to Argentina from Presidente Franco, just outside Ciudad del Este. You can get there from Ciudad del Este by bus for GS.2,500 (as of October 2016): take the red Matiauda which says "3 Fronteras" and ask the driver to let you know when get out. It's about half an hour in bus, and then you have a 500 m walk downhill. The ferry costs GS.10,000 per person if you're on foot.
There may also be buses that go directly to Argentina without doing immigration paperwork in Brazil.