Filadelfia is the largest and most important of the Mennonite colonies established in Western Paraguay located 467 km (290 mi) northwest from Asunción. A unique place thanks to its Mennonite heritage, Filadelfia is very different from the rest of Paraguay mainly due to being an industrialized town, German-speaking, and with an economic model based in the cooperative work that provides its citizens a living standard well above that of the country's average. Its remote location and being surrounded by the harsh, sparsely populated, desert-like environment of the Chaco adds a special air to the city. There are also pristine nature reserves not far from town, excellent historical museums, and good lodging and eating facilities. All this in a welcoming Mennonite community just off the desolate Transchaco highway.
Founded by German Mennonites in 1930, today Filadelfia is the largest and most important city of the Chaco with a population of about 18,000 inhabitants. It is also the capital of Boquerón department and the administrative center of the Fernheim Cooperative, one of the largest in Paraguay which, in turn, is responsible for running many aspects and services of the city like the hospital, the main supermarket, the savings bank, the school, and many others, which are paid for by the profits from the cooperative.
A large fraction of its population descends from German Mennonites who immigrated from the former Soviet Union in the 1930s. Though most people associate Filadelfia with Mennonites, there are a number of non-Mennonite residents as well. The fact is that the Mennonites comprise 30% of the population and run most of the local businesses and tourist facilities. There are four indigenous communities — the Nivaclé, the Guaraní, the Enxet and the Ayoreo — who account for 60% of the population. The remainder are Latin Paraguayans and foreigners who are neither Mennonite nor indigenous. Filadelfia is the most cosmopolitan of the communities of the Chaco; walking down the streets you are likely to see blond farmers in overalls, modern-looking Latinos speaking on cell phones, and indigenous women wearing long skirts decorated with bright cartoonish prints.
The word ‘Fernheim’ is a composition of two German words, which stand for ‘far away home’. The first settlers moved in from the Russian Federation under the sporsonship of the then German president Paul von Hindenburg and found a new home in the central Chaco of Paraguay. In 1930, a group of 1572 people arrived from Russia and established the Fernheim colony. Originally, they organized themselves in 12 villages of 20 – 25 farms each. The following years they added up other smaller groups and nowadays they total 25 villages plus the city of Filadelfia. For the administration of the colonizing society and the coordination of the sale of the agricultural products, as well as the supply of consumer products, it was necessary to establish an administrative center. The decision was made to establish Filadelfia on the site where the city is now located. Here they had found enough underground freshwater and it was the central point for all the villages. The Mennonites still speak their ancestral Low German language (Plattdeutsch).
Filadelfia is the economic hub of the Chaco. Mennonites, indigenous Paraguayans from Asunción and Brazilians have been attracted to the area by job opportunities. The economy is mostly cattle herding, beef processing, and industrialization of dairy products. The colony produces five main agricultural goods: castor beans (for hydraulic oil), cotton, sorbum (for biodiesel), sesame and peanuts.
Nearly all of the Mennonite families have shares in the Fernheim cooperative. Outsiders (non-Mennonites) can rent or buy land from the cooperative on condition of living one year among the community so their character can be judged. The cooperative collects 10% of a member's earnings and in return members get use of all the benefits the cooperative offers, such as discounts at the supermarket, health insurance, elderly care, university scholarship, among others which are not provided by the Paraguayan government. They may also get financial dividends, but they will sometimes hold votes on whether to retain the dividends and invest them in new facilities and benefits. The cooperative provides services for non-members, such as schools and radio broadcasts for the indigenous population. Filadelfia is very segregated with the majority of non-Mennonites living in the Barrio Amistad neighbourhood and the city's indigenous residents living in the Barrio Villa Guaraní.
Water supply is a major issue in the Chaco; all households in the city are able to collect rainwater which can be stored for use. A project of desalinisation of ground water is underway as rainfall can sometimes be low. Electricity is supplied by ANDE, the state-owned power company; it used to be generated locally by burning wood. The population is growing 4% per year, while demands on power grow 20% per year, as affluence increases.
