Paraguay Travel Tips: 10 helpful things to know before visiting

Table of Contents

Introduction

Have you ever been somewhere you weren’t expecting to love, and come away its biggest fan? This is truly us with Paraguay. We now believe Paraguay is one of the most underrated destinations in South America and recommend it as a must-visit to everyone visiting the continent. Here are 10 helpful Paraguay travel tips we wish we knew before we went.

If you want to know why you should visit, then check our reasons here!

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A huge waterfall cascading down through the middle of a forest. It is surrounded by trees on all sides and is seen from an aerial view.
Paraguay is so underrated

Paraguay Travel Tips: Everything You Need To Know

1. You might need longer than you think!

Most visitors to Paraguay will grant it a week at most on their longer South America itineraries. In doing so, they really do miss the best of it. The Chaco, for example, in the far Northern regions, is one of the most beautiful and least visited areas of the continent, but holds some of South America’s most incredible wildlife.

We would recommend around two weeks for a great itinerary that would allow you visit some of the best areas of the country, but honestly you could spend even longer here just soaking up the culture and enjoying the vibes. Highlights include amazing waterfalls to the East, Jesuit Ruins and colonial history to the South, Asunción’s rich culture and fascinating past to the West and the elusive Chaco to the North.

2. It is a great destination for wildlife

As we mentioned above, a true highlight of Paraguay is the Chaco region, where you will find some of the most incredible wildlife in South America, including the super elusive jaguar! The Chaco is a lesser visited area of the country and as such, can be considered difficult to get to. Though you can use BusBud easily around the rest of Paraguay (and South America in general), you’ll need a tour to get up to the Chaco!

To get there, we would suggest either hiring a car, taking a longer tour or, if you’re really pressed for time, taking this day tour with Viator. One of the best things about the Chaco is how unknown it is, as tours here are still relatively cheap compared to the rest of the continent. The roads up there are not the best, so go prepared for longer journeys than usual and a bit of an adventure!

A view through some trees into the Chacarita of Paraguay. The Chacarita is a shanty town so you can see tin roof houses with washing hanging up and people going about their daily lives.
Views over the Chacarita

2. Spanish is not the most commonly spoken language, but you will need it

Owing to Paraguay’s rich and dark history, it’s one of the countries in South America with the highest indigenous population, which means that the main language spoken is Guaraní (though interestingly, this is not the only indigenous language spoken in Paraguay!). Throughout Paraguay’s history, there have been a number of wars, during which the indigenous peoples of Paraguay fought bravely to retain their independence and their place within South America.

For this reason, by a substantial margin, the largest demographic in Paraguay is mestizos (people of mixed Spanish and Indigenous descent), which is a fact the Paraguayans are very proud of. You will generally be able to get by speaking Spanish, the second official language of Paraguay, but it’s nice to learn a few words of Guaraní, if you can. English is less commonly spoken so those planning to visit who do not speak Spanish (or Guaraní) are advised to have Google Translate downloaded on their phones, as well as obviously learning as much as you can before you go.

3. It’s super easy to get around… most of the time

Paraguay is really easy to travel and generally has a pretty great infrastructure. We weren’t surprised exactly, but it’s just not somewhere that you hear much about, so I suppose we didn’t know what to expect.

For the journeys we took (such as Asunción to Encarnación), we used Busbud, which we found super easy. This is also available in most of the rest of South America, so save this post to refer back! There are a few places which really aren’t very easy to get to, such as the Chaco, which doesn’t have any accessible bus stations that we could find, so it is advisable to book a tour or take a car if going out that way. If you don’t have much time though, you can even try this full day tour out to the Chaco, but be prepared for a long drive each way!

A green park full of trees, many of which are purple jacaranda
The jacaranda trees were in full bloom!

4. Asunción is a really big city that isn’t very walkable

Asunción kind of comprises two cities; there’s the inner city, which you can walk through in around 1 and a half hours end to end, and the outer city, which is bigger and more up and coming in terms of commerce and business operations. In the inner city, you can find the old town, the ‘beach’ (the river banks, which locals actually do use as a beach!) and many of Asunción’s historical buildings and landmarks.

The outer city is filled with high-rise buildings, tech start ups and banks, and is colloquially as the ‘new centre’ by the locals. Personally, we found the inner city much more interesting and spent more time there, but we did stay a little way out as it was cheaper. It really wasn’t a problem to get into town as there are regular local buses, as well as very cheap Ubers.

5. It’s actually very cheap to get to and can be a great gateway to Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina

Of course it does depend where you are coming from, but Asunción now has quite a few options with GOL and LATAM. We flew with LATAM and had a day’s stopover in São Paulo, but it was cheaper to add on the extra fight to Asunción rather than just stay in São Paulo.

It really pays to check these kind of options to traditionally ‘less desirable’ places, as you never know what deals you might find!

From Paraguay to Brazil, you can very easily take the bus through BusBud (to Ciudad del Este, and then from there, you can easily take a bus over to Iguassu Falls), likewise Argentina (take the bus to Ciudad del Este, then it’s an easy boat ride).

