Paraguay is a country added to the itinerary, just like that, to the piff. Geographically, this allows us to reach Iguazu in a more or less economical way. Culturally, Paraguay will allow us to attend its superb carnival in Encarnacion, less wow than Rio de Janeiro but just as fun. And then, it’s rare to have the opportunity to visit a country with so little tourism.
Part 1: Travel Diary Part
2: Practical Tips
Part 1: Travel Diary
We arrive in Asunción last midnight, after taking the plane from Santa Cruz and a 5 hour stopover in Sao Paulo. It is much too late to take a local bus. We withdraw money at the ATM (25000 Guaranis of fees for each withdrawal, still 4€) and look for a cab.
There are prepaid cabs at the airport. The girl at the cash desk asks us to pay 120,000 Guaranis for a ride to the center (in cash), otherwise it will be 137,000 Guaranis by credit card.
JB has spotted a hostal on the Internet: El Nómada Hostel(link Booking). We will discover later that this hotel is full of French speakers, we don’t know why. One of the receptionists is French too. We feel so well there that we will stay there 5 days. The bed in dormitory costs 12$/person, but the room costs 25$, of the blow, we do not bother, we take a private room, with private shower, air conditioning and cleaning every day!
Air conditioning is a must here! Coming from Bolivia and dressed as if it was -5°C, we have to switch immediately to “heat wave” mode. It is only 32°C but we aren’t used to the heat anymore. The sun hits very hard here, it burns my skin. For information, geographically, Paraguay is more or less at the same latitude as the Gold Coast in Australia. Hello the heat! The lack of trees does not help.
That’s why most of the guests of the hotel spend a lot of time hanging out in the hotel’s garden and enjoying the small swimming pool (and the two cats too, super cute).
During these 5 days, we try to go out and visit a little bit before and after lunch. We are in the historical center, which is only historical in name because the architecture is still very modern and the old buildings are rare. When we look at the map, it looks like New York with its streets perfectly parallel. On the other hand, here we say “xx is 2 blocks away” (quadras in Spanish) and not two streets (calles).
The Paraguayan Pantheon, the prettiest building in the city, is unfortunately under construction.
From the first day, the receptionist shows us the “favela” area, where we should not go wholesale. She tells me that it is possible to walk along the river without fear, but given the proximity to the favelas, I prefer to do it in Encarnacion, later.
That said, we do not feel any insecurity, at least in our area. The only risk would come from cars forcing their way through. They all have huge cars, 4x4s, the local bus is the size of a truck… and they accelerate as soon as they see a pedestrian crossing the street. There are very few traffic lights. Even between them, the cars force the passage and whoever is less afraid of dying wins.
Imagine the stress! Fortunately, the streets are all one-way. The only two-way streets are avenues and the two directions are separated by a flat area. Thank you! because watching out for crazy and murderous drivers coming from both directions would have been very difficult.
We are in the 2nd poorest country in South America but everywhere we go, we see only wealth. It must be said that most of the Paraguayan land belongs to 1% of the population, so necessarily, when you divide the wealth by the number of inhabitants, the figures aren’t very high. However, the Paraguayan economy is growing thanks to the vast soybean plantations (to the detriment of the environment).
Paraguayans are descendants of German immigrants, they have the same face as Europeans, and have a less Hispanic look than in Chile or Argentina. Their Spanish is a bit different and looks a bit more like Spanish. For example, they use “ida y regreso” instead of “ida y vuelta” (round trip). Or they ask me “poco hecha? instead of “jugosa” (bleeding). Their accent is very cute too, half an octave above, it’s singing, it speaks very fast, it’s not very easy to understand because the accentuation isn’t as clear as in other countries.
At the local market you can find plenty of Paraguayan dishes for 13,000 Guarani (2€) per person. Here, instead of eating rice, they eat boiled cassava. When it is this hot, the market looks like a giant oven, despite the presence of many fans.
Below, a picture of theAsado a la olla, not bad at all
Here they have this mania for numbering everything: market 1, market 4… the pharmacies belonging to the same chain are also numbered Punto Farmacia 5, Punto Farmacie 17. It’s super convenient since it helps us to find the exact location of the place without having to ask 1000 times the proper name of the market. Note: Google Maps isn’t up to date for Asunción, take a map at the tourist office instead.