Avenida Hindenburg is the main street, stretching from north to south with stores, hotels and restaurants all along it. When coming from Asunción you enter the city from the south as you take Avenida Hindenburg at the site of the Third Monument. Those coming from neighbouring Loma Plata enter the city from the west through Avenida Trébol, the other major street in Filadelfia. Avenida Trébol crosses Avenida Hindenburg in the middle of the city at the site of the Second Monument.
There is no central square or big church in the city center. The headquarters of the Fernheim Cooperative, at Avenida Hindenburg and Calle Unruh, will be your main point of reference when asking for directions.
The city is surrounded by an endless sea of semiarid flat bush forest, which is the characteristic environment of the dry Chaco region.
|Climate chart (explanation)|
The weather in Filadelfia is dry. The hottest months of summertime last from November to March and the heat can be severe. In winter, temperatures can drop below freezing and the chill can be strong from one day to another. This is due to the desert environment of the Chaco and visitors should bring appropriate clothing and drink plenty of water.
The Mennonite community speak German as their mother tongue. Officially their ethno-language is Plautdietsch, a German dialect of the East Low German group, however the majority of the Chaco Mennonites uses Standard German in church and for reading and writing. Non-Mennonites speak both Spanish and Guaraní as Paraguay is a bilingual country, the first one in the Americas that made its indigenous tongue an official language. English is taught in the Mennonite schools and widely understood amongst the young population.
- 1 Tourist Office, Avenida Hindenburg 131-S and Avenida Trébol (next to the main museum), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Also run by the cooperative, the tourist information office is helpful and provides excellent travel info, maps and brochures. It offers videos on Mennonite history and the development of the colony, and provides guided visits in English, German and Spanish to the cooperative industry plants, to all the museums, and to historical and nature sites in the central Chaco. It can also arrange visits to indigenous communities.
Overland is the only way to get to Filadelfia.
Buses terminate at the 1 NASA office on calle Chaco Boreal; you may also disembark on the hotels located along Avenida Hindenburg, the main street. Some buses stop in Loma Plata first and then continue on to Fildelfia. The main bus company serving the area is NASA, which also uses the name Golondrina.
- to Asunción 467 km (290 mi), ~10hr, 3 buses per day (one overnight), GS.70,000
- to Loma Plata 21 km (13 mi), ~45min, 1 bus per day, GS.10,000
- to Mariscal Estigarribia 75 km (47 mi), ~1hr, 2 buses per day, GS.15,000
Santa Cruz, Bolivia – The bus travels between Asunción and Santa Cruz and is extremely slow (the Transchaco Highway is only paved as far as the Bolivian border). Buses generally travel only at night - meaning that you miss out on any views of the Chaco, and roadblocks on the Bolivian side of the border can cause your journey time to double. There is at least one bus daily. The trip takes 21-24 hr, costs US$40-60 (bargain if you can), and flights might actually only be marginally more expensive, depending on the time of booking. Any intermediate exit or boarding (like Filadelfia or Villamontes) will likely cost the same as the complete trip. But if your nerves are strong, you will get the price down bargaining directly with the bus driver.
Filadelfia has good road connections to Asunción and the other Mennonite colonies of the Chaco. Even if the road is not paved it will be well kept by the Fernheim Cooperative. The city center is 15 km (9 mi) off the Transchaco Highway. Asunción is 467 km (290 mi) to the southeast, and the Bolivia border is 303 km (188 mi) to the northwest; travelling time to both sides is about 7 hours.
The town sprawls several kilometers in all directions and there is no public transportation, except for a few taxis, but the terrain is flat and most of the interesting places and tourist attractions can be easily reached on foot as they are located along or close to Avenida Hindenburg. The only taxi stand is near the bus terminal.
There is an excellent array of well-kept museums that showcase the history and social development of the colony. The museums are owned and managed by the Fernheim Cooperative and are all free. However, only the Jakob Unger museum is permanently open to the public. For visiting the other museums you will have to arrange the visit through the tourist office.
