The news about Paraguay is frankly not up to date. On blogs, Ciudad del Este is talked about as a dangerous or chaotic city. Even if it has less charm than Encarnacion, Ciudad del Este is neither dangerous nor chaotic.
Part 1: Travel Diary Part
2: Practical Tips
Part 1: Travel Diary
Day 1 :
The route Encarnacion – Ciudad del Este is a total #fail. All this because we let our guard down, we simply asked for information from a salesman at the terminal who showed us another ticket salesman and we ended up at the Sao Juan company.
The guy sold us tickets for a 7am departure. And then he told us that the bus had a radio problem (??) and he sold us to another company, cheaper, leaving at 8am. Luckily we had the reflex to ask for a refund of the difference in price between the two tickets, otherwise he would have ripped us off an extra 20,000 Guaranis.
Unfortunately, the NSE company looks like a local bus. For a 5 hour trip, we think it will not be a problem, but (1) it’s 40 degrees (2) the air conditioning isn’t working well (3) they can’t open the windows (4) they don’t stop for a toilet break for 5 hours (5) they stop to pick up people on the road every 10-20 minutes. It’s a pain!
So we arrive in Ciudad del Este half-dead. We really should have chosen ourselves our bus, especially the company NSA which proposes super comfortable journeys on its double-decker buses. We will know for the next time. Besides, those who say that the road is bad are wrong. The road is tarred and very correct.
From the main bus terminal, we take a cab to our hotel for 25,000 Guaranis (3km). A sign indicates the fare according to the distance, no risk of scam.
Our hotel(Casa Alta) is located in a no man’s land, very quiet, very big, there is even a small swimming pool. But that cannot, when it’s 40 degrees, justify its location, 10 minutes walk from the nearest restaurant and 25 minutes walk from the terminal where the buses to Brazil, Argentina, Itaipú… leave from.
Dead of hunger, we are still motivated to go to the restaurant, and while we are there, continue 15 minutes to go to the tourist office. I understand better why the nap and the tereré (infusion of bitter iced tea) are so popular in Paraguay. We can’t live without them! Since we arrived in Paraguay, our brains have melted with the heat, it’s just not possible to work between noon and 4pm, we might as well take a nap to forget the heat.
The 10 minutes spent with the gentleman at the tourist office erase all the inconvenience of this morning’s trip. We only wanted to have some information about the Itaipu dam, not being very sure that it is still open at this time (4pm). Instead, we got a mini presentation of all the activities available around Ciudad del Este + the prices and how to visit the Brazilian and Argentinean sides of the Iguazu Falls.
Wooow! If you want to spend a good 10 minutes listening to a very understandable Spanish with a singing accent, run into this gentleman at the Senatur just next to the Urbano Bus Terminal.
Dinner will be homemade (mixed salad) because we don’t feel like going out to eat.
Day 2: Itaipú Dam
Note: this is the official photo of the dam, but it is rare to see this. The water level has to be very high to see such an overflow.
Today we are going to Brazil. But just before, we have to visit the Itaipú dam, the pride of Brazil and Paraguay. It is the 2nd biggest dam in the world. JB does not understand my choice to visit the dam from Paraguay. According to him, our hotel in Brazil will be better placed and it will be easier to go there from Brazil.
He isn’t wrong, but the visit on the Brazilian side is paying and I prefer to have explanations in Spanish rather than Portuguese (for the moment my Portuguese is limited to eu não falo português(I don’t speak Portuguese).
Currently, the Itaipu hydroelectric power plant holds the world record for cumulative electricity production, thanks to its age and the optimal hydraulic conditions of the site.
The Itaipu Dam has had a heavy impact on the environment, flooding 1,500 km2 of forest and farmland, displacing populations, swallowing up the Seven Falls waterfall – also known as the Salto de Sete Quedas – which was not only an important tourist and natural site in South America but also the largest waterfall in the world in terms of volume.
