Set right in the heart of South America, Paraguay is a land formed from the interfaces of Europe and Guarani Indians, where traces of earthy indigenous life still lurk in the jungles, colonial megacities rise on the winding rivers, and the Gran Chaco dominates the north. It’s a truly fascinating place.
Let’s explore the best places to visit in Paraguay:
A curious metropolis of more than two million people, Asuncion is the beating political, economic and cultural heart of modern Paraguay.
The center clings to the eastern banks of the Paraguay River, which meanders around the downtown along the border with Argentina to the west.
Here, visitors delve into what is – believe it or not – actually one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the Americas.
First raised by the conquistadores, Asuncion was actually the base from which the Spanish ventured out westwards, to the wilds of Peru and Patagonia.
Today, the town is gilded with the great National Pantheon of the Heroes, along with one throbbing nightlife along up-and-coming Paseo Carmelitas.
The so-called ‘Pearl of the South’ reclines carefree on the banks of the Parana River, drawing crowds of Asuncenos (people from the capital) during the summer with the promise of pristine riparian beaches and the country’s most up-and-coming boardwalk boulevard.
The best sands are found at the end of Curupayty, groomed and managed and dotted with bikini-clad fashionistas and sunbathers alike.
Water sports are popular too, with jet skis buzzing around the meanders of Parana, below the shimmering high-rises of the city’s all-new residential neighbourhoods across the bay.
And when the relaxation is done and dusted, be sure to get a culture hit at the UNESCO-attested Jesuit ruins on the edge of the town.
3. Cerro Cora National Park
This pint-sized natural reserve is unquestionably one of the most dramatic and breathtaking sections of backcountry in all of Paraguay.
Only recently established, it encompasses a great swathe of undulating savannah and highland terrain, where otherworldly hills peak above the swaying grasses and mosquitoes buzz around the shuffling carapaces of armadillos.
Muralia peak is a great place to start here; offering sweeping panoramas of the region’s arid forestry and plains, while there are also curious cultural encounters to be had with the indigenous tribespeople and a smattering of mysterious ancient petroglyphs to evoke the curiosity.
4. Ciudad del Este
Like a Moroccan bazaar, the markets of Ciudad del Este sprawl out along the courses of the Parana River, the sounds of Middle Eastern hagglers and Taiwanese electronics hawkers echoing between the rows and rows of blinking electronics and branded clothes.
Yes sir, there’s a reason why this unashamed hub of the Paraguayan black market is hailed as the ‘Supermarket of the Americas’. Thousands of Brazilians cross over to the town every day to catch bargains amidst the emporiums of Camilo Recalde, while visitors typically make a beeline for the colossal engineering masterpiece that is the Itaipu Dam – another of Paraguay’s major economic generators.
5. Ybycui National Park
Capuchin monkeys swing through the canopies while howlers scale the tree trunks at Ybycui National Park, a small and tight-knit protected section of what’s remaining of the Upper Parana Atlantic Forest.
Most travelers make the relatively short 150 kilometer drive here straight from the capital, eager to see the gushing waterfalls that cascade down through the rocky undergrowth of the forests in steps and plunge pools.
Another attraction are the ruins of a onetime iron foundry, where the forces of the hard-fought Paraguayan War once created weaponry and munitions while hidden in the hills.
This small backwater town set in the shadow of the bulbous cliffs and rocky hills just south of the capital at Asuncion began life as a Spanish mission intended as a settlement spot for the Guarani natives back in the early decades of the 1600s.
Today, and the striking church that was raised by the Europeans here to make their mark still stands on the grassy fields where it did all those centuries ago.
It’s one of the prime examples of the Franciscan tradition in the country, and is a fine cultural addition to an exploration through the exhibition rooms of the nearby Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia Museum – the onetime home of the Paraguayan dictator, located just a stone’s throw away down the road.
Just a short drive from the heart of the buzzing downtown streets of Asuncion, and now almost contiguous with the capital thanks to the ceaseless expansion of its outer suburbs, little, lakeside Aregua is a fine place to go to escape the heat and energy of Paraguay’s only real metropolis.
Travelers can expect a pretty maze of cobbled streets and alleyways where the lingering facades of colonial Spain still stand tall.
This all abuts the waters of Ypacarai Lake, sail boats and ferries heading to San Bernardino forever bobbing on its sky-blue waters.
Then there are the fascinating hexagonal geological formations of the Koi and Chorori hills, looming just on the edge of the city.
