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Landlocked among South America's tourist favourites of Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia, Paraguay is unfairly overlooked by all but the most intrepid travellers and eco-tourists.
The country is unique in South America in that it largely resisted the cultural devastation wrought by the Spanish conquistadors, and has therefore preserved the cultural dominance of its pre-Columbian Guarani people.
A series of dictatorships have marred its progress since Paraguay became a republic in 1811, but more recently the country has enjoyed a period of relatively peaceful democracy and is fairly prosperous thanks to its thriving agricultural economy.
Those who fly into the capital, Asuncion, will find a large, relaxed city with a great Latin American atmosphere and plenty of historical interest. The city's rich 450-year history is reflected in the downtown architecture, including the Asuncion Cathedral, as well as some modern marvels such as the beautiful Lirico Theatre. In addition, Asuncion boasts a fun nightlife, vast shopping malls, and some excellent hotels and restaurants.
Rivers are the lifeblood of Paraguay and a scenic cruise from Asuncion to Concepcion is a popular option for tourists. Concepcion is a laidback little town about 130 miles (210km) north of the capital, the most notable feature of which is its riverside setting.
Travellers of a more adventurous persuasion can make expeditions to the western Chaco region, where some fascinating German Mennonite communities can be found living alongside the indigenous Guarani people, and hundreds of species of flora and fauna flourish in the marshes.
Paraguay is essentially a blank travel book awaiting further chapters. Although tourist amenities may be lacking outside of the capital, those keen on getting off the beaten track in a largely unspoilt South American country will find plenty of charm, raw wilderness and authentic indigenous culture in Paraguay, making it a rewarding and memorable destination.
This vibrant country in the centre of South America is relatively unfrequented by tourists and therefore doesn't have the same extensive list of traditional sightseeing attractions as that of some of its well-known neighbours.
Although this can make it more difficult to know where to go and what to do, the non-commercialised and unscripted nature of travel in Paraguay is a huge part of the country's appeal for travellers, as the culture feels authentic and the tourist sites aren't overcrowded.
Paraguay is a great place to visit for those who enjoy marvelling at waterfalls and exploring lush rainforests. The beautiful Saltos del Monday waterfall is the centrepiece of the Municipal Park Monday, which is a great outdoor playground for tourists wanting to experience the natural splendour of Paraguay.
There are camping facilities, picnic sites, and hiking trails, while tour operators offer fun adventure activities such as climbing and rappelling alongside the dramatic falls. The park is easily accessible from the city of Ciudad del Este, which is also the gateway to the magnificent Iguazu Falls shared by Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.
Other wonderful wilderness areas in Paraguay include the eight Itaipu Ecological Reserves, which protect swathes of Paraguay's remaining rainforest, as well as the vast Cerro Cora National Park and Ybycui National Park, conveniently located near Asuncion.
Although the historic centre of Asuncion offers some worthy landmarks, museums and monuments, the most highly regarded cultural attraction of Paraguay is surely the collection of 17th-century Jesuit missions near the city of Encarnacion. These UNESCO-listed wonders are a treat to explore, the best preserved of which is Trinidad de Parana. La Santisima and Jesus de Tavarangue are definitely also worth a visit, though.
Located on the border with Brazil, Ciudad del Este is the second largest city in Paraguay and is considered the top shopping destination in the country. The border crossing gets a steady stream of traffic from neighbouring countries for this reason, with visitors taking advantage of the low taxes. The city may not be particularly attractive to tourists otherwise, though there are some sightseeing options and a variety of good restaurants to enjoy. Ciudad del Este is also conveniently situated for tourists heading to Iguazu Falls or the Salsto del Monday waterwall.
The market town of Encarnacion lies 200 miles (374km) from Asuncion and is Paraguay's most attractive city. Known as the Pearl of the South, the city's main attractions are the ruins of the Jesuit Missions of La Santisima, Trinidad de Parana and Jesus de Tavarangue, listed jointly as a UNESCO World Heritage site and depicted in the famous 1986 film, The Mission. The city also boasts a pleasant artificial beach along the river, which is a popular place for sunning, swimming, and watersports such as boating, jet skiing and wakeboarding. Paraguay's most famous carnival celebrations take place here in January and February, making this a fun time to visit the city and join in the revelry.
Founded as a Mennonite colony in 1930, Filadelfia is a pocket of German culture in Paraguay. This small, neat farming community resembles a German suburb more than it does a Paraguayan city, and life largely revolves around its huge dairy cooperative. Visitors can learn about the colony's history at the Jakob Unger Museum, which offers tours in German and Spanish; and the Haushaltsmuseum, which has a particularly interesting exhibit on the Chaco War. Filadelfia also acts as a sort of gateway to the Chaco region, as it is the last stop for groceries and other essentials before heading into the wild.
Asuncion has a humid subtropical climate characterised by hot, humid summers, and mild winters. The city is relatively rainy throughout the year, but with noticeably less rain between June and September. The climate is hot and humid most of the year, with average high temperatures of between 84°F (29°C) and 92°F (33°C) between October and March.
The coldest time of year is June to August, when average temperatures are between 55°F (13°C) and 76°F (24°C). The cooler, drier months are generally considered more comfortable for travel, with most travellers choosing to visit between March and October.
Situated on the Tropic of Capricorn, Paraguay enjoys a hot subtropical climate, with long sultry summers (October to March) and an average annual temperature of about 75ºF (24ºC). The east of the country is more humid and wet, with only slight seasonal changes in temperature and rainfall throughout the year. The western Chaco region has a tropical wet-and-dry climate, almost semi-arid, with plenty of rainfall in the summer months but severe dry spells in winter.
