Paraguay is a landlocked country in South America, northeast of Argentina, with borders with Bolivia and Brazil. The country is rich in natural resources: the world largest drinking water reservoir (Guarani Acquifer) is beneath its soil, the biggest hydroelectric producer -The Itaipú Dam- is on its border with Brazil. It's also the world's fith largest exporter of soya beans, as well as a renowned producer of beef. Despite this, many of its people live in poverty and it's very common to see beggars asking for money on Asuncion's corners.
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
Settled by disgruntled and idealistic Australians in October, 1893, this was the first attempt at communism anywhere in the world. About 700 people set up a colony without money or bosses based on the theories of Karl Marx. The tiny town with some of the descendents of the original settlers still exists about 5km West of Villarrica.
A second town, again with descendents, was founded by the same group of Australians at Cosme, 90km South, near Ca azapa.
Colonized for 3 centuries by the Spanish, since the 1500s, Paraguay has managed to keep a lot of it indigenous character and identity. Nowadays, the mestizos (Spanish + Amerindian) account for more than 90% 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.
But Paraguay also has a history of blood and tears. In the disastrous War of the Triple Alliance (1865-70), waged by the allied forces of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, the country lost two-thirds of all adult males and much of its territory. It stagnated economically for the next half century. In the Chaco War of 1932-35, large, economically important areas were won from Bolivia. The 35-year military dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner was overthrown in 1989, and, despite a marked increase in political infighting in recent years, democratic governors have been in power since then.
With an area of about 406.000 sq km, Paraguay is divided between the East and West (Chaco) regions by the Paraguay River. Despite being landlocked, the country is bordered and criss-crossed by navigable rivers.
The Tropic of Capricorn also crosses the country from East to West and determines a more tropical climate to the North and subtropical to temperate climate to the South.
Paraguay has been recently ranked by several research studies as the cheapest country in the world, measured through Purchasing Power Parity. Prices, measured in dollars, euros or British pounds are very cheap.
Before you try to enter Paraguay, check the visa requirements for your country. Most European citizens (EU) don't need visas to visit Paraguay. However US, Canadian and Australian citizens do need visas.
Flights go out from other South American airports to Asuncion on a fairly regular basis. There are also two daily flights from São Paulo to Ciudad del Este. Currently there are no direct flights from the United States to any city in Paraguay.
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; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Cordoba, Argentina; 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.
A boat travels up the Paraguay River from Asuncion 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 Asuncion the fares are determined by the meter. 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.
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 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 and DO NOT admit travelling through Paraguay for the first time. 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.
Both Spanish and Guarani are official. Most people in Paraguay speak Spanish and use of English is very limited. Outside of Asuncion 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.
Some basic greetings in Guarani include:
Mba'eichapa? = How are you?
Iporã = Good
ha nde? = and you?
iporã avei = good as well
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. Tienes changes to tenés, puedes changes to podés, but usually you can get by with changing tu to vos.
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.
The currency is the guarani (PYG). As of October, 2007, the current exchange rate is 5,033 Guaranies for 1 US Dollar, and 7,157 Guaranies for €1. Always check the exchange rate quotations on the internet or several major newspapers before exchanging money.
Prices in Paraguay are very low and a budget traveller will be able to get by on as little as £7/$14 a day and even less if camping. A clean, single hotel room out of Asuncion should not cost more than $10.
You'll find much of the standard South American cuisine here with some Brazilian influence as well (fried bananas, pineapple). 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. Asado (BBQ) is great, and prices are quite reasonable - 20000 Guaranis ($4.00 US) will get you an all-you-can-eat buffet at many nice places. 5000 Guarani is enough to pay for a hamburger. Paraguayan food isn't particularly spicy, so those who can't tolerate spices won't have problems here. There is a lot of traditional food. Chipa-a bread baked in a fire, usually made out of cassava (yuca) flour. Cassava is often substituted for potatoes. Sopa Paraguaya is a form of corn bread are two of the most well known. Cassava is known locally as Mandioca, or Mandi´o in Guarani. It is eaten almost everyday by Paraguayans, and many have it growing on their land.
It's not advisable to drink the tap water (unless boiled), but you probably won't get sick if you do. The national beverage in Paraguay is a tea called mate , and is made from the yerba plant. It is served in wooden cups, and is drunk through a metal straw called a bombilla. The tea is prepared by pouring dry yerba into the cup, then adding water (hot or cold) and optionally sugar. When prepared cold, it is called "tereré". Often, herbs are added to the mix. The taste is best described as earthy and bitter and it will take getting used to before you can enjoy it. Drinking mate is most definitely one of the social customs of Paraguay. Shops will close around noon for a siesta and a mate round with friends. If you can get used to the taste and participate, locals will be appreciative. This drink is also found in other South American countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, and parts of Brazil.
Beer is widely available, as are many liquors.
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. Cheap accommodation is easy to find, but if you're after something of higher quality you'll have a better chance in the Argentinian Puerto Iguazu or the Brazilian Foz do Iguaçu.
Most people who live in the rural areas of Paraguay are subsistence famers. 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 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 center 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 .
It is always considered courteous for men to shake hands whenever they meet. In mixed company, 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 todo 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.
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|Area||total: 406,752 km2|
water: 9,450 km2
land: 397,300 km2
|Electricity||220V/60Hz (European plug)|
|Population||5,884,491 (July 2002 est.)|
|Religion||Roman Catholic 90%, Mennonite, and other Protestant|