|Country Information & Lifestyle|
A land without people and people without land
The Republic of Paraguay is a landlocked country in South America bordered by Argentina to the south and southwest, Brazil to the east and northeast and Bolivia to the northwest. Paraguay lies on both banks of the Paraguay River, which runs through the centre of the country from north to south. Due to its central location in South America, it is sometimes referred to as Corazon de America, or the Heart of America.
Paraguay is a quiet, isolated country that is often overlooked by tourists. It is a friendly nation perfect for nature lovers and bird watchers and those interested in Amerindian culture.
Scratch beneath the surface of Paraguay and there is a wealth of experiences for the visitor; a year-round tropical climate and on top of this, there are some of the most impressive Jesuit ruins in South America as well as colonial villages, ranches, cowboys and verdant jungle teeming with life.
The terrain consists of grassy plains and wooded hills to the east and to the west there are mostly low, marshy plains. Paraguay has several different climates. In the northwest the weather is tropical, hot and rainy during the summer months of November, December and February with the highest rainfall during and the winters are also quite warm but dry. In the southeast both winter and summer is a bit cooler than the northwest but still hot in the same with rain at least 2-3 times a week.
Paraguay has dealt with a relatively isolated existence for decades. With a small population and a tendency for wars, Paraguay seemed to be a country that did not wish to be visited. However, after years of struggle it seems that the people of Paraguay are ready for a change, and are ready to show others all the beauty that their country has to offer.
The culture of Paraguay is one that truly showcases the beauty and history of the country and of the South American traditions that are still practised here. Paraguay is one of the least populated countries in the continent, and is made up of a mixture of Spanish and Native American heritage as well as a large Japanese community.
Paraguay's culture began centuries ago, when the Guarani Indians inhabited the country. These natives worked the land, growing and building all of their daily necessities, from delicate lace to the homes they lived in. Today, the culture of this civilisation has not been lost, with many opportunities for visitors to observe what they have left behind.
Paraguay's mild climate and lovely lakes make it a great place to have fun in the water. The small town of San Bernardino is a popular resort spot that is located on Lake Ypacarai. Here, many beaches and camping areas can be found that offer the perfect place for boating and swimming. There are also many lagoons that can be found in Paraguay that offer good swimming opportunities as well and fishing is very popular in many areas.
With so many wonderful ways to enjoy the outdoors in Paraguay, it is no surprise that there are many great opportunities to explore wildlife and nature. There are many native animal and plant species that can be found and there are several national parks and botanical gardens in the country that have worked hard to preserve the purity of the natural surroundings.
Visit some of the towns and villages in Paraguay to experience this beautiful country and her culture. Asuncion, sitting on the left bank of the Rio Paraguay, is Paraguay's steamy capital and largest city. Asuncion is a city of many contrasts. Shiny skyscrapers stand behind weather-worn colonial buildings or glitzy disco bars, and traditionally dressed women sell terere from metal flasks outside the city's stock exchange.
Much of the city's architecture dates from the 19th century, a time when the country was ruled by a string of charismatic but often brutal dictators, and during which the Paraguayan national identity was formed. The city today is somewhat sprawling, although small by Latin American standards, with most of the areas of interest within easy walking distance. Expect tree-lined avenues and parks, a somewhat bizarre mixture of architectural styles and in July and August, the pink blossom of the lapacho trees.
Visit the stunning white Presidential Palace, catch the changing of the guard at the Panteon de los Heroes, now a memorial to the country's war dead, and then sip a beer in the noisy 1950s Lido bar opposite. Once bigger than Buenos Aires, Asuncion is over 450 years old and known as the Mother of Cities. Asuncion is also well known among ornithologists, as it's the home of a variety of interesting indigenous bird species.
Reached by a riverboat trip from Asuncion, Concepcion is worth a visit only if you have a week to spare and are looking for an adventure. The week long round trip cruise from Asuncion is truly the attraction more than the destination in this small town 210 km north of the capital. Concepcion lies on the eastern banks of the Paraguay River and is the capital city of the Concepcion Department. The Paraguay River makes navigation possible and hence commercial shipping activities are carried out.
The city of Asuncion is the most popular area to explore wildlife and nature in the country, namely in the Parque Carlos Antonio Lopez. The park, located high above the rest of the city, offers visitors an amazing view of the landscape and gardens surrounding it. The biological reserves found in the country are also great places to discover wildlife and nature in Paraguay. Some of these reserves include Tati, Yupi, Limoy and Itabo, which all offer wonderful opportunities to view the country's animals in their natural habitat.