- 1 Jakob Unger Museum, Avenida Hindenburg at Calle Unruh (in front of Hotel Florida), ☎ . M-Sa 07:00-11:30. A very good museum spread over two buildings. The oldest building was built in 1933/34, shortly after the founding of the colony, and is one of the few remaining original administrative houses of the city and it was used for civil and religious ceremonies. It was converted into a museum in 1980 and named after Jakob Unger, a Mennonite specimen collector, who was the first of the pioneers to perform a scientific study of the fauna of the Chaco from 1950 to 1975. The first building is devoted to Mennonite history, and there are many artifacts from the original colonists including the printing press for the newspaper Mennoblatt, which is still published today. There is also a collection of relics from the Chaco War. Out front stands a large saw, the first machine in the community saw mill. In the second building is the natural history section, which houses an impressive collection of stuffed animals from the Chaco, including a jaguar, armadillo, coatí, puma, anteater, wolf, tapir, tree sloth, skunk and a boa constrictor. There are also 210 out of 250 bird species found in the area, and a large section devoted to insects. Items are well-labeled, so visiting the museum is an excellent way to learn about the region's fauna. The back room is dedicated to the various indigenous groups the predated the Mennonite's arrival to the Chaco and include utilitarian objects, textiles, feathered headdresses, handicrafts, weapons, and ceramics. The museum has a pleasant garden, the Plaza de los Recuerdos, with several examples of the quirky palo borracho tree. In the park there is also the First Monument erected in town, a small obelisk, placed in 1955, on the 25th anniversary of the foundation of the colony.
- 2 Museo Knelsen-Haus, Avenida Hindenburg (next to Hotel Florida). The museum exhibits what a typical house from colonial times looked like, including an old kitchen and some original household appliances. It was built in 1948 by Jakob Knelsen. It was the only hotel in Filadelfia for many years. In 2002, at the initiative of some citizens the house was renovated and converted into a household museum.
- 3 Museo Industrial, Avenida Hindenburg and Calle Industrial (100m south of Fernheim supermarket). Located where the original peanut silo was built in 1957. The building today is like a symbol of the industrial revolution that the Mennonites started in the 1950s and continue today. In 1958 a peanut oil refinery started operating in the building which, with its three stories, was the tallest in the colony, and it became part of an emblematic industrial park, a novelty for Paraguay in those years. The museum showcases the old cauldron and agricultural machinery used in the process of peanut collecting and industrialization. It's considered the foundation stone of what made Filadelfia the economic power that it is today.
- 4 Museo Hospitalario (hospital museum), Avenida Hindenburg and Avenida Trébol (in the city hospital grounds). This museum is housed in the first structure built on the current hospital premises, a little house dating from 1932. With just two rooms it was used as a doctor's office, procedures room, maternity ward, laboratory, and eventually as the hospital director's office. It showcases photos depicting the hospital's history and exhibits furniture and medical instruments brought from Germany in 1931. The museum is named after Dr. Wilhelm Kaethler, one of the first Paraguay-born Mennonite doctors who began to establish a medical practice for the colony's residents and their indigenous neighbours in the 1950s.
- 5 Museo Escolar (school museum), Calle Unruth (around the corner from the supermarket). The old school building which opened its doors in 1936. One part of the exhibit is about the elementary school depicting how life was in the first school to open its doors in the Chaco wilderness. Furniture from that time, books and other school materials, including blackboards and markers, are shown. Also pictures of the different schools in the nearby settlements, teachers list, and school statistics are available. Another exhibit presents technological development in the school throughout the years such as writing and typing machines, projectors, and a copy machine.
Monuments and memorials
- 6 Second Monument (Faith, Unity and Labor monument), Avenida Hindenburg and Avenida Trébol (in the middle of the city). Abstract monument built in 1980 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the colony. This monument is one of the symbols of Filadelfia and is in the middle of a roundabout at the junction of the city's two main avenues: Avenida Hindenburg and Avenida Trébol.
