Paraguay

East of Asunción

Ruta 2 and Ruta 7 head through rural Paraguay towards the border with Brazil, taking the traveller through tranquil arts and crafts villages, German colonies, pockets of native forest and small towns associated with the country's bloody past. In contrast to the quiet of the countryside, Ciudad del Este is a crossroads for all manner of merchandise, much of it illegal, and the world's largest stolen car market, while the giant Itaipú dam has irreversibly changed the landscape. Just over the border are the Iguazú Falls.

Itauguá

At Km 30, founded in 1728, Itauguá, now Paraguay's fastest-growing city, is where the famous ñandutí, or spiderweb lace, is made. There are over 100 different designs. Prices are lower than in Asunción and the quality is better; there are many makers, but try Taller Artesanal (Km 29), Mutual
Tejedoras (Km 28), or Casa Miryam (Km 30, T20372). To watch the lace being made, ask around. The old town lies two blocks from the main highway. Worth seeing are the
market
, the church and the
Museo de Historia Indígena
, a beautiful collection of carvings of Guaraní myths, and the
Museo Parroquial San Rafael
, with a display of indigenous art and Franciscan
artefacts. There is a four-day
Festival de Ñandutí
in early July, including processions and the crowning of Señorita Ñandutí. Many of Paraguay's best traditional musicians perform during the festival. Itauguá is also the birthplace of Juan Crisóstomo Centurión, the only Paraguayan military leader to win a battle in the War of the Triple Alliance and an architect of the country's rebirth.

Aregua

At Capiatá (Ruta 2, Km 20, fine colonial church), a left turn goes via a toll road 7 km to Aregua. Founded in 1541 this is a pretty village on the slopes above Lago Ypacaraí with beautiful colonial houses and an attractive church at the highest point in town. It has an interesting ceramics cooperative, a museum, arts and crafts exhibition and a convent. There is a good German-run restaurant in the centre of the village. From here boat trips run across the lake at weekends to San Bernadino and the tourist steam train comes here each Sunday from Asunción on its way to Supacaí.

San Bernardino and Lago Ypacaraí

At Km 40 on Ruta 2 a branch road, 8 km long, leads off to
San Bernardino
, originally a German colony, known locally as 'San Ber', on the east bank of Lago Ypacaraí. The lake, 24 km by 5 km, has facilities for swimming and watersports and a sandy beach. Ask locally about pollution levels in the water. There are frequent cruises from the pier during the tourist season. This is the main vacation spot for Asunción from December-February, which means that it is lively and crowded at weekends in the summer, with concerts, pubs and nightclubs, but as a result it is commercialized. During the week and off season it is a tranquil resort town, with lakeside tourism clearly the main draw. Boats can be hired and there is good walking in the neighbourhood, for example from San Bernardino to
Altos
, which has one of the most spectacular views of the lake, wooded hills and valleys (round trip three hours). Shortly after the turn off from the main road towards San Bernardino is a sign to
La Gruta
; turn right here to a secluded park (Ypacaraí). There are grottos with still water and overhanging cliffs. No buses run after 2000 and taxis are expensive. Tourist information is in the centre of town between General Morinigo and Emilio Hassler.

Caacupé

At Km 54 on Ruta 2, this is a popular resort and religious centre on the Azcurra escarpment. The centre is dominated by the modern Basilica of Our Lady of the Miracles, with copper roof, stained glass and polychrome stone esplanade, consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 1988. There is an ATM on the plaza between the supermarket and Hotel El Mirador.

Thousands of people from Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina flock to the shrine, especially for the
Feast of the Immaculate Conception
on 8 December. Besides fireworks and candlelit processions, pilgrims watch the agile gyrations of Paraguayan bottle-dancers; they weave in intricate measures whilst balancing bottles pyramided on their heads. The top bottle carries a spray of flowers and the more expert dancers never let drop a single petal.

Tobati
, a town north of Caacupé, specializes in woodwork. A
villa artesenal
is a short walk from the bus stop outside the house of Zenon Páez, a world famous sculptor. There are some amazing rock formations on the way to Tobati.

Piribebuy

At Km 64 beyond Caacupé a paved road runs 13 km southeast to the small town of Piribebuy, founded in 1640 and noted for its strong local drink,
caña
. In the central plaza is the church (1640), with fine sculptures, high altar and pulpit. The town was the site of a major battle in the War of the Triple Alliance (1869), commemorated by the
Museo Histórico Pedro Juan Caballero
, which contains artefacts from the Chaco War. Buses from Asunción by Transportes Piribebuy. Near the town are the attractive falls of Piraretá. The road continues via Chololó, 13 km south, and reaches Ruta 1 at Paraguarí, 28 km from Piribebuy . Between Pirbebuy and Paraguarí is an outdoor
pursuits centre,
Eco-reserva Mbatoví
. There is a visitor centre,
www.mbatovi.com.py
, an outdoor pursuits course
or a 2-hr guided walk taking in early settlements, local folklore and beautiful scenery.

Vapor Cué National Park

A turn-off from Eusebio Ayala (Km 72) goes 23 km to Caraguatay, 5 km from which is the Vapor Cué National Park, where boats from the War of the Triple Alliance are preserved. Although officially a national park, it is more of an open-air museum.

Coronel Oviedo and around

An important route centre, although not worth a stop, 3 km south of the junction of west-east highway and the major north-south Ruta 8; buses drop passengers at the junction (El Cruce). Ruta 8 runs north to
Mbutuy
, continuing as Ruta 3 to Yby Yaú, where it meets Ruta 5 (Concepción-Pedro Juan Caballero). At Mbutuy (Km 56, parador, restaurant, petrol station) Ruta 10 branches off northeast to the Brazilian frontier at Salto del Guaíra.