To avoid the heat, we ask the hostal to drop us off in Itaipú and then at the border, for only 80,000 Guaraníes. We arrive exactly 2 minutes before the departure of the buses of visit of the dam of Itaipu (which leave every half hour between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm). The presentation is made on the bus, in Spanish. Unfortunately, the content isn’t very interesting and we aren’t allowed to enter inside the dam. We can only see the outside.
The visit of the interior of the dam is reserved for engineers and scientists only and must be booked at least one week in advance. It is free, as is the visit “for basic tourists” like us.
All that lasts 45 minutes, we leave the bus only once to take photos, the rest of the time, the guide explains us the structure of the dam as we advance. What is funny it is that the dam is right between Paraguay and Brazil, so during the visit, the bus passed on the Brazilian side while crossing the dam, then came back to Paraguay. Before, there was a long film of 1h30 to present the construction of the dam, but they understood that nobody was interested so the visit now lasts only 45 minutes by bus, without the short film at the end.
The view from the dam
The hostal picks us up by car and drops us off in front of an exchange office near the border. We exchange all our Guaranis for a super interesting rate (this will cover the fees we had to pay to withdraw hihihi). Be careful, the “Dolar Real” indicates the exchange rate applied when we want to exchange USD into Brazilian real.
We then walk to immigration, passing hundreds of duty free stores and shopping malls. Most Argentines and Brazilians who come to Paraguay to shop don’t go beyond these very noisy streets where they are very busy with vendors, hence the impression of chaos while the rest of the city is super quiet.
We stop just before the friendship bridge with Brazil to receive the exit stamp. Goodbye Paraguay!
Part 2: Practical Tips
- Transportation :
- Encarnacion – Ciudad del Este by bus: 50,000 Guaraníes. I advise against the companies Sao Juan, NSE. I advise you rather the company NSA.
- Cab bus terminal -> hostal Casa Alta : 25 000 Gs
- Private car of the hostal : Hostal -> Itaipu Dam -> Border : 80 000Gs (cheaper than cab)
- Visit of the Itaipu Dam: free of charge
- Hostal: Casa Alta, 180 000Gs double room with private shower, breakfast included. The hotel is nice but a little far from the city center -> I do not recommend you
- Food :
- Fast food: 50 000Gs for two
- Supermarket: 70 000Gs for two, 2 meals
- It is best to choose a hotel near the Urbano Bus Terminal (do a Google Maps search to see the exact location). You will find buses leaving for Itaipu, buses that will take you directly to the nearest Iguazu Falls on the Brazilian side and on the Argentinean side. This area is quieter than the area next to the border.
- If you want to buy computer / telephone equipment, now is the time! Duty free for everyone!
- Before leaving Paraguay, change your Guaranis in one of the many casas de cambió near the bridge connecting Paraguay and Brazil. The exchange rates Guaranis -> Real are very advantageous. In the other direction, it isn’t very advantageous.
- Reals are accepted near the bridge connecting Brazil. If you want to take a motorbike/taxi to Brazil, you can pay in real.
What to visit?
We didn’t do all this from Ciudad del Este but if you like Paraguay, you can stay longer in Ciudad del Este, which is much cheaper than Brazil or Argentina.
- Iguazu Falls : From Ciudad del Este, you can really go to Brazil or Argentina to visit the Iguazu Falls in one day (backpacker style, super cheap). More info here. Be careful, Paraguay shares a river with Brazil and Argentina but the Iguazu falls aren’t in Paraguay. Only between Argentina and Brazil.
- Monday Falls: they are in Paraguay and look a lot like the Iguazu falls but are much smaller.
- Itaipu Dam: The visit is of little interest when the water isn’t evacuated, but it is free (on the Paraguayan side, not on the Brazilian side). The visit reserved for scientists and engineers (to be booked 1 week in advance) looks much more interesting because it gives access to the generators.
- 3 borders: there is a very cool place where you can see the three countries (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay) separated by the Panara river. Each country has a site to mark this place : Marco 3 fronteiras in Brazil, Hito Tres Fronteras in Argentina and Tres Fronteras in Paraguay. I only did the one in Brazil but according to the pictures, the one in Paraguay is the most photogenic (and rarer to get too).
I also give you the cab fares from the main bus terminal.