- 7 Third Monument (Living and Growing Together monument), Avenida Hindenburg and Calle Carayá (at the entrance of the city). Built in 2005 to commemorate the Fernheim colony's 75th anniversary. Located at the entrance of town, is of a more ambitious design: five figures of varying heights, representing the various ethnic groups that live in the area, hold up a ring with a cross in the middle. It looks its best at night when it is floodlit and resembles a crown.
- 8 Ruedas Pioneras, Avenida Trebol and calle Carlos Casado (located at the east entrance of Filadelfia). An open air museum whose purpose is to remember the means of communication in the early settlement years. The initial Fernheim colonists had to travel from Puerto Casado, 215 km to the west on the river Paraguay, covering one part of the journey in a narrow gauge train, and the last 90 km had to be with wagons pulled by donkeys and mules and later with tractors and trucks. The Puerto Casado railway was a key means of transport and for colonists to do commerce during their first three decades in the Chaco.
- 9 Parque de la Memoria (downtown park) (on Avenida Hindenburg between the museums). A park built to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the colony. In the park there is a memorial to the hard times of the first settlers.
- 10 Parque Eirene, Avenida Trebol at Sanatorio Eirene. Located around the Eirene clinic which is also a psychiatric unit and it can be visited too.
- 11 Parque Urundey (at eastern edge of town next to the airstrip). City park with lots of urundey trees.
Out of the city
- 12 Centro Chaqueño para la Conservación e Investigación (Chaco Research and Conservation Center), 30km west of Filadelfia, next to Fortín Toledo (from the Second Monument at the junction of Avenida Hindenburg and Avenida Trébol turn left and go west, pass the Transchaco highway, continue west for 9 km until you reach the entrance). A research center dedicated to the conservation of the peccary (known locally as taguá). You can see three different species of peccary up close. There is a guest house with dorm rooms and kitchen for visitors who want to stay for two or more days (booking is required). The center's location is ideal for nature enthusiasts and those who want to venture into the Chaco. You need to bring all your supplies with you as the nearest store is in Filadelfia. Just to the left of the center is Fortín Toledo, a historic site from the Chaco War, which is worth visiting.
- 13 Fortín Toledo, 30km west of Filadelfia, next to the Centro Chaqueño para la Conservación e Investigación (from the Second Monument at the junction of Avenida Hindenburg and Avenida Trébol turn left and go west, pass the Transchaco highway, continue west for 9 km until you reach the Research and Conservation Center and continue for 1 km). A historic site from the Chaco War (1932-35) where one of the major battles of the conflict took place between 26 February and 10 March 1933. Two cemeteries, one Paraguayan and one Bolivian, honor the over 1000 soldiers from both sides who died in combat during the battle.
- Relax in one of the shaded city parks like the 1 Parque de la Memoria and the 2 Parque Urundey, watching the butterflies and birds flit around the interesting bottle trees (shaped like bottles, high in water content - used to keep cattle hydrated in drought).
- Explore the tree-lined avenues and dusty streets and take in the mostly regular, solid German architecture in the affluent Mennonite neighbourhoods.
- You can participate in a Mennonite religious service. There are various Mennonite churches around the city. All are open for foreigners and the tourist office can arrange visits and guide you to many of them. The 3 Iglesia Adonai and the 4 Mennoniten Gemeinde Fernheim are the most centrally located. Mennonite churches are not particularly glamorous in their architecture (are quite modern in style) and the iconography of their interiors is not very interesting. They can vary in their routines and traditions; the more conservative ones practice separate seating for men and women - the men sitting on one side of the church and the women on the other. The music is usually a capella congregational singing, with no instrumental accompaniment and no choir or worship team. Prayer is often done while kneeling. Typically after the service, the congregation lingers for a time of talking and fellowship. You are free to participate in the conversation and ask questions. You may find that they are as curious about you as you are about them.
- Make a visit to one of the estancias (ranches) that are open to receiving visitors like Estancia Campo Norte at 130 km (81 mi), 5 Estancia Campo-í at 61 km (38 mi), or the Rancho Garrote at just 4 km (2 mi) from Filadelfia. During your visit you can watch or participate in the estancia activities, or do some hiking in the Chaco bush forests. Ask at the tourist office how to arrange the visit.
