During my trip through South-America, I spent 10 days in Paraguay.
As most people and you probably included, I had prior hardly heard of anyone who had visited the country. Finding information online also proved to be a challenge.
This, however somehow intrigued me. I was convinced that I would be able to discover something there and as I was right across the border, at the Iguazu waterfalls and my tourist visa in Brazil had expired, I decided to cross the border.
That was the first interesting introduction. Compared to other borders, there was no-one who would stop you to check your documents, rather, it was your own responsibility to get a leaving stamp on the Brazilian immigration office and to get the entering stamp for Paraguay (and yes, you do need it, because any other border out of the country will forcefully stop you and check it!).
Below I noted down some of the interesting insights I had in this ‘mysterious’ country that might give you a better picture as well.
Language: Paraguay has two official languages: Spanish and Guarani. Guarani is an ancient language and spoken by 90% of the population! You will rather hear Spanish spoken in the big cities and Guarani in the countryside.
Prices: It’s a very cheap country to travel to. This is a place where a couple of dollars can still get you very far (except for accommodation, that’s already meeting other countries’ price levels, unfortunately). Some examples: lunch typically costs you 3 USD, ice cream 1 USD or less, a coffee 1.20 USD, a piece of fruit 20 Cents, a pastry from a bakery 80 Cents. I could finally treat myself a little after Brazil, which is definitely more expensive.
Transportation options are sparse. There are buses to even the tiniest villages but they don’t run very often. Leaving a big city in the morning was usually not a problem but getting back always turned into an adventure. I waited for a good hour at times to get a bus or ended up having to hitchhike (which apparently isn’t practiced much and I had to wait comparatively long until I got a ride). Once I even had to stay at a random person’s home as there wasn’t a way for me to get back easily anymore. This was a major challenge during my trip as it prevented me from seeing more places at times.
People ride horse carriages! It was really amusing seeing them in small towns, such as Villarica and it somehow made me feel like being transported into a different century.
Street vendors on the bus: Vendors jump on at any time the bus stops or before it leaves and try to sell you anything they can carry: the usual fruit, vegetables, bread, sandwiches, snacks, and drinks, but also goods such as flash drives, power banks, earphones as well as necklaces, belts and even blankets! They are very personal when they are selling, they address each passenger individually which can be quite direct but they also let go quickly enough when they notice that you don’t show interest.
Colonies: There are LOADS of GERMANS who live in so called colonies in this country. I wasn’t fully aware of this but due to that people always immediately assumed correctly that I was German (oh you’re not Paraguayan – are you German? – Uhm yeah…) That meant that I found nice bakeries with good baked goods and I felt that the quality of bread here was much better than in other countries I’ve been to! Not this super-soft spongy bread that tastes like cardboard to me but crusty and fluffy (though mainly white) bread rolls.
Tourists and the English language: There are hardly any tourists in the country and people in general who speak English. That meant having to use Spanish 99% of the time (I met one traveler who was a native English speaker in those 10 days, everyone else spoke Spanish). I was personally amazed at how my Spanish improved or at least came back after not having used it for years. When you have no other options, you get better really fast.
Sights: If you’re hungry for sights, this might not be the country for you. It has some beautiful spots, old colonial cities, and small mountainous and waterfalls but it definitely doesn’t stand a chance compared to other countries. That being said I think it’s a great country to travel to, especially because of the people and because tourists are so rare and you can really explore the country without following the beaten traveler’s trail.
The Scenery: It’s a flat country with loads of pastures, cows, horses, small towns and dirt roads. I never saw really tall mountain ranges, mainly rolling hills. Large cities are raw, with Ciudad del Este being the main exception as well as Asunción and Encarnación which are medium-sized cities.
Climate: It’s hot! I encountered over 30 degrees daily, which was probably the hardest thing about traveling there. I was often out in the plain sun and am really grateful that the locals literally made me buy a cap to have at least some sort of protection. I also appreciated how the locals would always give me ice or Tereré (see the next point) when I asked for water as that was definitely necessary.
Tereré: This is the local drink in the country and I loved it! It is an herbal tea, called mate, which is known in Argentina and Uruguay in its hot form. However, in Paraguay, this mate is drunk with ice (mostly added in huge chunks) which really helps to battle the heat and sometimes some extra spices are added (I once saw people add saffron and other herbs I wasn’t able to identify). Paraguayans love this drink and will take their huge thermos container with them wherever they go (even hiking up mountains!!) Locals are sitting around outside everywhere enjoying time together drinking tereré. It brings people together here and I’d recommend accepting an offer for tereré as locals will bond over this drink with you.
Trash: Finally, one thing I noticed and which is the case in many South-American countries is the high usage of plastic and especially Styrofoam (for takeaway coffee and ice cream. This really broke my heart. Plastic bags are the essence of transporting any good, plastic straws given out automatically when buying bottled drinks and all the trash ends up on the road. It really opened my eyes to how far some countries have come (and how far behind others are in this process).
Is Paraguay worth visiting some people ask? I generally don’t think there is a black or white answer to this question, however, I’ll put up a post soon, giving you my stance on that! Until then! (Edit: you can read this post now here 🙂)