Salto del Guaíra
is named after the waterfalls now under the Itaipú lake. There is a 900-ha wildlife reserve, Refugio Biológico Mbaracayú. Salto del Guaíra, a free port, can also be reached by a paved road which runs north from Hernandarias, via Itaquyry to meet Ruta 10 at Cruce Carambey.

Mbaracayú Forest Reserve

Not to be confused with the nearby Refugio Biológico Mbaracayú, this federally protected reserve covers more than 66,000 ha of Paraguay's rapidly disappearing Interior Atlantic forest. It is the largest area of representative ecosystems in good conservation status in Paraguay. It contains 48% of all mammal species and 63% of all bird species (over 400) found in eastern Paraguay. There are trails, waterfalls and spectacular view points. There are also two indigenous communities, the Aché and Guaraní. There is a visitor centre and small museum at Igatimi.

At Santa Rosa, 143 km north of Mbutuy, there is petrol, pensión and restaurants. A dirt road runs southwest for 27 km to
Nueva Germania
founded in 1866 by Bernhard Förster and Elisabeth Nietzsche (the philosopher's sister) to establish a pure Aryan colony. This road goes on to San Pedro and Puerto Antequera on the Río Paraguay (88 km). A further 23 km north of Santa Rosa, a dirt road runs northeast through jungle to the interesting
Capitán Badó
(120 km), which forms the frontier with Brazil. From here a road follows the frontier north to Pedro Juan Caballero (100 km). About 50 km north of the turn off to Capitán Badó is Yby Yaú .

Villarrica

Villarrica, 42 km south of Coronel Oviedo, is delightfully set on a hill rich with orange trees. A very pleasant, friendly place, it has a fine cathedral, built in traditional style with veranda, and various pleasant parks. The museum (closed weekends) behind the church has a foreign coin collection; please contribute. Products of the region are tobacco, cotton, sugar, yerba mate, hides, meat and wine produced by German settlers. There is a large student population.

German colonies near Villarrica

Some 7 km north is an unsigned turn off to the east, then 20 km to tiny
Colonia Independencia
, which has some beautiful beaches on the river (popular in summer). German-speaking travellers can also visit the German cooperative farms (these are not Mennonite communities, but rather German settlements established in the early 20th century). A great mate and wine producing area and, at harvest time, there is a wine festival. They also have beer festival in October.

East from Coronel Oviedo

The paved Ruta 7 runs 195 km through farmed areas and woods and across the Caaguazú hills. Ruta 7 continues from here to the spectacular 500-m single span 'Friendship Bridge' across the Paraná (to Brazil) at Ciudad del Este.

Ciudad del Este

Originally founded as Ciudad Presidente Stroessner in 1957, this was the fastest growing city in the country until the completion of the Itaipú hydroelectric project, for which it is the centre of operations. Ciudad del Este has been described as the biggest shopping centre in Latin America, attracting Brazilian and Argentine visitors who find bargain prices for electrical goods, watches and perfumes. However, it is a counterfeiter's paradise and can be quite dangerous. Don't buy perfume on the street as it's only coloured water. Make sure that shops pack what you actually bought. The main shopping street is Avenida San Blas, lined with shopping malls and market stalls, selling a huge variety of goods, both original and imitations - usually the latter. Almost any vehicle advertised for sale, should you be tempted, was stolen in Brazil. Watch the exchange rates if you're a short-term visitor. Parts are of the city are dirty and frantic during business hours, but away from the shopping arcades people are friendly and more relaxed. The leather market is well worth a visit, be sure to bargain.

Around Ciudad del Este

The
Monday falls
, where the Río
Monday drops into the Paraná Gorge, are worth seeing. Nearby is the popular
beach resort and biological refuge called
Tatí
Yupí
, www.itaipu.gov.py
. Two biological reserves border t
he Itaipú dam,
Itabó
and, further north,
Limoy
. Take the unpaved road north from Ciudad del Este towards Salto del Guaíra. Itabó is at the first turn off to Dorila, and Limoy the turnoff at Colonia San Lorenzo.

Border with Brazil

The border crossing over the Friendship Bridge
to Foz do Iguaçu is very informal, but is jammed
with vehicles and pedestrians all day long. No passport stamps are required to visit Ciudad del Este for the day. Motorcycle taxis (helmet
provided, hang on tight) are a good option if you have no luggage. Otherwise, to enter Paraguay here, hire a taxi and go very early in the morning, or take your gear to the Paraguayan bus terminal (left luggage facilities) by city bus, then shuttle back and forth on foot to get passport stamped; it is a l
ong and tiring process. (Make sure you get a Paraguayan entry stamp; without it you
will be fined. If you do get fined, get a receipt.) Immigration formalities for Paraguay an
d Brazil are dealt with on opposite sides of the bridge. There is a friendly tourist office in the customs building on the Paraguayan side. Remember to adjust your watch to local time (Brazil is one hour ahead).

Itaipú and around

www.itaipu.gov.py.

The Itaipú project (a huge hydroelectric project covering an area of 1,350 sq km and still subject to controversy among environmental groups) is close to Ciudad del Este, and well worth a visit.

On the way to Itaipú is
Flora y Fauna Itaipú Binacional
, zoo and museum containing animals and plants; it is about 2 km from the visitor's centre on the road back to Ciudad del Este. At the Centro Ambiental de Itaipú is the
Museo de la Tierra Guaraní
, www.itaipu.gov.py/, which offers a view of the science and culture of the Guaraníes via natural history displays and interactive screens.

Hernandarias
, north of Ciudad del Este grew rapidly with the building of Itaipú. A paved road runs north to Cruce Carambey, where it meets Ruta 10 . From Hernandarias, boat trips on Lago Itaipú go to Puerto Guaraní where there is a museum.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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