In Paraguay, the (beef) meat is as good as in Argentina. The best piece is the tapa de cuadril(83 000 Guarani, huge proportion at the restaurant Lo de Osvaldo).
Attention, the first page of the menu of this restaurant is dedicated to offal. We didn’t know it, so we took the chef’s suggestion to find ourselves with an assortment of offal 🙁 Luckily my tapa decuadril was served in industrial quantities otherwise JB wouldn’t have been able to eat much.
In market n°4, we see a little more Asian population. It isn’t China Town either, but in this area, you can find many Chinese and Korean restaurants. Despite a large Korean population, the bibimbap here remains disappointing. It is really necessary that we go one day in South Korea to taste the true bibimbap because it does not go there!
The local buses here are huge. Even if there is no map available, it is quite easy to take buses (2000 Guaranis/person). You can stop a bus anywhere, and the buses always go straight (because the street is one-way anyway). You just have to look at Google Maps to guess in which direction the bus is going and if it will stop or not near your destination.
Hey, by the way….Havaianas cost 3€ here!!!! OMG, they were 11$ at the Sao Paulo airport (i.e. too expensive for Brazilians, but too good for me, already!), but 3€ what! JB couldn’t resist, he succumbed and replaced his rotten flip-flops bought in India. I swear, when I come back to Brazil, I will buy a carton of Havaianas (I have a lot of extra KGs for hold luggage) and I will distribute them to my relatives. No but oh! how can we sell this 30€ in Europe???? The Ipanema (whose muse is Gisele Bundchen) are also sold for 6€. Pffff !
In short, Asunción is certainly not a city made for tourists, but for living, why not. It’s less quiet than Bolivia, for sure, people seem more stressed, but our first impression of Paraguay is very positive. We have been told that Encarnacion is an even prettier city with more things to do. A must see!
Part 2: Practical Tips
- Plane Santa Cruz – Asuncion: 274€/person with GOL (a Brazilian company). 5H stopover in Sao Paulo (be careful not to miss your plane because of the time difference)
- Airport – City center by cab: 120,000 Guaranis, no extra charge for late night trips for prepaid cabs. Surcharge of 30% possible if you take a cab in the city in the evening
- Local bus : 2000 Guaranis/person
- Hotel: 25$ private room, private bathroom at El Nomada Hostel, otherwise it’s 12$ per bed in dormitory. We highly recommend this hostel, the wifi is top, there is a swimming pool, two cats, hammocks… in short paradise!
- Steakhouse : Lo de Osvaldo about 180 000 Guaranis for two
- Korean: Mistletoe Mistletoe Korean BBQ 107 000 Guaranis for two
- A good ice cream(vaso grande, 3 balls) : 10 000 Guaranis
- Market: about 35,000 Guaranis/meal for two
- Races: between 50,000 Guaranis and 80,000 Guaranis/meal for two.
- Drinks: 6000 Guaranis at the supermarket for 5L of water. Otherwise it is 5000 to 8000 Guaranis for a small bottle of water at the restaurant
- Work on your Spanish before coming because it speaks fast here
- For the withdrawals, I was able to withdraw 1.5 million Guaranis (25000 Guaranis fee) each time without any problem. I didn’t try to withdraw more. The 100,000 bills are still a bit difficult to sell at the market so break them as soon as possible.
- Before paying by credit card, ask if there are any commissions, the fees applied can be 10%!
- Don’t forget to ask your bank to whitelist Paraguay, it’s not a very touristic country, your withdrawals and payments may be blocked
- According to the locals, the tap water is drinkable. But this isn’t the case according to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I still buy mineral water, but I noticed that we had no problem with ice cubes coming from the tap water so… it’s up to you.
- Don’t forget to absolutely try the terere (the ice-cold way mate). Everybody is hanging out with his mate and ice cubes in the street, it’s so cute! Their Thermos is the size of a bucket!
- The market 4 is nice to visit during the day but do not go there in the evening
Since I like you, I took pictures of this plan too well made by our hotel. You can see the bus numbers for each destination and where the buses leave from (near the hotel); as well as the important places + recommended restaurants. Click on them to zoom and download them.