- It is possible to visit some of the indigenous communities but it's not recommended to do so unless you have organized the visit previously with an accredited guide through the tourist office. The main indigenous groups living in the area are the Lengua, also known as the Enxet, who moved to Filadelfia in the 1980s seeking construction work for the men and domestic work for the women. The married Lengua women wear long skirts covering their ankles. The Nivaclés is another ethnic group who are known for the beauty of their women. The Ayoreo are semi-nomadic and are the people who have been least changed by the process of development. They make very attractive fibre bags, coloured in earthy browns and reds. They also sometimes sell honey harvested from the wild.
- The Areté Guazú (Big Celebration) of the Guaraní people coincides with carnival time (the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday). It is even referred to by the indigenous community as their own carnival celebration. It's the only opportunity when the indigenous people, who are generally shy and little prone to be visited by foreigners, issue a general invitation to anyone to visit and join them in their annual festival. In Filadelfia the celebration takes place in the social club of their barrio (neighbourhood) Yvopey Renda. They wear long costumes and masks - of tigers, pigs or frightening faces of dead ancestors - The music is played on their traditional instruments, such as flutes and drums. People dance and drink chicha, a beverage made from the fermented fruit of the algarrobo - a tree that grows only in the Chaco.
It's recommended that visitors to the Chaco bring cash, as outside hotels, major restaurants or the cooperative supermarket, only a few shops in town accept credit cards.
- 1 Fernheim Coop Supermarket. The storefront of the Fernheim Cooperative is worth visiting to see the wide varietes of goods produced in this Mennonite colony.
- 2 Centro de Artesanías del Chaco (handcraft shop), Calle Carayá and Calle O. Miller (one block east from the Third Monument at the entrance of the city), ☎ . Very nice craft shop run by the municipality for the indigenous to show and sell their crafts. Woven clothes, baskets, wood carved objects.
- 3 Librería Filadelfia (city bookstore), Avenida Trebol and Avenida Hindenburg. Books and reading material for all ages, mostly in German. 99% of items on offer are of Mennonite religious content.
- 4 Shopping El Portal del Chaco, Avenida Hindenburg and Calle Carayá (at the entrance of town). Shopping arcade with banks, general stores, clothing boutiques, etc.
Local artisan goods from jewellery to statuettes, both of Guaraní and German tradition can be found in local shops.
If you need to exchange currency, there are two banks in town (both along Av. Hindenburg) and they reportedly take US dollars and Brazilian reais. Cooperativa Fernheim is between Calle Unruh and Calle Industrial and Itaú is just south of the supermarket. The latter is also equipped with an ATM, which accepts international cards.
Most businesses and shops are closed weekdays from 12:00-14:00, Saturday afternoon and Sunday.
- 1 Girasol Churrasquería, Calle Unruh. A popular restaurant specializing heavily in meat, beef in particular (no surprise in this part of the world). Does buffet lunches, sold by the kilogram.
- 2 Restaurante Boquerón, Calle Boquerón (adjacent to Boqueron supermarket). Food court of the adjoining supermarket of the same name. If offers buffet and a la carte selections.
- 3 Restaurant Hotel Florida, Avenida Hindenburg 165-S (in the Hotel Florida). The hotel's restaurant is quite good and popular with guests and non-guests alike. Pizzas are tasty and affordable. At night, dining in the hotel's courtyard is very pleasant.
- 4 Restaurante Spazio, Calle Unruh. Quiet place to have lunch and dine. It has a playground for children.
- 5 El Rincón, Avenida Hindenburg and Calle Carayá (in the Portal del Chaco shopping mall). Extensive menu. On Saturday nights and Sunday lunch they offer asado and buffet.
The Mennonites are very hardworking people and after dark it seems that everyone goes to bed. However, south of the Fernheim supermarket, where the indigenous and Latino neighbourhoods are located, you will find a few small bars.
Hotels in Filadelfia are in the mid range category. They can offer new and old rooms. Old rooms are cheaper, but they don't have air conditioning and are not recommended in summer. Take note that during the annual Transchaco Rally competition in late September/early October, it's almost impossible to get a hotel room without prior reservation.