Generally, the best time to visit Paraguay is between March and October when it is cooler, as the peak summer months (December to February) can be uncomfortably hot and humid.
The currency of Paraguay is the Paraguayan guarani (PYG). United States Dollars are also widely accepted. Visitors are advised to use banks or official Bureaux de Change for exchanging money rather than street exchange kiosks because there are many counterfeit notes in circulation. Credit cards are rarely accepted outside the major cities and may come with a surcharge. There are numerous ATMs in urban centres, which generally take Cirrus, Maestro, and Visa cards, but visitors who use them are advised to be vigilant due to the risk of crime. Banks are open Monday to Saturday between about 8.00am and 1pm.
Both Spanish and indigenous Guarani are official languages. English is not widely spoken or understood.
The electrical current is 220 volts, 50 Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are standard.
US nationals: United States citizens require a valid passport and a visa to enter Paraguay. Visas can be issued on arrival at Asuncion for a max stay of 90 days.
UK nationals: British citizens require a valid passport valid for 6 months from the date of exit, but can enter without a visa for up to 90 days.
CA nationals: Canadians require a valid passport and a visa to enter Paraguay, but visas can be issued on arrival at Asuncion for a max stay of 90 days.
AU nationals: Australians require a valid passport and a visa to enter Paraguay, but visas can be issued on arrival at Asuncion for a max stay of 90 days.
ZA nationals: South African citizens require a valid passport, but no visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
IR nationals: Citizens of Ireland require a valid passport, but no visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens require a valid passport and a visa to enter Paraguay, but visas can be issued on arrival at Asuncion for a max stay of 90 days.
Those requiring visas must apply to the nearest Paraguayan consulate. It is recommended that travellers always have six months' validity on their passports as immigration officials may impose restrictions other than those officially stated. Vaccinations against yellow fever are required for passengers arriving from or transiting infected areas.
All travellers should be vaccinated for hepatitis A and hepatitis B, and those planning to travel in rural areas and eat outside of hotels and restaurants should consider a vaccination for typhoid. All travellers arriving from yellow fever risk areas need to carry proof of vaccination to enter Paraguay and the vaccination is also generally recommended for travel in the country.
Travellers should also be up to date with vaccinations for MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) and tetanus-diphtheria. The risk of malaria is low, though medication is recommended. Tap water is safe in Asuncion, but bottled water is generally the better option, particularly for those who are sensitive to minor dietary changes. Caution should be exercised with street food and any uncooked food.
Healthcare facilities are good in Asuncion but may be very limited beyond the capital. Comprehensive travel and health insurance is recommended and all required medication should be carried into the country, along with a signed and dated letter from a doctor detailing what it is and why it is needed.
Tips of a few thousand guaranies are usually appreciated, though travellers shouldn't insist if locals reject the offers. As a rough guide, bars do not expect tips, and a gratuity of between 5000 and 1000 PYG is standard for meals at pricier restaurants.
Most visits to Paraguay are trouble-free but visitors should note that incidents of violent crime are on the increase, particularly pickpocketing, muggings and other street crimes in Asuncion, Ciudad del Este, and Pedro Juan Caballero.
Visitors should take sensible precautions such as not carrying large amounts of cash, wearing visible jewellery, or displaying valuables, especially when walking the streets or using public transport.
Those who travel around the country should note that there are frequent military and police roadblocks and checkpoints in operation. Travellers are advised to avoid protests, as they occasionally become violent.
Visitors should respect the fact that Paraguayans are a conservative people who value old-fashioned courtesies. Homosexuality is legal but public displays of affection are frowned upon. All residents and visitors are required to carry identification at all times. Generally, authorities will accept a photocopy of documents like passports. As with neighbouring countries, locals enjoy a siesta over lunch when they snooze or drink maté (local tea) with friends. Shops and businesses may be closed at this time.
Those heading for business meetings in Paraguay would be well advised to hire an interpreter or have a working knowledge of Spanish, as English is not widely spoken, even in the capital. Business appointments are formal and generally occur in the mornings.
Dress should be conservative, preferably lightweight business suits for men and the equivalent for women. Business hours are from about 8am to 12pm and 2.30pm to 6pm Monday to Friday, and 8am to 12pm on Saturday.
The international direct dialling code for Paraguay is +595. Local SIM cards are significantly cheaper than roaming and wifi is common in the cities, where all hotels and most bars and restaurants offer it.
Visitors to Paraguay may bring into the country amounts of tobacco products, alcohol and perfume deemed sufficient for personal use during their stay. The value of goods brought into the country should not exceed USD 300 if arriving by air or water, and USD 150 if arriving by land.
National Tourism Secretariat: 595 21 450 965. Official Tourism Website: www.senatur.gov.py
Embassy of Paraguay, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 483 6960.
Embassy of Paraguay, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7610 4180.
Embassy of Paraguay, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 567 1283.
Consulate-General of Paraguay, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6156 4522.
Embassy of Paraguay, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 347 1047.
United States Embassy, Asuncion: +595 (0)21 213 715.
British Embassy, Asuncion: +595 (0)21 614 588.
Honorary Consulate of Canada, Asuncion: +595 (0)21 227 207.
Australian Embassy, Buenos Aires, Argentina (also responsible for Paraguay): +54 (0)11 4779 3500.
South African Honourary Consulate, Asuncion: +595 (0)21 441 971.
New Zealand Embassy, Buenos Aires, Argentina (also responsible for Paraguay): +54 (0)11 5070 0700.
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