Sitting on the north bank of the Rio Parana on Paraguay's southern border with Argentina lies the city of Encarnacion. Perhaps the biggest attraction of Encarnacion is the Jesuit ruins of Trinidad and Jesus, which are the best preserved in the country. Rarely does one find a UNESCO World Heritage Site with so few visitors, but that's only part of the attraction of these impressive Jesuit Missions. A walk around the atmospheric red-brick hilltop ruins allows you to absorb a sense of what once made these 17th and 18th century colonies so powerful that the Spanish crown had them abolished.
Citizens from both Brazil and Paraguay flock to the city of Ciudad del Este for serious shopping. The flea market is a great place to find bargains. The city is an ideal as a base from which to visit nearby attractions such as Iguassu Falls. The falls are actually on the border with Argentina and Brazil and the highest waterfall in the country, Salto Monday, can be reached by road from the city in just 30 minutes.
Not far from the falls is the impressive Itaipu Dam. This dam provides 90% of the energy used in Paraguay. The Itaipu Dam created an artificial lake with a total area of 1,350 square kilometres (520 square miles). Adjacent to the Itaipu Lake and on the Paraguayan shore there are several wildlife reserves managed by Itaipu that preserve the subtropical Atlantic rain-forest that once covered large extensions of Paraguay and southern Brazil. These reserves hold one of the richest wildlife resources in the world, a true paradise for Nature lovers and bird watching enthusiasts.
But these places are not open to the public and require a permit to visit. They are a great chance to discover the original Paraguayan rain-forests that have almost completely disappeared to logging and cropland development.
The Central Circuit travels through the interesting city of Yaguaron. The city has numerous Spanish style churches, many built during the Spanish conquest years ago. The city of Luque is where you can get a glimpse of the softer side of Paraguay by visiting the many areas for playing Paraguay harps. The town of Piribebuy has a wonderful market area, which is famous for selling intricate handmade goods, including rare sixty-stripe Parani poncho and fragile Encaje-yu spindle lace.
Caacupe is only 30 miles west of Asuncion and is considered the country's spiritual capital, featuring the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Caacupe. Filadelfia, the Capital of Boqueron Department, was found in 1930 by the Mennonite settlements in the region. Situated in western Paraguay, it belongs to the Gran Chaco region.
Mennonites settled in Paraguay in the early 20th century and before. They came from Germany, Russia, Canada, and other countries and they settled in the Chaco region which was then uninhabited by Paraguayans. Their purpose was religious and the political freedom and desire to acquire land. During the Second World War, there was a division between the Nazis supporting the German colonists and the rest, which resulted in the expelling of Germans from the country.
Fuerte Olimpo is the capital city of the Alto Paraguay Region. The city is guarded and surrounded by a strong ancient wall that is 4 km long. It is situated in a valley region between two mountains and there is also the Laguna Capitan in the region.
The arid Chaco region is home to the majority of the indigenous population, the Guarani people. This huge reserve ranges into Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil as well as Paraguay. It has one of the largest dry forests on the continent. The changing climates result in many different ecosystems, from swamps, savanna and salt flats to scrub lands, subtropical farms and rain forests. The preserve is home to over 150 different types of mammals and 500 different species of birds. Expect to see jaguars, anteaters, rheas and fairy armadillos during a trek through the park.
Renowned for their disciplined, hard working ethic as well as their agricultural expertise, the Mennonites established their own farms, schools and churches in the Chaco in the 1920s. Today the 28,000-strong Mennonite communities still speaks their own old German dialect, and are the country's largest milk producers. One of the ways to best explore this area is to travel along the rivers on the M/S Paraguay cruise boat for a truly unique perspective.
In the major cities the Cheepa vendors sell cheese bread bagels that are quite tasty when freshly made and empanadas and milanesa, fried and breaded meat are popular. Meat, vegetables, manioc, maize and fruits are common in Paraguayan cuisine. Asado (barbecue)is a local speciality and is usually accompanied by Chipa, bread made from cassava flour. Try a traditional kiveve made using pumpkin water, salt, oil, chopped onion, milk, sugar, corn flour and fresh cheese, or Mbaipy-so-o a corn pudding made with meat. Parrillada is a meat dish cooked over coals and part of the traditional cuisine is Pira Caldo a fish soup.
Paraguay has many legends and myths. The Guaran have a legend that says that the Goddesses of the Moon and the Cloud came to the Earth one day to visit it but they instead found a Yaguaret (a jaguar) that was going to attack them. An old man saved them, and, in compensation, the Goddesses gave the old man a new kind of plant, from which he could prepare a "drink of friendship".
Did you know the Guaranis practiced occasional cannibalism? When wining prisoners on war they picked the most notable warrior among them to eat him and thus gain his courage, strength or fighting abilities.
Well today in Paraguay you have nothing to fear from these kind, gentle people who are trying so hard to introduce their beautiful country to the rest of the world. So come, visit, and maybe stay awhile.