Famed for its distinctive tribal art and traditional Paraguayan folk music scene, the small city of Itaugua is a great place to while away a few days as you make your way through the very heart of South America.
Its inner streets come lined with swaying, shady eucalyptus trees and there are countless workshops where it’s possible to buy nanduti – a beautiful and intricate form of Paraguayan embroidery that originated in this region long ago.
Meanwhile, the looming hill of Cerrito offers viewpoints on the edge of town and a smattering of colonial houses offer a glimpse at Itaugua’s deeper, Spanish-influenced past.
Filadelfia sits just on the edge of the Gran Chaco, where the forests and undulating hills of the Region Oriental give way to the great boreal plains that form the very heartlands of the continent as a whole.
That makes this far-flung town – the so-called ‘Capital of the Chaco – a very different place to the small southern cities of Aregua and Itaugua.
But the curiosities don’t stop there either.
Filadelfia is also German speaking, and plays host to the people of the Fernheim Colony, a transplanted Mennonite community that fled here from Stalinist Russia in the 1930s.
Add to that a dairy farm and an earthy agricultural vibe, and you’ve got yourself a truly interesting spot smack bang in the middle of the nation!
10. San Estanislao
Named after a Polish saint, founded by Spanish Jesuits, intended to convert the native Guarani Indian peoples of San Pedro in central Paraguay, and infused with the cultures of immigrants from Italy, Germany and Eastern Europe throughout the last two centuries, the pint-sized yet interesting little stop-off of San Estanislao is like the history of the country writ small.
In the 1800s it boomed with tobacco production, while today soy and pulses are the main crop raised in the surrounding fields.
Travelers can come and see pretty tree-lined plazas and wallow in the bucolic feel of the place, all whilst meeting a lively crowd of students, beers in tow, during the later hours.
Located just on the cusp of the Grand Chaco and benefitting from great river connections to the larger cities of the south, Concepcion enjoyed an economic golden age before being plunged into conflict during the Paraguayan War.
Today, its central streets and cobbled alleys still bear all the hallmarks of a colonial outpost that did very well indeed from its various agricultural pursuits.
Visitors embark and disembark from their hop-on, hop-off river cruises up the meanders of the Paraguay River, wonder at the elegant facades and painted Spanish-style churches, and enjoy the sultry tropical airs as they go.
12. La Santisima Trinidad de Parana
Paraguay’s historical piece de resistance can be found set just north of the fun-loving southern hub of Encarnacion, rising from the rolling hills just a stone’s throw from the Parana River.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site (the most-visited in the country no less), the spot is a fine example of a South American Jesuit Reduction.
These would once have peppered the Latin lands from Argentina to Bolivia, and worked to convert the local Indian populations to Christianity in a non-invasive (at least as non-invasive as possible) way.
Nowadays, the site showcases crumbling churches and priests’ living quarters, many adorned with European art works, others complete with a curious intermingling of Indian and Italianesque styles.
This one’s simply not to be missed!
13. San Cosme y Damian
Jutting its way out into the colossal oxbow lakes and flooded plains that swell where the Parana River weaves along the borderline with Argentina to the south, the village of San Cosme y Damian is a real sight to behold.
It comes encompassed by shimmering, palm tree-spotted, yellow-sanded dunes, which ebb and flow across the landscape before plunging down directly into the waters.
There is also an interesting old Jesuit mission situated nearby, while boat trips and hiking excursions across the shores are a great way to explore the otherworldly vistas and shifting sands.
14. San Bernardino
Barred off from the chaos of the capital by the great liquid curve of Lake Ypacarai, San Bernardino has firmly established itself as one of the prime gateways for the moneyed jet setter Asuncenos.
Ferries buzz across several times a day from the outer districts of Aregua, depositing folk on the waterside boulevards of Bernardino, between swaying palm trees and the artificial sand stretches that have been set up there.
Of course, the town has oodles of pubs and discos to let loose in, and partiers flock to the plazas with beers and salsa-ready hips right throughout the summer high season (typically running from December to March).
Set in the shadow of the rugged Ybyturuzu highland ridges, Villarrica is a proud and historically rich Paraguayan town; a place where monuments to national heroes pepper the plazas, and some of the country’s most important cultural institutions and traditions are on the line-up.
Take the Maestro Fermin Lopez Museum in the heart of town, which showcases collections of old munitions and arms from the Chaco War next to ancient Indian weaponry.
Then there are the booming Easter celebrations, which erupt on the squares and between the gorgeous Spanish-style towers of the Franciscan church – one seriously handsome relic of the colonial era to say the least!