For everybody who is looking to explore exotic ruins, visit colonial towns and stunningly lush rain forests – Paraguay has it all.
Paraguay is one of those places that is often overlooked by people visiting South America. However, landlocked in between Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia, it’s a real off-the-grid-destination that will positively surprise you!
During a three month South America trip from Peru to Brazil, I included a short and sweet stopover in this intriguing country. To me, there was just something that stood out about this place, by only reading about it.
Entering Paraguay from Argentina
I heard that the buses don’t actually stop at the border. To be on the safe side, I asked the driver to let me out at the border and went through immigration myself. From there, it’s just a short walk over the bridge into Ciudad del Este.
Ciudad del Este didn’t look like much nor inviting and I think it’s mostly used for an entry point only. From there though, I took another bus straight to the capital of Asuncion. The ride takes between five to six hours and is pleasant enough on the right bus.
The journey took me past rural villages, free-roaming animals, horse carriages transporting goods and lush vegetation. Already then, it felt like I am in South America how it used to be. Coming from a more advanced and organized Argentina, Paraguay felt raw, wild and exotic. Exactly what I imagined and hoped for.
Best Things to Do in Asuncion
My hostel of choice in Asuncion was the conveniently located, Hostal Urbania. Hardly settled in, the hostel staff informed me about a free walking tour which is bound to start and asked if I’d like to join.
Palacio de los Lopez – Palace of the López
The presidential palace is one of the most iconic buildings in Asuncion, well-guarded by an array of policemen. I suggest coming back at night to see the whole place in colourful lights.
Pantheon Nacional de Los Heroes – National Pantheon of the Heroes
A national monument, also very pretty by night – serves as a mausoleum for many Paraguayan heroes, as well as two unknown soldiers. The entry is free and it’s got a beautiful interior with a stunning cupola.
Estacion Ferrocarril – Asuncion Railway Station
As with many free-walking tours, they show you places you would not have considered going to yourself. I happened to visit the museum at the historic train station. It’s an interesting place, full of history and artifacts. I climbed into one of the well-preserved passenger carriages – a step back in time. It’s also South America’s oldest train station. This alone makes it a cool thing to visit!
Mercado Municipal – Local Market
On my second day, I ventured off on my own into Asuncion. If you are looking for an authentic shopping spree – look no further than the Mercado Municipal 4. As it’s not necessarily in the city centre and distances are bigger than I thought, I hopped on a collectivo.
I really just love walking through local markets, buying fruits I have never tried before, browsing through the souvenir section or just capture the atmosphere. It’s one of my favourite places to take photos of the locals and to me, represents a country in a really authentic way.
La Costanera – The Asuncion Promenade
The city itself lies on a riverbank and has a great walkway, La Costanera. When you follow the trail, you will end up at a clean and well-maintained city beach.
I remember looking at the map and seeing between me and the coastal walk lied a favela. In my young naivety, I started walking in, my camera hidden in my handbag. Maybe it was the sunshine, the warm weather or just the short distance that I had to cover, for some reason it did not feel risky nor sketchy to take it as a shortcut.
However, it didn’t take long until I felt those uncomfortable looks from people on my back. I clearly was in the wrong place. And, me being a white, blond foreigner – I wasn’t well camouflaged.
This is also where the story ends, luckily I guess. Two policemen shouted something from behind me (where I came from) and made a hand gesture to come back. They escorted me a few streets away and said it’s a rough area, no place for tourists.
That’s the thing with many countries – a couple of streets apart can make a huge difference as to how safe a place is, or isn’t.
Explore the Street Life
For me, no visit to a city is complete without wandering around town by myself. That way I feel more present and can really soak in a place. Also, I can take my time taking photos, so that’s nice.
I remember buying delicious street food snacks – so good that I went back for more. There was also one instance where I saw somebody with goats, and selling their milk on the street. That was a first-timer for me!
Best Things to Do in Encarnación
The drive from Asuncion to Encarnación was roughly five to six hours, with a toilet stop in between.
I usually always try to go for overnight buses where possible. However, because Paraguay is a comparatively small country, the places I wanted to go were never that far apart.
So I opted to go for a bus that left early morning, to arrive in the midday to afternoon-ish. An option that allows me to still see something of the city.
Whenever I am short on time I make sure to check for bus timings way ahead of time, i.e., over at CheckMyBus or BusBud.
As I like social, small hostels that are centrally located, I booked into Colonial Hostel & Camping.
What mainly drove me into this city was its proximity to the nearby Jesuit Mission ruins and the Argentinian border – as I had to leave for Buenos Aires again.
Jesuit Missions of Jesus and Trinidad
It was because of the Lonely Planet that I came to know of the Jesuit Missions of Jesus and Trinidad. During my research on how to get there, I also found out it’s the least visited UNESCO site in the world! Pretty cool I thought!
Set up in 1609, this little gem blossomed for 150 years, until the Spanish and Portuguese expelled the Jesuits. It then got plundered and completely overrun.
Conveniently, it’s only a one hour ride with the local bus which dropped me off nearby. I went ahead to the ticket office and paid my 25.000 guaranies (appx. 3.50€) which allowed me to visit 3 of the sites.
The bus dropped me off sometime around midday and I had the ruins all to myself! I remember it being so peaceful and magical. I wandered in between the ruins, took pictures and watched the lorikeets sitting in the palm trees. When I think of Paraguay, this visit still stays in my mind.
I returned to Encarnación in the afternoon, stocked up on Chipa (cheese bread) from the street vendors and hopped on the overnight bus with direction Buenos Aires.
My trip to Paraguay was short but filled with wonderful impressions. I think you can find something interesting and worth exploring in every country, and Paraguay was no exception. I’d definitely like to go back to explore more, especially the part of the Amazon.
When you go :
Written by: Christin Theilig
Christin is a destination photographer, travel writer and yogini – soon to be Bali-based. She has travelled to 73 countries and enjoys sharing her extensive travel knowledge with friends & readers alike. When she is not planning her next adventures she is available for travel photography, writing & content creation services. For enquiries or questions, feel free to get in touch on her website www.christintheilig.com and follow her @christintheilig for more travel tips & inspiration.