- 1 Hotel Florida, Avenida Hindenburg 165-S (Unmissable, right across from the museum and park), ☎ . Check-out: 13:00. Generally agreed to be the best hotel in Filadelfia. Centrally located at walking distance from tourist attractions in the city. Good service, pool & a pleasant inside courtyard. Rooms in old section are cheaper. Good restaurant. Evening dinners are good quality and reasonably priced. Single US$48; double US$65; triple US$72; quad US$84; suite US$102.
- 2 Hotel Golondrina Centro, Calle Industrial 149-E (one street across from Chaco Boreal, where the NASA bus office is), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Fairly average place, comfortable, clean but nothing special. Single GS.120,000; double GS.195,000; cheaper rooms without a/c, shared bathroom and no breakfast..
- 3 Hotel Golondrina Avenida, Avenida Hindenburg 635-S, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Single GS.105,000; double GS.170,000. Cheaper rooms with fan, shared bath and no breakfast.
- 4 Hotel Touring Club Filadelfia, Ruta Transchaco and Desvío Filadelfia (15 km south from city centre.), ☎ . Run by the Touring and Automobile Club. Modern hotel with pool and a good restaurant. Rooms are comfortable and well appointed. Good value even though is quite far from the city, so it's only practical if you are in a private vehicle. Double US$32; triple US$36; QPL US$42; 10% discount for automobile club card holders.
- 5 Hotel Estancia Iparoma, 19km north of Filadelfia (go north on Avenida Hindenburg, pass Calle Taguá (the northern edge of town), keep heading north for 15 km until you reach the hotel entrance to your left), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. An estancia (ranch) converted into a 45-bed lodging facility by a family of Russian origin who has owned the place for 80 years. Horse riding and hiking tours into the wilderness that surrounds the premises. Swimming in natural pool (tajamar). English and German spoken. Booking required. It offers half and full day excursions to tourist sites and nature reserves in the area. Transfer from Filadelfia bus terminal can be arranged. GS.200,000 (US$35) per person includes full board and some activities and tours.
- Most hotels offer Wi-Fi for guests.
- Why not send postcards from the post office located at the supermarket? A Filadelfia stamped card will have probably one of the most unlikely frank-marks anyone will ever receive from you.
Filadelfia can be a good place to use as a base for visiting the Central Chaco. There are many national parks, nature reserves, and the other Mennonite colonies are close and worth visiting. Additionally, many independent travellers and backpackers continue to Bolivia and Peru.
- Loma Plata - 25 km (16 mi) to the west. A major Mennonite town, similar in size to Filadelfia, with a large industry of dairy products.
- Neuland - 37 km (23 mi) to the south. It's the smallest of the Mennonite colonies and a charming town close to historic sites full of relics of the Chaco War.
- Mariscal Estigarribia - 75 km (47 mi) to the northwest. The site of a large military airbase and the last stop before continuing to more remote areas of the central and northern Chaco.
- Bolivia - There are no direct buses from Filadelfia to the Bolivian border located 303 km (188 mi) to the northwest. To go there you will have to catch the Asunción-Bolivia bus in Mariscal Estigarribia. First purchase your bus ticket at Stel Turismo agency in Filadelfia. You will have to pay for the entire journey from Asuncion and the cost is US$65 to Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Then take the bus to Mariscal Estigarribia and ask the driver to drop you off at the immigration office. You will have to wait there for the bus from Asunción to Bolivia to come. Buses normally depart from Asunción daily at 20:00 and reach Mariscal Estigarribia around 03:00. When the bus arrives the immigration officer will check your passport and issue your exit stamp. Don't board the bus without doing this as there is no Paraguayan immigration at the border. Once you have boarded the bus you will travel for 6-7 hours before you arrive at Bolivian immigration.
|Routes through Filadelfia|
|Bolivia ← Mariscal Estigarribia ←||E W||→ Loma Plata → Concepción|
|Bahia Negra ← Fuerte Olimpo ←||N S||→ Neuland → Asunción|