Bolivia is also really easily accessed via bus from Asunción and none of these are particularly long journeys! We would say however that it’s advisable to expect delays. Our bus journey from Asunción to Ciudad del Este for example was supposed to take around 3 hours but in reality it took around 5 and a half – we’re honestly not sure why! This is a great way to explore a new country, and get to where you need to be.

A tortoiseshell cat sitting on a stone bollard. She has her eyes closed.
Some of the inhabitants were very cute!

6. Food is seriously good value (and portion sizes are enormous!)

So I think this point is best summed up by the first meal we had in Paraguay, where we went to the restaurant next to our hotel in Asunción, which was called La Malquerida and ordered what we thought was a main course each. I ordered what looked like the only vegan main course on the menu which was simply called ‘vegetable rice’ and cost me the equivalent of around £5. Murray meanwhile went for what translated as ‘steak and chips’ for around £7.50.

Mine arrived first and it was no less than a sharing pan (which could easily have served 4 people) of sizzling paella, which was served out to me. This, I could possibly understand as a translation error, especially given that the place did seem to be some kind of Paelleria, until Murray’s steak arrived, half the side of a cow, with enough chips to feed a large family and no less than FOUR eggs. FOUR EGGS. All this to say, expect food prices to be low and always carry a takeaway container with you to avoid wasting all your food!

Insider tip: we travel nowadays with collapsible tupperware camping bowls in our day bags, which are so useful, especially if we’re trying to save money. We can almost always stretch out a meal out to two days now and it keeps travelling so much more cost-effective and less wasteful

7. Everybody drinks tereré in summer and maté in winter

This is something we kind of did know before we got to Paraguay, but we would have loved to know where to get it, so we could try it! Maté (pronounced mah-tay) is a drink which is commonly drunk in many countries in South America, but each one seems to have its own version, all slightly different, but similar.

Usually maté is served hot in an insulated wooden cup with a metal straw. We’ve actually tried the Argentinian version before, though the Paraguayan version is much sweeter (and easier on the taste-buds). Tereré is the chilled version, and it’s extremely refreshing on a hot day.

So where can you get it?

Well, really everywhere! We had heard before arriving in Asunción that you couldn’t really buy maté or tereré, you just needed to know a local to give it to you. That’s definitely not the case – it’s sold pretty much everywhere in Asunción, with lots of vendors gathered in the central square and on the Costanera (the river promenade). The vendors don’t sell cups with it so take a reusable cup along with some cash, and enjoy! Note: these vendors won’t have card machines, so you will need to take notes.

A terere station set up with lots of chopped herbs and jugs set out
A tereré station

8. The history of Paraguay is extremely complex

We had no idea about this, but Paraguay it seems, has some stories to tell! For nearly all of the 19th Century for example, it was ruled by a dictatorship, which resulted in a near catastrophic war for them, followed by several more dictatorships and another disastrous war in the 20th Century!

We ended up inadvertently learning quite a lot about this on our GuruWalk City Tour and highly recommend taking this yourself to learn more about the history of the city and the whole country. What’s great about GuruWalk is that they’re quite a bit more flexible than most free tours we’ve been on and tend to work around a time that is mutually convenient.

Your guide will usually text you 24 hours before, so keep an eye out for that in case you need to reschedule or arrange a convenient time and place to meet. We were actually the only people on our tour, which was amazing! It almost felt like we had a private guide all to ourselves.

9. Almost everything is closed on Sunday, except the Palacio dos Heroes, which is closed on Monday

Paraguay is a very catholic country and as such, Sunday is a firm day of rest. Unfortunately for us, we arrived on a Saturday, so our first full day was a Sunday and any attempts to find a restaurant or any open shops the next day were met with a shrug and a ‘esta domingo!’. Lesson learned: stock up on Saturdays and take Sunday as a day off yourself. Interestingly we did find out that Sunday would have been a good day for us to take our walking tour and visit the Palacio dos Heroes, which is open on Sundays but closes on Mondays.

10. It’s one of the safest countries in South America (self-proclaimed!)

Pretty much every local we met in Paraguay told us that Paraguay is really safe, and to be honest it wasn’t difficult to believe them from our own experience. As with any city, you need to be careful with your belongings, because there are always places where you may be pickpocketed, but in general we never felt in danger in Paraguay.

Safety is very relative to the individual, so do of course bear in mind your own demographic or any special considerations you might need to make, but as a white tourist (heterosexual) couple, we were rarely hassled, didn’t see any violence and were even happily leaving our belongings (phones, sunglasses, cameras etc) out on tables without anyone even casting us a second glance. It pays to keep an eye on your things, like we said, and don’t be careless, but as mentioned, we found it very relaxed. Even in the Chacarita, which is an area reported to be a little more dangerous than elsewhere in Asunción, we didn’t have any issues at all.

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    Post written by Emma

    Emma

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